Ah, Watch Dogs, a game carved in my memory ever since I saw the E3 trailer for the original game. The concept seemed so new and fresh, a welcome addition to the open-world action genre that is also relevant to the increasingly digital world we now live in. It had style and it had amazing graphics. Mine and everyone else's expectations were soaring high. When it came out, however, it was just a shadow of the E3 trailer shown as it received a massive graphics downgrade and the world felt much less responsive to your actions, ultimately leaving the great concept not fulfilling its great potential.
It was a good game nonetheless, but it wasn't a great game that everyone expected and it gave Ubisoft a reputation as a shady, game downgrading, false advertising company that it's still, to this day, trying to get rid of. So when a sequel was announced, Ubisoft had a gargantuan task, to improve the original and reclaim its good name among the fans and general gamer populace. Does it succeed? For the most part, yes it does.
Watch Dogs 2 is available for purchase on Amazon for $29,99.
In Watch Dogs 2 you take control of Marcus Holloway, a young African American living in a virtual rendition of San Francisco. Marcus is a competent hacker right off the bat, but he doesn't get tangled up in the game's larger story until CTOS 2.0, the city's network, controlling the infrastructure and collecting data, flags him as dangerous and the hacker group know as DedSec offers him membership if he can pass a test – deleting his CTOS profile and installing a backdoor access to it. Marcus is a far cry from the first game's protagonist – Aiden Pierce as he is fun, lighthearted and generally enjoys everything he does. He and his hacker friends are more about hacktivism and fighting the system than they are about personal revenge like Aiden was. This immediately has a positive effect on the entire game, with the doom and gloom of the first game eliminated, especially when coupled with colorful, sunny and vibrant San Francisco.
DedSec members are surprisingly fleshed out and are generally well presented so you know what each of them is about. There is Wrench, mask wearing engineer, Sitara who's an artist and a DJ, Josh, a shy but competent hacker, Horatio, the tactical coordinator and T-Bone returning from the original game. It's a colorful, cool and flashy crew that makes lots of pop culture references and generally has fun hacking and wreaking havoc in the name of exposing CTOS as a malicious system that empowers the already powerful. The main goal is to do missions and activities that will net you followers that grant you access to their processing power, which translates to upgrades for your character and moves the story forward.
The story when written on paper or as it is presented in the cutscenes is solid, but problems arise when you give player control in between them as you will probably do more damage to the people while supposedly trying to help them. This, of course, is a problem for many games that can't synergise their story with what player is able to do with their character, but it is more evident in Watch Dogs as you are constantly reminded that you are trying to help bring down CTOS and stop the malicious use of technology, and then you go out and use CTOS and technology like a terrorist. It's a bit contradictory but there wouldn't even be a Watch Dogs game with a hacking premise if you couldn't deviate from the story on any level, short of making your character a villain.
Controlling Marcus feels great, he is fast, maneuverable and flashy when performing actions. He parkours over obstacles automatically and his acrobatics look great, but I often found myself wanting a bit more control over which parkour moves he performs as you only rarely see him do a flip when running and climbing all over the city. If you are not running, you will most certainly use one of many cars, bikes or other vehicles to travel about. The driving model has been improved from the original – it's still extremely arcadey but fun. The city, San Francisco is kind of its own character, crowded and filled with personality. It' a great playground, especially when compared to the original's gray and empty Chicago.
Watch Dogs can be played in multiple ways and this fact was heavily marketed. You can play as what the game calls "aggressor", which speaks for itself – brute forcing your way around, filling everyone that stand in your way with bullets. As a "ghost" – utilizing stealth and avoiding or neutralizing opponents nonlethally or as a "trickster" – using the environment and hacking interactive objects to accomplish your goal. You will most likely use the combination of all these styles and sometimes, you will have no choice but to use them all. It's more fun when you don't put yourself in a box of one of these styles and use everything at your disposal to finish a mission. A noteworthy fact is that you can get through the game without killing a single person which is sure to satisfy those who want to try a clean, stealthy playthrough.
Gameplay featurewise, hacking has been greatly expanded in the sequel and this time around you have more options when hacking any hackable object. To see which objects are hackable, who and where the enemies are, and other points of interest, you use NetHack – a kind of "looking in the Matrix" detective vision. You can hack cars to make them move in any direction, call the cops on someone to be arrested, call for a gang war, create traps, explode things, steal money, read text messages, listen in on calls and much more. You also have a few toys at your disposal, in form of an RC car and a flying drone to scout the terrain and mark enemies for planning your approach. On the other side of the spectrum, DedSec has a 3d printer which you use to print and customize weapons for when things get out of hand, and I suggest you use them only when absolutely necessary as Marcus is no bullet sponge and he can die fairly quickly if you are not careful.
Most of your missions and activities called "operations" are accessed through your smartphone's dozen or so apps. There are about 15 main story operations with multiple missions inside of each and around 20 side operations with multiple sub-missions as well. They are generally fun and interesting, and most of them play into the overarching technology misusage motif. If you are a completionist, finishing them all could take you around 30 hours which is a solid number for an open world game. On top of that, there are other activities such as drone, motocross, sailboat and eKart races as well as surprisingly fun DriverSF missions, where you essentially become an Uber driver with a twist, as your passengers often have bizarre requests to spice up their A to B ride, having you drive insanely fast, getting serious air time, running from the police and more. Activities are a good way to earn you some extra cash as you can buy numerous articles of clothing, cars to be delivered to you and the aforementioned weapons. There is also the ScoutX app which will have you exploring the city, taking photos or selfies in front of San Francisco famous landmarks which have been faithfully transferred to its virtual counterpart. Exploring the city has the additional benefit of finding scattered money bags, clothing, and other goodies which are often out of your immediate reach and getting to them is a little puzzle in on itself, often making you think as to how to reach them, usually using your toys or hacking.
This is also a good time to mention the multiplayer. A big part of the marketing campaign for the game was a promise of a seamless multiplayer, and the devs delivered on that front. You'll be running around the city when you will come across these strange behaving NPC's with a green name above their head and you will know that it's another player. The system works well, aside from some server issues that were mostly eliminated since launch and it's fun coming across other players and randomly teaming up with them to either wreak havoc or do specially designed missions scattered across the map. You or other players can do invasions and team up with the police in hunting down the troublemaking players as well as playing cat and mouse in hacking invasions. It's great fun, but I wish that more than a handful players could inhabit the same world at the same time, as well as if there were some story missions where you can play together as co-op missions that are there, offer little variety and no story or complex goals to achieve.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
I read from many people that live in San Francisco that they can navigate the game for the most part, without using the map as the city is very faithfully transferred to the game. That being true or not, I can't say since I don't live there but you have to give props to Ubisoft nonetheless as the most recognizable landmarks are here and the city itself is very populated and busy. Graphics look good and the fps are stable most of the time, although I did often notice a significant drop in frames occurring in shootouts and explosions when there were smoke and car parts flying around. The game benefits most from its rich and vibrant color palette as San Francisco and the game in general looks best when it's sunny and bright.
Sounds of a busy city are faithfully recreated as well, but the guns sound tamer than they should. Where I have to give special credit is the soundtrack. I absolutely loved it and there is a great selection of licensed tracks across many genres which Marcus can even listen to when walking on foot and doing missions. Music contributes greatly to the whole DedSec, "I'm a cool hacker" personality they were going for and it really adds another layer to the characters as they themselves create tracklists for you to listen in certain missions, and I even rock some of the tunes in real life.
All in all, Watch Dogs 2 manages to surpass its predecessor in almost every way. Some will say that feat wasn't all that hard as the first game was massively overrated, but it is still a noteworthy achievement as the original had fresh ideas ripe for expanding upon. Ubisoft marketing took a step back and marketed a game in a more transparent and realistic fashion with no downgrade to speak of this time around. The sequel is less serious in tone, more colorful and most importantly, more fun.
|+ Freedom of approach||– Contradictory story|
|+ Faithfully recreated San Francisco||– Not enough co-op variety|
|+ Fun main and side missions||– Occasional frame rate issues and glitches|
|+ Fun supporting characters|
|+ Excellent and varied soundtrack|