I have charged my mobile phone and the computer chip connected to my optical nerve to venture into the dystopian future version of London. Among steampunk-influenced attire and sights, my eyes almost popped out of their sockets due to all the sensory impressions the city has to offer.
Watch Dogs: Legion begins with a sequence where you, as the top agent of the secretive hacker organisation DedSec, try to infiltrate the English parliament due to the entire building being at threat by someone planting a series of bombs. This is, of course, another well-crafted Ubisoft-sandbox. You are one of many operators in the hacker group DedSec and your mission is to try to find out who or what it is that wants to take control of the city and at the same time try to dissolve your own organisation. To help you, as you probably already know if you've heard anything in advance about the game, you have potentially the entire population of London at your fingertips. Anyone can be a DedSec member if you want, and anyone can be in alliance with the enemy. Watch Dogs: Legion tries from the get-go to rock you into an uncertainty about what intentions different people in the game have and you never really know who you can trust.
Your assignment starts from a pub located near the Parliament building and the river Thames. DedSec has been blamed for the bombings and the city is in disarray. Traces of these bombings can be seen everywhere and the people in the city are visibly affected by the events. A private army of "peacekeeping" soldiers has been hired by the government and there is a state of emergency for them - they have orders to keep the peace, with any means necessary. The result is the London you as a player get to experience, where the streets are patrolled around the clock by soldiers and drones that regulate the population, where the freedom of the inhabitants becomes the ultimate prize. Everywhere around the city, people are seen living in oppression, and the big tech-companies go to government cases where the new technology is sold as the rescue, but in practice only gives those in power even better opportunities to monitor and control the people.
You end up in the middle of a city on the brink of civil war. You need to rebuild the DedSec organisation and you do this by starting to look for possible recruits. Here, for the first time, one of the main systems in the game appears. Your task is through the game to recruit and maintain a team of operators on behalf of DedSec. Different members have different characteristics and equipment and it is important to choose carefully as some operators are better suited for certain assignments. You secure the operators by starting a recruitment process and you can start it with anyone you meet on the street. With the help of your mobile, you can, as in the previous games in the series, read information about the pedestrians you encounter along the streets of London. The difference in Legion is that the information is now actually useful when you can see what types of vehicles they have access to, what weapons they use, and if they have any special features that can be beneficial to the team.
The voice acting can be a bit shaky sometimes when the inhabitants of the street are randomly generated, which sometimes gives an unintentionally comical effect when the face does not fit the voice. However, this works in both directions and sometimes it works perfectly, like when I recruit an old aunt and she walks around and mutters about today's youth while she throws herself out of windows from explosions and punches people in the head. After you start rebuilding your organisation, it's time to head off to face the usual villains that need to be fought. Here, you have to help the cool hacker girl Sabine and an AI called Bagley, where through the game these two will assist with invaluable information and help in unraveling the conspiracy you happened to run down right into.
London is divided into eight different districts and in these, there are a number of different side missions that you can take on to liberate the population piece by piece from its oppression. As you take back the city, you unlock new, especially powerful operators and you also get access to all the fun side activities on the map, such as hidden treasures and collectibles. When you have completed all side missions in a region, the revolt ends with a region-specific major mission that puts your skills to the test. Here, stealth is mixed with platforming, i.e. jumping/climbing.
Overall, the design is one of the best parts of this entire game and I was impressed time and time again throughout my review of how well-designed the city is and how detailed the surroundings are. London is truly a fantastic city to be in with all its sights and stunning architecture, and while the British aesthetic is repeated in everything from the clothes in the game to the Hackney cabs rolling around at Piccadilly Circus. It's pretty easy to see where the inspiration for the game and the story that is embedded in it comes from. V for Vendetta and Minority Report fight with influences from George Orwell's "1984" and Aldous Huxley's "You Beautiful New World," which are just a few that come to mind. The aesthetics are a form of mixture between avant-garde and Vaporwave where the very prominent technical aspects of the game are woven into the old 18th and 19th-century architecture. I like how the futuristic meets the classic and it feels like each street has its own character. Graffiti and tent cities have arisen in a state capital where the gap between the rich and poor has grown exponentially, bringing my mind back to films like The Warriors and District 9. I like how the plot of the game addresses societal problems that already exist today and enters the discourse that exists around big data, as well as how important personal privacy should be considered in relation to developing technology that can fight and above all prevent crime, and what happens when the lines between the cloud and what you are, become blurred?
From the very beginning of the game, you have access to the entire city and it feels positive that you are not held back by any complicated missions or side activities that you have to do to gain access to certain parts of the world. But, how do the driving and vehicle physics feel in Watch Dogs: Legion? The first time I jumped into a car in the game, I almost puked, to be honest. My first thought was that now I have stumbled upon something that has the potential to ruin my entire experience. The driving felt jerky and the camera wild in a way that made me feel the same as if you were shaking your head from side to side in an attempt to faint. The camera tossed and turned, and the vehicle physics threw me in all possible directions, a bit like trying to ride a wild stallion in a big city environment. After a bit of tinkering in the control panels, however, I managed to fix it, somewhat at least, but it's not great by any means. The shooting and the firefights are also an aspect that leaves a lot to be desired, and the sound of the weapons as well as the feeling of shooting with them is weak, to say the least. It just all feels a little lacking.
I have played the game on PC and Ubisoft has done a very good job with all the setting options where I think that almost everything I am looking for in a PC port is included. You can, for example, fine-tune how you want the cars to behave on the road, which is a welcome feature that I have not seen in anything other than racing games before, but unfortunately, the fact remains that the driving feeling can not be more than okay no matter how much I twist and turn on the controls. Watch Dogs: Legion is also relatively bug-free and during my more than 30 hours played, I have not encountered more than one bug where I had to restart the game.
In the end, Watch Dogs: Legion is a really entertaining game that takes place in a fantastic environment and it constantly makes me want to come back for more. Much of the merit goes to the city of London, with all its history and diversity, but also the main story offers some brilliant experiences with some really fun missions that I will undoubtedly remember.