There’s a rhythm to Aiden Pearce’s incognito shuffle that I don’t want to break. He can run and vault if I want him to, but instead I skulk up to a chainlink fence around one of virtua-Chicago’s CtOS (Central Operating System) hubs, nonchalantly hack open a gate with a casual glance at my phone, and creep into the lot unseen. I have the calmness of a t’ai chi master until I gracelessly fumble with the cover system.
I’m being more careful than I need to be. This is one of the easy side missions, but I’m timid as I sneak from crate to crate (all conveniently placed for the shootout I could be having), trying to guess at the guards’ vision cones. It turns out the guards are nearsighted anyway, and short coverto- cover dashes don’t give me away. I infect the server, still unseen, then backtrack until I’m strolling down a Chicago street, hands in pockets, all smug with power.
In terms of game mechanics, Watch Dogs is Grand Theft Auto plus. GTA plus hacking. GTA plus sneaking. GTA plus decent shooting. The developers seem exhausted by the comparison, but it’s true: openworld urban games aren’t required to have guns, car theft, police chases, a shady thirdperson male protagonist, or the same encouragement to be reckless that GTA thrives on.
At first, I don’t want to be reckless. I steal my first car, pull up to a red light, and stop. My guide chuckles and tells me that everyone does that. It’s a hint that I really don’t need to, so I shrug and pull onto the sidewalk instead.
The cars are fast, nearly indestructible, and laws are for babies. I smash through traffic, using the sidewalk as a lane when I need to, changing lights and raising concrete roadblocks with the game’s onebutton hacking while shifting between golf cart and drag racer.
The motorcycles are insanely fast. The only way I can white-line it through traffic and live, as the motion blur sticks my hair back, is to use the time-dilating focus button. I forget about that feature a lot, and probably break every rib in Aiden’s body vaulting over parked cars.
All this and not a peep from the police. Unless a pedestrian steps out in front of my ride of terror, I’m free to play Fast and Furious all over Chicago. After handling the CtOS facility with such care, it feels tonally off.
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