Watch Dogs 2 Review
Watch Dogs 2 didn’t start on the right foot due to a multitude of issues surrounding the online component, which is why this review is slightly overdue. Nonetheless, now that the game’s online servers are up and running, I can say confidently that the game improves on its predecessor in almost every single way. The game still makes you feel extremely powerful, and through the magic of technology, you are able to cause more chaos than ever before in a world that is very much reliant on technology. The game’s open world nature also allows you to tackle missions in a variety of different ways. You can use stealth, gadgets or even take on a brawler approach to accomplish your final objectives.
The biggest improvement comes in the form of Marcus Holloway, the game’s new hero. Unlike Aiden Pearce, Marcus has personality and charisma. He doesn’t dress up like some sort of stalker or sex offender. Instead, Marcus is a vigilante of some sorts, using the power of hacking and his own moral code as a driver to do great things. Marcus and his Dedsec gang are at war with America due to the rapid rise of surveillance in every aspect of a person’s life. Despite this, he takes things very lightly and is portrayed as someone who likes to have fun rather than someone who is using his hacking abilities to take down some elite crime organization that killed his whole family.
The issue with this is that Marcus doesn’t come across as a killer. He’s just a young man who doesn’t take himself seriously and uses his hacking abilities because he can. His motivations do not explain why he needs to wield an assault rifle and shoot people at will. However in Watch Dogs 2, this is exactly what you can do. I never got the impression that Marcus was a bad person, so when you end up killing people, it doesn’t feel right. If the developers were going to decide to allow the character to shoot anyone, the character’s inner darkness needs to be expressed more. A good guy killing policemen doesn’t exactly send out the right message, and it confused me more than anything else. There’s also no sense of guilt or remorse. It’s as if the character is sometimes disconnected from the actions that he commits.
Perhaps this is why the stealth aspect of the game has a major emphasis. Whilst you can fight your way through most situations, you can also use stealth and hacking abilities to get around enemies without having to harm them. It’s a more rewarding and challenging way of completing an objective too. Fortunately for you, there are drones and other gadgets at your disposal to help you gain intelligence without ever having to leave your corner. Unfortunately, no major rewards are given for completing missions with minimal casualties. Your hard work and innocent approach is often left unrecognized.
There are times however where you need to get nasty. Not even the world’s best tech will somehow withstand a large group of officers spraying their SMGs at you. In those situations, you have to fight fire with fire, and that’s when you have no choice but to kill. You do have non-lethal melee moves, along with a painfully slow stun gun, however even that’s not enough to take down a swarm of enemies. The game incorporates a cover system to allow you to hide behind objects, which becomes extremely important even on the less difficult options because your character is incapable of sponging large amounts of bullets. To add to this, the enemy AI is very clever, so you need to be patient and use your cover extensively. Even the AI uses the cover system, which can sometimes be frustrating if you’re trying to take pop-shots.
Sometimes you can surprise a group of enemies even before a brawl commences, and this is where you can gain the upper hand. As an example, you can hack enemy explosives and have them explode without them ever knowing that they’re being hacked. Officers wearing headsets can be stunned with power surges, and if enemies are standing next to technical equipment, you can use the environments to cause an ‘accident’. You can often take out every single enemy just by hacking everything around you.
The art of hacking is what makes Watch Dogs 2 unique from any other open world action game. Its predecessor did a great job in making you feel powerful with just the press of a button. However hacking in Watch Dogs was sometimes limited. In WD2, you can hack multiple technical objects to do different things, just to add more variety and to allow you to approach situations differently. As an example, you can hack a door to be opened for you, but then hack the same door after to lock it so that enemies can’t get through temporarily. The hardest part is knowing what way to hack something, since often you’re having to use your abilities whilst on the run.
The world of San Francisco is beautifully depicted in Watch Dogs 2. I haven’t been to the city in real life, and this map clearly is a massively condensed version of the real location, however it has many of the major landmarks that the Bay area is known for, and it’s clearly the perfect location to base this game in. You can even visit Stanford University!
Driving around San Francisco is not necessary as enjoyable as perhaps the likes of GTA. The mechanics reflect those of an arcade game, however they work perfectly when car chases occur. There’s nothing more satisfying than timing a perfect hack to force a rival car to drive straight into a wall. Sometimes when the action got tough, the frame rate would drop, which was very disappointing to witness. It’s worth noting that the game was played on a standard Xbox One, but I don’t see how playing on an Xbox One S would necessarily make things better.
Watch Dogs 2 felt more like Saints Row than it did GTA. The Dedsec gang reminded me of the loud and egotistical gangs from Saints Row 3. The only difference was that Watch Dogs 2 replaced the dubstep gun with hacking abilities! It just became very difficult to relate with any characters in the game. They were fun to watch and I’d rather play as a bunch of loud lunatics than someone as dull as Aiden Pearce, but I don’t think that Ubisoft has yet got the right balance with regards to characterization.
The missions are a huge amount of fun. Considering the possible options at your disposal in order to tackle a particular mission, I always enjoyed trying new tricks and approaches just to keep the gameplay fresh. However, there is no way to replay a mission without replaying the whole game. I’m not sure why the developers did this, but it may anger some fans who want to replay their favourite missions.
Multiplayer allows you to enjoy the Watch Dogs 2 experience with friends. You can go online and take part in co-op specific missions with one other friend. It reminded me of the classic Splinter Cell franchise where you could play co-op missions and carry out specific co-op based actions in order to achieve the final goal. I think Ubisoft needs to make a whole campaign dedicated to co-op. Multiplayer is not eSports friendly as it’s just a bit of casual fun. You can take part in a hacking mode where a human player manages to blend into a civilian into your actual single player experience and try to steal data from your world. They do this by staying close to you, but without you noticing who they are. The mode is flawed, as you can easily just use a drone to figure out who the culprit is. Bounty Hunt is similar to what we have in the Dark Zone within Division, where other players are trying to chase you and kill you. It just didn’t feel like it worked well enough, especially since players are often using grenade launchers.
Watch Dogs 2 is a fantastic step in the right direction for the franchise, and whilst Marcus is a much better character than Aiden, Ubisoft still needs to find the perfect balance, along with a more compelling story that justifies the need for hacking. I also feel that a game like this is crying out for a proper multiplayer experience. We need a Watch Dogs game that primarily focuses on delivering a rich, social experience. Right now, the multiplayer component seems like an afterthought. Despite all of that, you can easily get over 30 hours of fun out of Watch Dogs 2, and if you plan on gaming alone during the festive period, Watch Dogs 2 may be a worthwhile option to invest in.
Review copy courtesy of Xbox