WATCH_DOGS 2: BACK FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME
Watch_Dogs. What do you think when you hear or read that title? So many words, thoughts and emotions come to mind: Flop, overrated, over-hyped, let down, downgrade the list can go on and on. What was supposed to be the crowning jewel that ushered us into the promise of next-gen turned out to be a repetitive open world task with a drab protagonist.
Watch_Dogs 2 is not that game. Watch_Dogs 2 is what happens when a developer takes feedback, criticism, and all the great parts of its first try, then flips it and turns it into something just short of a masterpiece. Watch_Dogs 2 manages to erase the bad taste left by its predecessor and replace it with the smoothness of at least a Miller High Life.
SAME TIME DIFFERENT CHANNEL
So just what makes Watch_Dogs 2 so much better? Glad you asked. For starters and probably most important is the much more fun let’s take down the man tone. Gone is Aiden Pierce and his story of revenge, and in its place we have the young hip DedSec crew from the San Francisco Bay. Instead of just cold revenge they are concerned with bringing the truth of ctOS and big data to its knees. Throughout the campaign you play as Marcus, aka Retro, a young black hacker who is wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit based on his ctOS profile. Not only is he out to clear his name and ascend to the hacker hall of fame, he is also dedicated to exposing the Blume company and ctOS for what they are doing with your data. Letting the world know in the process how the big data companies are exploiting and manipulating you and your data and using it against you. After a mission in which Marcus wipes his ctOS profile he is recruited by DedSec and is joined by Sitara, the artist and for lack of a better term project coordinator, Wrench the loose cannon (every crew needs one), Josh the high functioning autistic hacker, and Horacio the inside man at Noodle (Watch_Dogs version of Google) and soul of the team. Later on you are joined by Raymond “T-Bone” Kenny. An ex Blume employee and the old guy Hacker who has been doing this since before you were in diapers. With such a colorful cast of characters, great setting in San Francisco and intriguing storyline it would be hard to mess this one up. I can safely say that Watch_Dogs 2 delivers on all fronts. The campaign plays out not just through the main story missions but every single side mission feels 100% tied to the main plotline. Gone are the repetitive side quests that seemingly have nothing to do with campaign. Everything is connected. I found myself making sure I competed all of the side missions before tackling the main ones because they actually added to the overall experience in a way I haven’t seen in an open world game before. They also add followers to the DedSec app, which is basically your way of leveling up to upgrade Marcus’s gadgets and abilities. While you can definitely get through the game without completing them or leveling up certain abilities (I for one didn’t put a single point into the firearms tree) it absolutely adds to the overall gameplay experience and unlocks a bevy of different ways to tackle missions.
FUN TIMES FOR EVERYONE
So if you played the original Watch_Dogs, or any open world game, Watch_Dogs 2 plays very similar. There’s gunplay, melee combat, stealth mechanics, and driving, but where Watch_Dogs 2 truly shines is in its gadgets and toys. You have two toys in addition to remote explosives, stun grenades, a stun gun and multiple other firearms. The toys consist of an RC car that lets you remote hack, distract enemies and get into places Marcus can’t. The other is a quadcopter that can do everything the RC car can with the exception of remote hack (that would have been too easy), however since it fly’s so it can scout areas for you easier, and drop remote explosives and (name to be inserted). Both of these can also be used with the nethack ability for remote access to cameras, cranes, lifts, cars and just about anything electronic as well as solving the routing puzzles. The city is truly your playground.
So just how do you use all of these abilities and toys? Well the choice is truly up to you. You can opt for a guns blazing take no prisoners style, be a ghost in the machine, or a combination of both. The upgrade tree caters to both play styles, and if you get enough of the upgrade points scattered throughout the world I’m sure you can max out everything. However to be honest the use of guns feels totally contradictory to the characters and what their goals and morals. It’s an interesting choice for Ubisoft to even include them in the game let alone allow you to craft a military arsenal with a 3D printer. While I did have my moments of I’m just going to play in the world and cause some mayhem it just doesn’t feel right at all when playing thru the narrative parts of the game. When looking back at my captured footage I found it very difficult to find any actual combat scenarios at all. Which in turn leads into how I think the game was meant to be played. You’re a member of an elite hacker group. Why should you ever have to use a gun?
Stealth is when the game is at its absolute finest. Whether you’re off in the distance getting everything done with the quadcopter and RC car, or you’re sneaking around using distraction hacks remote stun grenades and the stun gun, It’s just much more satisfying to complete a mission when you have either never been seen or have not had to kill anyone. With the amount of options at your disposal and a good bit of patience you can complete the game as a complete ghost without the game ever seeming overly difficult or impossible. I probably fired a gun once or twice and actually killed someone and that was on accident because I forgot to equip the stun gun.
So I had an absolute blast with Watch_Dogs 2. The humor, the setting, the characters, the story, the game play, it all just clicks. While I know this game may not be for everyone, if you are looking for a fun open world game with a humorous and somewhat scary take on silicon valley, social media, big data and the tech industry you really should give Watch_Dogs 2 a spin. Even if none of that interests you, the ability to bring an entire city to its knees with a cell phone, a drone and an RC car should at least entice you to kick the tires a little bit.
*As a side note I did not play any of the multiplayer content so that is not reflected in this review.