The release of Ubisoft’s Watch_Dogs in 2014 was something of a disappointment, and that’s an understatement. What looked to be a gorgeous next-gen competitor to Grand Theft Auto V (which at the time wasn’t on PC/PS4/XB1) with a cool hack-everything mechanic ended up dull, lifeless, and humorless with one of the worst player characters ever. Two years later the sequel is here, excitement is low, and Ubisoft have a lot to prove.
Wisely ditching Bland “Dull Boy” Gruffman (aka Aidan Pierce), Watch_Dogs 2 focuses on the antics of Marcus Holloway, expert hacker, as he is initiated into hacking group DedSec (which has received a personality injection since the first game). In “near future” San Francisco Marcus and DedSec go up against the new city-wide ctOS 2.0, the Blume Group, and Google-substitute Nudle in their attempts to bring down this new age where privacy is non-existent and freedom is a right-click away from being trampled.
Now, the story won’t win any awards, but it’s actually the characters you’ll remember most. Ubisoft have really taken the criticism of Aidan Pierce to heart and made Marcus a wholly likeable person. He’s streetwise, he’s nerdy, he’s got a strong sense of right and wrong (which admittedly makes it weirder when he murders cops and innocent civilians, but more on that later), and works well as someone who’s not a leader but is the heart of the group. The rest of DedSec have been fleshed out a lot too, with the highlight being digital mask-wearing Wrench who’s just insane. It admittedly feels like Ubisoft have tried a little too hard to make the DedSec members cool to the point where they kind of don’t feel like real people anymore, but they are at least entertaining to hang out with.
If you’ve played a city-based open world action game since, well, Grand Theft Auto 1 you generally know what to expect from Watch_Dogs 2. You have a city, in this case a slightly condensed version of San Francisco, which you can explore at will, commandeer vehicles, kill or mess with anyone you want, find side missions and get to the main campaign when you’re good and ready. Let’s be honest here: Watch_Dogs 2 does not change things up so much you won’t be playing this just like GTA, but there are some crucial differences.
The first, most notably as it’s the cornerstone of the series’ pitch, is hacking. By targeting any NPC, vehicle or significant electrical item in the game you can get information about them, then with the push of a button you can mess with them in a variety of ways ranging from comical to lethal. Hacks include being able to drive vehicles, blow up generators after enticing a guard over with a few sparks, change traffic lights, or setting either the police or a violent gang after a particular person (or both, devastatingly). You even get two fun little robots, one a car and the other a ‘copter, to play with to help you hack hard to get areas. The hacking makes the whole world feel a little more alive and I love the interactive playground Ubisoft have created, although I admit I wish there was a bit more of a range of things to do around the city as it often doesn’t feel like there’s quite enough things to play with.
Like petting dogs
At least in terms of hacking, anyway. Being an Ubisoft open-world game the map is absolutely stuffed with missions, sights, races, collectables and other things to do. This is both a blessing and a curse in that there’s plenty to keep players occupied but it’s very easy to get distracted with taking pictures or visiting stores rather than getting on with missions. I haven’t even mentioned online invasions, which we’ll get to in the next section. And yes, there are stupid collectables, like Research Points (upgrades) or just random cash boxes. If you like Ubisoft’s other games like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed with their cluttered maps filled with things to find then you won’t mind Watch_Dogs 2, but I always feel Ubisoft tip the balance too much towards “boring filler s**t” rather than packing the map with entertaining missions.
Fortunately there are entertaining missions. Breaking into the game’s equivalent of the Church of Scientology, kidnapping the Knight Rider car, even hacking into Ubisoft and stealing their next (fake?) E3 reveal trailer. It’s all pretty fun, even if the majority do consist of going to a location, sneaking past (or shooting) guards, then hacking something. Side missions include kart racing, spray painting, hunting robots, and even starring in a YouTube stunt driving video. I was rarely bored, but I don’t know: when I try to think about what I was actually doing in those missions they all felt a little the same.
The other big way Watch_Dogs 2 differs from Grand Theft Auto and the like is in the online. Unlike GTAV the online side is integrated into the main game, similar to the first game or Dark Souls. This means there are several online co-op missions which are listed alongside the single-player ones, and you’re liable to get invaded and hacked at any moment, or potentially bounty hunted by other players if you hit 3 wanted strikes.
This fortunately can all be turned off because it can be extremely annoying, especially the hacking invasions. I was just about to start a mission then suddenly I was hacked, whereupon I have to identify my hacker and “neutralize” them. I have never, ever stopped a hacker. If they get in a car, you might as well give up as all they have to do is avoid you for about 5 seconds. Plus it’s really difficult to shoot guns while driving, especially as the controls are completely different from GTAV which will be the main reference point for most people.
Gonna hack you so hard
Oh, and just to make matters even more annoying, there is no way to pause the game and it’s tricky to quit or even just get into the options menu which is hidden away on Marcus’ phone. All because the game is always online. While all of this makes Watch_Dogs 2 a little anarchic and spontaneous it is also frequently a huge pain in the ass. Eventually I turned off all online because I found it was ruining my fun.
Performance & Graphics
OS: Windows 7 SP1/8.1/10 (64-bit versions)
Processor: Intel Core i5-2400s/AMD FX-6120 or better
Memory: 6 Gb RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTX 660 2Gb/AMD Radeon HD 7870 2Gb
Storage: 50 GB available space
Additional: Broadband high speed internet access and Ubisoft account
Now the first Watch_Dogs is well known as one of the worst PC ports of all time. I remember buying a brand new PC when it came out and it ran exactly the same as it did on my old computer: sluggish and unplayable on anything but Low settings. We’ve done a Performance Teston already on the sequel using our home PC with AMD-FX 6300 Six-Core Processor, 16 Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 960 4Gb, and Windows 10 64-Bit, and we’re pleased to say that Ubisoft have finally listened: Watch_Dogs 2 runs great. I had very little slowdown or frame drops unless I was using 100% full Ultra settings, but thanks to the handy VRAM Usage bar (that every game should have) I could easily tailor my settings to run well and still look great. In this case all I had to do was drop Shadows to “Very High”. Hooray.
And it looks pretty great as well. While still not as mind-blowing as the original game’s original reveal this recreation of San Francisco is very easy on the eyes. I want to give particular kudos to animation as character movements and (presumably) motion capture are absolutely on point without skirting into the uncanny valley. That said, crashing into things just isn’t as fun as it is in GTAV as the ragdoll effects just aren’t as amusing. Plus it’s harder to fall off bikes.
If there’s one thing I really hate in Watch_Dogs 2 it’s the violence. I know that’s a terrible hipsterish thing to say, but I mean it in a storyline context. Now killing is fine in a game like GTA where the characters are all violent criminals, and the same goes for other open world Ubisoft games like Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry. In Watch_Dogs 2 however Marcus and DedSec are all non-violent and sweet in cutscenes but in the real game you can make infinite guns, murder pedestrians and cops, and blow up half the city. I am really disappointed in Ubisoft for not supporting their own story and dispensing with or at least toning down the violence, because it doesn’t suit Marcus, DedSec or their cause. Furthermore this creates Cutscene Incompetence (see Max Payne 3 for further reference) where Marcus is unwilling to kill or even hurt villainous characters in cutscenes despite murdering 20 pedestrians on the way there.
I did that
One other thing I kind of disliked was the actual driving. It’s not too bad, but it regularly doesn’t feel as responsive as it needs to be. I regularly ditched cars in favour of motorbikes as they handle a lot better, plus as aforementioned it’s far tougher to fall off bikes in Watch_Dogs 2 compared to GTA. As the radio/media player system is garbage (some good songs but too quiet and too tricky to flip between tracks) I didn’t miss not having a radio. Oh, and despite hating killing the shooting controls were pretty uninteresting and a bit loose too. So maybe it’s the whole control scheme I have a problem with.
The final point I need to mention before the verdict is that I absolutely did enjoy my time with Watch_Dogs 2. It’s a good game, and I’m certain that everyone who actually picks it up will have a pretty good time with it. The big problem I have though is despite Ubisoft’s efforts to separate the game from other modern open-world city games it still feels too same-y. The hacking is neat, but beyond that I cannot in all honesty say that the enjoyment I got from Watch_Dogs 2 couldn’t be found in say Grand Theft Auto V. If Ubisoft would’ve had the nerve to cut guns out it might’ve created a very different game, but otherwise the game feels 90% the same as GTA5… except not as good.
Plus I just can’t abide any game that won’t let me quit when I die, doesn’t offer a “centre on player” button on the map, and won’t pause the game when I press ‘Esc’.
WATCH DOGS 2 VERDICT
Watch_Dogs 2 is definitely a good game, especially compared to the first one which was a dull game. It’s got a lot of personality, especially in terms of the cast of characters, and humour is always welcome in open world titles. The missions may generally boil down to “go somewhere, sneak past/shoot guards, hack something, get out” but they cover fun subjects and are never less than entertaining. Nevertheless the online side is aggravating as all hell, the controls aren’t quite receptive enough particularly when driving or shooting, and being able to kill loads of people doesn’t really jive with the DedSec ethos. Finally the most important issue the game has is that it can’t really escape the shadow of Grand Theft Auto V. You’ll almost certainly enjoy it if you buy it, but I can’t recommend it if you haven’t.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Breaking into the Ubisoft offices. Or finding the Jurassic Park jeep.
Joseph Bradford says: “The fact that Watch Dogs 2 was even on my radar is astounding. When viewing the preview coverage, I wasn’t all that thrilled at the prospect of playing the game. However, I’m very glad I did in the end. Watch Dogs 2 does all of what we really wanted from the first game - emphasis on hacking and stealth versus reverting to a simple cover-based shooter, a setting that is intriguing yet and well realized, and a protagonist that isn’t just “dude in a hat.” For Watch Dogs 2, the game lets you unfold each scenario the way you choose do. Are you going to hack, use your drone and RC car for surveillance, or go in taser blazing? Watch Dogs 2 offers players a mode of freedom that really wasn’t there in the first game.
While the driving isn’t up to par with a game that debuted on the Xbox 360 (Grand Theft Auto V), for all of Watch Dogs 2’s shortcomings, it more than makes up for them with what it does well. The game doesn’t take itself seriously, instead allowing the characters to enjoy what they are doing, which turns into an enjoyable experience for the end user. San Francisco is beautifully realized as well, giving the game the technological and colorful setting the game deserved. In the end, if you were cautiously optimistic about Watch Dogs 2, like I was, grab it. The PC version is superb, and the game is one of the bright spots in this fall’s slate of games.”
Enjoyable characters and the writing is packed with humour
Hacking mechanic adds a lot to the gameplay
Missions are always entertaining…
… Although they do follow the same formula every single time
Driving and shooting mechanics aren’t responsive enough