With no health bar and only non-lethal options to start with, Ubisoft are keen to keep you hidden.
By Patrick Stafford on June 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm
Players in the world of Watch Dogs will not only be able to hack into traffic lights, wi-fi hotspots, cameras and even trains – they’ll be able to hack into other players’ games.
Ubisoft has teased the game’s always-on gameplay, but in a behind-closed-doors demo shown to games.on.net on the E3 show floor last week, we were able to see the extent of how this hacking system will work.
At various intervals, the player will be sent a notification they are being hacked. This means a player has entered their world – motivated by a contract for money – and is focused on hacking your details from your phone.
In response, the player needs to quickly find the perpetrator, by searching in an area highlighted by a blue circle on the game’s mini-map. (Very much like the way Assassin’s Creed games highlight an area of the map for particular targets).
Players can then catch the perpetrator and stop them from stealing their data. Watch Dogs producer Dominic Guay also explained neither player will recognise the other as Aiden Pearce – they will look like a complete stranger.
(Guay pulled back a curtain in our little booth to reveal the other player in question – indeed, both players saw themselves as the Aiden Pearce, and the other character as a complete stranger).
This feature is welcome, especially as the game deals with such murky moral territory. Ubisoft is keen to point out here that while the game allows you a ridiculous amount of power to find and control information, you’re just as vulnerable as anyone else.
The demo shown to games.on.net was not scripted. We saw Aiden attempt to infiltrate a control point, from which he can hack that region’s mobile phone towers in order to access the city’s main crime prediction system.
This system uses cameras and facial recognition technology to detect when a crime is about to happen (more on that below).
The control point is used like the towers in Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry 3. Once Aiden infiltrates them and hacks his way into the system, that area of the city is now penetrable. Each of these fortresses is guarded, and players can use different methods to attack them however they wish.
At one point, our demo player was successfully navigating through the guarded area completely stealthily, before accidentally noting a guard’s attention. Then all hell broke loose, and shooting was underway. Aiden was able to hack into cameras to detonate some grenades, and even manipulate machinery to give himself cover.
At this point, we noticed something strange: there is no health bar on the screen at all. Guay confirmed this point with us twice.
In addition, Pearce’s default weapon is a baton, not a gun. By default, he doesn’t kill. Combined with the fact there is no health bar at all, does this mean Ubisoft wants players to be taking stealth routes as often as possible?
“It’s true,” he said. “It’s always a way of keeping the player immersed.”
This is also kept in check by a reputation system. The more crazy things you do to draw attention to yourself, the more the media will talk about you. Our player walked into a gun store and was shopping when a media report about Pearce’s actions flashed on the television – the owner reached for a silent alarm and the player was forced to leave.
Last year, when games.on.net was shown another demo, we were told Pearce would have access to information about random strangers. “Former crack dealer”, a summary might say, while others we’ve seen included “made a porn film in college” or “uses a fake degree”.
Guay told games.on.net this information can actually be used to find in-game content.
“So there are cases where you might see someone who is a known criminal, and they might be texting, and you can read those texts and it may lead to a mission.”
This power shows itself in other ways. The player can hack through cameras, laptops and phones to find bank account information from strangers and use it. Seems easy enough, except those information summaries also serve a moral purpose – do you really want to be taking money from a single mother with barely enough to get by?
Of course, the opposite is true. The city’s crime prediction system – which uses facial recognition technology and other cameras to detect crimes just minutes away from occurring – is accessed through your phone. You can come across a crime about to occur, and then intervene. Doing so can boost your reputation across the city.
In our demo, while the player caught a criminal, he then bolted off across town in a high-speed police chase. However, he was able to show off his hacking abilities by using traffic lights to cause accidents, along with road spikes and other obstacles.
“He could even now go to the train station, and catch a train to get away from the police,” Guay said.
This looks to be a truly open-world adventure, and the amount of power given to the player here is enough to keep one entertained for a significant amount of time.
Ubisoft’s claims that it isn’t making a statement about surveillance culture are difficult to believe. But the game itself offers plenty of choice to players about how they want to wield that power – which is a promising move indeed.