Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft’s sequel to 2014’s hacker game switches location from Chicago to San Francisco. We have a new protagonist in Marcus Holloway, who is bend on taking down corporate big brother, Blume Inc., the company responsible for CTos, the network that has become the rather sinister internet of things.
The theme behind the Watch Dogs games couldn’t be more relevant, as we sleepwalk into a surveillance society. Ethical use of data and our privacy, itself, is being eroded. Information has always been power, but never before has so much personal information been so easily accessed.
The first game, whilst successful, met with some criticism over the quality of the game’s graphics not meeting the expectations set by the gameplay trailers. For this sequel, Ubisoft have pulled out all the stops to give us a graphical masterpiece that shows off The City by the Bay.
I tested the game on both the PlayStation 4 and on PC. The PS4 version (running on a PS4 Pro) is drop-dead gorgeous. But, whilst I had to wait a few days for the review code, the wait for the PC version was worth in. The PC visuals are mind-blowing.
Running the game on an Asus-based i7 6700K, 32GB of RAM and a GTX 1080, I was able to crank all the visuals up to ultra, to enjoy the game as the developers intended. There is still some headroom for those PC owners running god-like rigs, with extra detail and super-sampling options available to turn the graphics all the way up to eleven.
Watch Dogs 2 starts with Marcus getting recruited by hacker outfit Dedsec, who, using an app, are able to give Marcus missions that work towards toppling Blume. There are some nice touches, like trolling the upcoming film, Cyber-cop, for it’s poor, Hollywood-style portrayal of hacking. There’s also an amusing riff on Scientology.
The story is effective, but doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay. Whilst the game rests its tongue in its cheek a fair bit, it never reaches the level of absurdity that the Saints Row games have embraced. I’d like to say it’s on the same page as Grand Theft Auto, and to a point it is, but just it’s not quite as clever.
It’s the environment, however, that is the star of the game. Watch Dogs 2’s San Francisco is packed with detail. The play area is huge, encompassing a digital representation of the city of San Francisco, Oakland and Silicon Valley. The diverse landscape, from city streets to leafy hills, makes the world of Watch Dogs 2 the perfect sandbox playground.
Gameplay-wise, it’s more of the same, with Marcus driving from A-to-A, sneaking about and doing a bit of hacking. This time however, the game mechanics have been polished up to nigh-on perfection. Don’t get me wrong, the first game was good, but Watch Dogs 2 is just that much better.
The driving element of the game seems to have been completely reworked. Vehicle handling feels more realistic compared to the first game. Sailboats have been added to Watch Dogs 2, allowing players to go for a quiet, peaceful trip around the bay.
The ability to hack traffic lights and blow steam pipes to slow pursuers during car chases, or generally cause traffic chaos was fun in the first game. This time we can also directly hack vehicles, making them swerve, move forward and reverse remotely. Not only can this ability be used whilst driving to cover an escape, it makes for a great distraction- an empty car moving by itself is away going to need closer examination.
As with the last game, in heavily guarded areas Marcus’s phone is his greatest asset. Hacking CCTV cameras allows him to exploit guard’s phones, from stealing money to making them explode. Same with electrical panels which can be made to attract guards and then deliver a non-lethal shock.
Marcus carries a Taser for more stealthy infiltration, but can also use handguns and rifles when things so south. Watch out, though, going in guns blazing will likely result in reinforcements being called.
Breaking into secure areas requires hacking doors open. This can be simply a case of press the left bumper, or require some prep work first. Many doors have control panels, sometimes in hard to reach areas that need to be hacked first. Sometimes a circuit puzzle needs to be solved in order to power the panel.
For getting into tight spaces, Marcus has a radio-controlled car and a quadcopter to help him, both with hacking capabilities of their own. Sometimes the only way into a room is via a duct and opening the door from the inside.
Being a Ubisoft game, there’s tons of stuff to do. Side quests can be gained by talking to people or even hacking their phones. There’s electric go-kart racing and even sailboat races.
As well as co-op missions, the game’s seamless online multiplayer uses the same PVP intrusion system as last time. Players can infiltrate other player’s campaigns and try to hack them. The victim has a certain amount of time to locate the hack and dispatch them accordingly. Depending on what you are doing at the time this is either a great dynamic that’ll spice up your session or an annoying distraction. Players with limited or sporadic available game time may want to switch this option off.
Watch dogs 2 is more than a worthy successor to the original. Ubisoft have polished up the visuals, tightened up the gameplay and literally improved every aspect over the it predecessor. The new location, the San Francisco bay area, is breathtaking.
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Released: November 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Windows 7 or Higher)