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Rise up and hack London in Watch Dogs Legion

London’s landmarks have been amazingly recreated here, though the former seat of the industrial revolution is transformed in ways both chilling and charming. The air buzzes with a steady flow of drones making deliveries, carrying cargo and helping enforce the law, while the city’s structures and murals are complemented by decorative holograms and displays.

The town also bears the unmistakable signs of a military autocracy, with the private army Albion — having replaced the government and police — openly beating people on the street, blasting repressive announcements and covering the likes of Big Ben and the Eye with racist and fear-mongering messages.

Hijacking a cargo drone and riding it around is a great way to see London, and can also make for a mobile assault platform.

Hijacking a cargo drone and riding it around is a great way to see London, and can also make for a mobile assault platform.

The story of the game — which involves the reformation of hacker collective DedSec after they’re framed for a horrific terrorist attack — doesn’t get too deep into how this dark and depressingly believable future occurred, preferring to frame the conflict as more or less black and white and keep its lessons boiled down to near inarguable points like “racism is bad” or “immigrants deserve respect”. Then again, this fictional version of London where everyone believes in and is committed to a truly diverse and progressive world, which can be achieved if only they overthrow the very obvious bad guy pulling all the strings, isn’t so bad a fantasy.

Main missions are generally bland, but thankfully Legion’s sandbox has everything you need to spice them up; heaps of vehicles, a great licensed soundtrack, daft side activities and heaps of procedural systems interacting and clashing to create pure chaos. Melee combat, stealth, shooting and driving are all satisfying and are augmented by the return of the series’ signature mechanic: hacking.

Anything you point at — cameras, cars, bollards, people — is connected to London’s smart city network and can be hacked at the press of a button. You can send vehicles careening left and right off the road, jam enemy weapons, delve into random people’s search history or assault a military base all without leaving your park bench in Russell Square. Or if you are in the thick of it, you can turn every firefight or escape to your advantage by hacking your surroundings and enemies.

And then there’s the fact that every single person you see in the game can be recruited and become a playable character, which is massively ambitious and lends depth to all the strolling peons that serve only as driving obstacles (or target practice) in most open world games. All characters handle the basic DedSec equipment of hacking tools and non-lethal weapons, but they each have unique skills and abilities too. A construction worker might have the uniform to blend in if you need to infiltrate a site, as well as being able to summon a rideable cargo drone on demand and use a nail gun. Meanwhile a barrister might not be great in a fight but can get your team members out of jail early if they’re caught.

Who wouldn't want to recruit a plastic surgeon who could die randomly at any time?

Who wouldn’t want to recruit a plastic surgeon who could die randomly at any time?

The variation of characters makes tracking down and recruiting new members rather absorbing. In some cases you’ll find people whose skills and tools are an obvious benefit — like a spy or an assassin — while others are intriguingly obtuse, like a philosopher or protest leader. Often you’ll need to do special favours for these people before they’ll join your team, and if they’re predisposed to dislike DedSec you might even need to use the “deep profiler” — which shows their contacts and movements — to work out ways to manipulate them to your side.

But having randomly generated avatars as your entire crew does make for some hiccups in a game like this. You’ll start recognising repeated voice clips and dialogue quite early on, not to mention repeated hair styles, which dilutes some of that feeling of uniqueness. The way your team talks to potential recruits and each other is also bizarre, as they never use names and all become experts on both technology and inequality as soon as they’re recruited, even if you found them bare knuckle boxing for money in a shanty town.

Though the replacement of authored characters with procedurally generated avatars has mixed results, Watch Dogs Legion is unique among GTA-style open world crime games as a result. The city is vast and beautiful, your options for vigilante havoc very broad and the potential for it all to explode into a memorably janky anecdote generally sky high.

Watch Dogs Legion is out now for Xbox One (reviewed), PC and PlayStation 4.

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