What a difference a little personality makes. When Watch Dogs was released some four months ago to a generally warm reception, one of the echoing criticisms was of its flavourless and textureless antihero, Aiden Pearce. He was a character based on an enduring but increasingly unfavoured game design philosophy: outline the hero as lightly as possible so that there’s ample room for the player to inhabit the husk and infuse it with his or her own personality.
The moral dilemmas Aiden faced in Watch Dogs were compelling, and the psychological damage that his pigheaded crusade inflicted on those close to him was confronting in a way few games dare to be. But it’s also difficult to invest in a tight-lipped character whose modus operandi is to be as generic and ambiguous and it’s possible to be.
Enter Raymond ‘T-Bone’ Kenney, one of the few characters in Watch Dogs whose personality felt as three-dimensional as his character model. Clad in denim and topped with dreadlocks and a trucker cap, T-Bone is as comfortable with a welding iron as he is with a keyboard, and in his role the new protagonist of Watch Dogs’ DLC expansion, Bad Blood, he excels.
Even T-Bone's weapons are suffused with his individual sense of style. Gone is Aiden’s periscopic nightstick and incongruous knowledge of hand-to-hand combat. Instead, T-Bone suckers Chicago’s thugs and Blume security guards with a taser, and then wallops them with a huge monkey wrench.
Bad Blood takes place after the events of Watch Dogs’ main campaign. Aiden Pearce has gone to ground, and T-Bone is tying up a few loose ends before he follows suit. Inevitably, complications arise when an old partner and fellow ctOS coder Tobias Frewer runs afoul of Chicago’s underworld and begs good-natured T-Bone for help.
To help him bring down a new generation of criminals and to extricate himself from an increasingly perilous situation, T-Bone has a new, suitably lo-fi tool in his hacker arsenal: a remote control car he lovingly calls Eugene. The remote control car is hooked up to T-Bone’s phone, meaning he can also relay hacking commands remotely. The concept is interesting and pretty entertaining in practice, but disappointingly, Eugene can only be used in prescribed situations. That means the remote control car feels more gimmicky than innovative; Eugene doesn’t create exciting new ways to tackle old problems, he’s only the answer to a new set of questions.
Elsewhere Bad Blood emphasises attracting patrolling guards into control rooms and locking them inside as a new – albeit simple – gameplay dynamic, but anyone hoping the expansion will reinvent white hat wheel would be well-advised to keep their expectations in check. Chicago feels largely unchanged by the actions of this vigilante, and the missions themselves have an overwhelmingly familiar structure to them: go to this restricted area, infiltrate, hack, escape, high-speed pursuit.
There are new building interiors to explore, but the expansion also recycles some of the more memorable locations from the original game in a way that seems to ask hollowly, ‘Hey, remember how much fun you had doing this mission in May?’
With that said, the hacking conceit at the core of Watch Dogs’ dynamics still has a lot of legs. Even if those locations are same-y, the answer as to whether it’s enjoyable is still a resounding yes. There doesn’t appear to be any shortage of content either, as Bad Blood spans 10 missions. It took several hours to play through the first four at a leisurely pace and without getting sidetracked by new distractions on the map.
Whether that represents value to you will depend on how you feel about the original. T-Bone breezily holds his own as a front man, but otherwise it looks set to be the same Watch Dogs with few new tricks.
Watch Dogs: Bad Blood comes to Season Pass holders next week on September 22. It will be available to everyone else on September 30.