Back from the Deadsec
The first Watch Dogs released back in 2014 to the consensus that it was a bit naff. Unexplored mechanics and graphics that made it feel like it released half way through the last generation of consoles. Many assumed the franchise dead on arrival. But Ubisoft refused to admit defeat, and only two years later we’re greeted by Watch Dogs 2. And while it has a few small issues, this sequel does everything we dreamed the first game could and more.
Watch Dogs 2 swiftly brushes the hero from the first game, Aiden Pearce, under the rug in exchange for a more suitable protagonist. Our lead this time is Marcus Holloway, a hacker living in the San Francisco Bay Area who joins up with a group called Deadsec on their mission to take down “ctOS” (Aka “Big Brother”) and free the people from company control.
In order to free the people, Marcus and the rest of Deadsec need to bring together a community. They do so by performing crazy acts, screwing over rich people, and doing anything they can to “stick it to the man”. What this means for the player is that every mission is a ridiculous adventure that aims to get the most fun out of what it has to offer.
Fun is the name of the game in Watch Dogs 2. The games open world no longer feels like an empty box for the player to simply drive though. San Francisco is an active and lively city, with bizarre events and whacky mishaps happening everywhere. Just walking around the streets can lead to some crazy events, such as gang shootouts, catching robbers, or even just getting a selfie with a crazy crab person. It’s all here to keep the place feeling alive.
When not causing chaos in the open world, a lot of Watch Dogs 2 magic is found in its missions. Once past the games bafflingly awful opening missions, the player is then allowed to follow a wide range of quests, each with their own storylines and rewards. A lot of the missions are based on real life pop culture events, such as Martin Shkreli buying the Wu-Tang Clan album, and Tom Cruise and the church of Scientology. While at first these missions seem cringe worthy, once they get going and Marcus begins to communicate with these characters, there’s a surprising amount of depth and love put into each encounter.
And that’s something many might be surprised to hear about from the game, that the characters are all incredibly likable.
When the game starts and the gang all start chattering, a looming dread appeared. These characters were awful. They spoke only in “Le Meme” culture and “L33T gamer speak” to make themselves seem cool and edgy. One of the characters even wears a spiky LED mask, oh joy! But weirdly, after the first few hours these characters become really likable. Their “Lol randomz” humour is cut back and replaced with some entertaining banter. Some of this is due to the characters’ likable personalities, but a lot of it comes from Marcus himself.
Marcus Holloway is one of the most refreshing protagonists of the generation. He’s not a brooding wet blanket like Aiden Pearce, and he doesn’t think he’s the only man in the world who can stop any coming evil. The man wants to mess with the natural order, and aims to have as much fun as he can while doing it. This makes Marcus a constant source of funny and enjoyable dialogue, and never a sad sap who needs a mission to sort out his life. Dude is on the top of his game all the time.
There are few games where the main character can offer a lift to someone, get high with them, and then get in a fight with another cab driver for stealing his fare, all while Run the Jewels is blaring in the background.
It’s moments like that which make Watch Dogs 2 stand out as an example of how to make open word games fun again. While a good-looking city is nice and all, it’s all the small adventures the player can have within it that cements it as something special.
If there’s glaring issue with the game, it’s the story and gameplays thematic clash. In the story, Marcus and his band of merry men are all hackers that want to fight the system, but they never talk about actually killing or even hurting anybody. It’s something that’s never brought up, possibly out of how abused it is. However, on the gameplay front, Marcus can be walking around with a shotgun and machine gun on his back, mowing down gangs all over the city.
It clashes with the story massively when, during gameplay you’re able to be a god of war and destruction, but during the cut scenes suddenly Marcus has never handled a gun in his life. There are parts in the story where characters could very easily be killed by Marcus, yet due to story reasons / plot armour, the idea is never brought up. It creates a massive disconnect between story Marcus and gameplay Marcus that many will find confusing.
But aside from the character inconsistency, there seems to be no real issues with the game. It runs at a constant and smooth 30 FPS with no lag, screen tearing, or pop in of any sort. Plus, it has a great soundtrack to top it all off.
Watch Dogs 2 is a massive improvement over the first game. It’s full of life and energy, but most importantly, fun. Yes, it’s an Ubisoft game, so you should know what kind of tower climbing action you’re getting into, but it’s by far one of the best of its craft. For anyone who still has reservations about the franchise, Watch Dogs 2 is the game that shows off just how great a hacking open world game can be.
Thanks to Ubisoft for supplying a review copy