Breaking Down The PlayStation 4 Watch_Dogs Demo

Technology is all around us; it controls our lives exponentially more every year. Almost every minute technology creeps even further into the fabric of society. From automatic teller machines, smart phones, computers, portable music devices and unassuming things as simple as the remote control for your television. The twenty first century has seen technology evolve to make our lives easier, more entertaining and safer. But is this really true? Traffic lights stop cars from having accidents, pacemakers help people with bad hearts and electronic wheelchairs help the elderly move around; but what if this technology was harnessed? What if this technology could be controlled by one simple device? Watch_Dogs is questioning how safe becoming technologically dependant can really make us when it falls into the wrong hands.

In two gameplay demos we have seen just shy of 15 minutes of footage; yet, within that small amount of time Ubisoft have been able to impress me beyond belief. The latest demo was showcased today at the PlayStation 4 unveiling, confirming it will be coming to next generation consoles. Ever since E3 2012 many have hypothesized that this game would come to next generation consoles because it looked so amazing, so life-like. Like the next generation should.

In the latest gameplay footage we got an even better look at the types of hacking abilities Aiden Pearce has at his disposal. Who is Aiden Pearce? From what we have seen so far, he looks like our main protagonist; but with the ability to hack the world around him, allowing him unbelievable power and leverage over the world around him, is he really the typical hero? With little to no information regarding the game’s narrative, to call him an anti-hero is just speculation – though he certainly seems to play the part well.

So let’s look at this latest gameplay video, breaking it down for those at home.

During the gameplay demo we are shown information about all of the people around us including some basic information and useful facts that are portrayed above their heads almost in speech bubble format. This leads to some interesting information being revealed.

Time: 0.25 – As we can see in the screenshot below this woman has the information “Missing: 1 month” above her head. Could this be how we find side missions? Could walking around the open-world areas of Watch_Dogs allow us to discover key points of people lives that could be used for side missions in a more organic fashion than most any other game in the genre?

Time: 0.32 – We are already given information regarding people’s phone calls. If you watch the video closely we are actually shown word for word the conversation someone is having on their cell phone. It appears we will be locked out of certain areas until we are able to use our hacking abilities. We are also shown the words “tbn.worm”  scattered throughout the city, could these be fellow hackers? Possible viruses in the ctOS? Or places that have been locked out due to our enemies?

Time: 1.22 – We are shown Pearce hacking the information of one Bobby, Tyler. He is a tobacco company executive with an income many would dream of. Pearce simply hacks his mobile device without breaking stride and this man’s personal information, including his bank details, are available to you. Easy money.

Time: 1.38 – Looking closely we can also see the public around you will has unique personality traits. See: Ned, Emmerson. What looks like a friendly saxophone player on the street is surprisingly a man who has knowledge of multiple computer viruses. Are we able to interact with the public to buy such knowledge? If so, could we use these newly acquired digital viruses for our advantage?

Time: 1.45 – Aiden Pearce doesn’t look to be the only one in control of electronic devices as the name PixxelFD appears multiple times throughout the trailer. This could either be a security company (since the name appears twice in reference to security cameras) or another hacker on the opposing side. Jonathan Morin gives his personal commentary during a version of the gameplay demo using some very interesting words referring to the camera. “There’s always somebody out there, other people are trying to use the city for their own interests”. This simple sentence makes me think this is no security company. This is someone looking to use the city’s ctOS for their own personal gain.

Time: 0.44 – What is ctOs you might ask? This is the computer software that controls the entire city’s information network. It stores and records everyone’s digital life; however, it is used by private companies for profit. One example is that they are able to advertise products specifically to your needs by finding out what your digital footprint leaves behind. They know what you enjoy and advertise accordingly (similar to what the PS4 promises). The system was created in 2011 after a major blackout in the American Northeast in 2003, leaving 55 million people in the dark. People trust the ctOS software to make their lives better, but is the price of security worth it?

Time: 2.10 – These hacking abilities seem to point you in the right direction when missions are nearby, as I said before about the information leading to possible side missions. We are shown two very interesting progress bars during the demo, “Crime Probability” and “Potential Victim”. Those matching the profiles of victims and criminals appear on your screen, leading you to keep track of those who may be potential victims in order to stop the crooks who could be watching them in the shadows.

Time: 02.20 – When events are about to take place Pearce is given an “Intervene” bar, allowing him to get involved in the event at hand. No word on if these are randomly generated or predetermined side quests that can be handled at your discretion.

Time: 2.03 – A very interesting poster is displayed during the gameplay demo; one that seems to have been vandalized by a possible group against the ctOS. Could this group be the very same one Pearce is working with? We have seen at the end of the previous gameplay demo that Pearce is not alone, with many other hackers also existing in the world of Watch_Dogs. “Dis” has been spray painted in front of the ctOS poster and the words “They” and “You”  at the bottom of the poster. It is very hard to make out the website address under the graffiti, but this looks like the work of a group not too happy about the ctOS.

Time: 0.53 – One detail in video games is the health system. What exactly will be used to heal our character within the game world? Looking closely into the demo shows two strong hints towards painkillers;  looking at Pearce’s item selection screen shows many things, especially the presence of painkillers. Earlier in the demo we are seen walking past a building called “Pharmingtons”, pretty insignificant right? Until you realize it is also on the world map in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, putting the image of pain killers along with the point of interest in the map. I think we know where Pearce will purchase his health. To further legitimize this claim, we are later seen running through the Pharmingtons store, meaning that these stores could be open to us at anytime.

We also see that Pearce can equip four guns at any one time, two grenades that look to provide a way to shutdown electronic equipment and what seems to be a notepad of sorts. Could it contain your current mission objectives or side quests available?

Time: 2.54 – Once you have intervened the chase to capture this criminal is on. Interestingly enough it seems the longer you take to apprehend the person of interest the harder it is for you to escape. In the bottom right hand corner we see the ctOS and a percentage bar increasing and also a bright yellow area that expands the more the ctOS levels grow. It almost seems like a ripple effect; as more people are notified of the crime you realise the amount of pursuers on your tail using your knowledge of the ctOS. We also see Pearce sliding over this piece of cover. With Ubisoft now incorporating the ease of mobility into Assassin’s Creed 3, it would make sense that this sliding feature is done by itself, without any input from the player. Basically, Pearce knows what he is doing.

Time: 3.01 – Pearce once again showcases his hacking abilities by hacking an electrical box in order to make it explode, sending the perpetrator to the ground. This doesn’t mean that is how you have to make this situation end however. If you don’t do this option, who knows how long this footrace could continue?

Time: 3.22 – Once this ctOS counter hits 100% it goes red and now incoming police are shown on your radar, helping Pearce determine where to send his barrage of technological abilities. With a police car coming from the North-East, Pearce hacks a set of electronic bollards that miraculously appear out of the ground, stopping the police car in its tracks. Not a good day to be a bollard.

Time: 3.30 – As Pearce continues, another police car rockets to the scene and enters slow motion – almost like Max Payne in bullet-time. Pearce hits the tire of the car with one single bullet and at the same time, next to the radar, a second red dot appears. Could this be a Grand Theft Auto inspired notoriety metre? The more blocks you fill, the harder it is to get away from your pursuers?

Time: 3.35 – While we are looking through this demo with a fine-tooth comb we see a WAG clothing store and a pizza bar next to it. Could these be locations to get more clothing and possibly gain health via takeaway food? Though these definitely could be, I am less convinced since they both do not appear on the world map as places of interest. However, the pizza bar does seem to have inside interiors, as we can see tables and chairs through the windows.

Time: 3.37 – DedSec, what could it be? Over the next few frames we see it written on this wall and even on the skirting of the wall just to the top of the image. Speculating earlier about a group opposed to the ctOS, could this be the group who vandalized the ctOS poster? The colour of the arrows on either side of the logo do seem similar to the vandalism on the poster.

Time: 3.55 – Now we see the same item selection screen again, but this time it is different. Now we see the various ways Pearce can interact with the world using his abilities, from rupturing a pipe, to stopping traffic lights to the very obtrusive halt of an entire train. It seems you will be able to pick and choose which abilities will be available for Pearce during your time through the game as we can see at this stage Pearce has two empty selections at this time.

Time: 4.13 – Pearce might be using the ctOS too much for PixxelFD’s liking, as we now see the same username confirming the identity of Pearce as he makes his getaway. This continues to leave questions. Is Pixxel a security organization, or something far more sinister?

Time: 4.22 – Our “quest” has been updated with the objective to hack a target, the target being the camera controlled by PixxelFD. However, in this footage it seems like Pearce was detected and his contract terminated. Could this mean because he was detected his entire mission is terminated? Are there strict boundaries when being captured on camera?

We have seen very little of Watch_Dogs so far, but everything we have seen has been very impressive. With so many minor details hidden within only four minutes of gameplay, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next video may reveal of this mysterious beast.