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The Tech Deck

‘Bad Blood’ excites, but can’t correct ‘Watch Dog’ ills

Title: 'Watch Dogs: Bad Blood' (downloadable content)
Platform reviewed on: Playstation 4
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2014

My review of 'Watch Dogs,' the digitally neurotic current-generation answer to the progression of the open-world genre, criticized the UbiSoft title for two reasons: Aiden Pearce lacked empathy, and the Chicago of the game felt constricted by gameplay limitations.

'Watch Dogs: Bad Blood' – the first (and likely only) episodic downloadable content for the game – remedies one of those ills slightly, while unsuccessfully addressing the other. Bad Blood, then, stands as a worthwhile reason to return to this passable iteration of eighth-generation, open-world action.

The game puts you in the shoes of Raymond Kenney, AKA T-Bone, the big drinkin', super hackin' ally you befriend halfway through Watch Dogs proper. T-Bone's personality is infinitely more likeable than Pearce's, and it remains so throughout the six or so hours you'll spend with Bad Blood. The reason for that is simple. While you get glimpses of the dark, cynical world that Aiden inhabits, T-Bone's story is streamlined by shedding the emotional baggage. By the end of the adventure, the story becomes much more like a buddy flick than a revenge saga, evidenced by the more-than-mildly amusing final cutscene.

Bad Blood really does nothing revolutionary with Watch Dogs' gameplay. You're still using stealth and hacking to infiltrate areas with enemies that far outgun you. There's still the focused, bullet-time gunplay that doesn't quite capture the brilliance of GTAV, but is more than serviceable. Car chases are still an arcade-y affair, made only more interesting by the hacking mechanics that can sideline pursuers in a well-timed instant.

Where Bad Blood improves upon its source material is in its mission design, the addition the new remote-controlled car and street sweep missions that force you to play the game in certain ways for high scores.

Perhaps because Bad Blood is so much shorter than Watch Dogs (10 missions to Watch Dogs' 43), the story tasks feel much more diverse, satisfying and fun. During the campaign, you'll dodge laser beams, guide your ally through mazes and use the game's hacking mechanic on an overlay of actual, in-world items. The puzzles take more thinking, the gunfights more planning and the platforming more timing. This all leads to a narrative experience that outdoes Watch Dogs in every way.

The remote-controlled car, affectionately named 'Eugene' by T-Bone, changes the way you play stealth moments of the game by offering an alternative option to taking out enemies undetected. The system doesn't work perfectly – sometimes you'll be spotted realistically by enemies you're sneaking up on with the device. But most of the time I found the car to be nearly game-breaking. Enemies won't see you until you're already close to deliver a one-hit blast of electricity that takes out even the toughtest of the game's enemies. The car, while changing your strategy, will also at times take away from the experience.

'Street Sweep' mode adds replayability and new rewards to the core 'Watch Dogs' experience.

Finally, street sweeps – introduced by a grating new female interest named Sheila Billings, a police detective who delivers missions to T-Bone by phone with potentially the least interesting sexual tension in the history of gaming – add new replayability options to the title. This is where Bad Blood shines – granting optional objectives to one-off missions that are scored against other players. It could be as simple as hacking a terminal without using weapons, or remaining undetected as you move in to kill a target in an area tagged by hacking cameras. The game could do a better job of explaining your score, however. You're simply given a number when you've completed a mission, usually lasting less than 5 minutes, and then sent on your merry way. Watch Dogs doesn't have the greatest presentation in the world, and this is another area where the package could be more player-friendly.

At $15, I can't recommend Bad Blood enough if you enjoyed the gameplay of Watch Dogs. It may also appeal to those turned off by Aiden Pearce's stolid countenance, but who still enjoyed the game's take on open-world stealth.

Verdict: 4/5 stars

The Tech Deck