Watch Dogs

It de­liv­ers on its sys­temic prom­ise, with hack­ing of­fer­ing new ways to make, and es­cape from, trou­ble

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher/de­vel­oper Ubisoft (Mon­treal) For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Wii U, Xbox One Re­lease Out now (Wii U TBA)

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U

Thanks to CTOS, a net­work that con­trols al­most ev­ery bit of com­puter tech­nol­ogy within Chicago’s lim­its, Watch Dogs pre­sents you with the smartest city in the world. It’s just as well, be­cause its cit­i­zens need all the help they can get. They stand in groups and deliver lit­tle mono­logues, bab­bling in­co­her­ently over one an­other. They jump out of their skins when a car ten feet away slowly re­verses into a park­ing space. One in­sists an­grily that we’re in­vad­ing his per­sonal space, obliv­i­ous to the fact that we, and half a dozen oth­ers, are wait­ing at a bus stop. Watch Dogs’ cit­i­zens make the phrase ‘smart city’ ring hol­low – at times you’re un­sure whether you’re in a city or a psy­chi­atric in­sti­tu­tion.

At least there are plenty of them. This is, un­like In­fa­mous: Sec­ond Son’s Seat­tle, a bustling me­trop­o­lis, though cre­at­ing a be­liev­ably busy city has come at a cost: Sec­ond Son was gor­geous, and Watch Dogs isn’t. The weather sys­tem, which spans grey and stormy, over­cast, and hazily sunny, has seem­ingly been de­signed to mask the poor draw dis­tance, since cars and scenery fizz into ex­is­tence a cou­ple of hun­dred yards away. It’s never an ugly game – it looks much bet­ter at night, and does a fine line in ex­plo­sions – but you’re rarely made to feel as if you’re look­ing at a gen­er­a­tional leap for­ward for open worlds.

You will, how­ever, fre­quently feel like you’re play­ing one. While it might not match the vis­ual stan­dards of its E3 2012 re­veal, Watch Dogs de­liv­ers on its sys­temic prom­ise, with hack­ing of­fer­ing com­pletely new ways to make, and es­cape from, trou­ble within a fa­mil­iar set­ting. And it’s not thanks to an im­pos­si­bly pow­er­ful lead – though Ai­den Pearce will be fright­en­ingly tooled up by game’s end – but a smart­phone.

Hack­ing is sim­ple, one-but­ton fare for the most part, but it needs to be when you’re blow­ing up an un­der­ground steam pipe while fly­ing down a busy thor­ough­fare at 70mph, or trig­ger­ing an ex­plo­sion as an un­sus­pect­ing guard chases you. The chal­lenge comes not from the in­put, but its ex­e­cu­tion: you can only hack ob­jects that are within a cer­tain range and to which, cru­cially, you have a di­rect line of sight, be that through Pearce’s own eyes or those of a dis­tant lap­top cam­era. Out on the street, your smart­phone’s Pro­filer app of­fers in­for­ma­tion on those halfwit cit­i­zens, and some of them are alarm­ingly well paid. In ad­di­tion to their salary, you’ll see their name, oc­cu­pa­tion, and a snip­pet of per­sonal trivia (“Re­cently adopted dog”; “Al­ler­gic to shell­fish”; and, bril­liantly, “Cana­dian”). If they’ve got a phone, you can hack it, drain­ing bank ac­counts, in­ter­cept­ing text mes­sages and voice calls, or down­load­ing mu­sic to add to your own phone’s mea­gre se­lec­tion. It gives the city a sense of life, and lay­ers a de­gree of sub­stance on its in­hab­i­tants, but it’s gim­micky. It’s only in com­bat that Watch Dogs’ hack­ing me­chan­ics re­ally come to life.

When in­fil­trat­ing an en­emy com­pound, cas­ing the joint means jump­ing from one lens to the next. You can ro­tate rooftop so­lar pan­els to form cover, over­load and ex­plode transformers, and even mess with en­e­mies di­rectly. Some carry ex­plo­sives, which can be set off; oth­ers can be dis­tracted with a phone call or text mes­sage; and oth­ers still can be stunned with a high­fre­quency blast to their comms head­set. Ev­ery en­e­my­in­fested area can be com­pleted with a com­bi­na­tion of stealth and hack­ing. If and when it all goes hor­ri­bly wrong, you can fall back on a broad tra­di­tional ar­se­nal.

Out on the road – where han­dling is weighty and sat­is­fy­ing, a squeeze of the brake send­ing a car’s back end drift­ing out­wards – Pearce’s smart­phone can at first only be used to hack traf­fic lights, turn­ing ev­ery light at an in­ter­sec­tion green, which means a guar­an­teed pile-up given cit­i­zens with this level of in­tel­li­gence. Progress up the skill tree, how­ever, and you’ll be able to raise bol­lards and spike strips, open gates and garage doors, and raise or ro­tate bridges.

When com­bined, these el­e­ments add a new di­men­sion to the open-world genre’s hack­neyed endof-mis­sion es­cape, and in­stead of sim­ply outrunning your pur­suer, you’re able to stop them in their tracks. The game is happy to break its line-of-sight rule here, let­ting you hack ob­jects you’ve just passed to take out a chas­ing ve­hi­cle, though tim­ing is tight and suc­cess isn’t al­ways guar­an­teed – there’s no point hack­ing traf­fic lights at an empty in­ter­sec­tion, for in­stance. You have fur­ther op­tions: Pearce can park up, kill the en­gine and slump down in his seat, and will only be spotted if a po­lice car or en­emy ve­hi­cle drives right by him. Ditch your car and you can make your es­cape by L train, pro­vid­ing you’ve unlocked the skill that lets you stop and start them on com­mand. Say what you like about CTOS, at least it makes the trains run on time. It’s no sur­prise to find that Blume, the com­pany be­hind CTOS, isn’t as pure as the driven snow, but Watch Dogs’ lengthy five-act cam­paign is about more than shady cor­po­ra­tions. Pearce butts heads with mob bosses, street gangs and ri­val hack­ers as he seeks re­venge for the mur­der of his niece, and it’s dur­ing this sprawl­ing cam­paign that Watch Dogs is at its best. Its var­i­ous sys­tems mean Ubisoft Mon­treal can be more cre­ative in its mis­sion de­sign than this genre’s tra­di­tional loop of travel, kill and es­cape. You’ll get yourself ar­rested and in­car­cer­ated, then jump be­tween CCTV and prison guards’ hel­met cams to find a vi­tal wit­ness in the rec yard, save him from a fa­tal beat­ing, then guar­an­tee his si­lence not with a squeeze of a trig­ger but a few in­tim­i­dat­ing taps on a touch­screen. You’ll ride cam­eras up through the Viceroy street gang’s ten­e­ment com­pound to lo­cate its server room, then come back and shoot your way in a dozen hours later.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.