Find out why Ubisoft's open world cyber thriller is one to keep your eyes on as playstation.com gets an early playtest.
"When we started Watch_Dogs we knew we would be doing something quite big and challenging..." says creative director Jonathan Morin at Ubisoft's Montreal studio. "So the choice to delay the game [from November 2013 to 27 May 2014] was not taken lightly. We want to polish this game so we can deliver on your expectations."
And in reaching for that lofty goal Watch_Dogs has already blown us away. The trailers give you an idea, but it's only when you play it that the scope of Ubisoft's vision becomes clear...
A city of dreams
The first thing that strikes you when playing Watch_Dogs is that everything around you is filled with life. This cyber version of Chicago is rife with street performers, picture seeking tourists and people going about their business... it feels like a bustling hub of activity.
It looks glorious, too. When you get close to a character each facial expression and subtle quirk is captured convincingly. Step out into the wider world and you notice the sun reflecting across rippling waves as boats speed by and the roads glistening from the rain of a violent and unexpected thunderstorm.
Drive around the city behind the wheel of various rides including sports cars, motorcycles, trucks and emergency vehicles - each handling differently - and you'll be treated to music from the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Treelogic, Public Enemy, Curtis Mayfield and Weezer, to name but a few.
Hacking is your weapon
But it's the ability to hack electrical systems that opens up a world of possibilities in Watch_Dogs. Using your profiler - a smartphone hacking app used by main character Aiden Pearce - you can scan passers-by, discovering things like their age, habits, bank account details and even access their text messages and phone conversations, all of which are individually unique throughout the entire game.
Hacking lets you become a virtual god of the city and this is where Watch_Dogs becomes unique and memorable. During our playtest, we were tasked to infiltrate a highly guarded office. Hacking the security camera gave us a wide view of the scene - and if there are other cameras in view you can virtually hop from one to another to scope out a whole area before making your move.
But that was only scratching the surface. We hacked a garage door, repeatedly raising and lowering it to spook the nearby guard. We then infiltrated his pal's belt grenade - his panicked screams drew others into the area and its explosion knocked them all flying. The resulting smoke gave Aiden cover as we blasted our way past another guard, with the final one concussed from a detonated gas pipe we hacked.
Whether you're using stealth or going for an all-out assault, there are so many ways to take down opponents by using your environment that no one during the playtest approached things in the exact same way. And whether they're armed guards or the police, no one automatically knows where you are unless you reveal yourself. It's a brilliant system full of possibilities.
Watch this space
With so much to do in the game, it's easy to just wander around enjoying the game without actually taking part in the missions. Side quests, mini-games (including poker, chess and street hustles) and even just calmly exploring the city are all engaging and enjoyable.
You'll quickly notice the consequences of hacking a nearby road blocker in view of passers-by, trying to steal a car in plain sight or pulling out a gun in front of strangers - but it won't necessarily be the same reaction each time, leading to unexpected and sometimes hilarious results.
And then there are rival online players. Either you can invade their game or they can invade yours, but either outcome creates thrilling scenarios where you'll be tasked to stalk someone, hunt them down or hack their smartphone. It all happens seamlessly between your missions, so it's surprising how quickly things turn into a high tech game of cat and mouse within a city full of citizens just trying to get on with their day. There's nothing quite like Watch_Dogs, and the buzz you get from successfully profiling another player after they've tried to shake you off in a high speed chase (sometimes involving the police) is incredible. There's even a nice set of PlayStation Network trophies you'll earn for your troubles, too...
Watch_Dogs is still hiding plenty of other secrets that we'll be revealing in the build up to its launch on 27 May 2014. Keep reading playstation.com and PlayStation Blog at blog.eu.playstation.com to stay up to date on this blockbuster title.