26 cool, destructive, and silly things I did in the first 4 hours of Watch Dogs

Watching closely? Good

Watch Dogs has been shrouded in mysteries and questions since it was unveiled at E3 2012. Was it next-gen? Was it related to Assassin's Creed? Why was it delayed? Over the course of its development, all of these have been answered to varying degrees of clarity, but one major mystery has remained: How does it actually play? However much we have and haven't seen of Ubisoft's new open-worlder over the last couple of years, the real implications of its world-manipulating, 'hack-anything' mechanics have never become clear. Until now.

You see I've played 4 hours of Watch Dogs. I've done and learned more than a few cool things during my time as techno-vigilante Aiden Pearce, and now I'm ready to dish up the fruits of my experience. So here's exactly what Watch Dogs is like, via 26 Things I Did.

1. Mastered the remote-control cover system

First things first. Before you start bending entire cities to your will, youre going to have to get the basics down. Things like walking and running and hiding--y'know, getting around. It turns out that Watch Dogs is pretty slick in that respect, augmenting the usual press button to not get shot cover-system with directed, point-to-point control. Aim at nearby cover from any angle, hit the button, and Aiden will dash towards it and lock-on exactly as instructed. Its like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but in real-time. And with no aliens. And a mobile phone instead of power-armour. Other than that, though, exactly the same.

2. Used a barking dog to distract a guard

My first bit of techno-subterfuge is perhaps slightly less impressive than it could've been. But lets face it: Not every situation is going to be solved by shutting down an entire city block before escaping on a hijacked train under cover of darkness. Sometimes, youre just going to have to hack someones phone to make it sound like a yapping dog so that you can sneak past while hes distracted. This was one of those times.

3. Did an extravagant door-hack, felt like the all-seeing god of doors

My second bit of techno-subterfuge is far more interesting. This time round I have to unlock a door in order to escape the behind-the-scenes area of a sports stadium. Problem: The power generator for the security doors is in another room. Solution: Aiden can hack anything in his field of view, even if he can only see it via a camera feed. To be fair, Im not sure whether that means hes actually hacking these devices or possessing them like some kind of Eldritch hellspawn (late-game plot twist conformed!). Either way, I use Aidens magical possession-vision to daisy-chain between security cameras, leaping from one to the next by hacking each in turn until I find the door switch. A moment later Im sauntering out. Stupid doors. No match for the awesome power of looking at things.

5. Crafted a lure, went fishing for guards

A little later on, I started spotting random, collectible piles of techno-craft lying around. I sniffed the whiff of a crafting system on the air, and lo I was proven right not five minutes later. High-five, past me. Crafting in Watch Dogs is a swift, streamlined system very similar to that of The Last of Us. As long as you have enough materials, you can quickly use the weapon wheel to cobble together any bit of kit you have the blueprint for. In the early stages of the game, the main item I use is an electronic lure, which emits a mook-attracting sound when thrown. Later on, all kinds of creative (and explosive) tech becomes available.

5. Caused a blackout, ruined a football game

During the final stages of my escape from the stadium, a bigger act of digital sleight-of-hand as I tackle the crowded front-of-house area. The solution? A total power-outage. This requires me to use a combination of everything Ive learned so far. Using the cover system to stealth my way to a good vantage point, I hack the mobile phone being carried by a nearby security guard in order to grab his access codes for the buildings main computer. After safely sneaking away, I find a quiet corner from which to jump between the next set of security cameras and find the mainframe. From there, Im one simple hack away from shadow-shrouded chaos and a quick getaway. Well, nearly. Things are going to get a whole lot more complicated once I get outside

6. Hid under the dashboard of my car like a scared child

Outside the building, I subtly make my way through the panicking crowds and towards the car I have stashed in the downstairs garage. However, cops are crawling all over the place, and already looking for my notorious self. Tearing straight out of there isnt a smart choice, so instead I make use of Watch Dogs neat little hide in car function. Effectively an upgrade of Grand Theft Auto 5s option of laying low out of sight during police chases, Watch Dogs take allows you to hit a button to make Aiden slide down in his car seat, becoming less conspicuous to passing cops. Having let a patrol pass by, I make a break for it. But alas, my break is not as clean as Id hoped

7. Escaped the cops, via the medium of car wrecks

Within no time at all I have a handful of patrol cars on my tail. Watch Dogs police pursuers are a hell of a lot faster, more organised, and more aggressive than youre probably expecting. Fail to keep up the pace and theyll be all over you. Duck down an alleyway to hide, and if you havent ensured a really good lead, theyll be straight in there after you. And thats before they bring in the helicopters. Realistically, the only way you can be sure of making a clean getaway is to use of every hacking trick you can improvise. Early on, that consists primarily of jacking traffic lights on the fly in order to cause pile-ups behind you, but eventually gas pipes, traffic bollards, electronic gates, and even river-spanning drawbridges can be tinkered with. Causing a big smash of police cruisers is fun, but penning an entire fleet into a gated carpark, or sending them skimming into the drink? Thats hilarious.

8. Discovered that Watch Dogs is definitely NOT Assassins Creed with cars

If you have any lingering suspicions that Watch Dogs is a reskinned, modern day Assassins Creed, theyll drop the second you start running around Chicago. Aiden uses a version of free-running, but its far more grounded and much more hands-on than that of the Assassins series. Aiden moves, climbs and vaults with buttery smoothness, but also an enjoyable sensation of weight and momentum. Mantling over objects requires a well-timed manual button-press, rather than subscribing to ACs hold down RT FTW approach. And dont expect to be clambering over box and building alike with the greatest of ease. Although quick and capable, Aiden handles much more like a traditional third-person action hero than the magnetic wall-crawlers of Ubis other urban open-worlder.

9. Killed a pedestrian, got a slap on the wrist

Before going into Watch Dogs, Id wondered how the game would handle the innocent populace at large. After all, unlike GTAs protagonists, Aiden is an out-and-out good guy. But Chicago could hardly be stripped of its tertiary NPCs, Arkham City-style, so how was Ubi going to dissuade me from injuring the walk-on players? Turns out, it wasnt going to bother. I discovered this during that first chase, when I accidentally swerve straight into a pedestrian while tearing around a corner. He interfaces with metal at high speed. He dies. The game briefly lets me know, but then otherwise allows me to carry on about my business. There is a brief flash of a Citizen rating meter, which may well tie into some morality-based interaction changes later on--but otherwise, feel free to get to splattering.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.