Another E3 has come and gone and debates of who won or lost are being fervently argued back and forth right now in a local forum near you. I don't know about some people, but one of the main reasons I love E3 is learning about new IPs and this year was not a disappointment.
One particular IP has generated a lot of buzz from multiple gaming sites with some even declaring it as the game that stole the show. I am of course talking about Watchdogs by Ubisoft Montreal. The live demo really impressed the audience, and pretty soon it was uploaded to various gaming outlets to an even larger audience where Internet denizens consumed every frame and polygon. I won't waste time describing the demo as I'm sure you've already seen it; perhaps multiple times by now.
I, too, became intrigued after watching it. But after letting the hype die down I started to think about something I noticed in the demo: The character's ability to hack almost every electronic device he came in proximity to (particularly cell phones), and how the developers themselves say this ability will prove to be a major mechanic in the game. While the player is not restricted to this method alone, it's evident that this mechanic is being given prominence as an alternate means to complete missions.
There was a niggling thought in the back of my head after seeing all those hack icons pop up over the sea of NPCs scattered about in the demo, and that was I hope this feature doesn't turn out to be more of a gimmick than it is for actual applicability to gameplay. What I mean to say is, I hope Ubisoft isn't bragging about this mechanic as being all-important when its actual application is minimal at best and completely nonessential at worst.
I guess the only comparison I can think of is with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. A large criticism of that game concerned the shooting aspect, and a lot of complaints from gamers said it wasn't as refined as traditional FPS games who felt the shooting -- while still a viable option to complete missions -- was subpar. Gamers who felt this way also said that it was almost as if the game "forced" the player to always take the stealthy route.
So it is my fear with Watchdogs that the ability to hack every NPC's phone that this isn't the developer's way of "forcing" you to play the game, or make the player feel inadequate if they don't perform this action. If Ubisoft is going to great lengths to make this mechanic available for every NPC, then they need to make it worth the player's time in regards to it having some meaningful impact while playing the game.
Why do I want to hack a random NPC's phone? What beneficial purpose does it provide to my character, the story or the specific mission I am on? Do hacking random NPC cell phones impact the game in any substantial way other than "I can do it"? These are the questions I'm asking concerning this mechanic.
I realize the longer this industry continues to thrive and the more mature it becomes, devising new and interesting ways to play games is very difficult. Developers are fighting for gamers' attention like never before as it's not enough to make a game fun, but you have to make a game with staying power. With so many developers vying for a piece of the pie and a bevy of options available to the consumer, your game really has to stand out to succeed.
Back to my point: I really hope what we saw in the demo was more than just icing on an already tempting cake. The demo was certainly satisfactory and didn't leave much room for doubt that Watchdogs will deliver an interesting experience with compelling gameplay. Hopefully the ability to hack random NPC cell phones won't be as irrelevant as it sounds.