By Darren Franich
June 07, 2012 at 10:00 PM EDT

The Game: Ubisoft closed their press conference on Monday with an eye-popping first look at a game whose entire existence had been kept secret for two years. Here’s what we know about Watch Dogs: It’s an open-world game set in Chicago, where you can control anything and everything connected to the information grid: Cell phones, security cameras, traffic lights, you name it. You also have access to everyone’s Personal Data, meaning you can tell everything about someone just by looking at them, from their salary to their occupation to whether or not they’re a smoker. So if you’re the kind of person who worries about identity theft, this game is your worst nightmare. (No release date has been announced and the game is not slated for any console, leading to some theories that Watch Dogs will actually be a next-generation title.)

What We Saw: In the demo we saw, the mysterious Aiden Pierce went into an art gallery. His presence there was a trap — he was trying to get an equally mysterious (and apparently wealthy) man named Joseph DeMarco to show his face. Pierce lured DeMarco into a car crash and then killed him in order to “send a message.”

The Good: Watch Dogs‘ head-spinning gameplay is like nothing else we’ve ever seen before — certainly not in the open-world genre, which has lately devolved into decadent GTA tropes. The Chicago setting is gorgeously rendered, but after awhile, you’re not even looking at the graphics — instead, you’re following different tracks of information. We saw the same sequence twice, played very differently each time, with the implication being that the game’s vibrant and heavily-populated world offers a whole host of possibilities.

Watch Dogs supports an intriguing online multiplayer system that allows you to see other friends located in the city. Apparently, you can challenge each other to missions or help each other — a weird mechanic that could be revolutionary if it actually works. That’s also true of the game’s other big headline-grabbing mechanic: The developers are attempting to incorporate cross-platform playability with tablet devices. In the demo, they brought out an iPad which had a fully interactive map of the game’s Chicago. The possibilities are dizzying, and it’s clear that — at this point in the development cycle, at least — Ubisoft is envisioning Watch Dogs as a showcase .

The Not-So-Good: You’re playing as a character who is basically omniscient — a character who, in the developers’ own words, can use the city itself as a weapon. So it was actually somewhat disappointing to see the demo devolve into an old-fashioned shootout, with Aiden crouching behind crashed cars and firing a plain ol’ gun at the bad guys. It left us just a little concerned that Watch Dogs might turn out to be merely an above-average shooter with great graphics and an overwrought heads-up display.

Excitement Level: The buzziest and most mysterious title at this year’s E3, Watch Dogs is a kitchen-sink project for Ubisoft. The few minutes we saw of the game were bubbling over with thrills and ingenuity. If Watch Dogs really is the first vision of the next generation of gaming, then consider us excited. On a scale of 1 to 10, Watch Dogs is a 10 only because the scale doesn’t go to 11.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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