When I reviewed Watch Dogs back in May, my chief complaint was that the game suffered from a lack of, well, soul. There were plenty of interesting gameplay ideas and solid execution, but on the whole, the experience ended up feeling a tad bit indistinct and generic. It?s a promising start, then, that my hands-on time with the first four missions of the upcoming DLC expansion, Bad Blood, felt anything but.
A large chunk of that shift in tone is due to the fact that Bad Blood centers on the two most interesting characters from the main game: hacker/tinkerer/possible insane person Raymond ?T-Bone? Kenney and definitely, diagnosably insane person Tobias Frewer. Their playful back-and-forth banter, while not usually laugh-out-loud funny, is always amusing, making good use of their personalities and shared backstory to play out exchanges that feel far more human than anything Aiden Pearce ever said.
According to product manager David Thériault, the somewhat less serious approach was part of a conscious effort by the team to differentiate Bad Blood from the main game. ?We definitely wanted to have a lighter approach with Bad Blood, not necessarily because we wanted to go the opposite way that we went with Watch Dogs, but just to have something that really feels fresh and new,? he says. ?We didn?t want to take the Watch Dogs mechanics and just copy-paste them into something else.?
And, of course, T-Bone makes for an interesting playable character, simply because he?s a little rougher around the edges than your typical bland protagonist. I spent most of Watch Dogs? main campaign hesitant to fire a gun, but as soon as I saw T-Bone?s melee takedown animation?which involves a huge wrench and a taser?I suddenly felt OK with causing a little mayhem whenever and wherever I could.
My attitude adjustment turned out to be crucial, too, because the missions I played seemed to call for a much more hands-on, physical approach to solving problems than most of those in the main game. Stealth was definitely still an option in most situations, but unlike the main game, there weren?t any situations where I felt like I could sit on the outside of an area and essentially complete the entire mission without putting myself at risk.
One early standout had me infiltrating a trendy, Facebook-style ctOS office, dodging moving security lasers and putting T-Bone?s RC car, Eugene, to good use, driving it through vents, dodging guards, and using its onboard camera to hack otherwise inaccessible cameras and switches. Another had me defending my own precarious position from swarms of incoming enemies using Tobais? jury-rigged, machine gun? and grenade launcher?equipped security cameras. Both were tightly designed, memorable missions that made me feel exposed and connected to the space I was in, a rarity in the main game.
Thériault says my experience might vary a bit across the final six missions of the campaign, but he acknowledges my broader point. ?I think that in Bad Blood, the team really tried to find a balance,? he explains. ?You have fewer missions, so you want to make sure that all of these missions are really well balanced. You want to make sure that every missions has a wow factor to it, and at some point, you need to physically go toward objectives in order to create that.?
Of course, the campaign is only half of what Bad Blood is bringing to the table. It?ll also introduce new types of side content that see T-Bone serving as a mysterious, extra-legal helper to Sheila Billings, a no-nonsense African-American cop (because, you know, the game didn?t have enough in common with Person of Interest already), with the end goal of destabilizing Chicago?s various gangs in the wake of the events of Watch Dogs.
Some of these diversions are fairly basic?new takes on driving challenges, for instance?but others, known as Street Sweeps, offer a major new type of content to the game: cooperative play. While Watch Dogs had its own online multiplayer component with competitive modes and more seamless hacking and tailing (which are still accessible in Bad Blood), the game didn?t offer any tightly guided co-op missions. After teaming up with another player and taking on a few Street Sweeps for myself, I?m actually fairly amazed that it didn?t, since it?s a surprisingly natural fit.
While the Sweeps are procedurally generated and therefore theoretically infinite, I can?t speak for their longevity?a lot of that will come down to how much variety the various locations and objectives can deliver. I can say, however, that it?s a lot of fun to be turned loose with a partner and play around with all of Watch Dogs? gameplay systems. There?s a kind of silly, childlike imagination that goes into pulling off objectives in such a complex sandbox. Exhibit A: An assassination mission on the waterfront somehow devolved into me driving an SUV across the barely wide-enough dock, having my partner jump on the hood, and then gunning it in reverse back to the mainland while he sprayed our pursuers with assault rifle fire. If that?s not a sign of the wacky potential Street Sweeps might offer, I don?t know what is.
Thériault believes that players will quickly embrace the new co-op play as a way to mix up their time with Bad Blood. ?Just like hacking and tailing really went seamlessly into the Watch Dogs experience, I think [Street Sweeps are] going to do the same thing for Bad Blood.? Thériault says. ?You?re just going to go naturally from single-player to multiplayer.?
Given that hacking and tailing were far and away my favorite part of Watch Dogs, that?s a bold claim, but we?ll find out whether Bad Blood delivers on it soon enough: The DLC expansion?s out two weeks from today on September 30th, and season pass holders can get it a week early on September 23rd.