Author's Note: At time of writing, Watch Dogs 2 still has issues with its multiplayer features. While these are rolling out, we've decided to post this review without that functionality (since it's been over a week).The original Watch_Dogs launched in 2014 with a lot of promises. It managed to score fairly well with critics, but it received some warranted criticisms about the blandness of its protagonist, stock standard story, and downgrades from what was promised at trade shows and in trailers. What many saw was a solid foundation for a great successor. Watch_Dogs 2 launches amidst the hopes that Ubisoft can deliver another wonderful sequel with improvements of the magnitude found in the leap from Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed 2.
A character and a city.
Perhaps appropriately, some aspects of Watch Dogs 2 could miss their mark depending on the player's tolerance for certain aspects of San Francisco culture. San Francisco is, after all, one of the most liberal cities in the United States, and so things like nudism, LGBTQ+ themes, and hipster and nerd culture are on full display. All of this is handled with a positivity that creates a friendly or even jubilant atmosphere for those who are a part of one or more of these subcultures. The city is filled with monuments, sprawling murals, and odd street performers to check out. Even the scenarios involving NPCs are entertaining, such as with a surprise proposal where a photographer was pretending to take scenery shots before abruptly turning around, clearly having been in on the event all along. Couples sit by the bay talking and holding hands, while friends comfort each other over mutual loss. The people of San Francisco don't just walk around yelling at passersby or muttering to themselves, they bump into old friends on the street and strike up conversations, or defend each other from strangers harassing them.
It's not just down to the city, either. The main character and his cohorts run the gamut of racial/ethnic diversity, including transgender and autistic. The varying perspectives of each of the characters provides interesting character moments and commentary, such as how Marcus marvels at the idea of working at Watch_Dogs' fictional version of Google, while his companion discusses what it's like in a meeting where he's the only person of color, and is expected to "speak for all of Black-dom." Events never linger too long on heavy themes, however, before getting back into some form of plucky excitement and fun.
I know Mr. Wall Mural... Selfies, am I right?
References to pop and geek culture are nearly incessant, as is a small level of pervasive righteousness. On the whole, these qualities provide a fun and humorous atmosphere, although they can occasionally veer into cringeworthy territory. Which characters offer support in a given mission flips back and forth from mission to mission, keeping conversations fresh and topics varied.
This same approach applies to the game mechanics as well. Accomplishing your mission is now faster and more complex, thanks to some changes to game mechanics that allow for more nuanced control. Gone is the "Hold Square to Hack" of the original game and in its place is a suite of tools. Targeting a hackable object and holding the button gives you four hacking options that are mapped to the face buttons. This grants the ability to set a proximity trap for the object, to set it off immediately, or to cause an attention grabbing malfunction. Other objects, such as door controls, may allow you to close a door behind you, then power off the control to keep enemies from pursuing. On the fly, each object has a default function that can be quickly triggered by tapping , allowing for a much faster style of gameplay. The only downside to this is that it can be hard to break your aim away from one object to another in the heat of things, sometimes resulting in a hack being applied to the wrong object.
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In theory, this complexity and nuance allows for a multitude of solutions to any given situation. Ultimately, most missions can be solved by making use of the game's overpowered remote control car and quadcopter. While inside a building, cameras still provide the best method of surveying for enemies, opportunities, and targets. In the more open sections, the quadcopter provides a camera at any angle for which you could hope. The RC car, while less maneuverable than Marcus, is capable of getting into almost any location that Marcus can, and it can usually get into locations that Marcus can't. It also packs a full suite of hacking tools so that it's not restricted to just remote hacking like the quadcopter.
Barring a couple of instances where Marcus himself must do something, these two tools frequently allow missions to be accomplished without bloodshed in either direction. This tends to sap most missions of any real threat to Marcus, although getting caught still results in lost time as you wait for your devices to recharge and with increased pressure from security forces. Thankfully, unless a series of missions are themed, such as a set of side missions that focus on kart racing, challenges are mixed up. While the danger is still reduced, the complexity of most areas coupled with the aggressive response for failure provides enough pushback for success to be rewarding. No matter the circumstances, the solution to any given scenario requires thoughtfulness and control of your powerful hacking arsenal.
Traps set, eye in the sky. Shouldn't be a problem.
Watch Dogs 2 takes a much better approach to its trophies as well. The list as a whole focuses on drawing your attention to the best the game has to offer. Of the game's 50 trophies, 15 of them are dedicated to story missions or to the most interesting of the side missions. Almost as many trophies are dedicated to one off tasks, such as driving one of a set of unique vehicles, clearing a 140m jump in a car, or calling the police on a particular man in a donut outfit. There are only a few trophies that really pose any kind of long term commitment outside of the story, such as taking 25 pictures using an app that directs you to landmarks, or buying 25 vehicles from car dealerships. Even these aren't too time-consuming, with each taking only a half hour after the main story was finished. Finally, a set of online trophies rounds out the bunch. A few of the trophies require multiplayer play, but with matchmaking offline at the time of writing, we can't really comment on these.
SummaryWatch Dogs 2 steps things up in a lot of ways. San Francisco carries a liveliness that Chicago never had, as well as a jubilance that was lost to Aiden's grim, and often boring, tale. The main cast is full of energy, character, and pop culture references, and a healthy rotation among them keeps their sometimes overwhelming personas from becoming too irritating. The control given to the player over the world is powerful, nuanced, and fast, allowing for a variety of solutions to a problem, although your remote control car and quadcopter can solve almost any situation, discouraging experimentation. Thankfully, the game puts points into the qualities that count, so even if the dangers to Marcus are minimized, the wit that is required to succeed and the power that you control result in a pure sense of video-gamey fun.
- Nuanced control
- Vibrant city and characters
- Sometimes overwhelming vibrancy
- Many possibilities, most not needed
The reviewer used a personal PlayStation 4 copy of the game for the purposes of this review. He played for roughly 25 hours in order to finish the campaign, take pictures, and explore the world. During this time, he unlocked 44 of 50 trophies, leaving only the multiplayer trophies remaining