The term “Watch Dogs” more often than not makes me think of two things. Firstly, the open world action- adventure game that failed dismally in trying to recreate a new, fresher version of Grand Theft Auto, and, secondly, a group of individuals whose task it is to guard and protect others against unknown dangers and threats. Both of these definitions ring true (to an extent) in Ubisoft’s second instalment of WD and I must say that WD2 is most definitely an improvement on the initial instalment.
WD1 brought with it a load of hype and, with the assistance of very powerful marketing tools, Ubisoft fooled the world into buying a game with a whole bunch of potential but with little entertainment value and a heap of “what if” moments. To be fair, I think that I will end (or at least try to end) my references to Rockstar’s flagship title so as to make this review more impartial. Before I do so however, I must say that the two titles are different for a number of reasons but that the framework of a large scale open world game with numerous weapons, vehicles, NPCs, car chases, and side quest missions makes the comparison a little difficult to avoid and that, moreover, the GTA series is usually better at every single thing. This extends from driving, to the music available (whether in vehicle or not), to the storyline, to the world itself, to the humour and so on and so forth… I must say that it is very unfortunate that the WD series will always have this hanging over its head but it can’t be said that the series is a failure for not living up to one of the greatest of all time.
If you are unfamiliar, Watch Dogs is a third person shooter where the protagonist utilises the power of technology to hack and control or manipulate the environment around him through means other than a large gun, lots of ammunition and a fast car. You are obviously able to use the large gun, ammunition and fast car but it’s not your only option. The protagonist has changed from the first instalment, who was an edgy but grumpy guy by the name of Adrian Pierce. In this instalment you take control of a hacking prodigy, by the name of Marcus, who joins a hacker group called “DeadSec”. The group all have an array of their own hacking skills and you are seemingly able to make big calls even though you are the “new kid on the block” so to speak. Aside from the very cheesy banter, I wasn’t too impressed by the group in general and found a lot of the dialogue contrived and boring, the only likeable character being Marcus.
WD2 takes a different look at hackers that we all envisage and places them in a misleading limelight involving weapons and violence, crime, fast cars and a sense that all that you do is for the ‘greater good’. At least we aren’t given the roll of the number cruncher or code breaker with unfortunate face acne hunched over 3 computer screens watching adult films in between hacking sessions. You are more powerful in that you have the ability to do both (not the adult films – the hacking and the other more hands on kind of things, like shooting). You are given the world’s seemingly most powerful smartphone and are able to hack into the operating system embedded into the city’s infrastructure called CToS. With this gift, you are able to hack into circuit boxes, robots, balustrades, underground pipes and a host of other apparently harmless and useless inanimate objects to cause either distractions or destruction – the choice is yours. It often makes little logical sense hacking into certain objects and I often found myself wondering whether it is even possible to do so, particular emphasis being on the underground pipes, buy hey, I’m no expert and at least the explosions are cool. It does feel farfetched but definitely adds to the fun of it all, most of all when evading the police or trying to incapacitate all your enemies without shooting a round. As you progress there are skill points that you earn and you are able to upgrade a number of things and unlock certain items to hack like never before. This allows you to diversify your game and also makes it all the more mouth watering before approaching a situation – something I did really enjoy.
There should also be no fear when it comes to your other gadgets (which can be 3D printed), as you possess or can unlock and equip an array of weapons (lethal or nonlethal), different shock devices, grenades, a remote control robot, a drone and much more. This contributes to the enjoyment and diversity of WD2 at first but eventually ends up slowing the game down leading to a cold realisation that most of the abilities and gadgets quickly become very boring. Options are always a good thing but it seems that many of them in WD2 lead to an adverse effect on the enjoyment factor. I often found myself marking out enemies with some kind of technology, whether a CCTV camera or with a drone, and taking them out without much fuss. It is all enjoyable and what not, but it does seem a little harsh and contradictory when you are trying to overthrow the corporate version of you. It also becomes rather stale.
As mentioned above, Watch Dogs are by definition in place to protect and regulate but the influence bestowed on Marcus makes you realise that power corrupts, absolutely. Instead of being the Mr Nice Guy hacker trying to save San Francisco from the mean and invasive corporates, you end up becoming an evil cyber terrorist with more warrants than friends. It is strange that you’re allowed so many lethal weapons at all considering DeadSec’s “peaceful outlook” but it must be said that Marcus is not exactly a “Rambo” so to speak. You die after taking a few shots, which I enjoy as it’s realistic, but you feel restricted with movement and you find yourself hiding for cover constantly and only shooting once you’re health is at its full. I would have expected more fluidity when it comes to Marcus’ movement and crouching but, alas, we are not so fortunate.
There are many different reasons for going on missions, whether objectives or side missions, but typically you’re tasked with sabotaging data in one way or another. It is quite something to see how many heavily armed guards protect the buildings that you break into and I do wonder why they don’t use the huge cost of these guards on R&D to find out a way to keep crazy cyber terrorists like Marcus at bay. You are able to interact with so many different things that it is never overly complex getting into any building and the most fun will be choosing how. The manner in which you hack into objects is straightforward and you do so by pressing a button when prompted, but it can become distracting seeing as though you can hack into so many different things, including NPC’s phones.
A problem with WD2 that most people will likely find is that it is not a short lived game and you could find yourself spending hours and hours before finishing it. This is classic Ubisoft with the usual non-stop side quests. I hated the sidequests in WD2, many of them mundane and utterly pointless and this is something I would have expected to change from the original. The AI is rather brilliant but, again, becomes repetitive over a play over and I will be glad not to have to hack into someone’s telephone conversation for a while yet.
In conclusion, WD2 is fun and I would recommend it to most gamers who aren’t too hung up on the very obvious similarities to GTA and the abysmal failure to even come close in that regard. If you are able to look past the repetitiveness and the hypocrisy of it all it really is worth a look into and does bring something a little different to the table. The major falling point is the fact that what has so very much potential falls short and the fun loses its shine after a few hours of gameplay. I love the world and think that Ubisoft have really done their homework, but they always do with open worlds and it is something that I expect, not hope for. Not a disaster, a good bit of fun and an otherwise “safe” release from a studio that I expect so much more from.
Watch Dogs 2 Rating: 7/10
Check out the Watch Dogs 2 website: WD2