[UPDATE] – Following Watch_Dogs 2’s release the seamless multiplayer was reinstated. We’ve now given a score and added a paragraph regarding the features.
During the review period, Ubisoft advised that the seamless multiplayer component was taken offline as it wasn’t functioning as designed. As such, this review is still in progress. A final score will be given post-launch, when the seamless multiplayer functions have been reinstated and can be tested properly.
Say so long to dreary Chicago, goodbye to Aiden Pearce, good riddance to Watch_Dogs and say a big hello to Marcus Holloway, San Francisco and Watch_Dogs 2. Like Assassin’s Creed II before it, Watch_Dogs 2 is a sequel that improves upon and surpasses the original title it follows in every single way.
What you’ll immediately notice is how much lighter the tone is. Gone are the grey skies and somber tone of the first game’s revenge drama. Watch_Dogs 2 shares more in common (tonally) with Sunset Overdrive than it does Watch_Dogs. Instead of dragging players down a ‘dark’ and ‘grim’ road, Watch_Dogs 2 tempts them with literal sunshine and rainbows. Seriously, check out San Fran’s Castro district. There are rainbows everywhere and it’s glorious.
The Castro district is one of the “most prominent symbols of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activism and events in the world” and Watch_Dogs 2 doesn’t shy away from it. It fully embraces it and it fully embraces the world we live in, in 2016, warts and all. Racism, sexism, loss of privacy, violence, police brutality, racial profiling are all present and accounted for. But, Watch_Dogs 2 is nothing if not optimistic. In fact, even though the game world it littered with awfulness, it feels more real because of the hopeful, silly tone.
Even more so because in the face of all the negativity, there are some truly exceptional examples of positive characters and themes. The transgender politician and Autistic hacker both spring to mind. Neither is treated or played for laughs, unless they’re the ones making the joke. They’re not freaks, not distractions. Watch_Dogs 2 treats both characters as they should be; like people. Even the villain, despite wearing a man bun, has more complex motivations that first it seems. He’s not a cartoon monster, he’s a real person, with real ambition, as is everyone in the game. From the main character, down to the most insignificant NPC.
Marcus Holloway, our protagonist, is just a simple hacker who was targeted by CtOS’ pre-crime algorithm. The opening chapter has Marcus proving that he’s worthy of joining DedSec by breaking into Blume and erasing himself from CtOS. Once successful, Marcus and DedSec get wasted on the beach by campfire light. What else do a bunch of Gen-Y hackers do after a successful mission?
Unlike Watch_Dogs, there’s no big, bad overarching scheme or motivation. Nobody was murdered. Nobody is seeking vengeance. The impetus for everything in Watch_Dogs 2 is to open the eye’s of the public and take back freedom from ‘the man.’ Marcus along with Sitara, Josh, Wrench, Horatio and T-Bone (returning from Watch_Dogs DLC) are endlessly passionate in their quest to end corruption and the sale of you personal data to the highest bidder. It does tend to veer occasionally into the realm of the groan-worthy though.
The use (or perhaps misuse) of old memes, wacky hairstyles, clothing and lingo can sometimes feel like Ubisoft has “Poochied”Watch_Dogs 2, but thankfully it was always brought back from the brink. The characters are just too damn likeable, even when they seem to be oozing lameness. Imagine hearing your 50-year-old mum say something was ‘On Fleek’ or your dad tell you something was ‘fully sick. and you get somewhere near the cringe. But, just like your mum and dad, the characters in Watch_Dogs 2, despite being (on occasion) massively try-hard, hold a special place in your heart.
Just try not to crack a smile, or laugh when Wrench and Marcus discuss who’d win a fight between Alien and Predator. Or during all the meta moments that cover topics ranging from video game reviewers, trolls on the internet to Batman, Archie comics and more. Watch_Dogs 2 is wall to wall, packed to the rafters with character, charm and style.
We’ve established that tonally, Watch_Dogs 2 and its predecessor are day and night, but how does it play? You’ll be happy to learn that driving has been hugely improved in the sequel. Cars actually feel and drive differently from one another and none of them feel as if you’re driving a boat on land. Gunplay has been vastly improved and now the cover shooting mechanics actually make it so you can stand a chance in a firefight. Although, I’m not sure why you’d want to when hacking has been made so much more useful.
Remember the E3 trailer for the first Watch_Dogs? How we all lost our minds at the possibilities? The sequel still doesn’t quite live up to those lofty goals, but it does come much, much closer than the original. Like Watch_Dogs DLC “Bad Blood”, hacking is a useful way to scout locations, surreptitiously take down enemies and solve puzzles. You actually feel as though you can “hack the world” this time around and as you unlock additional skills and abilities you only find it easier.
Ubisoft has recognised that players want to and will use varying play styles and so has marked each of Marcus’ abilities as one of three; Ghost, Aggressor or Trickster. Some upgrades straddle multiple play styles, but finding which ones you like and suit you best is half the fun. I favour the Ghost approach, but every now and then you just need to go on a rampage. Watch_Dogs 2 has you covered.
A pitfall of every major open-world title seems to be the fetch quest. Watch_Dogs 2 is no different. Many, if not most, of the main and side missions are basically fetch quests in disguise, but they’re still satisfying. Because of the tone and the charm, the banter between the characters and the amazing digital playground that is San Francisco, there’s no real chance of boredom setting in due to tedium. It’s certainly not perfect and if I had to complete one more car chase, proximity hack I would have cried, but by and large it’s a joy to play.
While not an absolutely gargantuan open world, San Francisco is full of things to see and do. Plenty of the areas tourist attractions are accounted for and lovingly recreated. Thankfully, an opportunity wasn’t missed by the development team and Marcus smartphone comes equipped with an app that seeks out unique locations. Snap a selfie when you get there and DedSec’s follower count increases and you get one step closer to more upgrades. There are tonnes of side quests and collectibles like this scattered through the city, finding them all is going to text even the most ardent completionist.
The cherry on top though, is that completing side missions, races, finding collectibles, taking selfies and all the other fluff Ubisoft has included only makes Watch_Dogs 2 better. It’s not a grind nor a chore. It’s only ever a damn good time.
Sometimes you play a game and you can just tell that the team who made it had a great time doing so. It oozes personality and seems as though it’s been given an extra dose of care and attention. Watch_Dogs 2 is one such game. This is Ubisoft San Francisco’s baby and it shows. The city is gorgeous and exploring it incredibly satisfying. Everything good about the first Watch_Dogs has been amped up to 11. Everything bad has either been removed entirely, retooled or changed in order to serve the player and serve the game.
This is Ubisoft doing what it does best. Sure, maybe it was a bit rough that we all had to beta test Watch_Dogs, but it’s been rewarded with the sequel. A better, faster, funnier and overall more inclusive video game. The Golden State Warriors may have choked in the clutch, but Ubisoft hasn’t and its Golden State is almost perfect.
Watch_Dogs 2’s seamless multiplayer was a much touted feature before launch, but it’s not really integral to the experience. Does it add some interesting moments? Sure. Can it also be annoying? Definitely. Thankfully then, Ubisoft has included options to turn off the seamless multiplayer and even customise it to your liking. While it doesn’t really change things, it’s a feature that’s there if you want it.
Watch_Dogs 2 was reviewed on PS4 using a digital promo code provided to PowerUp! by Ubisoft.
Game Title: Watch_Dogs 2
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TBone's back - 7/10