When Ubisoft released Watch Dogs back in 2014 it was met with some controversy. Whilst it wasn’t a bad game per se, it didn’t quite meet the hefty expectations that were set upon it following the game’s initial reveal at E3 back in 2012. It didn’t look as pretty as the initial trailer suggested, the gameplay didn’t offer anything particularly invigorating, whilst the story itself felt a little one dimensional. It wasn’t exactly the hacking adventure that many gamers were looking forward to.
Fast-forward two years though and Ubisoft are back with Watch Dogs 2, a new game in the series that doesn’t try to sugar coat the mistakes of the last entry but actually improve upon them. It would’ve been easy enough for Ubisoft to simply make the game ‘bigger and better’, but instead they’ve taken all of the good elements from the first game and re-invented them with a lot more depth and fluidity.
In Watch Dogs 2 you play as a young hacker named Marcus Holloway (or ‘Retr0’ to those in the hacking community), a victim of the new ‘ctOS Smart City’ that has tarnished his name with a series of ‘predicted’ criminal charges. After completing an initiation process that involved breaking into a ctOS server and completely clearing his name, Marcus ends up joining the prolific hacking group DedSec. Following a drunken tirade on a beach (and after revealing he has left a ‘back door’ into ctOS’ server), Marcus and the fellow hackers at DedSec decide to take down Blume and their ctOS technology through the use of a social app. Power to the people, and all that jazz.
Whilst the original Watch Dogs had a more serious tone to its story and the events that occurred, I found Watch Dogs 2 a lot more light hearted. Sure, the subject matter never swoops to levels of absurdity, but it definitely felt a lot more upbeat than we’ve saw in its predecessor. Comparing the change in tone to something like that found between the original Saint’s Row and its sequel would be a bit of an overstatement, but it certainly doesn’t take itself as seriously as before.
One of the biggest criticisms people had with the previous game was with just how bland and unlikable main protagonist Aiden Pearce was. Ubisoft have rectified this with Marcus, bringing a character that’s full of life, personality, and humour – it’s a complete shift in personality to what Watch Dogs fans are used to. The supporting cast have the same charisma and there’s a real sense of camaraderie to be found between Marcus and his fellow DedSec members. I laughed along with the banter, the bickering, and the emotional moments thanks to the well-written narrative that’s enjoyable from start to end. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of cringe-inducing one liners that you’d expect from the mouth of a millennial – somehow it felt right though.
The only real flaw I found with the story was that the mission structure often left some plot threads feeling a little disjointed. You’re able to tackle missions in any order once they’re unlocked, so you’ll often get to start working on a particular mission only to start a completely new one before it’s finished, leaving two narratives playing out that involved the same characters. I went out of my way to follow a set mission line to completion in order to fully understand what’s going on, but you’d still get random phone calls come through that could often break the immersion of a mission’s story.
Watch Dogs 2 brings a few new gameplay mechanics that manage to completely freshen up the experience. You have a lot more options when hacking this time around and whilst everything has what is considered a ‘default’ action, you always seemed to have the freedom to utilise objects in a variety of different ways. You can hack to create distractions, hack to harm, or even hack to create a new route – there always felt like there was an alternative means to complete missions and it’s all down to the freedom that the new intuitive hacking offered.
You’ll still shift between cameras to scout ahead of you to hack and see enemy positions, though I found it a little boring. There’s something about switching between cameras to scout ahead that seems neat, but in concept I found it a little naff and a bit tedious. It’s the only flaw I could find in the hacking mechanics of the game though; they were otherwise an enjoyable and unique way to take down or distract enemies.
You’ve also got your RC Jumper and Drone that allow you to scout across ground and air as well as take out enemies or performing hacks on the go. They’re incredibly handy to get around unseen and also pretty fun to use too – best of all is that they’re not always compulsory to use and instead just offer another additional approach to take when completing one of the game’s many missions. The sheer variety that the game’s hacking mechanics offers was astounding, with Watch Dogs 2 really upping the ante this time around.
You’ve always been able to hack whilst out driving in order to bring destruction to the streets around you and cause havoc with traffic lights, but yet again Watch Dogs 2 takes it a little bit further by allowing you to actually hack cars themselves and send them out of your way as you’re racing down the roads of San Francisco. It’s heavily emphasised in the game’s intro that cars now have ctOS technology, so I was excited to see how it was utilised in-game. Thankfully it works really well and just adds an extra layer of chaotic fun to the overall experience.
Of course, you don’t have to be overly destructive to get through Watch Dogs 2. The gameplay compliments both a lethal and non-lethal style of play, so whilst you can go guns blazing and kill as many people as you want you can also sneak through levels and simply knock out your enemies if you please. The hacking abilities make sure that Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t just feel like an all-out action-packed Grand Theft Auto clone, instead offering something that can be played with rational thought and finesse with each of your actions. That doesn’t mean that it’s not fun to go on a shooting spree though – gunplay in the game is tight, refined, and very fun.
As you progress through the game, complete tasks, and fill up your follower count, you’ll unlock research points that allow you to upgrade Marcus’ skill set. They’re fairly standard things to improve, but it’s actually getting the followers to unlock them that’s most interesting. There are plenty of side quests to complete that’ll give you a boost, be it simply completing a task for someone or taking part in some epic go-kart races (seriously, I got so hooked to them). You can also do things like take selfies with landmarks, fitting in with the modern fad of attaching your face to everything you can see around you, but hey, it’ll up your follower count. No matter where you are in Watch Dogs 2 there always seems to be something to do, even if it’s simply shopping to make yourself look snazzy – style brings in followers too, so looking good has its benefits…
The series’ focus on technology and using your mobile phone to interact with the world bring some neat features to the game. You have to buy your apps in-game, so you won’t automatically start with maps and markers to guide you to missions and nor will you have access to the game’s vast media collection. One of my favourite apps to download was ‘Songsneak’, an app that identifies songs heard around you and adds them to your music library. It was awesome to go past a vehicle listening to Crystal Castles (one of my favourite bands) in-game and then add their song to my playlist by using the app – it’s these minor touches that add to the overall immersion of the game. It also felt incredibly fitting given the game’s theme of technology and how it can exploited, so that’s a plus too.
Besides the occasional graphical glitch, my time with Watch Dogs 2 was fairly bug-free. Everything seemed to run smoothly for the most part, with only a few instances where the frame-rate seemed to completely die out – these instances could be a little shocking though, but they fixed themselves quick enough. The game looks absolutely fantastic too with San Francisco a stunning city that offers plenty of diversity with its look. It’s not all hulking buildings overlooking you either, with plenty of room for greenery and more laid back areas that allow you to take in the beautiful vistas. Everything looked great and it felt amazing to simply explore each nook and cranny of my surroundings.
Whilst there were a few issues with the online play to begin with, they’ve all been patched and fixed now. Watch Dogs 2 features the ‘always on’ kind of multiplayer (which is fitting in a way) that means you can always interact with other players or have them interact with you. There’s a good variety of stuff including co-op focused missions as well as those that’ll have you taking down a ton of other players. ‘Invasions’ return from the previous game too, allowing you to enter another player’s game and try to steal their data without them noticing you. I LOVED this the first time around, so it’s great to get back at it again. Each multiplayer mode fits in perfectly with the theme of the game and they were one of the stand-out features of the previous game, so I’m glad to see them make a return. They tie in to the main story too, so there’s an extra incentive to spend time gaming with fellow players in the Watch Dogs 2 community.
Ubisoft received a bit of flak for the original Watch Dogs and it’s no surprise. They simply didn’t deliver on the expectations of gamers worldwide after all the hype that was built up for the game. With Watch Dogs 2 they’ve smashed all expectations though, brining a fantastic hacking adventure that certainly has the potential to be game of the year.
Fans who felt let down by the original game will be glad to find that Watch Dogs 2 has rectified all of it’s negativities, offering an enthralling action experience that’s not only incredibly diverse in design but also a blast to play. I simply can’t put the controller down and even now after finishing the main campaign and the bulk of the side content I still find myself returning for the multiplayer action – it really delivers on all fronts. If you ever had any doubts about the Watch Dogs franchise then you’ll certainly find solace in Watch Dogs 2. It’s certainly got me excited to see where the franchise will go in the future…
Release Date: 15/11/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC