Watch_Dogs 2 Review

Hacktivist Unleashed

Imagine a world where shadowy, anonymous hackers practice online vigilantism and show oppressive organizations and governments that even they aren’t safe despite their billions spent on cybersecurity.

Oh wait, that’s real.

Well imagine a world where hackers can take down transit infrastructure at will…

Damn, that’s real too.

Fine, imagine a world where computers and other devices can be linked together to provide boost processing power to achieve nefarious goals…

You know what? Nevermind

The fact of the matter is that Watch_Dogs 2 takes many real-world concepts of the computer world and packages them into a game that improves the original formula quite a bit. The experience is streamlined in many different ways, taking away countless issues that marred the release of the first game, and adding some new features and tools that make life just a little better.

GAMEPLAY

Watch Dogs®2 Climbax Shennanigans.png
Be prepared for shenanigans

Any players of the original Watch_Dogs will instantly recognize the way things work in Watch_Dogs 2. There’s the usual method of traversal known to the open world sandbox style of game: foot travel mixed with driving. However, not holding to the idea of keeping things the same, Ubisoft decided to make a number of changes to the basic gameplay.

Probably the largest change is how instead of pushing a button to bring up the Profiler tool, you hold a button to activate it when aiming the reticle. This tiny couple of changes helps make picking out a single item in a sea of interactable objects a lot easier. One of the issues I had with the original was the vague sense of accuracy that the Profiler tool had, leaving the majority of what you could do up to chance.

The Profiler works beautifully with the NetHack vision (joining the ilk of -vision mechanics like Survivor Instinct from Tomb Raider and Hitman’s Instinct Mode), which highlights potential targets and allows players to complete some of the puzzles along the way.

In addition to these changes, there’s also the new drones that you can play around with. There’s a ground-based drone that can be used to distract enemies and get to tight spaces, and a flying drone that can be used for scouting.

Interactions with NPCs and objects has also been vastly improved. Transformers can be set to be triggered after a set amount of time, doors can be shut off, electrical boxes can be set to explode after an enemy gets close enough, and even be used as a distraction.

Similarly, NPCs can become your plaything, allowing players to distract them with a random text (invariably leading to a humorous exclamation from them), but the neat thing is that you can also call in Gang Attacks or prompt CtOS to call in the police on a person by issuing a fake warrant for their arrest. Using these two tools is both incredibly fun and extremely useful, especially if you need a distraction.

It’s unfortunate that there haven’t been across-the-board improvements however. Driving can still be a chore, and an inconsistent one at that. Vehicles handle very strangely, seemingly lacking mass when braking or accelerating but turning like a boat skidding across ice. Switching weapons is rather unintuitive as well, mapping the function to the D-pad on consoles and requiring the player to hold it while switching.

PRESENTATION

Watch Dogs®2 Dog Watch.png

There really isn’t much that sets Watch_Dogs 2 apart from other games graphically to be perfectly honest. That isn’t to say that it’s a bad looking game; on the contrary, it’s actually pretty beautiful at times. Like many Ubisoft games though, NPCs are underdetailed (understandably I suppose). The majority of the work seems to have gone into the environment and main characters.

Watch_Dogs 2 just doesn’t wow like some games do, and that’s okay.

What’s a little more impressive is that the game has a pretty impressive licensed soundtrack that frames the setting of San Francisco very well, though I’m not sure that Sublime’s track Wrong Way would really qualify as pop music…

ORIGINALITY

Watch Dogs®2 They Couldn't Resist.png
I can’t say I would be able to resist putting my company in a game we made

It’s safe to say that originality isn’t exactly a strong point of the game. Many of the mechanics and ideas that Watch_Dogs 2 explores isn’t groundbreaking in any way, but that isn’t a nail in the coffin necessarily.

The premise of being able to hack a city and its inhabitants is something that was already explored in the previous game. What’s surprising is that Watch_Dogs 2 did such a good job at improving on the last iteration. The tools at your fingertips are ones that can be used so creatively that it leaves most objectives open to however you want to complete them.

Watch Dogs®2 Me and My Climbax.png
Just cruisin’

If you told me that there was a game where you could drive remote controlled forklifts, knock out people that are carrying what I’m assuming are Samsung Galaxy Note 7s by overloading their phones, and distracting players in multiplayer by playing with crane controls, I would’ve been extremely surprised. Where Watch_Dogs 2 gets credit for originality is in its surprising freedom to do things the way you see fit.

Perhaps most importantly, the game can be completed without killing a single person. Players start out with a Taser-like device and any lethal weapons must be made or found. There aren’t any pawn shops selling high-powered firearms to anyone who walks through the door (much like California these days).

Watch_Dogs 2 is original in the freedom it gives to the player.

STORY AND MULTIPLAYER

Watch Dogs®2 Marcus.png

While Watch_Dogs 2 may not be graphical powerhouse of a game, Ubisoft definitely stepped it up in the story category. The main character, Marcus, is a talented hacker who has been wrongly labelled as a criminal by CtOS. Marcus’ first mission with DedSec, the infamous hacker group (based on the real-world hacker group, Anonymous), involves breaking into a high security CtOS facility and erasing his records.

Upon this success, DedSec welcomes him into their organization and puts him to use in the field so they can knock local nuisances down a peg, one at a time. All of this is done for the purpose of gaining attention to attract followers who are willing to allow their hardware to be used as part of the DedSec botnet, thereby giving DedSec the capability to take on larger scale activities.

Marcus (being the ambitious type) wants to see DedSec do more than just simple pranks meant to harass Blume, and succeeds in doing so. This in turn inevitably leads to gaining more followers and increasing Marcus’ abilities. What’s neat about this is that as DedSec gains more followers, Marcus is able to employ more powerful tools.

Watch Dogs®2 Jimmy and Marcus.png

A significant improvement over most Ubisoft games is that Marcus is an extremely likeable character. He smiles a lot, cracks tons of stupid jokes, embraces his incredibly nerdy side, and gushes about things that he’s a fan of.

Sounds familiar… I wonder why.

I think what makes him such a compelling character is that he seems so human, and it’s a refreshing change. Aiden Pearce was, in retrospect, a pretty bland character. Marcus is very much the opposite of that.

Like the original Watch_Dogs, the multiplayer is focused on players’ interactions with each other as rival hackers. Random players sometimes jump into your game seamlessly and you can find yourself doing the same. Driving around San Francisco can result in you running into another player who is doing their own thing, whether that is running from the police or simply running from A to B with a friend.

What makes the multiplayer particularly interesting is that it isn’t focused on the idea of simply killing the other player. Being on the offensive means that you need to try and stay under the radar, so it isn’t like someone is going to jump into your game and gank you (unless you’re on a rampage against the cops). Likewise, acting defensively means that you need to reveal the hacker before deciding whether to use lethal force or not.

The mechanic of having people jump into your game like that is incredibly fun, though it is thankfully optional for those that choose to avoid it. I’d strongly recommend giving it a shot at least. The number of creative ways that you can hack a player and stay hidden is immense and worth exploring.

WILDCARD: ETHICAL HACKTIVISM?

Watch Dogs®2 Getting Busted.png
Innocent man framed for crime, frames innocent woman for crime 

Things get a little messy here, and I think Ubisoft deserves a bit of credit even if they unintentionally commented on the ethical standards that hackers adopt.

There are many in the tech world (like most people) whose ethics are questionable to say the least. Watch_Dogs 2 illustrates this very well. The picture above says it all in my opinion.

Marcus, a man who was framed by CtOS for crimes he didn’t commit, can frame other people for crimes they didn’t commit as well. He can kill with impunity, steal money from people, and trespass as he sees fit. The flexible morals and ethics of DedSec mirror those of people in real life, like the self-proclaimed hacker that brags about his exploits in my Information Security class this semester.

Jimmy (not his real name) complains about large corporations and governments infringing on his privacy, yet he enthusiastically breaks into people’s accounts and networks to poke around. He groans on about how companies rip people off and governments steal from their citizens, yet happily will steal any games he wants to play from developers and downloads movies from torrent sites.

I’m not arguing against torrenting games or hacking even, just the flexible ethics that people employ to justify their actions. I don’t agree with what I see as stealing software or people’s information, but I don’t see the point in discussing the ethics of it. What I find interesting is that Watch_Dogs 2 unintentionally emulates the hypocrisy of some hacktivist groups. That the ends justify the means.

This isn’t exactly a pro or con for the game; I just find it to be interesting.

Revelations

Watch Dogs®2 D&D Shop.png

On paper, Watch_Dogs 2 isn’t what I would consider to be a Game of the Year. However, the excellent mix of great gameplay (minus the damned driving) and fantastic multiplayer (now that it works) adds up to a game that is actually deserving of the title in my opinion.

Watch_Dogs 2 is actually one of the few games that has genuinely surprised me this year. After hearing the announcement of it earlier on, I had written it off and decided that I wasn’t even going to bother with it. Hell, it wasn’t even on my list of upcoming games that I was interested in back in March.

But still, Ubisoft sunk its talons into me, delivering a game that far exceeded my expectations and made its way into a building list of games that I’d definitely recommend for others to play.

Also, the main HQ in Watch_Dogs 2 is in a nerd shop. Sure, the nerds in there are stereotypes of what nerds are like, but it’s sadly pretty accurate.

 

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