Watch Dogs made for one heck of a tech demo for the upcoming release of the new consoles back in 2013. It presented a whole hackable world with serious destruction as cars and sparks flew everywhere.
When the game arrived in 2014 most of those things were intact but the rest of the presentation was pretty lacking. The gameplay was repetitive, the story was dull and gosh the whole thing was just so incredibly serious. Aiden Pierce was minus craic as well.
Two years on and the series is back. And you know what, Ubisoft has actually taken some time to listen to the criticisms and address pretty much everything.
Watch Dogs 2 is, first and foremost, a lot of fun to play. That all starts with new main man Marcus Holloway. The devs really, REALLY want to make it clear that this dude isn’t dreary Aiden, so much so that they kick off with a drunken party and waking up in some random girl's apartment.
This personality kick is a great addition, and it just gets better with the new setting of San Francisco. There are recognisable sights but this isn’t a sim, rather a theme park version of the city that’s always full of plenty to do. And you know what it actually looks pretty with plenty of shining sun and cool landmarks. Chicago, again, just wasn’t any fun.
As for the game itself, the basics are the same but everything else has changed. You’ll still hack the world with your smartphone but the choices you have are greatly expanded. Heck you even get to access your phone menu this time and mess around, picking tunes or taking selfies. Why? Why not!?
There’s a lot of freedom in the game - from being able to go anywhere whenever you want (there’s no awkward gating) to your approach to various missions. Marcus is pretty fragile in Watch Dogs 2, which can be annoying if you’re trying to be an action hero. The game is giving you a not-so-subtle hint here - don’t be an action hero.
The real joy of these levels comes from finding different approaches, and that doesn’t include parkouring your ass off like in Ubisoft’s other franchise. Mostly you’ll get comfortable cross-legged next to your target area and swoop in via the cameras.
That’s a good way to get the lay of the land - marking hackable panels and doors and enemies as they patrol around. You can set up traps to stun or kill these enemies which is pretty devious.
Watch Dogs 2 goes much further than the first game with a dynamic duo of daring drones. There’s a flying one which you’ve probably seen a bit - he’s good for spying and racing and getting another view of the situation.
The jumper drone is where the real action is. This little guy might seem limited but he has serious skills, able to get into tiny ducts and hack panels. He’s basically a smaller Marcus, including the ability to taunt enemies into doing something stupid. Upgrade his speed boost for added hilarity.
It’s amazing how much versatility you can get out of these new additions, and the best part is that the game design mostly keeps out of the way. You can do whatever you like in Watch Dogs 2, at your own pace. That includes causing massive carnage by setting up chains of explosions or just milling around, reading people’s texts.
Personally I’ve been having a lot of fun going on a virtual tour of San Fran. Every action earns you new followers (this is the day of social media) and that includes snapping a selfie in front of local landmarks. So there have been a lot of cheesy smiles and gang signs next to things that look like those famous thing in the real city.
The side missions are also just darn fun. Be an Uber-style driver and help some dude find his lost robot, or hack into homes through webcams. These little stories unfold in interesting ways, and they’re totally separate from the main missions which you can avoid for a really long time if you’re so inclined.
There’s more on offer in terms of the multiplayer too. While there have been some problems at launch I’ve experienced a good bit of it and the most surprising thing is just how simple it is.
Generally purple coloured missions are actually multiplayer but it all loads up so quickly and without fuss that the joins are hard to see. Suddenly there’s a person with a real name tooling around in your world, helping out with a mission. And then they stick around afterwards to see what kind of hijinks you can get up to.
Other players can also invade your world to try to steal your resources, but I generally turn this off because its the kind of distraction which I just don’t want while I’m in the middle of something. And the option to do that is just another example of the flexibility of the game.
Honestly the only real letdown for me so far is the story and characters. It’s all a bit simplistic and underdeveloped and while Marcus himself is likeable enough the sheer tonnage of geekery on offer from the crew does start to get a bit wearing.
The world can have its issues too, especially with resetting enemies. You’ll often spend a good amount of time getting to a mission objective and reach your goal, only to have to escape again. Fine, but the game has a bad habit of bringing all of the folks you incapacitated back to life, in a way which feels very un-2016 and kind of defeats the purpose of a freeform open world.
Otherwise, Watch Dogs 2 is basically a blast and also a massive improvement on the original game. This is a superior sequel on the level of the difference between Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed II and gives me real hope for the future of the franchise.