Watch Dogs PS4 hands-on – sinning in the city at Gamescom
It may not be glamorous but it sure is satisfying, as had he got away he’d have taken some of my precious in-game goodies with him. As it is, all he walks away with is a nice shame pie in the face. But just to rub this in further, I decide to go for a ‘revenge’ hack. Entering his game as anonymous Joe Public, I then proceed to his location and target the unsuspecting chump using my all-conquering smartphone. Once done, all I then need to do is come to a halt somewhere in the nearby vicinity (again, a minimap circle shows the relevant radius), and the hack will commence. As soon as the progress bar kicks in, he’s alerted to my presence, and the game of cat-and-mouse commences again, only in reverse this time. I manage to evade his gaze for a fair while, but we’re still only at 43% when he clocks me, and the chase is on. Or it would be, but the demo crashes. Still: it was definitely going to be awesome.
As an introduction to one of PS4’s
most anticipated games, it’s both
enjoyable in itself and full of promise
Thankfully the next part of my visit to virtual Chicago does go to plan – or perhaps even better than plan, as I get to see Watch Dogs’ dynamic gameplay in full flow. As I wander the city I’m alerted (via smartphone, of course) that there’s a possible Vigilante mission nearby. Basically this means that some ne’er-do-well is up to no good, and I can choose to go all Caped (uh, Trenchcoated) Crusader on his ass. The act in question is a jewellery store robbery, but by the time I arrive the clerk has been shot and the crim is fleeing on foot. And he’s fast. So fast, in fact, that I don’t seem able to catch him, resorting to firing a couple of shots into his leg in order to slow him down. Sadly, the local fuzz simply see me as a gun-toting maniac (yet again), rather than the real-life Superman that I clearly am, and they come for me.
Reloading the scenario, I see how different it could have been. Sadly old Johnny Jewellery Store still takes some hot lead to the gut, but I arrive in time to prevent the goon from exiting via the front door. Forced to leave via the rear, I’m on top of him in no time (steady), bringing swift justice raining down via the medium of truncheon to the head. Mission complete. Well, in a manner of speaking: as soon as I look up from my human trophy, I see the rest of the robber’s crew standing, guns cocked, at the end of the alleyway. Time for Aiden to take a little lie down.
As an introduction to one of PS4’s most anticipated games, it’s both enjoyable in itself and full of promise. Being able to interact with a city in so many ways – controlling traffic lights, bringing up bollards, blowing up steam pipes, directing public transport, even taking down the whole power grid – provides a level of power unseen in open-world games. And mechanically, all of this is rock-solid. Greatness in the sandbox genre tends to be dictated by core missions and narrative, and we’ve seen little of what Watch Dogs has to offer in these regards so far. But as far as revelling in the freedom it offers and interacting with the city, this really does feel like a genuinely next-generation experience. And that’s all while you’re sat at your console…
Because, as is the fashion, Watch Dogs will have a companion app for tablets. Free, and on both iOS and Android, it’ll be usable even if you don’t own or play the game, and it lets you interact directly with players of the main game as they commit their cybercrimes all over Chicago.
The basic premise is that you find a friend who is currently playing the console version, and you issue them a challenge. The console player has to get through a certain number of checkpoints before a timer runs out, and the tablet operator has to try and stop them. This is done using the same kind of city interactions as Aiden has in the main game (bollards, exploding pipes etc.), as well as dispatching police cars, all while making sure you keep eyes on Mr. Pearce using an airborne chopper.
The interface on the tablet is essentially a detailed city map, and you direct your police helicopter across this using finger swipes. When the whirlybird can see its prey – likely to be fleeing at high speeds in a car – you then tap various icons to ‘arm’ the hacks, which activate as Aiden drives past. So, if he appears to be about to cross the river you can raise the bridge as he gets near. Or you can prepare some bumper-crushing bollards to rise just when he approaches. Forcing the console player into more illegal acts (such as mowing down pedestrians) allows you to dispatch more police cars on their tail, and these also provide welcome interference.
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Doing all of this is simple and intuitive, even if controlling the helicopter is sometimes overly fiddly, and success (for either player) comes with rewards in the form of XP, cash and unlocks (the tablet user works towards more powerful city hacks). And testing it with the console player sat next to you, as in this case, is extremely satisfying, as you can see their car crumple as you block off its route, or hear them curse as you total their ride by blowing up a steam pipe directly below. Playing at a distance will presumably nerf some of that enjoyment, as you won’t get the visual or auditory feedback from your carefully laid plans coming to fruition. That said, a free companion app that interacts directly with the game world (seeing a helicopter hover around on screen thanks to some finger prods is impressive) should be welcomed, especially when it provides tangible in-game rewards, and features a challenge editor that allows you to set your own checkpoints and the like.
It all bodes well. At its core Watch Dogs uses some well-worn genre mechanics, but it overlays these with both a level of visual sheen that only next-gen can provide, and the type of large-scale interactivity that hasn’t been seen before. It’s hugely enjoyable to thrash around in, but the world also feels realistic enough that you’re unlikely to want to break immersion with too many mass rampages (even though that option is there). The game’s mantra is that everything is connected, and connection is power. In which case, Watch Dogs is powerful like the combination of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page and Justin Bieber’s Twitter feed. You heard it here first.