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Watch Dogs is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated releases in the PlayStation 4’s line-up, so we were eager to point our viewfinder at a behind closed doors demo of the sandbox release earlier in the week. The title, being played on Sony’s next generation super machine, demonstrated several mechanics from the upcoming hack fest, concluding with a fierce fire fight in an industrial factory setting. But does the game live up to its paparazzi-gone-wrong promise, or is it merely an intrusive mess?

Our demo opened with bandana-obscured protagonist Aiden Pearce hacking into an innocent bystander’s bank account. With the spoils, the antihero was able to splash out on a new armoury, consisting of a silenced pistol, assault rifle, and grenade launcher. The diverse loadout was selected in order to showcase the varied approaches that you can adopt during combat, as was demonstrated during the aforementioned gunfight.

First, we were given a taste of the title’s vehicular action, though. The futuristic excursion – which is set in the windy streets of Chicago – adopts a familiar format to other open world releases, allowing you to pull up an overhead map of the game world, and set waypoints. Travelling in a slick black sports car, we’re shown how the hero can manipulate parts of the world in order to make his journey more interesting. At one point, the hack-happy star remotely taps into a bridge in order to create a custom stunt ramp. Not exactly essential, but fun all of the same.

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After a short drive through the bustling city streets, Pearce meets with a sniper-toting psychopath named Jordi. He instructs the character to help clean out a nearby workshop, which is accessed in a speedboat via an adjacent canal. It’s from here that the studio shows off the different approaches present in the release: you can go in guns blazing, or adopt a slower tact. We get a good look at the latter, as the player uses rocks to draw foes out into sniper fire and hacked cameras to obtain a better view of the battlefield. You can even manipulate forklift trucks in order to catch the attention of guards.

It certainly looks like a fun way to play, and is aided by the sheer amount of hackable items in the world. You can manipulate pretty much everything with a computer attached to it, and that allows you to construct custom cover, create makeshift traps, and generally toy with the artificial intelligence in an interesting way. Of course, the developer will need to find ways to keep this consistently compelling throughout the entire campaign.

Less encouraging are the visuals, however. While they’re certainly not poor by any stretch – and still in a pre-alpha state – the title wears the signs of its current generation associations. Texture pop-in was particularly noticeable during our demo, while aliasing issues detracted from the quality of the game’s vehicles. The lighting, at least, is decent – and led to a moody atmosphere when the heavens opened later in the demo, giving the urban surfaces a believable sheen.

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Having successfully infiltrated an enemy stronghold, Pearce was promptly chased out of the industrial area by a group of trigger happy tyrants. These goons made short work of our guide, prompting a restart and a comment about the title’s difficulty. “This is not a walk in the park by any stretch,” we were informed. During the sequence, foes flanked from all areas of the combat arena, forcing the player to make acute use of cover, explosives, and careful aim.

Fortunately, as a master-hacker, the protagonist does have a trick or two up his sleeve. With a quick tap of his sophisticated smartphone, the character can shut down all of the electricity in his vicinity, plunging the world into darkness. This creates the perfect foil for a swift getaway, as it takes several seconds for the lights to come back on. It’s a neat effect, and will make for some cunning exits from heated objectives.

The title’s certainly showing signs of immense promise, then, but there’s still lots of polish that needs to be applied ahead of its PS4 launch day release. Outside of some nice visual effects, the game is lacking the sparkle that you’d typically attribute to a showpiece launch title. It’s also going to be interesting to see how its sandbox stacks up against the recently released Grand Theft Auto V. The hacking hook definitely has us intrigued, but we’ll find out if the full game is worth tapping into later in the year.

Are you aiming to obtain access to Watch Dogs alongside your PS4, or do you intend to stick with the current generation release? What feature in particular has drawn you to the title? Let us know in the comments section below.