December 08, 2016

Watch Dogs 2 - Review

Watch Dogs was one of the first new IP’s announced for this generation of consoles and while it did not set the world on fire, it did lay the ground work for a larger world and now with Watch Dogs 2 expending upon everything, is it more of the same or a great step forward.

Right out of the gate, you will notice that Marcus is much more relatable than Aiden, purely because he is more jovial about the world he lives in, he laughs, gets angry and for lack of a better definition, he lives. Marcus is another game hero though where he has unlimited skills, without context, he can hack, perform parkour, is an expert marksman and can create just about anything he can think of, the problem is with all the skills, the only thing we learn from his back story is that he was wrongfully linked to a crime, as CToS determined he was a probable criminal. Marcus and the rest of the Dedsec crew are working to bring down the system, just like Aiden in the first game, but this time there is no niece to link their reasons, they are fighting for the people, even if the people don’t take them seriously at the outset.

As interesting or annoying Marcus can be, the characters that he interacts with are great, from the members of Dedsec, to contacts Marcus has because of reasons and even the shady business people are all a treat. But it’s the people of San Francisco that I found to be entertaining, sometimes it’s the inane conversations they would hold over the phone or in person, sometimes it was the acts that you could see them doing when you ‘hacked’ into their lives, but for the most part it was the over-reaction of the people should you even graze a kerb near them. While the story is more interesting than it was in the first game, it still falls to the way side, once the side missions and other extra things to do, proving it really is only there to help push things along.

Where the game does shine though, is in the actual hacking gameplay, gone is the singular hack button from the first game and yes, while that does return, once you hack an object, you are then given more control options. Hack a person and you can choose what to do with them, like the first game, but now that same level of control carries across to transformers, steampipes and even cars. The level of control you can now achieve through the hacking gameplay is quite staggering, letting you set traps for enemies and such, before you even enter the grounds. Outside of the hacking, the bulk of the gameplay comes from getting around town, which is usually driving.

No matter how much I tired, the driving just refused to behave, with the general response being twitch based. Cars that are speed based, behaved like pinballs, more than anything else, with the slightest touch sending the car sideways. Larger cars, were slightly better, while the turning was still finicky, the size of the vehicle helped to keep things in check. Now while these issues are not too difficult to deal with when you are just driving from one point to another, when you are in police pursuits though, the handling becomes a nightmare. Speaking of the police, the cops have some of the strangest AI I have seen, on foot they are ruthless, with them being able to spot you with almost laser like precision. In cars, they are just as dangerous, pulling off some very crazy stunts to try and get you to stop, however leave the asphalt and hit up dirt roads and they draw a complete blank on you, becoming just blips on the mini map.

The main missions are varied enough too that I never felt too tired of them, plus with the option of tackling them in whichever way you want, also helped to keep things fresh. For the most part, my attempts at missions would start off with myself attempting to locate the best way to gain access to a particular place, what guards were around and maybe setting up traps for the guards, but almost always ended with guns being drawn and fighting my way to freedom; Even the missions where stealth was needed, ended in a gun fight, or at least a break for the hills. One aspect that returned from the first game, but with a major overhaul were the hacking sequences, where you had to re-arrange pieces to allow ‘data’ to flow through. The only issue now is that rather than being contained to a computer screen, you need to engage your hacker sense, for lack of a better term and locate the nodes in the immediate area, which allows you to unlock the equipment. I give credit to the team for trying to come up with a fun way to make the hacking fun, but this is not it.

One area that the game does nail is the in the presentation, at least everything outside of the meme induced dedsec lair. San Francisco has been represented in video games a few times now and each time does add a level of flair to the city, for Watch Dogs 2, it is the colour, the entire city is vibrant and alive. Where the first game was dull and cloudy almost all of the time, it had moments where the game looked great, here there are moments when it looks incredible, but for the most part looks stunning for the rest of the time. Characters are detailed, in both how they look and move, but with simple touches like their facial expressions in cutscenes, small eye movements and such were enough to help convey a sense of life into the characters. Citizens out in the world usually fair worse in games and here they are less than impressive, at least when compared to the main characters, but they are still interesting enough in their details and actions, I mean given the randomness of characters being made, with personalities, I have seen a business man beat up a lady drinking a coffee, only to be chased down by police and then a lady in a bikini, break into a car and drive off with it.

The city and surrounding locations have a lot to do within them, meaning more about the shops and places to see than the drone racing, but each feels like it could be its own little game world. Perhaps the section of the city that people will enjoy the most is Silicon Valley, the known home to real world companies AMD, Apple, Google and more, but here are replaced by companies like Nudle, the google clone, which mimics Google in just about every way. Why I found this space interesting was purely because it was were the developers could take creative licence, whereas every other part of the city was accurate, or at least video game accurate, so they seemed to relish in creating business, even if inspired by the real world and just having fun there.

Sound wise, the game has some good points and some bad, starting off with the bad, the music, the soundtrack on offer is pretty bad, but its not just the tracks on offer, but you don’t just have access to all the music, you need to actively collect the music as you make your way around the world and it’s just not worth the time. When you go into the cars, you will occasionally get music playing, but then turning it off is going to be your best bet. Marcus and the Dedsec crew are voiced pretty well, with Marcus being the best of the bunch, which works well for the role that he plays. The citizens fall between campy and just ok, with some of the conversations that take place being just shy of painful to listen too.

Watch Dogs 2 is a great leap ahead of the first game, hacking now actually lets you choose what happens across the board, but a forgettable main story and wonky car physics and bad police AI drag it down. Still, it is worth your time to take a trip to San Francisco.

Thanks to Ubisoft for supplying the game for review

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