Haven't you caused enough damage? Near-future Chicago is a city under secret siege, not from human traffickers, petty thugs, and gangbangers, but from you and your smartphone. The stop lights are broken, the vending machines depleted, the public's knees permanently scrapped from stooping to grab the cash you sent flying out of malfunctioning ATMs, and no one stands near vents. Isn't it time to put the phone down? Not according to Watch Dogs' first expansion, Bad Blood.
Ahead of its September 23 release, I played the first four of ten campaign missions, as well as a handful of side activities and some online co-op. The story takes off directly after the conclusion of Watch Dogs. With Aiden Pearce's journey wrapped, you play his dreadlocked hacker ally Raymond 'T-Bone' Kenney, a man fond of septum piercings, bowling shirts, and booze. This software engineer once worked for Blume, that shadowy corp behind ctOS—the Central Operating System that powers Chicago's infrastructure and runs everything from road signs to data records.In fact, T-Bone wrote the base encryption code for that operating system.
After sensing how dangerous it is to give control of an entire city to a few technologically literate people, he fled the company, but not before causing the infamous 2003 North East Blackout to make his point, a blackout that inadvertently killed eleven people. Now living off the grid, wracked with guilt, and looking to take down Blume, T-Bone is the most dangerous person in Chicago. Which isn't good for Chicago.
We first meet T-Bone conducting an illegal terminal intrusion in the heart of Blume's central offices. Two guards apprehend him, but T-Bone plays bait and switch, casually insisting he's been sent by Blume to check on network integrity before pretending to talk on his phone. Unwritten rules of social politeness stress that you must never interrupt a phone conversation, so the guards wait, biting their tongues and scratching their heads. Cue T-Bone turning around and smashing their faces with a wrench and taser, his two new melee weapons. But he's not out of danger yet; now comes the escape.
Blume security know there's an intruder in the building, but fortunately for you, they don't know where. Using familiar tricks of whipping out my phone and hacking into cameras, I get a bead on patrols. I hack a device in a side room to make a noise and attract a guard, then shut the doors to lock him in. Then I sneak behind another and taser him before exploding a panel beneath the last man's feet. For those who've played Watch Dogs, it's a familiar pattern.
Stepping into the cold Chicago night, enforcers are waiting. Snipers on skyscrapers sweep glowing red lasers across my path, so I duck between cover points until I reach the main road. It's chase time. As I make my getaway on a motorbike, two heavy duty cars with tinted windows careen after me. There are two ways to lose my tail: kill them or escape the search radius. Seeing as I've only got a pistol, I drive up a ramp and into the bay to lose them. That's mission one of ten over. I'm all wet now.
As I doggy paddle, my (thankfully waterproof) phone starts ringing. The voice on the other end sounds panicked. It's Tobias Frewer, estranged former colleague of T-Bone's at Blume, and he's in the back of a car. The very back, like, the boot. Frewer reveals the landmarks he can see through a crack, but his battery is dying and I need to establish sight of the vehicle before it goes completely. I see a car tellingly swerve up ahead and race towards it, but now comes the tricky part: I need to stop it. Which is hard because I'm on a motorbike. Curse my love of 2003 action film Biker Boyz starring Laurence Fishburne.(opens in new tab)
Ah, but I'm forgetting I can hack traffic lights. The car snags on a crowded intersection and I seize my moment, jumping off my bike and killing the driver. Before I can untie poor Frewer, though, more cars join the hunt. I jump in the front seat and evade them, a muffled voice yelling “Ahhh!” from the trunk.
Tails successfully shaken, I take Frewer to my home/squatting residence, an abandoned military silo entered by way of construction lift. He's paranoid, pursued by Blume, and needs a safe house. This'll do. It's a heavy duty havan of hackerdom: mountains of whirring machines, screens filled with flickering lines of code, and even a mounted moose head you can hack into for a cheesy one-liner.
The next mission tasks me with another infiltration into a secure area. Are you seeing a theme here? Bad Blood, from what I've played, seems to like its car chases and stealthy break-ins. At least this time I have Eugene, a C4-equipped RC car with bonnet-mounted surveillance cam. It's new to the world of Watch Dogs, even if remote control drones aren't exactly fresh ground in the wider world of vdeogames.
I decide to retire from the campaign and screw around with side activities. Most from Watch Dogs make the cut. There's the phone game NVZN in which you blast holographic aliens emanating from portals. There are city games involving chess, drinking, and slots. Best are the bonkers Digital Trips, triggered by an app that uses binaural frequencies to lull you into a dream state. There's Psychedelic (bounce across giant rubbery flowers), Madness (drive a Hell car), Alone (sneak past weird robot sentries), and Spider Tank (drive a spider tank). Completing these unlock new outfits for T-Bone.
After getting my fill, it's time to head online, and into a series of dynamic missions unique to Bad Blood called Street Sweep. Here you'll run jobs for detective Sheila Billings aimed at cleaning up the mean streets of Chicago. There are three gang types and three skill trees. Completing the first mission against the Chicago South Club gives me discounts at gun shops, for example, while reaching level 20 in the Fixer missions offers a range boost for my phone jammer.
Street Sweeps randomly generate enemy spawns and locations, so they're never quite the same twice. Missions I play mostly revolved around room-clearing: subdue a set number of targets non-violently, hack into and explode the phones of two militia, neutralize everyone in sight, etc. They're hard. Whenever I raise the alarm, a neverending stream of backup henchmen arrived, and my only course of action is to die and start over.
That's why co-op is a blessing. You can play alone, in a private session with a friend, or search for a stranger publicly. Simply walk up to the mission icon, interact with it, and the game will search for a nearby partner to help you out. Travel too far from each other and you'll even teleport to their location. Handy.
With ten campaign missions and an technically inexhaustible supply of Street Sweeps, along with new locations, new characters, new gadgets and new perks, this is, at the least, a solid ten-hour chunk of game. Not that Chicago will thank you, poor thing. It's not essential, especially if you've already plumbed the depths of Watch Dogs, and there's a criminal lack of new ways to interact with the smart city, but nonetheless, Bad Blood is shaping up to be a robust chunk of familiar action. It's out on September 30.