Preview: ‘Watch_Dogs’ — Hacking Into People’s Lives



Prior to Ubisoft’s visit to New York City a number of weeks ago, I had seen plenty of “Watch_Dogs.” Via the same means that most others have; via YouTube and the like. And the demo I witnessed firsthand shared many similarities with all the rest, not surprisingly; it too was intended to illustrate protagonist Aiden Pearce’s hacking acumen.

But there was one subtle, yet very clear cut difference; each one of those highlighted the sexy aspect of Aiden’s life. Either lurking the shadows, or bold face inserting himself in the lives of rich and powerful individuals, as well as partaking in some of their spoils. That last part is usually automatic; why not help yourself to what they have, given that they probably won’t notice it.

Whereas the demo I saw had Aiden, not at some trendy club in the middle of the night, where the action is, but in broad daylight and in the suburbs, where life is rough and tumble. Where everyday is a struggle just to scrape by, let alone survive.

Again, I got to see Aiden do all his usual tricks: see what security cameras see, take a casual look at people’s most intimate backgrounds, and nab cash from an ATM willy nilly. But there was definitely more impact when the people around Aiden were far more relatable. Whereas hacking before was simply an ends to a means, to simply utilize assets when it is necessary (or sometime’s not), Aiden’s acts of vigilantism began to take on inflections of heroism, since certain actions have more impact.

One cliche or truism, take your pick, immediately became evident: the rich are boring people. Just casually passing strangers on the street will net various bits of background info on each person, and these working class slobs in the middle of nowhere were a thousand times more interesting than anything the beautiful people seen in aforementioned previous demos.

In just one block, Aiden passed by someone who played a zombie in an indie film, another who is a pigeon fancier and makes less than 40k a year, plus a guy who suffers from horrible food allergies. Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING is super interesting, but these brief snippets of info go a very long way in adding life to virtual denizens, perhaps more successfully than many other games before b”Watch_Dogs.”

It also makes the act of hacking a far more thoughtful process, or at least it could be, depending on the player. I wasn’t able to actually play the game, but instead could only watch on. Which was okay, since I dug the demo drive’s constant debate with his own conscious:

“That guy dreams of going on a trip, but he doesn’t make enough money! I’d feel bad hacking that guy’s bank account.”

There are instances in which decisions must be made on the fly. And again, whereas the rich can take the loss of a car or funds in the saving account, it’s not the same with the poor. Immediately after the guy actually playing the game had helped himself to someone’s savings, the other person who was dictating everything lamented with:

“You just hacked a diabetic guy! You’re so mean. He can’t afford his insulin!”

Many people who are enticed by “Watch_Dogs,” and there are many, will no doubt blow throughout the missions and still come back for more, for the open world aspects. Just like in “Grant Theft Auto.” Some may not even bother with the missions and just dive deep into the sandbox. Again, like “GTA.”

And it’s hard to say if “Watch_Dogs” will allow that degree of flexibility, to truly do whatever the heck one wants. But if possible, players might adopt an entirely differently attitude. Instead of wanton mayhem, more responsibility may be employed, thanks to how troublesome its means are to everyone. Get run over and shot would suck, but not something that’s always in the back of one’s mind. But having one’s identity and saving’s hijacked? Especially these days, it’s a constant concern.

Or, players will jump right in and cause problems like they always do, though guilt may start to eat away at them. Games have tried to push this boundary, but with mixed results. Though thanks to “Watch_Dogs,” who knows? Spider Man often says “with great power comes with great responsibility”, though maybe Aiden Pearce should think about borrowing that phrase for a bit.