Another group of hacktivists are back to bring down corrupt organisations and just generally cause havoc in Watch Dogs 2
Watch Dogs 2 is Ubisoft’s latest entry into its sandbox hacker series. Players take on the role of a Marcus, young hacker who finds himself initiated into the hacker group DedSec.
At the beginning of the game, Marcus makes a series of impassioned speeches which lead the group to target the Big Brother-esque network of the Blume corporation from the previous game.
Much of the core gameplay in Watch Dogs 2 hasn’t changed from the first game. Players still have access to an array of weaponry to accompany their hacking abilities.
Ubisoft has overhauled several mechanics, such as driving and parkour type movement, but much of the experience remains the same.
The result of this is the game feels more like Watch Dogs 1.5.
Watch Dogs 2
Initial release date: November 15, 2016
Series: Watch Dogs
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Developers: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Bucharest, Ubisoft Reflections, Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Toronto
Genres: Action-adventure game, Third-person shooter
This Non-Fiction Gaming review of Watch Dogs 2 is based on the Playstation 4 version, a review copy was provided by Ubisoft Australia.
In the years between titles, Watch Dogs’ message should only become more poignant. The real world proliferation of internet connected devices in smart homes plays right into this game’s dystopian outlook. The fact that these devices enabled real world hackers to DDOS most of America should give us all pause for thought.
Watch Dogs 2 retains the dynamic of its predecessor: big brother corporations that use ctOS are bad and hacker-come-spy Marcus Holloway needs to expose them. The opening cinematic, however, takes out much of the story’s punch. In this cutscene, Watch Dogs 2 explains the hero-villain dynamic in its entirety. Very little independent thought is required on behalf of the audience.
Some other elements related to the world also have a shiny new coat of paint. Character progression now relates to how many followers you have. One of your DedSec colleagues can 3D print weapons. In isolation they all feel like relatively innocent changes but put together look like a very forced attempt at being current.
Watch Dogs 2’s desperation to make its characters appear trendy strips back so much of their personalities. None of the characters, including the protagonist, are endearing. Possibly excluding Wrench, your hacker buddy with an LED panel instead of eyes like the anime version of Geordie la Forge. After a raucous initiation party on the beach, Marcus claims he must have been so lit as to lose his trousers. I don’t think I’ve cringed more in my life.
Overall, compared to the first game, Watch Dogs 2 has a notable shift into the less serious side of things. This is a welcome change but does it go too far in being tongue-in-cheek?
Aiden in the first game has players drive from one side of Chicago to the other for a mission that is, in fact, a cutscene of him being brooding and grim. After the third time, this became tedious.
Watch Dogs 2 encourages you to happily traipse around town and have fun.
Like I said before, Watch Dogs 2 retains much of the core gameplay from the previous game. This is a good thing. Despite a few glaring issues, Watch Dogs was a rich experience with lots of room for personalisation.
Choose Your Path
Missions focus on getting past guards to hack or steal something and extricate yourself safely. How you do this, however, is up to you. While hacking takes centre stage, how you choose to use it makes all the difference.
Players can engage guards directly or choose a stealth-based approach. Hacking fits into either of these methods in a flexible way. For stealthy players, you can cover your route by hacking non-lethal traps. Otherwise, you can use hackable terminals to create distractions, enabling you to slip past guards.
Vehicles Feel Better
Driving feels more smooth as well. Although this can be dependent on what car you have, on average they handle much better. This was a necessary upgrade because there’s so much to explore around San Francisco that encouraging players not to fast travel everywhere means they can see the hard work that was put in.
Another departure from the previous game is the player’s access to drones. There are two drones available: the Jumper and a helicopter. These tools can usually complete objectives for the player, which opens up new possibilities for navigating the missions, providing you can get the drones past the guards.
Parkour in Watch Dogs 2
The new parkour mechanic doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. While it makes climbing containers and such to get into a good vantage point easier, it feels largely out of place.
First of all, we’re a hacker group. Marcus’ ability to best a private security firm in close quarters combat is a stretch but when he starts flipping all over the place, it becomes comical. Notably, even from small jumps down to ground level, Marcus will do a slow-motion matrix flip.
Towards the end of the original Watch Dogs, I was just waiting for it to end. Its pacing felt off, the missions were repetitive, and the world lacked vibrancy. Something I love about Watch Dogs 2 is that we can see Ubisoft is learning. They’re taking on feedback and making changes they feel like take the series to new heights.
Overhauling the driving mechanics to maintain the goals but make it feel usable has been a huge step. Exploring San Fransisco is, for what it’s worth, pretty fun. The colours pop and the game provides ample opportunity to delve into the lives of everyone around you. Listing people’s careers provides the opportunity for Watch Dogs’ trademark cheek.
When discussing the original game, I likened it to my experience with Infamous: Second Son. Both games were gritty, karmic tales about the danger of Big Brother style identification. Watch Dogs 2, however, feels like it’s sliding more towards the Sunset Overdrive side of things. It’s a highly stylised romp through a city that begs you to explore. Add in a dash of comedy and there you go.
Whereas Watch Dogs vs. Infamous was a clear win for Infamous, Watch Dogs 2 and Sunset Overdrive are more of equals. Players’ preferences for style will determine which game they’d root for.
Overall Watch Dogs 2 Delivers
For as tough as I am on Watch Dogs 2, it is a marked improvement on its predecessor. There are a few things that make me question whether Watch Dogs 2 was a significant improvement. I mean, it still feels a little bit like Watch Dogs 1.5. But comparisons to the original make its case stronger.
Ubisoft is learning. They’re cutting the fat from the series and refining what makes it good. They’re also incorporating more of what makes a great sandbox. Maybe Watch Dogs 3 will be what tips the scale for grumpy old men like me.
But anyone who even remotely enjoyed Watch Dogs would do well to play Watch Dogs 2.