I went into my hands-on demo of Watch Dogs 2 with a mission most mundane: recreate my normal, everyday life. Even with all of Marcus Holloway’s hacking superpowers at my fingertips – like siphoning someone’s bank account from the bird’s-eye view of a drone, or forcing passing cars to make hard turns at my whim – all I really wanted to do was walk down the bayside Embarcadero as if I was on my way to work. But after nearly two hours of pure exploration, I realized: despite a myriad of instantly recognizable landmarks, my fantasy of simulating my personal SF escapades wouldn’t quite be possible in Watch Dogs 2. And while that initially came as a disappointment, I’ve since realized that my dream would’ve been a nightmare for developer and player alike. Even if they’re built to feel as authentic as possible, no open-world game should be burdened with an aim for true accuracy.

Watch Dogs 2 isn’t the first game to present players with an open-world simulacrum of a real-world city. The original Watch Dogs crafted a condensed, near-future version of Chicago. Another Ubisoft joint, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, replicates old-timey London in a way that seems almost alien to the present-day denizen. Infamous: Second Son is set in a virtual version of Seattle that takes some hefty liberties with its layout of recognizable real-world spots. Having never resided in any of those places myself, I didn’t yet know the strange sensations that come with exploring an open-world imitation of your usual surroundings. But after living in San Francisco for over five years and following Watch Dogs 2 for nearly five months, I’ve felt the quasi-deja vu of wandering an open-world city that seems to abridge reality. There are bits and pieces of scenery that feel like perfect reproductions, but the stretches in between have been reworked, replaced, or removed entirely.

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