I’m a huge fan of the open worlds that Ubisoft create. From stalking the rooftops in Assassin’s Creed, or creeping through alleyways as Mr Fisher, to surviving the wilds of Far Cry. I’ve absorbed myself in the tales they’ve told and loved (just about) every minute of it. It will come as no surprise then that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the first Watch Dogs, but when the sequel began to start its hype train I was left standing at the station – its direction and lead character did nothing for me. Had Connor from Assassin’s Creed come back to haunt me and tarnish yet another series?
You play as hacker Marcus Holloway, aka Retr0. The game starts with his initiation into DedSec, breaking into ctOS to wipe his records. Marcus is quickly recruited into DedSec and joins their crusade to wake the people of San Francisco to the true reality of BLUME’s ctOS 2.0.
The story spans from BLUME to Belltower, with lots of corporations caught inbetween. DedSec is at the centre, exposing their dirty secrets, with their style and exposure of corrupt companies drawing distinct similarities with the real world Anonymous group, which I’m sure the Ubisoft team took inspiration from. The storyline is excellently paced and packed full of side missions, it even plays it close to recent events in America with a story about a seemingly unpopular politician coming close to taking control.
The missions are varied and have a swathe of humour to them. Each can be tackled any way you see fit within the limitations of the skills you have unlocked – with later missions quite challenging if you haven’t taken the time to tool up your skills and gadget mastery.
The city of San Francisco is well crafted and while far from the hustle and bustle of a real city, it’s many sights and sounds will lure you into a metropolis that appears to live and breathe. DedSec themselves are an odd bunch that I found strangely alluring, I unwillingly began to grow rather fond of each member and felt like I was an integral part of the team rather than just a punk kid who recently joined. Their personalities quickly stamp a very different direction to the game making the events of Watch Dogs a vague memory – great if you didn’t get on with the first. Their conversations seem more ‘real’ too – the discussion on who would win between Alien and Predator is one I’ve shared with my friends on more than one occasion.
The only juxtaposition is the weapons, not so much the guns themselves but the merciless killing. DedSec are trying to wake the city to their reliance on using digital devices and how companies are using their data. This seemingly friendly crusade doesn’t seem to warrant a ‘guns blazing’ approach – but hey – you get to play the game your way, although a system like Dishonored may have helped make lethal force more of a consideration rather than a “fuck it, I’ll just kill all these guards” approach.
Get into a gunfight though and Marcus won’t be able to take too much heat before dropping. Moving in and out of cover is smooth and is as simple as pointing at where you want to go and holding down the A button. Enemies will call for backup and even flank your position – often the best approach is to tuck up somewhere and send in your drones. The Quadcopter allows you to fly around scouting the area, and once unlocked, drops bombs from the sky. Meanwhile, the jumper RC drone should be your first choice for hacking computers and collecting key items from restricted areas.
Hacking is smooth. A lock on is required before you can select one of four options – dependent on what you’ve unlocked. Mayhem can easily be caused and it’s a lot of fun especially when you join a buddy online for some co-op missions – sending cars off the road as you hack them can have hilarious results, especially when engaged in a five star felon police chase.
The co-op of Watch Dogs 2 shares a lot with Assassin’s Creed Unity’s co-op – which in my book is an awesome prospect. Many of the missions are similar to the main game, but have so much more potential when there are two of you running amuck. Mainly I just enjoyed larking around with a mate – causing as much trouble for him as I did for my enemies – sending cars into his path or hacking his vehicle just at the right moment.
Heading online solo, you can invade other players, which makes a return from the first game. New to Watch Dogs 2 are bounty hunts where you help the police take down a wanted felon, it’s all good fun, but I enjoyed my time online far more with a mate.
The only real gripes I have with the game are the puzzle mechanics and the driving. I really enjoyed the puzzle mechanics of the first game but this has been watered down, which is a shame. Towers are replaced with power line puzzles that must be completed in order to unlock access to junction boxes. Routing the power to unlock couplings is fun enough; I just found them far too easy – even when there was a time limit.
The car physics? Well let’s just say that while far from bad, they are firmly rooted in the arcade genre of driving. Hand braking round corners is fun enough – just don’t try to do it on a bike, the results are far from pleasant. If driving really isn’t your thing then there’s a handy fast travel system that can jump you close to your objective.
There’s a ton of content outside of the main game too. From standard side missions to taking selfies at key landmarks and driving the streets via Driver SF as a taxi serving the citizens, which includes some funny stories. There are lots of collectibles to find that will increase your abilities – each one hidden away in a hideout or behind a sequence of junction boxes that require hacking. Each activity has been well-thoughtout and is far from tacked on.
DedSec are a colourful bunch, as is the backdrop the game is set against. The bad guy is an absolute bastard, an awesome bastard that is pitched so perfectly I wanted to like him as much as I liked Marcus and his crew. Watch Dogs 2 is a very different game to the Watch Dogs, and while it nods to characters and elements of the original outing, anyone hung up on the first game should leave their bag at the door and take to the sequel in the knowledge that Ubisoft has very much learnt from their mistakes – a bit like they did with Connor!
Just when I thought I might have my nominations for TiX’s GOTY categories rounded up, Watch Dogs 2 has blasted itself to the top of my consideration list. For a game that lost me in its marketing, I must commend the team on a job awesomely done.