E3 2013: Hands-On With Watch Dogs, The Crew, The Division and The Stick Of Truth
Posted on Friday June 14, 2013, 11:59 by Matt Kamen in Infinite Lives
Following on from our spotlight on Ubisoft’s conference on the first day of E3, we head to their show floor booth for some hands-on time with the publisher’s latest offerings.
First up was The Crew (pictured above), the brand new open-world driving game unveiled on Monday. Playable on Xbox One, initial impressions of similarity to the likes of Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Forza Horizon bear out. Playing as an undercover cop infiltrating an illegal street racing gang, you'll be zooming around colossal areas - it’ll be possible to create a map that spreads from coast to coast of the US. As you explore, you'll trigger certain story mission races, some of which provide you with appropriate vehicles - beefed-up SUVs for running rivals off the road, for instance.
The game promises to go deeper, with a persistent online component allowing you to form your own crews and race through friends’ instances of the game world, though it’s hard to get a feel for any of these features offline.
Playing with the second screen app - due for Android and iOS - allows you to customise cars away from the core game and link your creations throughout UPlay account. Even at this early stage, there are a host of elements to pimp your ride with.
Controls felt somewhat unresponsive though that statement comes with the disclaimer of it being a very early build. Hopefully it will be much sharper by the time of release, as this ambitious effort has definite promise.
The Orwellian nightmare world of Watch Dogs was next, with a hands off presentation of two sections of the game. The first saw protagonist Aiden Pierce helping his friend T-Bone escape from the oppressive authorities of the game’s alternate Chicago. Profiling the hacking abilities as Pierce manipulates cameras and creates diversions, it forms what are essentially puzzle sections, albeit remarkably well-integrated into the game’s narrative. Players will have a huge array of hacking techniques at their disposal, using the city's surveillance grid to turn their surroundings into weapons. With Pierce forced into a vigilante role for as-yet unrevealed reasons, castigated by the authorities and publicised as a wanted man, your reputation with the populace can lead to their support or calling the police when they spot you.
The second section shown dealt more with the open world nature of the game, and the integrated online experience - something that hasn't been communicated much before this E3. Not only will you be wandering around your own Chicago, players can attempt to hack into each others’ games for resources, leading to chases and shootouts. It's a bit of a spy vs spy approach, and could prove irksome if you receive hack alerts when you're in the middle of something else, but the vendettas it will no doubt lead to could be tremendous, vindictive fun.
Watch Dogs also has a second screen app, allowing you to call for help from other players or getting them to do advance hacking for you - lowering obstacles or misdirecting search squads, for instance.
Tom Clancy’s The Division takes the long-running shooter series in a new direction, crafting an online, open world RPG for Xbox One and PS4, based on the real-world events of Operation DarkWater. A simulation into societal reaction to a widespread pandemic, DarkWater showed a rapid breakdown in order and near-total decline in services. The Division picks up after just such a plague has ravaged the United States, with an elite response squad exploring a ravaged New York City in an attempt to restore order. With supplies scarce and the authorities non-existent, there’s a power streak of survivalist storytelling at hand. Learning how much research the development team at Ubisoft Massive has done into what lead to this broken world is genuinely unsettling, even more so with the stunningly detailed recreation of the fallen metropolis. The in-house Snowdrop engine is capable of some stunning visual punch, with some of the most impressive texturing and lighting yet seen. Everything is intended to be destructible, right down to inividual bullet holes piercing materials.
Like The Crew, it’s designed from the ground up for a shared experience but Ubisoft stressed that the game can be played solo. While largely dominated by its shooter aspects, complete with hallmarks of the Clancy games such as cover-based shooting and area domination, you’ll be able to build your character’s skills and statistics based on how you play, rather than by selecting pre-assigned classes. This actually seems rather freeing compared to many RPGs where you’re stuck with your starting decision.
Like its stablemates, The Division experiments with a companion app for Android and iOS. Here, the tablet will be controlled entirely by another player, piloting an aerial drone, complete with its with own skills and weapons. The remote player will highlight enemies for console players, apply buffs, heal – support actions that build towards unlocking devastating area offensive actions.
The Division is potentially this year’s Watch Dogs, an impressive new IP with ambition and flair. It needs to really push its RPG elements and customisable character progression to avoid being branded out of hand as just another third-person shooter though.
South Park - The Stick of Truth should prove popular with fans of the satirical series. Coming to PS3 and Xbox 360, the side-scrolling RPG enjoys a huge amount of oversight from show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, including character voices. It also channels the animated source material’s notoriously crass sense of humour – playing as the new kid at the school and roped into an elaborate live-action role play game, your ‘magic’ comes from fart powers.
Yes, it’s funny in that toilet humour, over-the-top manner that South Park excels at but the joke starts to wear thin after a while. Nods to the rest of the show’s loosely assembled lore provide some nostalgic sight gags – an item based on the alien anal probe Cartman gets in the very first episode, for instance – but gameplay itself appears only a slight remix of typical turn-based combat. For hardcore fans, that may be enough but we’ll need to see something much more engaging between now and the game’s holiday release window to get excited.