Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 11/15/2016
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Do you trust your government? Do you trust your social media outlets? Do you trust anyone with money or power? That’s what Watch Dogs 2 constantly asks you as you play through the campaign. You play as a hacker named Marcus who is trying to take over what Aiden Pierce did in the first Watch Dogs and take down the corporate conglomerate Blume and their ctOS 2.0 system that is continuously monitoring the people’s every move and step to a creepy factor.
Watch Dogs 2, now set in San Fransisco instead of Chicago, is a gorgeous open-world game full of many activities as well as side missions to complete next to the main campaign. There are also collectibles and various shops in which you can deck Marcus out in cool hip threads. But, that’s not what I want to talk about first. Let’s first talk about this whole “hack anything” gameplay feature that Ubisoft bragged about for Watch Dogs 1 and didn’t deliver. Your main weapon is your cell phone and when you move the camera a white line will connect to everything around you from cars to electrical boxes to people and let you either control it or the citizen’s cell phones in various ways. Steal cash from their bank account, burn their phone up (and kill them in the process), set the police or gangs on them, and even listen in on texts and audio calls. It’s really neat and works much better than the first game and it’s integral for combat when going into restricted areas which are about 90% of every mission’s contents.
When you get to a restricted area it can be as small as a house or as large as a rocket building facility or even a boat. You can either go in guns blazing which is impossible early on as the better weapons are really expensive to buy and you must unlock weapon slots. Your main tools are your RC Jumper Car and your RC Copter. The RC Copter comes in halfway through the campaign, but you get the car immediately and you can complete entire missions with this thing without ever having to walk in. Set up just outside the restricted boundaries and control your RC car through vents, doors, have it hack laptops, and even distract guards by making their cell phone ring so you can roll on by. The RC car has physical capabilities that the copter can not do such as pick up items and physically hack certain things that require access through to main objectives.
The RC copter is great for scouting and remotely hacking things that don’t require physical interaction. Now, there are some missions in which Marcus must physically hack into something himself and these can get a little though. You don’t last very long in this game by shooting as you die after a few shots. It’s better to maybe call in the mafia on a guard and have them shoot it out and thin the herd a bit, or use the cameras around the building and maybe rig electrical boxes and have guards go out that way. Sometimes I would just remotely have a car rampage its way through an area which is a lot of fun. There are so many ways to complete objectives and it’s basically a fun sandbox of hacking and shooting. The RC car and RC copter are a Godsend as some facilities are just too difficult for Marcus to enter without dying constantly.
Then there are a few missions where you just hack your way through via scripted puzzles which are a blast. Making people suffer or humiliating them through various hacking scenarios is just so much fun and I always wanted more. Outside of these missions, scenarios are how you escape from the cops and that’s a whole thing. You do have a cooldown timer when you are caught and once you hid long enough everyone will break off, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. In the city, running from the cops requires either hiding away from streets or ducking down in a car. I would sometimes duck down in a car and when a cop car strolled by I would hack their car and kick it into reverse before they spotted me. It’s really cool to see so many ways to play around with the game from having cranes lift you hundreds of feet into the air and onto a building, to using a forklift to deliver an explosive canister to a group of guards and have them blow up.
That’s what the game is mostly made up of with some side activities such as races, hacking events, real-time co-op side missions, and situations in which another player enters your area and you must find them with your hacker vision before they steal your followers. Outside of this, the story is great with memorable characters that I really cared about thanks to the amazing voice acting and well-written dialog. The cut scenes kept me pushing through this game through an entire week and I didn’t want to put it down. The game uses fake groups that represent real-life corporations such as Nudle (Google), !Nvite (Facebook), and the overall social media trend being used to manipulate the public. It really makes you think about what’s going on in the world today and I have to commend Ubisoft for making real-world problems like racism, sexism, and various social issues present in the game to wake up gamers.
The game also looks fantastic with a very realistic San Francisco such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the famous hairpin street, various monuments, and buildings. The game, however, suffers from a poorly optimized engine with even two GPU generations ahead of what’s required struggling to keep up at max settings at 4K. MSAA anti-aliasing cripples anything but multiple GPU setups and I constantly would go from 90FPS and dip into the 30s during driving scenes or climbing buildings for no apparent reason. Despite all of this, the game looks fantastic.
Overall, Watch Dogs 2 is a sandbox of hacking and shooting with so many fun scenarios and ways to complete them. The story, characters, and dialog are all well written and keep you coming for more and using real-world problems to deliver this story is a plus. Despite the poorly optimized engine, the game looks amazing and the rebuilt San Francisco is a blast. I just didn’t care much for the tedious activities and collecting spray cans and hacker points to max out my research. It just felt incredibly tedious.