Sunday, May 11, 2014

Watch out! The Dogs are coming... (Watch_Dogs)

So, maybe that Title was a bit... iffy, but it got you reading, so there's that.
(Updated to include the MP modes, I missed. Thanks Tetsou88 from the Ubi-Forums)

Watch_Dogs. What a ride it has been, and the game's not even out yet. From "awesome next-gen launch title" to "delayed, with major graphics downgrade" to "5-27-2014, and no, those graphics are just fine", Watch_Dogs has created quite the online hype - and not exclusively in a good way.

Michigan Avenue Bridge in Watch_Dogs
But that's all water under the Michigan Avenue Bridge, now (that's a Chicago reference with digital proof, by the way), with the game being released in a bit more than two weeks.

And it's shaping up quite nicely, if the following "lore" and gameplay (single player, side activities and 1v1 multiplayer) vid is any indication (the longer gameplay walkthrough starts at 14:30, but it's all worth watching):

Well. That does look nice. So what did we see here?

I mean, apart from the whole "the internet knows your porn-consumption", "everything is connected" conspiracy... well, we can't really call that a theory anymore, can we? It is true, the internet knows, and thus people know. One of the the questions Watch_Dogs poses to the player, is what do you do with that? Knowledge is power, and with great power comes great... fun. I guess.

Nimble little minx
What we see seems very akin to what I'd imagine Assassin's Creed: Modern Online Warfare might look like, albeit with less climbing and more cars. Plus: Jedi Smartphone Tricks. The movement does seem quite similar, even a bit more energetic, yet not as vertical as what the Creeds offered, but hey: did I mention cars? Doing "something" to regional enemy "outposts" to "unlock" the area, also seems familiar. But WD comes with a cover mechanic and a "sneaky-stance", the second of which I am still waiting for in the Creed series, so hello obvious evolution.

I do need some kind of connection...
All in all, Watch_Dogs' Chicago, controlled by  ctOS (ctOS is Chicago's Central Operating System, a Computer in control of a city's interconnected electrical systems), looks and feels quite enticing - and exciting: An open, living city (confirmed via tweet: without loading screens), criminals and damsels in distress, a legally misunderstood hero, and, with access to ctOS, lots of possibilities to interact with that world.
There's a very deep and socially aware storyline somewhere, too, I'm sure, but the joy of open world games always lay (for me anyway) in doing exactly the opposite of what the story wanted me to do, and see how it holds up, once the open world is supposed to "stand on its own."

But let's look at some details, especially from the longer gameplay walkthrough:

Is there a waiting period for the military grade stuff?
First off, guns. Quite a good amount, too, including a .50 cal Sniper Rifle. It remains to be seen if WD will actually accommodate long-range enthusiasts in any meaningful way (i.e. 100+ meters), something nobody seems to have asked or commented on, yet (aside from Ubisoft's own game description, touting "long-range sniping" as one way for the player to tackle enemies), but we can hope. Unless the Rifle is just a token offering to check all the "weapons needed in video game" boxes, and I haven't really seen anything confirming that the player could get to the roof of some of these skyscrapers, but at least head shots seem to equal One-Hit-Kills even with handguns, (and you can blow out tires on moving cars, which is very awesome) so, yes. Hope. And not just for the sniping, but combat in general. Unless you prefer the sneaky way. Which is cool, too.
Anyway, there`s lots of different guns, that, hopefully (there is that "h"-word, again), have their own unique characteristics and handling.

Focus on the Head
And judging from the shown combat, with cover-shooting, and the ubiquitous bullet-time slo-mo (something not only restricted to shooting, mind you), it's good to know that gun-play will be a viable option, especially when combined with the hacking and distracting seen in the video while infiltrating the ctOS Control Center.

It looks like a lot of fun, playing with, and then killing the AI - something I have learned to really enjoy in my time playing games, from the over-the-top skill-kill-setups of Bulletstorm, to the fiendishly gruesome and creative options of Dishonored.

Look, up on the Wall. It's Electro!
Manipulating good AI is always a joy, and something WB Creative Director Jonathan Morin said in an early April interview, about how enemy NPCs in WD will not automatically associate something going wrong around them with a hidden perpetrator and start looking (or even worse, know who and where that person is), makes me hope that what happens in the video around 18:15 (IED explodes, takes out guard, and apparently right after the other guards shoot at the player's location) is a glitch or from old code. And according to (not only) the "ctOS Report", the options are indeed many:
Traffic Lights, Street Lights, Bridges, Steam Pipes, Fuse Boxes, Road Blockers, Cameras, Stuff that Moves... Trains... and, possibly, More Stuff. Cellphones, maybe.
It's a playground, for sure, and it will be very interesting to see, how diverse that will really "play out". Will players really experiment and enjoy the options, or will you soon fall into a trot of "run, shoot, disable, steam pipe, boom, repeat"?
Choices, choices...
Undoubtedly, the developers put a lot of thought into their vision of Chicago, but to really make people enjoy and employ the variety of options, each must be effective in their own way - and not just one way. I imagine foot chases might get pretty stale, if all you really do is wait for your prey to run past a conveniently placed fuse box. Hacking, as other gameplay aspects, like Combat, will feature upgrades and a skill tree, although not that much is known about it. There will be an upgrade to completely plunge virtual Chicago into a black-out, though. Which sounds like fun, if a bit drastic.

Let me put that necklace on...
On to the systemically generated "side-missions" of a "potential crime" - something that just happens, something that is not even a mission per-se, something you can actually choose to engage in or just walk by, should your conscience allow it. Fans of the TV show "Person of Interest" will be familiar with the concept of a computer program using electronic surveillance to predict crimes. In WD's Chicago, ctOS, the City's Master Control Program, does just that, and with the player's access to ctOS, he can choose to follow potential victims, then intervene once these potentials turn into a "Crime in Progress".
I remember that term from Batman: Arkham Origins, specifically from trying to get these annoying challenges done and waiting at certain locations for the always similar "random crime" to occur. WD seems to go for a different approach, something seemingly less predictable in form and outcome, yet it's still unclear how varied those events will be (the two shown in the video look depressingly similar, not in the least for once more portraying the stereotype of the victimized female), or how exactly player actions will have an impact: Can you hack someone's bank account (on a side note: Morin confirmed via twitter, that you can hack multiple bank accounts and only have to go to an ATM once to collect your loot) and send them on a desperate crime spree, then swoop in to save the day? Wouldn't that be something?
Just like you saw on the telly!

Public actions will influence how the city and its inhabitants will regard you and react to you, from helping you out (possibly via a shop discount) to calling the police on you, but how much personal influence can you really exert on the individual?
But if what is claimed in the vid turns out to be true, and the criminals once you're in pursuit actually do act unpredictably, these events should at least be an enjoyable distraction - for the first 50 times or so. There's always a potential pit-fall with these kinds of semi-random "Help Me! Help Me!" events, especially for those closet heroes among us.
Crime stopped. Literally.
Because how can you walk away once you get a number- I mean, the name of a potential victim? And when does NOT walking away, over and over and over, become tedious? Will you be able to simply traverse the city, without having to rescue kittens at every corner?
We'll have to wait and see, but I am (once more) hopeful, that with WD's generally more gray moral approach, they won't constantly pressure the hero types into saving their fellow citizen from durance vile.

Finally, then, to the Multiplayer, only one of (EDIT:) six modes was portrayed in the first vid, so let's take a look at another video, previewing three of the different MP modes (Ubisoft confirmed again that Multiplayer is completely optional and can be turned off completely):

Now, that does not look half bad. And it's apparently seamlessly integrated into the game, with the matchmaking for the 4v4 working in the background while you play, the match starting when everyone is ready. And yes, just to say it again, there are NO MAP RESTRICTIONS for the MP modes. The whole city is open. This is confirmed. Twitter. Tell your friends.

Let's look at the modes seen here:

Who are you? Who, Who? Who, Who?
Online Hacking Contracts (1v1), is more of a deadly hide and seek, something that the Profiler in your smartphone does not make very easy for the hacker. In both videos, the hacker does not get very far into his hack before being detected and forced to flee, but apparently "Mission Success" is a pretty pliable term here, and  rewards are awarded even for partial hacks - as long as you get away alive.
We don't get fooled, again!

Speaking of which, Hacker Spared" does sound so much better than "I let the Bastard got away!" But... did he? As seen in the first vid, if someone tried to hack you, you hack 'em right back! Yes. Retaliation, a founding principle of every modern society - and PvP video games.
Teenage Wasteland!

Funnily enough, if you let the hacker escape alive, you, as the hacked, are rewarded a Mission Success. But if you as the hacker kill the intended hacked, you fail. At least that's what the red writing indicates to me. I guess that makes sense, but it's still weird.

As I was alerted to by my (one) avid reader(s), there is another, less dangerous variant of the Online Contracts, that simply involves tailing the main character unnoticed. It gives less Notoriety (i.e. XP), but the hacked will not be alerted that he is hacked, and it's thus less likely to end in potential bloodshed. Not that it will be easy to inconspicuously tail another player should he choose to race recklessly through the city, mind you.

Competitive Decryption Combat (4v4, only available on Next Gen Consoles and PC), looks like even more fun, and quite diverse fun, at that.
Get the file...
With two teams of... hackers (apparently, you will always look like the main character in your game, but look like someone else in other people's games - but you CAN make it so you'll always look like the same someone else), well, two teams of hackers fighting for a file, that you have to first hold, then decrypt.
...get away...
It's an interesting mix of Capture the Flag, Hold the Flag and Don't let the Baddies get close to the Flag. The file is acquired by downloading it to your smartphone, and can be stolen by downloading it from the enemy's smartphone once you get in range - and stay in range (and alive) for long enough to steal it. If the file carrier dies, the file is free to be grabbed anyone, and from there it's a matter of keeping the file and decrypting it, i.e. keeping the enemy away from it.
There are obviously different ways to do that, but with all of WD's Chicago as your map, you can take the whole match on the road, try to flee your pursuers and keep the file out of their hands during decryption. Decryption as seems to be a lengthy process, even if proximity to your team members will speed up the process. If the enemy gets close enough to try and steal it, the decryption halts until you get out of their range.

It's still unclear how the respawn system works, or if a partly decrypted file, once lost, then recovered, will have to be decrypted from scratch, but the enormous round time (28 minutes for a 4v4 match) seems to be designed to allow for lengthy back and forth exchanges.

 And then, there's the ctOS Mobile Companion App, allowing people on their mobile devices to challenge players in the game to a checkpoint race-course through the city. Sounds simple enough, but where`s the "versus" aspect?
Reach out, touch me
Well, should the player accept the challenge, for the duration of the race, the person on the Mobile App gains control of ctOS, i.e. all those hacks you could use while driving to stop pursuers will now be used against you, from road blockers to steam pipes to traffic lights. Additionally, the person that holds control over Chicago in the palm of their hands (not my words), can set the police on your trail, and keep track of you with a helicopter and its spotlight.
Impending BOOM!
From the short gameplay shown, it seems that the ctOS Mobile App functions akin to a very simple Real-Time-Strategy game, with limited resources (police cars, hacks etc.), so a bit of tactical thinking and quick reactions will definitely be a plus.
The player in the game tries to reach the end of the course before time runs out or he is stopped, while the mobile player (obviously) tries to prevent that - and can actually gloat over his victory (or lament his loss) through an instant message system from mobile app to game. A feature that most definitely won't be abused by the chronically immature. In any way. Ever.
Goddammit you ****-ing ****-tard on ****!
But the app is free, is not region restricted (you can challenge people around the world, but with the inevitable lag that will incur, you might not want to), and you don`t even have to own the game. Which makes this, after Splinter Cell: Blacklist Spiderbot, another potentially very enjoyable mobile game Ubisoft releases for free to everyone. Which I kinda like.

Playing any of these modes will net you experience you can then use to upgrade your character, underlining the seamless nature of WD even more (although it's not known if playing on the Mobile App will translate to XP for your game character, or be used to upgrade your mobile app playing abilities).

As I said, I was told by my rabid fan base, that I had missed two MP game modes - but I actually missed three. The first, Tailing, I already mentioned. The second and third are still somewhat shrouded in mystery, but here's what I could find out:
Free Roam (only available on Next-Gen and PC) allows up to 8 players to team up and just roam the city to have some fun.
UPDATE: Creative Director J.Morin went on twitter again to give some new info on Free Roam:
"Free roam is a bonus way for players to go in the entire city without any activity and define together what to do. You can flag who is friend/enemy with others and then its up to players to define the rest. It is not a controlled experience."
Might that mean, players could possibly create their own Multiplayer Modes, albeit in (for now, at least) private lobbies? And what about a DLC "Free Roam Mission Editor", where you could use existing "missions" or objectives from the Single Player, from ctOs Control Centers to Side Mission Objectives, and play those out in PvP versions? I don't know, but it would be pretty cool...

And there will be a Race-Mode, letting you participate in car-races against other players on predetermined tracks, UPDATE: which has been confirmed to be on all platforms, current-gen consoles included.

Well, that was quite a lot to see, a lot to know, and a LOT to do. We may only have been given a small (and somewhat repetitive) glimpse of Watch_Dogs here, but it does seem to come with a quite staggering amount of content - and that`s without even mentioning the main story missions, something that Ubisoft usually does quite good, but just free-roaming Chicago, online or not, might be gratifying enough on its own.

I mean, aside from the usual mini-games like poker and whatnot, there's also this whole other game-inside-the-game, the Digital Trips. Using some kind of Cyber Drug, the player enters an altered state of mind, an altered state of Chicago. Three different trips are known, Spider Tank, Madness and Conspiracy.
No Words :)

Spider Tank has you killing and destroying stuff in a tank that... well, looks like a spider, a mechanical Spider of Death, with Gatling-Guns and Rocket Pods. Destruction earns points, and points earn Spider Tank Upgrades.

Madness is a Game Mode reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto, but with Demons, as you are supposed to take an armored car into the streets - and into as many "demons" as you can.  Again, upgrades are available through playing the mode.

Come with me if you want to live
Conspiracy, then, appears to be a cyber-zombie hunt in the streets of Chicago. Imagine you're Kyle Reese, it's 2014 and hundreds of T-800s have infested Chicago, but only you can see them. You're Rowdy Roddy Piper, They Live as cyborgs and not aliens, and your special glasses are just an eye-patch. Not that I don't have had enough of zombies, but the trailer from the season pass is definitely intriguing.

Which is leading, quite nicely, to the already announced Season Pass and its contents. Only two Digital Trips (that we know of), will be part of the vanilla game, with Conspiracy being DLC, and part of the Season Pass Bundle. It's a mixed blessing, those season passes, especially if, like this one, part of its contents are cosmetic in nature. Like, costumes and stuff. There's also a single player campaign with a different playable character included, as well as some more missions for the regular character, plus a Chicago Cosa Nostra Pack including a vintage Tommy Gun, but chances are, the savings of the Season Pass compared to the regular purchases will have Season Passers end up getting the costumes for free. Yay. But take a look for yourself, here`s the preview:

And before I go, a few more little tidbits of info (mostly from twitter and on via youtube):

The seamless online play will be available on all consoles, but only 1v1 Hacking and Tailing (and Racing (UPDATE: confirmed on all platforms), and probably Mobile App vs. Player) will be present on the Current Gen Consoles - no Free Roam or Decryption for Xbox 360 and PS3.

The Xbox 360 version will come on two disks, one being a mandatory 7.5 GB installation disk.

You cannot choose the weather in Watch_Dogs, but you can determine time of day by sleeping as long as you want.

Poker and other "Social Mini Games" are actually not. Social. No online for the mini-games. Bad Call, that one.

The Focus Ability in Multiplayer sessions will not slow-down time (Duh!), but still give you helping hints.

Cops will arrest you if you don't resist and are not "Wanted: Dead or Alive".

Open World Games has made an "informed guesstimate" of Watch_Dogs' map size compared to GTA 5`s map size, and WD comes up with about half of the whole of GTA 5, but most, if not all of it, city, as opposed to GTA 5's rolling hills and stuff. The way to this comparison included a digital mock-up of a part (20%) of the printed map of WD's Chicago included (I think) in some editions of the game, resizing it to fit with GTA 5's map, and then putting it five times on top of that.
Here's the result:
"It might not look big, but it will FEEL big", he said...

Watch_Dogs will release on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on May 27th 2014. A Wii-U version will (maybe) come later.

For all your Playstation or Xbox or PC Gaming needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...

Show some love, this one was a lot of work...

Friday, May 9, 2014

In case you were wondering, where I've been...

No? Well, bad luck, then.

My PC had died. It just... stopped working at very odd times, and it got increasingly bad, to the point where I compulsively quick-saved after every single sentence I wrote. The damn thing just shut down, no signal coming, no power to the peripherals, but the blue glowy power light on the tower never went out. It was very weird. And annoying.

At the end of my personal, yet considerable, wits, I employed the help of a PC-Doctor. Who kept the thing for a week, then told me he has no idea why it happens. Then went on to tell me I just might have to do a full re-install of Windows 7, including a full wipe of the Hard Drives. Just to be sure.

I will spare you the details of losing pretty much all of my por-... all of my stuff, but there's only so much a 500 GB external hard drive will hold, so choices had to be made, sacrifices to be... sacrificed. Yeah. That's what I meant to write. Anyway, fresh from the install, two hours in, the same thing happened. And I was miffed. Call in to the Doc, who then tells me, that it now can only be on of two things: The CPU or the Motherboard. For the non-nerds, the CPU is the the Central Processing Unit, the thingy that does pretty all of the computer work. It sits, nestled in a motherly embrace, on the Motherboard, which is like the land and infrastructure on which you build that house they call a "Computer". He also mentioned, in a "on a side note" kinda way, that those were the two things he did not check when he did his check, ergo, there the fault must be.

Unfortunately for me, that meant buying new stuff, namely, a new CPU and/or Motherboard, which considering the age of my CPU pretty much took the "or" from the equation, faulty processor or not. The kind of motherboards that would support it, went out of production years ago. Very fleeting business, that is.
I did some research online - by which I mean, I checked on amazon for do-it-yourself build your own PC kits - but... well, I know what most of the stuff means, but I also know that I don't need most of the newer stuff. I don't want to play games on that thing, I just need a working "typewriter" with good web-functionality - most everything else, that's what my PlayStation is 4 (Ha! Get it?), and, recently, once more my trusty Xbox 360 (Dark Souls II, people!). Plus, I wanted someone, whom I could call upon in my hours of need, someone, who would not live in India, but kinda closer to home. Close enough to come buy and fix stuff.

So again I called my trusty PC-Doc, and told him what I wanted: Take my old one, use what you still can use, and put in new, and more importantly cheap, stuff until it works. And so they did. One day later, it came to my door, I paid for it, plugged it in, and was just in the middle of setting things up... and the same damn thing happened again.

In the end, what might have happened was this: A power surge damaged my old PC, either both the power supply and the Motherboard, or the hinky power supply eventually hinkied-up the MB, who can tell? When the first new MotherBoard was installed with a new CPU, the hinky power supply damaged that board, too, which in turn fired the CPU. Thinking it was just an odd coincide, they put in another CPU, test-drove it, and it fizzled again. Only THEN did they consider a faulty Motherboard, and the possible reasons said MB might have begotten these faults.
The final tally amounted to three CPUs (two fried), two Motherboards (one hinky) and one new power-supply. None of which I had to pay, since I never had gotten a working product, but it took quite some time. Plus a new graphics card - for which I DID have to pay - because the on-board GFX did not support audio output via DVI-HDMI, and since my TV is my monitor, that was pretty much not acceptable.

Over one full month of computerlessness. My Smartphone did get a healthy workout in that time, believe you me.

And, believe it or not, that was only the smallest of four pretty devastating things to happen to me in the last six weeks. Yeah. The smallest, the most insignificant. But you don't care, so I won't bore you.

Next up: Watch_Dogs :)

For all your PS4 or Xbox One needs, especially the European needs, head over to Amazon UK - best deals in Europe (mostly). For TV or Movie Streaming needs, as well. Yes, they did help me through this. Yes, I do buy there myself. Exclusively. Unless I find a better deal, elsewhere...