Watch Dogs 2 is a sequel which doesn’t seem to have set the world on fire with little hype and only close to release showing up regularly on the usual big TV ad slots. Surely they will improve upon the original and push towards some of that wasted potential from the original…? Not without some problems of its own but that said Watch Dogs 2 is far more stylish, refined and outright fun than its predecessor.
For this adventure we bid farewell to the raincoat-wearing, dull as dishwater Aiden Pearce and step into the shoes of one Marcus Holloway. The evil ctOS make a return from the original and their claws are ever more deeper into the very fabric of our society, controlling anything and everything digitally, storing our data and acting like the big brother we all fear. Marcus is a talented young kid and as a result the powers that be at ctOS mark him as a threat, creating a fake criminal record before he’s even done anything wrong. Utilising his greatest skills, Marcus hacks into the main data repository at ctOS and reverses the false record that they created. This takes both balls and skills and as a result Marcus gets the attention of a hacker group called DedSec. As you would expect, this group of hackers is effectively the Anonymous of this tale and with Marcus on board they set out to create a giant botnet from which they can harness enough processing power to really do some damage to ctOS - to achieve this they need followers (think twitter) with their app installed on their phones. Once all of this is established the game kicks into gear and a Grand Theft Auto-style open world adventure with an enhanced focus of doing everything with your mobile phone is born.
The story for this new adventure is good but falls short of greatness. Yes it is awesome to be effectively pretending to be a member of Anonymous and again yes it is pretty cool to be playing the videogame equivalent of Mr Robot but the writing is a bit of a mixed bag. Perhaps too techie for your average Joe to understand the ins and out and in places downright embarrassing for those that would understand the tech speak - in some instances it just tries a bit too hard and comes across as being forced, no, more rammed down your throat. The opening few hours contain more than enough L33t speak for one afternoon and whilst funny in part ultimately just provides the means to an end.
The end in question there being the gameplay which is fantastic for an open world adventure littered with an often bewildering amount of things to do. As well as the multi-part, large and sometimes difficult main story missions there is a myriad of side missions as well as a ton of activities which are mainly racing focused like buggies, bikes, boats and drones (obvs). The core missions and the side missions don’t really deviate much from their hacker-based paths and in time become a little bit mundane. Initially you will be required to hack facilities, stealth your way past a few guards, steal some data and so on. As you progress however you will be introduced to some time-based hacking puzzles which can frustrate as well as being afforded the ability to setup a scenario before it begins. The latter is arguably one of the most fun parts of what is essentially a stealth game, setting up a number of items in a small space - for example some explosive devices or parking a truck with explosives where you know the bad guys will park and so on. Hit the button and it all plays out like a symphony and you feel truly like a L33t hacker should. The game could have done without the GTA-style gun play, but perhaps this would have upset too many people - pulling out a fully loaded assault rifle after you sneaked and hacked about for thirty minutes seems a bit like cheating at times and you wonder if the game had more balls it would have been better.
To add to this as you progress the game sometimes struggles with tone, however that is of course dependent on the order in which you play the missions. Some missions can see you spying via webcam on a child pornographer and your hacker-type response is to break his equipment via link, and then just two minutes later you will be cracking jokes with your cyber buddies shortly before you head off to take another selfie for followers. It’s not terrible by any stretch but the mix of hard-hitting social commentary with ‘fun’ stuff can break the immersion somewhat.
On top of this there are a handful of things which just don’t feel right throughout and can lead to frustration. Missions are a tad repetitive, not in the same fashion as Mafia III, there is simply the constant forcing of the hacking element. Sure it’s a game about hackers that’s understood, but almost everything you do needs some sort of hacking, whether it be a simple opening a door job or a massive time-restricted “defuse a bomb” situation. To add to this the checkpointing at times is horrendous, forcing you to completely redo an entire section as you come up against the most aggressive police force known to man while escaping half the map away from the initial objective in a car, making you redo the thirty-fourty minute mission again.
The good does outway the bad however and the one thing that Ubisoft deserves a ton of credit for is the world they have created for you the player to get lost in. San Francisco is the inspiration and is beautifully realised, as well as being vibrant and busy at all times. It is a rare thing that an open world game has some much going on within it that doesn’t in anyway relate to the character or the bad guys that are out to get him or her. Cast your mind back to the number of times you’ve played an open world game that was devoid of activity other than you and the people doing bad things. In Watch Dogs 2 there are people everywhere, things to hack are everywhere, collectibles are everywhere, missions, side missions and activities are everywhere - it is a game crammed full of content and it is so smooth and gorgeous you can easily lose a lot of time exploring it. Add to this the seamless multiplayer aspect which allows you to drop into an online battle with a fellow hacker, usually to thwart their attempts at hacking themselves is a ton of fun and opportunities to partake are, much like everything else, littered around the map.
Watch Dogs 2 is much better than its predecessor in almost every way but it’s far from perfect. Solid open world fodder boasting a gorgeous, bustling world crammed with a variety of things to do - Ubisoft deserve huge credit for creating such a place as well as allowing everyone to pretend to be playing an episode of Mr Robot like one of the cool kids. Gadgets, a mobile phone that can seemingly do anything along with days and days of content all slightly hamstrung by a disjointed narrative and some odd gameplay choices. Don’t let that put you off though, in a season with surprisingly few open world adventures to get lost in, Watch Dogs 2 is worth your time.