It's been four months since Watch Dogs sold a ton of copies and earned itself Yves Guillemot's rubber stamp of franchise status. The debate of how well the game delivered on its lofty pre-release expectations now feels long worn out but, having stuck through the game's story until the very end, do indulge me a quick opinion here. I think I've earned it.
In brief, I thought Watch Dogs was good but not great. To put it less briefly, it felt like the solid opening installment of a series which I will remain interested in but which I also hope will go on to be improved. Watch Dogs is very much like the original Assassin's Creed in all its broken, boring glory before Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood refined the formula. Maybe in a couple of years a true sequel will be released which will make me want to go back. But, in the meantime, upcoming expansion Watch Dogs: Bad Blood is something of a hard sell.
Bad Blood feels very much like more of the same. The fun things about Watch Dogs are of course still there - such as the way the game can make you feel empowered by letting you tinker with Chicago's systems. See those enemies calling for backup? You can fry their phones. See those police cars a block away? Turn out the lights and they won't be able to see you.
But the lack of any major new abilities and the decision not to expand the game's map removes much of the original sense of discovery - new skill trees or not (and there is a big new skill tree for you to explore, should that be your sort of thing). And Ubisoft's earlier promise of "new locations within Chicago" actually refers to the new sections within buildings you explore solely during Bad Blood's 10 single-player missions - the expansion's overall map remains identical to that of the main campaign.
Bad Blood sees Watch Dogs side-character T-Bone introduced in much the same way we first met Aiden Pearce. The first mission places T-Bone inside somewhere he shouldn't be and where you quickly need to escape from, via a mixture of stealth and (when that fails) shooting people in the head. You can now hack certain doors to lock patrolling guards inside areas - a useful addition to your bag of tricks if you wish to take the silent approach, but equally ignorable if you prefer to go in all guns blazing.
The new story is designed as an epilogue to Watch Dogs' tale, with Aiden Pearce now laying low and T-Bone mopping up some final unfinished business. But so much feels the same despite the change of lead character. Dickhead mob boss Lucky Quinn is no longer around but in his place is a previously unheard of son, Niall. And mouse-headed hacker antagonist Defalt is still in the picture too, judging by early police reports heard on the radio.
T-Bone is a more charismatic lead than Pearce - not a huge ask by any means - but like the main Watch Dogs story this new tale feels wrapped around the systems and mission types that Ubisoft Montreal decided to build first. "Drive all the way over here, hack this," is Watch Dogs' version of those endless Assassin's Creed following missions, and you can expect the story to throw plenty of reasons why you need to go to X and download Y. The fact that one of the first of these is the factory location with the movable crane (you'll know the one if you played the main game) all over again only illustrates the point that what you're playing feels like a Greatest Hits album rather than wholly new material.
But there are a couple of new additions - the one most likely to grab attention being the addition of T-Bone's remote-controlled car. Nicknamed "Eugene", the vehicle can slink around enemy-filled locations and act as a portable camera - meaning that anything you could interact with via your phone, it can do too. Fill up Eugene's skill tree and you'll soon be using it to taser enemies too, although it remains more of a reconnaissance vehicle than anything you'd want to rely on in a gunfight.
Can you use it in the game's open world though? No you can't - you can only select it during story missions, and even then only in specific areas. It leaves the moments that Eugene pops up as something to look forward to but also with as something that feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Bad Blood's single new mission type, Street Sweep, feels a little half-baked too. It finally adds co-operative missions to the game (the ability to start online sessions with a specific friend for other modes was added in a recent free patch) but ones where you'll again retread familiar ground. You're tasked with things like hacking and then killing a specific enemy in a crowded location, infiltrating and then downloading files from another location, or holding a certain point while data unlocks.
The clever thing here is that the missions are replayable as they have procedurally-generated elements (the locations of the enemies and their various types), although the fact that pretty much the same thing was just announced for Assassin's Creed: Unity will do nothing to dissuade those already worried by Ubisoft's open world sausage factory approach.
During our time with the game we only got to the play the first half of Bad Blood's missions and I didn't get a lot of time to re-explore the game's open world. A cursory glance showed more investigations and collectibles to discover, however, while scanning passers-by revealed that there are again a load of songs and other things to unlock. But as I drove through Chicago's familiar streets, T-Bone inside the car and Eugene nowhere to be seen, it could have been as if I was Aiden Pearce again, playing the original Watch Dogs experience back in May - for all the good and bad that brings with it.