Thursday, September 5, 2013

Watch Dogs "14 minute Gameplay Demo" Breakdown

Yesterday Ubisoft Montreal posted this extended gameplay video of their upcoming release, Watch Dogs. I've been hot on this game since it was first announced although people have tried at various points to cool that fire.

If nothing else, the game looks amazing. More after the break.
Before I get into the video I'd like to voice some of the concerns that others have had. There appears to be an amazing amount of interaction and interactables going on in Watch Dogs. However, people have asked how much of what we've seen is pre-scripted.

In that respect, the game looked a lot more like Assassin's Creed from the earlier trailers than it does now. What I've been reading around has definitely said otherwise. It's sounding and looking more and more like the game is as fluid as the developers have been claiming it is.

The Assassin's Creed comparisons bring still more concerns. Assassin's Creed 3 was underwhelming to say the least and the two games appear to share a lot of DNA. Whether that is true on a code level remains to be seen but it has given some cause for concern. Just looking at the HUD I'm noticing a lot of similarity in design, the health bar being an easy example. For now I'll remain cautiously optimistic.

Now onto the actual video:

Right away the video looks amazing. I'm really impressed with how the game looks and I'm going to be showing this video to people and talking about the graphics. Also in that first few seconds Animation Director Colin Graham makes sure that we know that everything we're going to see is "systemic" or not predetermine. I'm not sure I'd choose that word, maybe radiant in the way that Bethesda uses it to describe dynamically generated quests. Or even just dynamic.

I also picked up on some things the physics engine is doing. When Aiden walks to the pawn shop you can see a can rolling around on the ground. Also, I've been watching to see if the belt on Aiden's coat clips through anything. It seems to clip through his arm when he performs actions but it almost never clips through the coat itself.

I know the point of the video is to provide 14 minutes of uncut gameplay but I keep wanting to see these other solutions that they keep alluding to, it seems like everything devolves into action sequences. Maybe that sells games but I want to see more mechanical stuff, I'm assuming the shooting stuff is there.

Another thing I noticed about the video is that even though he calls it "systemic" everything feels very scripted. Immediately after hacking the main terminal he finds a potential crime which happens to develop into a chase which leads to two sports cars. Let me be clear, I'm not saying it's unlikely for two really clean fast cars to be parked in a bad neighborhood (even though Mr. Graham tells us "[we]'ll see working class citizens, rusty cars, etc."). What I am saying is that it seems really convenient for any cars to be there, let a lone two pristine ones.

During this chase sequence the car physics are pretty uninspired. Though using CTOS to stop the car seems really cool, and fairly seamless, the actual driving doesn't look that special. What does look really special is how that car just parked. I pretty much just park on the sidewalk in games like this but it seems like there is actually some kind of parking mechanic. That, or whoever is playing this game is a parking god.

Cliche Alert: anytime anything remotely cinematic shows you the news a story relevant to your life will come on within seconds.

So the escape sequence. I've watched this video a few times now and I've had a real hard time trying to figure out how he actual disrupts the police communications. There seems to be a small "disrupt" icon hovering above major intersections.

Now Aiden hacks the webcam of a mother tending to her baby. Graham tells us that there is a grey area moral choice. He steals some money from the mother and goes to withdraw it from an ATM. I'm having trouble deciding what the moral grey area is. For me, its the fact that he needlessly hacks into this woman's webcam and violates her presumed privacy. That to me is the much bigger issue Watch Dogs is/should be tackling.

Uh oh! Now another single player has invaded this single player game experience. A contradiction but I'll allow it because if this is how Destiny works then it's actually pretty cool. Also is that Diane Young playing as he rounds towards the Sears Tower? Was not aware there would be licensed music but alright.

Now here is a point that really bothers me. After the enemy hacker is stopped, Graham tells us that we're going to invade his single player game seamlessly. Except that we don't do it seamlessly. There is a very obvious loading screen as we're transported into his game. Anytime you fade to black that is a seam.

What follows is some fairly unimpressive PvP. It's unclear what benefit killing the other player provides as opposed to simply hacking them. Not a big deal but I'd like to know more about this mechanic.

So like I said earlier, cautiously optomistic. Something about this game doesn't scream Game of the Year but I'm not discounting the possibility, and very likelihood, of it being really really good. I've seen very few gameplay videos that leave me with more answers than questions but I definitely liked what I saw. It doesn't appear that the game has changed much since it was first announced. I tend to believe that this is a good thing and leads to a more coherent final product.

Watch Dogs is releasing later this year for all major consoles. The PS4 version will land first on November 15 followed by current gen consoles (PS3, Wii U, and Xbox 360) on the 19th and lastly the Xbox One on the 22nd.

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