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'Watch Dogs' hands-on PS4: Ubisoft's new IP feels fun, expansive and new

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Fun, expansive and new. Those were the three adjectives that first came to mind when thinking about the hands-on time we had with Watch Dogs. Personally, hacking is probably one of the most enjoyable impulses I've ever had when playing a game. The ideas and concepts behind Watch Dogs are ambitious on paper, but when you play them in an actual game, they're mind-blowing revelations. Finally, we often hear developers and publishers talk about games that are doing something new, but rarely do they deliver like what we've seen from Watch Dogs thus far.

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Admittedly, it's difficult to put everything we saw into a preview, especially when you consider how much more there is to this game's narrative, features and world. We played Watch Dogs on PS4 and the visuals were very good, but not overwhelmingly great. That said this was just a build for the game and in no way was what the final game will look like.

I don't think I've ever seen something like this before. It's been over a week since the hands-on and it's still blowing my freaking mind. I can't fathom it and it's bothering me that I have to wait another month for the whole picture to come into focus. The three hours with the game was like sampling a very addictive drug and then having it taken away from me. I need more Watch Dogs.

Regardless of what ensues next, Watch Dogs is worth the hype, but it's something you are going to have to commit to because it's, well, new.

Story Missions

The small snippet of the story we experienced was engaging, interesting and a refreshing story to become immersed in. Yes, in one of the missions we played through it was vintage Assassin's Creed (tailing a target without being detected), however, this game is not even close to Assassin's Creed.

The addition of hacking is the x-factor for Watch Dogs and to give you the perfect example of what we're talking about, the IED mission is the best place to describe it. In this mission, we arrived at an abandoned building where we were informed some enemies would eventually be meeting at, so we had to plan out an assault before they arrived.

When we equipped our profiler, it helped us to see points where littered trash had been left from a previous meeting, providing us with clues as to where each target might be located when they arrived. We took the cues from the game and planted as many IEDs as possible.

Once the targets arrived and were all done moving around, we began hacking one IED at a time. We had to be quick about the hacking, since enemies quickly left their standing positions and began looking for us. Not having any IEDs left and being in the wrong place at the wrong time left us getting killed on the first try.

One of the things you'll want to do in Watch Dogs is if you fail a mission, remember how you failed or perhaps what you did wrong for the next time you go through it. In our case, we used all of our IEDs at once and some leftover targets were in areas we did not initially search prior to their arrival, so we had to make adjustments accordingly.

The second time around, we paid a little more attention to the environment and were a little more conservative with our ammo. A balcony we didn't take advantage of during the first attack provided a much better vantage point to execute the attack, and keeping a few IEDs in our pocket allowed for a lot more freedom once the targets had actually arrive. Having a few IEDs on hand helped out when targets were hiding behind cover and firing in our direction. We then tossed them over and had control to denonate them when enemies were most vulnerable.

During the second time we attempted the mission, making sure we took a different approach was extremely important to successfully completing it, and in fact, we did. While this was just one of the missions we played, it leaves enormous possibilities of what else Ubisoft can do with this game.

Two more things, Jordi Chin.

RPG Elements & UI

Watch Dogs has a staggering, unexpected amount of RPG elements and options. Players will be able to upgrade a wide-range of abilities throughout the course of their play-through. Things like the items you can hack in the world of Chicago is just one of the trees players will be looking to upgrade throughout Watch Dogs.

Players will earn skill points to acquire new, more advanced skills and hacks, plus they can earn those points through side missions, main missions and more. This presented us with the conundrum of wondering what we needed to upgrade, versus what we wanted to upgrade. Some hacks are more essential to you earlier in the game, it's easy to see that from the missions we played. However, it looks like players will need to discern what upgrades are most urgent at any given time.

The smart phone, which helps guide players to things such as digital trips, ordering up a car on demand, fixer contracts and more, has a straightforward and easy-to-use UI that players will be able to understand relatively quickly.

With this being a new IP, players should take the time to understand what each app does and how it can embellish upon their experience, and the same can be said for the UI for the skills tree. The skills tree especially is something players are going to want to familiarize themselves with because the menus are aplenty and even a bit overwhelming if you don't know what's available.

Understanding each option you have will result in a more efficient use of upgrades. The depth we found here was staggering and expansive to say the least, but that sentiment will most likely disappear the more you get use to this game.

Hacking & Side Content

Hacking is a more complex beast then originally thought heading into the Watch Dogs preview. While your typical dullard will look at hacking and say, "There's not much to it," hacking actually forces you to be more thoughtful and strategic.

Hacking in Watch Dogs is something that you can upgrade via one of your skill upgrades. Your battery life will lower with every hack you execute, but its life can be extended through utilizing skills points. Some hacks are more plentiful than others. Traffic lights are always around to hack, but they are definitely the least effective item to hack when trying to halt an assailant or distance yourself from a pursuer.

That's the insight we found when playing through some of the story content. When trying to get away from an enemy in a car, it's not enough to hack every single thing around you and expect it to get an enemy off your back. You need to make sure your hacks count. A steam pipe is a more effective hack than opening a gate because the pipe is more damaging and streamlined to use. If you lose your battery while trying to escape a target, you may find yourself in deep trouble.

Outside of the car, hacking when in combat can be a dangerous, yet very rewarding action. If you're behind cover, and an enemy that is shooting at you is near a hackable element in the environment, it's a good idea to try and hack a nearby camera, then look at the pipe or whatever the target is near and stun them, momentarily providing you the chance to take them down.

Never before have you been able to overdose on information, money, cars and music so quickly. When you use the profiler, you can obviously see various pieces of information about every civilian in Chicago, but you can also hack people to obtain new tracks to listen to in your car, steal cash you can redeem at ATMs around the city and unlock new cars you can order on the Car On Demand app. This was an interesting function for hacking that was unexpected, even though you can also unlock new cars by breaking into them too.

Hacking is a very innovative function in a game. It is finally something that is "new" and actually helps contribute to making the experience more unfamiliar and surprising. Once you start hacking, you'll want to continue doing it for hours, so be careful.

Rampage Retribution

A quick note, one of the remarks we remembered coming from Ubisoft prior to this preview is that the world will react to you and the choices you make. While it wasn't as specific as an individual AI remembering you, it's true, the world knows what you're doing. In this context, we pretty much went on a rampage in free-roam mode, and eventually there was a fixer contract placed on us.

The fixer coming after us wasn't another player; it was an AI assassin, not an Assassin's Creed reference, who chased us down. He was a bit challenging, but we were able to gun him down and go on our way. We then completed side content that improved our reputation to avoid any more fixers.

Online Multiplayer

This is something we still have questions about. The preview we played through did show off Watch Dogs' multi-player, but we had to load a different demo, so that sort of broke up the feeling of playing single-player and then having someone invade our game. The final product will no doubt provide full context for that transition, but regardless, online multiplayer is spectacular.

Hacking into another player's game is much more than the just trying to download another player's data. Other options for online hacks are tailing, ctOS mobile, racing and more. You can also free-roam in the online arena.

Perhaps one of the greatest insights we came away with for Watch Dogs' online hacking is that when you try to hack into another player's game and steal their data, it matters where you do it. For example, if you try to hack someone while they are near a skyscraper with no plazas surrounding them, you are not going to be able to find a strong enough of a place to hide, while remaining in the hackable vicinity. They will find you and kill you quickly.

With this said, it will behoove players to wait for their target to move to another part of the city that is more conducive to hacking them. Something like an industrial or suburban area is more ideal to complete a hack at. Another thing to remember when hacking is after every 25% of completion, the area in which the person being hacked has to find you shrinks (you must close the distance between yourself and your target, which makes it that much easier for you to become the prey). By the time you are passed the 75% mark, you'd better have a great hiding spot because it's rather simple to be found out if not.

As you've no doubt heard by now, successfully completing a hack will increase your reputation considerably and even if you are spotted, you can still get away and earn some notoriety. We also noticed that the longer you were able to complete your hack before being discovered, resulted in a smaller notoriety penalty.

The online mobile app will be free to anyone who owns an Android or iOS device, regardless if they own the full version of the game or not. Our experience with this was definitely enjoyable and a bit of a challenge, especially during the races you can do. If you don't know your way around the streets of Chicago, you will most likely struggle against a savvy, well-versed mobile player.

This should present folks who have to take public transportation to work or school the opportunity to pass by time in a very fun way. It'll be a nice compliment to Watch Dogs itself and it's even more attractive because Ubisoft has made the app free.

Final Thoughts

To keep things in perspective, this was a very small piece of the entire experience in Watch Dogs. What was seen left me hooked, wanting more and counting down the days until this game launches. There is so much more to this game than what we've seen and have been told. Watch Dogs is not a letdown, it's a revelation, so far. I'm very excited for this game and it's okay for you to be too. See you online, May 27.

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