Watch Dogs was a good game. Despite what people have to say about Aiden Pierce as a protagonist and the “trailer vs gameplay” graphical downgrade concerns. I really enjoyed it.
One of my first games on the Xbox One, and the first entry in a new series that was taking the established Ubisoft sand-box game and adding some new twists. Unlike anything we’d really seen before.
The release of Watch Dogs 2, then. Meant that I was bound to get into it eventually.
As luck would have it, the deluxe edition was on sale for a bargain £6.99, so I had no choice but to dive-in.
The same, but different
You’re almost immediately back to using your phone to hack things, and that’s fine by me. Starting off with a tutorial level that also serves to set-up the narrative for the game and introduce the new protagonist, Marcus.
It’s definitely Watch Dogs, but tonally everything is much much different here.
The best way to describe the tone in Watch Dogs 2 is “irreverent”. The seriousness of the original game is still there.
The threat of corporations selling us services and harvesting our data for profit, is very much a thing. As is ctOS, the city-operating software that is of course a very worrying tool, monitoring everyone and everything in the city of San Francisco.
With this threat, comes the rag-tag group of heroes that want to see it removed. Again, delivered in the form of DedSec. A group of hackers, determined to take these systems down, and teach these corporations a lesson.
Forgive me, because this does the characters a disservice, and makes me sound old……DedSec in San Francisco is a group made-up of millenials. Younger, proactive and again, irreverent.
Marcus fits in nicely here. With an already established in-world persona under the name Retr0, he was on DedSec’s list. Tying-in nicely with the opening mission, they make contact, and boom!, they’re all working together now.
The speed in which they all became friends was a little weird, but the dynamic between the group is really nice, and you feel that they all genuinely like each other (so far anyway).
Watch Dogs 2 starts out very strong.
So, yeah, you’re back at it. Going around a city, hacking anyone and anything that you can, using your phone.
Now you’ve got access to new abilities, and even a drone and remote controlled “jumper”. Infiltration is a joy. Cameras are everywhere, everyone has a mobile device, everything can be hacked and used to your advantage.
As you level up, or in this case, increase your followers and your influence online, you unlock upgrades. Soon you can unlock cars from your phone without setting off alarms. You can profile people on the street and see who is going to have a good amount of money to siphon from their account.
It’s a very Robin Hood escapade. Yeah, you’re fighting for the people, and fighting against corporations. However, you’re more than happy to use people’s devices for distractions, or to take money from their accounts. You’re very much in a grey area. Hence the “greyhat hacker” status.
Good, bad or otherwise. You have to tools to control access to everything you need.
A stealth approach (my favourite!) is often ideal. Fly your drone over a building, spot some guards or access a camera feed. Looks for entry points to take your jumper, through. Hack some local devices to give you access to the internal network. It’s quick, it’s easy and you feel powerful and clever.
Watch Dogs 2 is a total power trip, and it makes for a great deal of fun.
Faking phone calls, faking police records or ordering a gang hit on someone because they’re in your way and you need them to be distracted. Damn, it’s clever, it’s not done anywhere else, and I love it.
This isn’t an Assassin’s Creed game, where you’re nimbly climbing up and down anything you so desire. In Watch Dogs, you have to be clever.
Yes, you can climb and mount things at certain heights. But really, you need to use your surroundings. Forklifts can be controlled remotely, so you can lift yourself up, or a scissor lift perhaps? Cranes are hackable, as are the window-cleaner lifts on the sides of buildings.
There’s no excuse to not get to where you need to be. You just have to look around and understand your surroundings.
Beyond that, Marcus is quite athletic (he love to somersault backwards off of anything that he can, apparently….). So you can run, clamber and move with decent freedom.
Then we have driving. An element I’ve missed in my recent Ubisoft forays. Assassin’s Creed doesn’t have cars!]
Driving in Watch Dogs 2 is actually pretty good. I’ve bought a couple of cars and unlocked a couple, so I can have them instantly dropped off to me, thanks to an app on my phone (think of the “call mechanic” option in GTA, but quicker and easier).
Initially, I found the driving to be excellent, but I’ve been playing Forza Horizon 4 alongside Watch Dogs 2, and found that in comparison, it perhaps ins’t that good. However, this isn’t a driving sim, and the vehicles are pretty good.
There’s plenty of city to explore, and quite a bit of verticality, which is nice.
You can walk, drive or fast-travel and everything just works nicely. Plenty of options, and when you get to control the traffic lights, other vehicles, and even underground pipes, you’re always in control. Even when you’re on the road.
Looks great, sounds great
Everything in Watch Dogs 2 is bold and vibrant. A shinier, brighter version of the world. There’s plenty of colour and noise here and it’s all the better for it.
San Francisco looks lovely. Now, I’m not familiar with the city or it’s layout, or even points of interest. I did find the winding road thing that I recognised, otherwise, I can’t say how accurate or good it is as a realisation of the actual city.
What I can say, is that it’s full of life, and seems to be lovingly crafted. I’ve not had issues with framerates or noticeable draw distance problems. Textures are great and nothing has been popping-in out of nowhere.
The day-night cycle make for some lovely sunsets and seeing the city light up at night is a joy.
Honestly, this stuff is bread and butter for Ubisoft at this point, and it shows. Watch Dogs 2 looks lovely.
Character models and animations are great, here, too. Particularly when it comes to the main characters of the story. Although I’ve not noticed anything terrible regarding the standard civilian models out on the streets, so that’s good news, too!
Of course, a game this size can’t just look good, it has to sound good to complete the aesthetic, and create that overall “feel”. Luckily, Watch Dogs 2 has excellent audio.
Great voice acting makes for believable relationships and scenarios, and even NPC dialogue stands out. I love a newscaster delivering news of changes I’ve made in the game world. Always believable, and it really makes you feel like you’re a part of this world.
Musically, the radio stations have plenty to offer, and with a “Shazam” style app, you can add music you hear in the game world, to your media player on your phone. Lovely touch, there!
I can’t quite put my finger on what makes it happen, but when I start this game and load-into the world. I’m filled with a genuine sense of joy. It’s a rare thing, and I couldn’t tell you the last time that happened.
A combination of sights and sounds, and this power-trip of being a super-hacker. I don’t know why, but it just works for me, really well.
I could go on and on about how good this game makes me feel. It’s a weird thing to say, but it unlocks an child-like joy in me and I have no clue why.
So, I need to stop and take stock of things going on.
Being about 15 hours in, I can’t comment fully on the overall story and the execution of the narrative. However, it’s fun so far and I’m engaged.
A strong cast of characters, a lot of fun ways to approach any given mission and loads of side bits to do. I’m in for the long-haul on this one.
Whilst it seems ridiculous, to leverage so much power from just a mobile phone. I’m not sure that it’s a million miles away from reality. Everything is becoming connected, we willingly give up our privacy to companies for some free app or platform.
Celebrities in cults, companies manipulating your personal data, needing influence over the internet to make any kind of impact…. Watch Dogs is very much a reflection of the world we live in now. A fun and bright game to play, with quite serious undertones.
There’s some serious appeal to here to someone like me, and I’m lapping it up.
If Watch Dogs was good, I’m thinking Watch Dogs 2 is excellent. We’ll see in another 15 or so hours, I guess?