Release date: 2016
Version played: Xbox One in 2016
The sequel to 2014’s Watch_Dogs, the aptly titled Watch_Dogs 2 trades in the underworld grime of Chicago for the bustling city life of San Francisco. Released by Ubisoft Montreal, players take control of Marcus Holloway, a young hacker falsely accused by the Blume Company’s new ctOS 2.0 system. Along with the San Francisco offshoot of DedSec — with hackers Sitara, Wrench, Horatio and Josh — Marcus must traverse the city, hack the systems and battle various gangs to ensure he can cease Blume’s illegal activities.
+ new protagonist Marcus Holloway is heads and shoulders more fleshed out than previous main charcater Aiden Pearce. There was a real threat of the game going too far in the opposite direction to ‘angry white male’ protagonist, but Marcus’ backstory and motivations are perfectly fleshed out, and his being a young, black male makes far better sense for the story they wanted to tell than simply using Aiden (or an expy of Aiden) again
+ the updated gameplay is smooth and responsive, and the new remote control abilities for forklifts, platforms and cranes make for near unlimited possibilities. Marcus also has access to a drone and a roller to get into smaller or hard to reach spaces, and these are useful for the entire game without ever making the game too easy
+ the world of San Francisco feels alive; civilians interact, cars will sometimes crash, fights might break out near bars which cause the police to arrive. It really did feel like a real place, rather than just a few identical NPCs going on their hourly routes
+ the entire game can be played using non-lethal methods, such as stun guns and diversions, rather than simply going in guns blazing. I felt playing non-lethally would fit Marcus’ character much better than the vigilante style of Aiden from the first game (not to say there are not a few mission targets who I didn’t glefully kill)
+ the plot starts small(ish) but escalates at a meaningful pace (though I didn’t particularly like it, see below). The ability to complete the missions in any order meant that if one mission was too difficult, you were able to come back later after unlocking some new skills
+ in general, the ‘hacker speak’ and ‘nerd culture’ the protagonists subscribe to is never forced. One conversation between teammates on the way to a mission was one that I personally have had, nearly word for word. Similarly, what could have been a forced agenda with black characters, a transgender character, those with social anxiety, on the autism spectrum etc. never felt as such. The “reveal’ of sorts with one character really made me feel for them. Usually something like this is not what I would write about, but it was handled so surprisingly well here that I feel it warranted a mention
– the plot was relatively thin. In particular, the big bad(s) were so very bland it was sometimes difficult to even recognise how or why they were important. The biggest of big bads was the worst offender, and after their cameo-like introduction, a short scene of their reacting to Marcus’ actions, I was left wondering who the hell I was watching
– the driving still feels off, as cars slip and slide all over the place or stick to the ground like magnets with very little in between. I’d have loved to drift my muscle car of choice around Lombard Street, but it just wasn’t possible
– although not quite as egregious as the first game, once again the police (and various security guards and the like) seem to have an omnipotent ability to immediately suss Marcus’ location from a guard who is knocked out the instant he sees Marcus. It is incredibly frustrating to sneak through a base, choke out a guard and then instantaneously have the rest of them swarm your exact position
– there is no longer a morality meter, from the first game. This means there are no out-of-mission consequences to tearing through enemies versus leaving them alive/stunned. The available skills come with a different ‘category’ (Ghost, Aggressor or Trickster) but all were useful as both offensive or defensive techniques. It felt like they were trying to take something from Splinter Cell, without letting the story they had crafted dictate the reasons behind this
> it didn’t occur to me until near the very end of the game that this is as close to a modern Assassin’s Creed game we will ever get. Instead of throwing stones and whistling you can distract guards through their headsets. The parkour is essentially the same, without the death defying Leaps of Faith
> in my review of the first game, I suggested playing Sleeping Dogs instead, and funnily enough Sleeping Dogs is the current free game on Xbox Live. I stand by that assessment, for the first Watch Dogs at least
Should you play this game: Compared to the first game, this is an improvement in almost every single way. As someone who was not particularly thrilled with Grand Theft Auto V, this is the open world game I have been holding out for. Do yourself a favour and spend a few weeks in San Francisco.