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This techno-thriller fiction is all about the power of information in a super-connected city, and one of its cleverest and most distinctive tweaks to the open world genre is how much information it gives you. Scanning a pedestrian or thug pops up a brief, randomly generated personal history – some fact about their hobbies or lifestyle, plus their age, occupation, and income. It’s a small thing, but it’s surprisingly effective at humanizing them. I actually felt a pang of guilt when I accidentally ran someone down and then saw that they were on the waiting list for a liver transplant, and as a result this is one of the few open-world action games where I rarely went on a violent rampage. And that had very little to do with the meaningless reputation meter, which appears to have no consequences whatsoever.
After the bullets do start to fly, the cover-based gunplay feels good, even if the arsenal is pretty conventional. The standout is the pump-action grenade launcher, which makes short work of both thugs in armor and vehicles (it’s essential for taking out fleeing hackers in multiplayer). What often makes the firefights in Watch Dogs memorable is how you can fool enemies by moving around behind cover, causing them to fire at your last known position instead of where you are now. That allows you to get in some good flanking moves, and makes the enemies feel more like foolish humans than all-seeing robots.