The latest Watch Dogs game literally offers a mesmerising, if not a little buggy, open-world experience
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Ubisoft has a very predictable formula to its games, which sometimes works for them, and feels like it has been done before on other occasions. Almost as if the games were created out of a fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire, like: ‘take back ____ from ____ by playing as an _____ using ____ .’ The new Watch Dogs: Legion may seem like it is cut from the same questionnaire.
Watch Dogs: Legion
But its unique ‘play as anyone’ hero system is a bold move and so is the dystopian technology-infused storyline that gives strong Black Mirror vibes. It gives a fresh take on the Grand Theft Auto open world game.
Straight into it
Welcome to London, but this time as a futuristic supercity filled with wonder, such as AI automation to driverless cars to drones everywhere to take care of your ‘well-being’. Dystopian governments are controlled by corporations complete with policing by a paramilitary outfit. Large tech companies not only mine your data but prove mass surveillance is commonplace. In this world, you, as a member of hacktivist group, DedSec, have to develop the resistance and take down Albion.
For my starting character, I picked a lady whose only attribute was that she owned a car... I was not impressed. My interest in the game grew as soon as I started recruiting. Repetition was inevitable with a ‘play as anyone’ system. Yet, there is a surprising variation in characters: construction workers, football fans and the elderly, even those with unique abilities like a James Bond-like spy or a magician. Walking around the beautifully-recreated London streets as I profiled people, it was fun staking out locations for elite recruits, and the game has a way of surprising you. Spot someone interesting, complete their recruitment mission and they are part of your team.
With such a large cast of characters, Ubisoft has implemented permadeath to its roguish hero mechanic. This works effectively, as it hurts losing a treasured hero. Though you can recruit more, it still smarts and that feeling raises the stakes. The missions are designed to permit experimentation with your characters’ abilities; you can approach objectives from different angles, hack drones, sneak and set traps using the hacking mechanics or go point-blank guns blazing — this freedom is refreshing for you and your A-Team.
Driving is core in this GTA-like game, and cruising through London is fun. The iffy frame rates seem to have been patched, but the cars still feel like they lack weight. There is a nice variation in cars: autonomous futuristic cars, and Watch Dogs versions of classic cars, to name a couple. There is a handy autodrive function to get you where you want to go. Pleasing aspects of being on the road include the hilarious radio stations, and the voice of Bagley, DedSec’s deadpan yet hilarious AI assistant.
Pure sandbox fun
Annoying gameplay bugs aside, dystopian London looks crisp and clear, especially if you have raytracing, and see the scenes at night with dynamic lighting and reflections. No doubt this game would shine on next-gen consoles, assuming you get your hands on one. The open world is fantastic, and like any sandbox game there is a lot to do. Building your team is an obvious one, but the number of side missions will keep you busy for over 40 hours.
Watch Dogs: Legion takes what made Watch Dogs 2 great and adds many bold features. The ‘play as anyone’ is undoubtedly memorable, and so is the Black Mirror-like storyline and setting. If it is looks you are going for, it is wise to wait a bit and play it on a new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X or on a fast computer with an RTX card.
The writer is a tech and gaming enthusiast who hopes to one day finish his sci-fi novel