Watch Dogs 2 Review
Watch Dogs was a game that divided its audience when it released in 2014. Some liked the fact that it played like a modern day version of Assassin Creed with hacking elements. Others found the gameplay to be repetitive and the main protagonist, Aiden Pearce, didn’t exactly win people over with his dour personality. Ubisoft have clearly listened to the feedback as Watch Dogs 2 is set in a sunny San Francisco and Aiden is a thing of the past. Is Watch Dogs 2 the definitive open world hacking experience, or does it have the same failings as the first game?
Glorious San Francisco – Comparing the two Watch Dogs games the very first thing I noticed was just how vibrant and colourful San Francisco is. Chicago (the setting for the first Watch Dogs) felt very samey, with very few noticeable landmarks and a very grey environment. San Francisco is the complete opposite which makes exploring the world an absolute pleasure. There are instantly recognisable landmarks available for you to access, such as The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the iconic Pier 39 as well as a plethora of others you’ll have seen on TV or in Movies. If travelling around isn’t for you then that is also taken care of, as Ubisoft has added a fast travel feature which you can access from the beginning of the game and definitely helps you from the déjà vu feeling that can sometimes occur in these open world games.
Marcus and his merry men – Marcus is the new protagonist that you play as throughout Watch Dogs 2. The prologue starts with you breaking into a facility and wiping his criminal record from the system. His skill in doing this brings him to the attention of Dedsec, a hacking group who are looking to take down Blume. The tone in Watch Dogs 2 feels a lot more upbeat and there is a lot more humour this time around. Interacting with the various NPCs is a lot of fun and helps to flesh out some of the back stories, and you can also interact with them via emotes if you are inclined to do so. You often have to head back to the Hackerspace HQ which is when you’ll get your chance to interact with the various characters that are loitering around. Wretch is my favourite, with his emoji mask that changes to reflect his feeling and mood he easily is the star of the gang. That being said the rest of the supporting cast all are worthy of a mention, and there is also the return of some familiar faces for those that have played Watch Dogs.
Technology rules the world – One of the most improves aspects in Watch Dogs 2 is in the technology department. Aidan only really used his phone to hack various cameras and conveniently placed machines but Marcus has upped the ante with the gadgets you have at your disposal. You still have your trusty Smartphone which can be used to hack and interact with nearly everything you see but you now also have a little RC hacking bot. This bot can be used to covertly enter building and hack locks and computers to enable you to sneak through without ever alerting your enemies. You can also buy a drone and use that to scan an area for enemies and entry points which will make things considerably easier. The hacking puzzles have carried over from Watch Dogs but this time around they are no longer on a static screen, instead they take place in the environment and involve you walking (or flying, if you are using the drone) around and connecting the pieces. Initially this was a little disorientating but once you get your bearings it’s actually a lot of fun to solve them.
A soundtrack you can access whenever you like – I’ve always hated the fact that a lot of open world games have fantastic soundtracks which can only be accessed when driving. Watch Dogs 2 rather handily lets you access all the radio stations and songs whenever you like via your Smartphone. Creating your custom soundtrack is a hell of a lot of fun as there are some fantastic tracks on here and it makes exploring San Francisco even more of a treat. You can once again unlock extra songs using the SongSneak app although fortunately this time around there are no achievements tied to this.
Seamless multiplayer works – Although it took a couple of weeks for Ubisoft to iron out the issues with the online aspect of Watch Dogs they definitely did a great job with it. You can play through some of the game co-op if you wish, however I spent most of my time invading other players and hacking them. The process itself is super easy to access; you just go into the multiplayer app on your in-game Smartphone. From there you can choose to invade someone or set a bounty on yourself which then allows other players to try and assassinate you. Invading another player is a lot of fun and can be surprisingly tense. I did find that at times it was rather easy for me to spot people as I had a fully upgraded drone but when it puts you up against someone who is equally well equipped it can definitely get your heart racing!
Dire driving – If you have ever played Watch Dogs you’ll know that one of the most common complaints was how poorly the car handled. Unfortunately there has been no real improvements to this as the car handling in Watch Dogs 2 is pretty abysmal. If you try and get a sports car round a corner faster than a few miles per hour you’ll likely end up sliding it into the nearest wall or doing a complete 180. One minute you can manoeuvre through packed roads like you are driving an f1 car, the next you are sliding all over the place like you are driving a milk float on ice. There’s no real consistency to the way the cars perform which resulted in me using the fast travel option to pretty much cover the entire map. One notable exception to this rule is the motorbikes which are a lot of fun to drive, but for a game that relies on the player doing a lot of travelling around the map the handling really kills a lot of the fun of exploring the map.
Hawk eyed guards – Watch Dogs 2 relies on you using your gadgets to avoid detection when breaking into a building and hacking computers, however the stealth mechanics can leave a lot to be desired. Some guards seem to be able to spot you through solid walls (maybe they have x-ray glasses?) and are alerted to your presence almost immediately. Some guards go to the other extreme and might as well not be there, as they fail to see you strangling one of their colleagues just a few feet away from them. The unpredictability can make it fun for a while but more often than not it leads to frustration as you have to then either run away and hide, or take them down. Adding to the issue is the fact that the shooting mechanics aren’t that great; it never feels satisfying to get a headshot on an enemy as it often feels like luck. You can upgrade your shooting skills which does alleviate this a little, but the core mechanic needs to be improved if there is another Watch Dogs game in the pipeline.
I was a little saddened when Ubisoft announced that there would be no new Assassins Creed title in 2016, however Watch Dogs 2 has managed to fill this void by improving on its predecessor in almost every way. The story is captivating with some seriously creative missions yet it manages to avoid taking itself too seriously at the same time. Throw in a vibrant San Francisco to explore and a multiplayer that can have you on the edge of your seat and you have all the ingredients for a wonderful game.
Watch Dogs 2 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. The game released on Xbox One on November 15th 2016 and is also available for Playstation 4 and Steam. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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