Watch Dogs 2 Review
Is Watch Dogs 2 a hack job, or has Ubisoft learnt from their techno-mistakes with the original?
It’s important, because love it, loathe it or ‘meh’ it, Watch Dogs was one of the most controversial titles of this generation of console, falling from the reveal hype high to the savagely disappointed lows of its release. So when we were faced with the sequel, we felt particularly cautious, while others were openly dismissive. The negative vibe was evident from the get-go: Ubisoft had a job on their hands to get Watch Dogs 2 back on the map – not only to generate interest, but to give this dog a new lease of life.
Welcome to Watch Dogs 2’s San Francisco. It’s a very different world from the drab, depressing Chicago of the original. Colour pops and characters aren’t quite so forgettable second time around, to the point where we actually feel a weird sort of pride in our hacker team, and all we’ve been through. Gang battles, hacker wars, shedloads of cyber attacks and outing corporate douchebags, protecting the rights of the weak from the greedy. Hell, we’ve even taken on a “religious sect”.
Watch Dogs 2 screams variety. There is so much to do in San Francisco that will keep you entertained – gone is the repetitive mission cycle from the previous title, now everything is run through apps. Makes sense, really, for a game centred around the threat and power of technology, with the all-seeing network ctOS acting as a 21st century Big Brother.
This is an Ubisoft open-world game, so that means some things never change – by which we mean, there are side-quests aplenty. These involve everything from hacking new-age cash machines to give away free money, to stealing dollars from rich fools who prey on the poor. And that Robin Hood mentality rises right up to setting up a smear video of a CEO of a security firm who’s guilty of ripping off data and passing it to the real baddie of the piece, the evil Blume Corporation. These are the sort of missions which make Watch Dogs 2 a genuine delight, as you proceed to locate the CEO in the gym, hack into his treadmill and set it to the highest setting… No spoilers, but you can guess what happens next.
This is a game that refuses to take itself too seriously, filled with wise-cracking characters addicted to light-hearted banter; with the GTA-style company names like Nudle, Watch Dogs 2’s answer to Google. These sort of LOL moments are a world away from its predecessor, and makes the ride so much more enjoyable.
Given that, the story is simple and whole hearted fun, as you take control of Marcus, aka retr0 – a hacker (of course) with some serious skills and the drive to see a job completed. It’s that sort of moxie that sees you joining Dedsec, a hacker group dedicated to freeing the people from greedy corporate hacks.
Dedsec’s real goal is to take down the Blume Corporation and expose them for what they really are: Thieves and criminals. The Dedsec team aren’t just cookie-cutter characters, and all are equipped with their own skills which allows for mission variety. Ubisoft has done well to create missions to better get to know your team and what they do, as well as keeping you on the edge of your techno-seat.
A hero’s only as good as his villain, so if you’re Robon Hood, with Dedsec as your Merry Men, then Blume – run by a yoga-chilled psycho – is the Sheriff of Nottingham and King John all rolled into one. Self-described as the “world’s foremost innovator of high-tech, high-performance communications and security technology”, the Blume Corporation has a fat finger in every technological pie, dominating the market and now seeking to dominate the world. Here, Blume is poised to alter folks’ perceptions of the Information Security Architecture (ISA) because if people relax their fears, then technological control becomes that much easier – and, handily, so does emptying bank accounts. With great power, and all that. It’s all very campy James Bond-style guff, and thanks to the lighter tone, it definitely works.
Graphically, Watch Dogs 2 is certainly pleasant to look at, with the beautiful sandy beaches and warm, sunny weather of a vibrant Frisco bay in keeping with the game’s overall upbeat tone. That detail and colour in the location, coupled with characters that we – at least in basic gaming terms – connect with (ahem… no pun intended), makes for even more immersive experience. Buzzing around the city wasn’t a chore, like it was in the first Watch Dogs; it was an adventure.
And what better way to have an adventure than with a kick-ass soundtrack? Here, the music is fantastic, peppered with hip-hop, classic, indie, rock and pop, it’s a soundtrack that has every taste catered for, with some well-known tunes, to boot. Acquiring new tracks to listen to has even been turned into a well thought-out pastime – this is, after all Ubisoft we’re talking about; every game they release is a collectathon. It works like a mash-up of Spotify and Shazam: You use an app when you hear a tune and it will automatically add it to your track list with a button press.
Everything within Watch Dogs 2 is geared towards keeping the pulse on the hacking, and challenging you every step of the way, which results in a game that remains entertaining to progress through, from start to finish. At times you will smash out a mission and revel in its fun moments, and others where you will be stumped on how to finish a puzzle while the timer is nipping at your hacker-ankles.
Oh, and there’s no more bland and gruelling XP level-up system here either. Rather, Watch Dogs 2 shows progression through an app created by your crack hacker team. Think a combo of Facebook and Twitter – the more missions and quests you complete, the more people will join you, giving you more power to take on the Blume Corporation. Sure, it might be overly simple (and not much different from the overly familiar XP levelling), but it’s interesting to see how even basic ranking up can be used to directly feed into a game’s core narrative.
Get ready for some hacker upgrades too. Amassing new followers adds points which can be used to unlock new toys and better skills – our personal favourite was controlling vehicles remotely, but there are also more familiar skills like steady hands while firing two-handed weapons. We’re not going to lie here – while the upgrades are fun, to get your hacker-paws on the best ones is an absolute grind. Progress is slow and hard, and while the lower-end skills cost anywhere between 1 to 3 points, top-level equipment costs you 6 to 8 points. It’s easy to see why Ubisoft have taken this approach, too, since it’ll require you to complete as many side-missions and mini-games as possible. You can also acquire skill points by finding them hidden throughout the map, but be aware, this isn’t easy at all and it will challenge you every step of the way.
Watch Dogs 2 builds on what worked in the original (which, let’s be fair, wasn’t much) and added so much more. It’s probably that game that Watch Dogs should’ve been, if it didn’t take itself so hatefully serious, and thanks to better graphics, gameplay, story and characters, it feels like a fresh new series now. This is one dog worth walking.
Watch Dogs 2 is available now from the Store, priced £54.99.
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