Hey GTA V, I think we need to talk. You should sit down for this. It's just getting hard to keep waiting for you to commit to my platform and—look, I'll just come out and say it: I've met a new game. Shh, don't worry. I still care about you, and I can be excited for more than one open-world crime game, but I just saw a live demonstration of Watch Dogs and if I did have to choose...well, let me explain.
Remember that gameplay video from E3 (opens in new tab) ? Anti-hero Aiden Pearce hacks a traffic light to cause an accident, then gets into a firefight. We were skeptical that this was all as dynamic as the demo suggested—it looked pretty darn scripted—but it wasn't a trick. I just saw that same accident again and again, happening differently each time. This simulation is powered by Ubisoft's new "Disrupt Engine," and it really does appear to run a living Chicago for the player to manipulate.
That toddlin' town
It also helps that Watch Dogs looks like a game running on a high-end PC. (Sorry, was that a low blow?) It's not just the pretty shaders or fancy wind and water simulation, it's the whole realization of the city. It's Aiden's motion-captured animations and the way pedestrians convincingly react to violence. It's how the grimier neighborhoods look lived-in, littered with evidence of people's lives. I saw Aiden jack a car that, for once, wasn't shiny and new—it looked like a car someone in Chicago's suburbs might own, with rear window louvers and a hood caked with dust.
So Aiden steals it and goes for a quick drive to a pawn shop. He walks in, no loading, and the sunlight is snuffed out by florescent-lit clutter, all beautifully detailed and imperfect. A quick transaction and he saunters out the back door, head down and hands in pockets.
Aiden Pearce is a shady fellow. He's a lot like your anti-heroes, GTA V, but less eccentric and bombastic. The tone here is obviously very different—Watch Dogs isn't just GTA with hacking—but there are enough similarities to call the two comparable. It's about a vigilante out for revenge, a good guy with bad habits who murders, steals, and runs from the police. That's about all Ubisoft will say about the story for now.
Surveillance or surviolence?
We do know that Watch Dogs' central plot device is CtOS, a series of computers which run all of Chicago's systems. Traffic lights, trains, security cameras—you name it, Aiden can hack it—but before he can use his wizardry to manipulate every bit of tech in a district, he has to infect its local, heavily-guarded CtOS node. You don't have to do this, Ubi tells me, and you can do it however you like, but here's how one of these code injections went down in the demonstration.
From outside the fence surrounding the CtOS facility, the player hacks into a security camera and surveys the situation, stealing the server passcode and identifying the guards. Turns out they're a bunch of shady ex-cons, so he only has to feel a little guilty if he ends up murdering them.
After circling the building, he vaults over the fence. From inside the lot, he hacks the gate open to distract a guard, then sneaks up behind him and makes him an unconscious guard with a fluid take-down. He plays this game again with another guard, remotely activating a forklift to confuse him, but a third thug spots him. Now, I was assured by one of the devs that you can play Watch Dogs without killing anyone, so don't assume it always has to be like this, but it turns into war here.
The rifles come out, and a cover-to-cover firefight lands a couple guards in the dirt—Aiden's slow-mo Focus mode giving him the advantage. The player activates a scissor lift, hits the roof, and gives 'em a few more pew pews before dropping back down to hack into the server room. Peering through a camera inside the building, he hacks yet another camera (hacking is a line-of-sight thing, and yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense), chaining his way into the control room to plant the virus. Then he sticks his hands back in his pockets and strolls off before someone calls the cops.