Ubisoft had a mega hit on their hands with the original Watch Dogs in 2014. It was one of the first big open world games on our shiny new consoles (PS4 and Xbox One) and with the promise of being able to hack and play, we were all excited for the promise of this game. Unfortunately the release was more than a little lacklustre with a lot of promises left unfulfilled and after barely making it through the single player campaign, I resigned myself to the fact that this game just sucked.
The announcement of Watch Dogs 2 (and a lot less hype this time around) came around and none of my friends seemed keen to venture back into the hacking world, a lot of this due to the bland and boring character of Aiden Pearce, instead of continuing his story (or lack thereof!) they shifted the scenery to San Francisco and introduced us to a more personable hacker vigilante Marcus Holloway. Marcus is motivated by philosophy not by revenge and doesn’t take himself too seriously (a million and one dad jokes ensue!) what he does offer is an endless amount of cool and style that is hard to pull off in a game like this. Together with his group of hackers Sitara, the female lead who is an artist, Horatio who is the quiet achiever who seems to have a strange and close connection to Marcus, Josh has aspergers and an extremely dry sense of humour The final team member is Wrench who is an expert builder and brings a lot of humour in situations when things get quite intense in the game. They seem to have reached a great balance of characters and personalities this time around and it helps maintain interest in the game.
The hackers take on a group by the name of Blume Corporation who seem to have infiltrated everywhere in San Francisco, speaking of the city change is such a welcome and noticeable difference. The colouring and shading is bright and beautifully detailed (without the grid lock traffic!) The city feels vibrant and alive which is a much needed contrast from the first installment. The city extends beyond the centre to surrounding borough’s and beach areas too which offer a variety of colour and victims/characters to interact with.
Where this games shines is the single player story mode. The story revolves around this rag-tag group of hackers who take on the Blume Corporation who have taken control of the city. It sounds pretty straight forward but there is so much more that I don’t want to spoil but I can tell you it is an intricate tell with many twists and turns and some of the characters, in particular Dusan Nemec (the company’s chief technology officer) is hollywood blockbuster style stuff. It does sound like a story we have seen time and time again with a group of young people feeling powerless against “the man” but this empowering tale of using technology to go up against them, particularly in this time on our planet with things like Brexit, Trump and ISIS.
While this may sound heavy it is not all serious, there is a very strong focus on technology and having some fun in the open world environment. You can fill a van with C4 and remotely hack it to drive into an enemy hotspot and remotely detonate for an impressive explosion. The hacking has been completely reinvented for this game so you can choose how you approach each mission and what devices you use. This is leaps and bounds ahead of the first game and serves as a “this is how it should have been”
Gameplay wise apart from the open world and Ubisoft expectant side missions, there are also puzzles, infuriating, game stopping puzzles that will test not only your skill level as a gamer, but your patience as a human being. I don’t mind difficult puzzles but when you put a ridiculously low timer on them and interfering background noise it can be distracting at first and then infuriating when you are still trying to get past it half an hour later. There were too many of these roadblocks in my opinion and felt like it was just trying to offer up something different rather than do it well. My only other criticism of the game is the multiplayer, now this is effectively broken at launch (and still is!) so I will have to update this review when it actually works and I can get some decent time with it. Ubisoft promise that you players will be able to drop in on others games directly and assist with hacks so time will tell if this becomes a thing or doesn’t.
I went into this game expecting to hate it, after the negative experience with the first one it was admittedly hard to keep an open mind, but this game essentially won me over with a great and timely story, characters that I laughed with and at and enjoyed their banter. Shifting cities was definitely a step in the right direction and really brought the game to life with vibrant and engaging colour and the added beach areas kept that in good rotation as well. The improved gameplay and hacking mechanics help this move forward in the right direction and while it is not a massive step forward, it is a great one that should ensure the future of the series and possibly reignite rumours of the Watch Dog movie that were circulating for a while there. If you were excited for the original and felt let down, this game is well worth laying down your money for.
Watch Dogs 2 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
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