In Watch Dogs: Legion, London is a revolution waiting to happen. The new open-world action game reimagines the English capital as a post-Brexit, technology-addled dystopia, one in which the onus is on you to ignite a rebellion by yourself. A sequel to Watch Dogs (2014) and Watch Dogs 2 (2016), Legion arrives amid troubled circumstances: the game is published by Ubisoft, the gaming giant that was earlier this year rocked by widespread allegations of internal sexual misconduct.
Legion begins with a terrorist attack, a sudden flurry of co-ordinated bombings that are pinned, erroneously, on the non-violent hacktivist group DedSec. The bombings are then leveraged into a means of seizing power by a crime syndicate and a militarised security force known as Albion. For the thrust of the game, you are charged with unpicking this conspiracy and re-assembling Dedsec into a viable resistance force - and everyone in the city is a potential playable recruit.
This is Legion’s USP but also its central message: that a revolution can come from anywhere, and anyone. Its London is populated with a genuinely staggering number of idiosyncratic procedurally generated civilians, each with their own backstory, social web and daily routine, ready to be recruited to DedSec and used as one of a squad of playable characters. Some of the backstories fit better with the narrative than others - it is easy to see why a teacher or nurse might be radicalised to the cause, less so an investment banker, or Conservative party member, or one of Albion’s many militia members. And yet, all it usually takes to flip someone from fat cat to comrade is a perfunctory side mission.
Using absurdly dextrous hacking abilities, players are also able to control many aspects of their environments - hijacking cameras, drones, and vehicles to aid with the primarily stealth-based gameplay.
Legion’s open world is its strongest feature. The ever-so-slightly futurised London is a great environment, with a distinct look and feel compares with other urban video game sandboxes. The city’s tourist hotspots are accurately mimicked, though other areas are often omitted, re-arranged or condensed. As all good open world games should, Legion feels busy, with plenty of side-missions, minigames (a surprisingly fun darts game, for example, or turgid football keepy-ups) and collectables dotted around its ample map.
As both narrative adventure and political commentary, however, Legion is a let-down. The idea of a city full of limitless playable characters is a novel one, but a clear logistical nightmare - characterisation is broad and the voiceover acting wildly inconsistent. The writing doesn’t help, coming across as awkward and lacking in nuance from the off.
Though its heart seems to be in the right place, Legion doesn’t communicate anything substantial about the realities of activism or systems of oppression. Wallowing mostly in the mere aesthetics of rebellion, it’s a game that lacks the heft to lift its themes above shin-height.
This review concerns the game’s single-player mode only.