‘Watch Dogs’ Third Time’s The Hack (Video Game Review)

We’re about to pass the twilight of this console generation, but while Watch Dogs: Legion is the third entry in Ubisoft’s AAA series, it’s the first to feel like a full-fledged exploration of the hacker code. 2014’s Watch Dogs, like most firsts in the Ubisoft IP, was more proof-of-concept than a robust experience. Six years, later Legion succeeds by allowing players to hack the planet, er, London (there’s even a trophy named after the 1995 film). And not just by any means necessary but by any person we choose. Let the unf&%#ing of London begin….

After a quick intro refamiliarizes players with Watch Dog’s basic gameplay: hack machines, be stealthy, occasionally resort to shooting, we’re set loose in a near-future London that has many of the same political issues of 2020 sans a global pandemic. Police brutality is nearly on every corner. The system in charge tries to get its citizens to believe the media is only spewing ‘fake news.’ Of course, the corporation behind it all is greedy and power-mad.

Instead of playing as a previous lead like Watch Dog 2′s Marcus Holloway, Legion’s hook is that you can be pretty much anyone. As you navigate yourself in the city, even maybe grabbing a pint at a local pub, you can hack any citizen’s smartphone and see if they might be down to take down evil corporate overlords. If so, you can recruit them to swallow the red pill and join DedSec, which is for those new to the series, the underground hacker activist group that aims to squash the fascist system in place.

When I heard about this new gameplay mechanic, I was hesitant. One of the stronger aspects of Ubisoft’s best titles are the charming lead characters like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s Kassandra. I was skeptical that a game allowing me to be anyone would have to nix any personality type; instead having me essentially controlling mute randos. Thankfully, I was totally wrong. Not only does each of the twenty-five or so recruits I played have fun, diverse backgrounds.

There’s the elderly Meara, who I imagine excels at Parcheesi and quick subroutines – but there is a ton of voice acting. I heard the Montreal developer only hired one male and one female voice talent and then used filters to give them a bit of variety, but it works quite well. Sure, a lot of the dialogue can be silly or at worst eye-rolling (do Londoners really say “off the chain, mate” all the time?), but more often than not, I was engaged with my expanding team and the distinct mocap (Meena is hunched over and slow AF compared to Darren, my thirty-something dude who moves like a superspy).

I’d also add that while I am the kind of player with no shame playing on “Easy,” I selected PermaDeath for this. Essentially, if one of my recruits dies, they stay dead. You’ll no doubt mourn the loss of a fallen crew member, but it adds to the game’s crazy sense of escalating chaos. The first one I was lost was Lakshmi, a DJ who creates fake coupons in her spare time. She died in a garage as I foolishly chose her to hijack a car. Sorry, Lakshmi.

The campaign took me under thirty hours. There is no game clock, so I’m guesstimating how much I played over the weekend (it was a lot). Legion featured, like most Ubisoft games, a fun world to get lost in even if too many of the missions can feel a bit repetitive. (Break into a top-secret lab and steal the data… again.) Still, there was just a lot in this tech-addicted landscape to get lost in. I loved all the podcasts that I could listen to when driving around. I do wish I could listen while I walk, though.

Like the recent Tomb Raider trilogy, you can acquire a ton of audio files but only listen to them while they are popped up on the menu. (Or thankfully, in Legion, they pop up randomly on the radio.) It’s a weird annoyance as listening to audio clips while exploring was perfect in Bioshock… thirteen years ago on my PS3.  Still, there are only a few design choices that had me scratching my head. Like why, when I get a new mission, can’t I track it in the game world? Instead, I have to stop, go to the menu, then map, then ‘track”. Come on, Legion.

I won’t go into spoilers too much, but to say of the three big baddies I had to take down the whacked-out A.I. one was my fav. Albion, it should be noted, is the big nasty one with the most authority, though. The A.I. tale has you using an AR footage recovery of what happened at the scene of the crime. It’s very C.S.I. or Tom Clancy’s Division 2 (another Ubisoft IP).  You look over a crime scene, and then DedSec’s OS “Bagley” reconstructs it in real-time. You can’t fast forward or rewind the moment like in Division 2, but it’s fun, nonetheless. The A.I. tale also takes players to some of the Legion‘s most bizarre locations, like a virtual cabin filled with painful memories of its creator. Good stuff.

That voice in your head Bagley is a real hoot btw. He swears up a storm yet in that always cheery proper Englishman way. Can Siri get this personality upgrade for the iPhone 12, please?

I played on the PS4 Pro, which still had many glitches, even after getting past the long load times. Crashed on me once. Some odd issues like I couldn’t toggle onto my next mission. Many of these glitches will hopefully be patched soon. And, of course, I can’t wait to see how future London plays on the PS5.

Watch Dogs: Legion is a strong start to the holiday season. Next week we’ll have a new Assassin’s Creed as well new consoles, a new Call of Duty, and in December (fingers crossed) Cyberpunk 2077!

Note: PS4 review code was supplied by the publisher

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