Review: Watch Dogs 2
Ubisoft’s open-world action title Watch Dogs had a lot of hype when it released, but many gamers felt like it missed the mark. The promise of a game where your smartphone would be your most powerful weapon seemed betrayed by a game that focused much more on traditional run-and-gun action. So when Watch Dogs 2 was announced, Ubisoft had a chance to take that concept and run with it again. Have they managed to build on the predecessor and create a fresh new experience? Let’s find out.
To begin with, Watch Dogs 2 has a much more interesting and relevant premise. You play as Marcus, a talented hacker with a sketchy past that joins forces with the shadowy hacker collective Dedsec. Dedsec, of course, are a blatantly obvious (and much more dynamic) take on hacker collectives like Lulzsec and Anonymous. Watch Dogs’ dystopian San Francisco feels much less like a fantasy world this time around, as the world we live in is one where the NSA can tap into our lives with a keystroke. The game even references real-life incidents like Martin Shkreli’s controversial decision to get exclusive rights to Wutang’s last album. Of course, it’s still based on the near-future possibility that entire cities will be online, meaning every aspect of our lives is on the grid. The main objective is still to take this ‘grid’ down.
Throughout the game, Dedsec rights all the wrongs it can, all with the aim of gaining as many followers as possible. With more followers, Dedsec has more people downloading their app, which gives them access to machines and bandwidth, which they use to hit the system hard. While Aiden Pearce was on a quest for personal revenge, Marcus seems much more like a youthful, exuberant hacktivist, willing to take the man down. Much like real-life hackers, the kids of Dedsec run the gamut from socially awkward and eccentric to rebellious and raucous. Their clubhouse is colorful and strewn with graffiti, and they seem to spend as much time hanging out and chatting as they do trying to save the world from Big Brother.
Now, while the story gets off to an enthusiastic start, it does end up being fairly predictable at times. While Watch Dogs 2 takes cues from modern TV shows and movies about hackers like Mr. Robot, it doesn’t quite manage to build up a web of intrigue and craft a compelling narrative. There’s a pretty heavy twist at some point (that’s all I’ll say) but for the most part the game is ticking boxes in the story department.
The real star of the show is the hacking. Ubisoft does a lot of things, but they know and love stealth. With its hacking mechanics, Watch Dogs 2 ends up being a really cerebral and entertaining stealth title. You can do all sorts of things with machines, and since everyone has a phone you can get up to a ton of mischief. Story missions typically revolve around going through deeper and deeper layers of security by tapping into various devices and hacking your way through the systems. The hacking gameplay is simple enough that it never gets complicated, but fleshed out enough that it doesn’t feel like an afterthought.
As for the free-roaming, the game has a ton to see and do, as you can quickly zip around the city of San Francisco and find hidden objects, get sidequests and cause mischief in general. This time around your arsenal is provided courtesy of a 3D printer, so you have plenty of guns to play with. The real champ of your gear, however, is the RC drone. The drone lets you get all over a level, and it can be your eyes and ears for when you want to hang back and hack into the system remotely. It really gives you a variety of options, as you find yourself choosing between playing it fast and loose and going in more slowly.
I would be remiss to avoid mentioning Watch Dogs 2’s soundtrack, which has some terrific tunes to hack to. The game in general has a vibrant punk aesthetic that doesn’t feel too overdone but manages to give the game some real charm.
Watch Dogs 2 was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 downloadable code of the game provided by Ubisoft Middle East.The game is also available on Xbox One and will be released in late November on PC via digital and retail stores. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Likeable protagonists
• Colorful setting
• Creative level design
• So many possibilities to approach a mission
• Lots of side quests
• Story doesn’t really impressed us
• Later missions can be somewhat repetitive
• Still not as focused on hacking