Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
We played on Xbox One
I came into Watch Dogs 2 with a skeptical mind because I’ve been burned by Ubisoft hype before. Fortunately, all of my concerns faded away quickly as I was whisked away to a virtual San Francisco to live the life of a hacker vigilante. I may be finished with the game, but it has definitely left its mark on me. Watch Dogs 2 is, unquestionably, one of the best games I have played in a very long time.
Players take on the role of Marcus Holloway as he joins the “Hacktivist” collective known as Dedsec and embarks on a crusade against a corrupt company gathering citizen data and selling it to the highest bidder (among other nefarious acts).
His crusade comes in the form of a quest for followers as he cruises around town completing tasks to impress the people of the internet. Completing tasks nets Dedsec followers who download their app and give the hackers a portion of their phone’s processing power. Eventually these huge numbers will give them the CPU power to hack into their target’s systems and bring them down.
This is a simple premise that would fall flat if the missions were not interesting. Fortunately, they more than pass muster. The missions that you take on in just the first dozen hours ofrso of the game involve such tasks as faking the delivery of a rap song to a reasonable facsimile of the pharma-bro Martin Shkreli, infiltrating a close-enough version of the church of Scientology, and stealing “Kit” and driving it on a wild rampage to help film a re-cut version of a movie trailer. In the meantime you can snap selfies in front of famous locations, race go-karts, and even do timed deliveries a la Crazy Taxi.
I felt compelled to keep plugging away at story missions long into the night more than once. I wouldn’t say that this is going to raise the bar on open world storytelling, but I was very invested in their mission very early on. The idea of companies gathering too much intel on their customers and selling it happens under our noses right now. So seeing a group of hackers battle against it felt great. I genuinely wanted to see how it would turn out for these guys.
It is impossible to discuss Watch Dogs 2 without addressing the setting. This game takes place in a well rendered representation of the city of San Francisco. It isn’t a one to one rebuilding of the city in virtual form, but it includes all of the major neighborhoods and most of the major landmarks that you wouldn’t expect to see in the game.
Driving around the expansive map was impressive, and the varied environments did a great job of keeping the game from getting repetitive. I hope that the Watch Dogs 2’s success in rendering San Francisco convinces other companies to set games there. It really is a great place to play.
Watch Dogs 2 is an excellent open world game. The cheap comparison would be to try and weigh the game point by point with Grand Theft Auto. But, those comparisons really aren’t fair. First, GTA is genre-defining so nothing can really keep up with it in comparison. Second, the player’s role in the games’ narrative (Criminal vs Vigalante hero) is so different between the two games that it makes them feel like wholly separate games to me.
The core mechanic in Watch Dogs is, as it always has been, hacking. Players use their phone for virtually everything they do. You can hack just about every electrical device that you see in order to overcome challenges.
The gameplay loop of hacking through different cameras to gain access to new areas returns from the first game. But, the list of hackable objects (and the things you can do with them) has increased this time around. My favorite is the ability to hack an electric panel to short out slightly so it draws a guards attention only for you to activate a second power to deliver a non lethal shock to knock them out. There is even an option to cause some people’s phones to detonate like grenades (They must have had Galaxy phones I guess).
The true highlight of the game, however, are Marcus’s quad-copter drone and his remote controlled “car.” These devices can be let lose at the push of a button and give Marcus greater reach than he would on foot without exposing him to bullet fire. As the game progressed I found myself relying on those devices to do all of my dirty work. I barely entered most compounds unless I was required to but by then, all the hacking had been done. I thought they would have been a distraction, but they are amazing additions. I can’t wait for future Watch Dogs games to see what other drone-type devices they can think of.
The online multiplayer is cleverly done and helps to simulate a world full of hacktivists – each with their own motives and goals. Sometimes those goals align neatly. This results in cooperative missions where players can team up to break into some intensely guarded compounds. Sometimes those goals don’t align. That results in another player entering your game as a bounty hunter tasked with eliminating you.
The multiplayer was largely broken at launch for the game, so I was unable to try it. But, its goal was to seamlessly integrate other players into your world on a shared map of San Francisco.
Watch Dogs 2 is rated M for mature and for good reason. You have the option to play as a non-lethal hacker, but failing to do so leads to almost GTA level shooting sprees. The language in this game is also off-the-charts bad. I heard more F-words in some cut scenes than non-F-words.
Buy with confidence. Watch Dogs 2 is one of the best games of the year.