• Review - Watch Dogs 2

    Gamer's Gazette Single Issue XXXII

    Watch_Dogs 2 (2016)

    Hacker. It's a switch on your fears, fear of the other. They tried to isolate you. It's called divide and conquer, and they tricked you into thinking it's what you asked for. To keep you controlled and ignorant. They used ctOS to track you, to predict your behavior, to keep you in your place. They lied to you and we promised to expose them and show you the truth. We invited you to join us and you did. You said with one voice: 'we will not be lied to. We will not be afraid. We will not be silent.'
    -Marcus Holloway

    Following the deadly events in Chicago and the destruction caused by Aiden Piece upon all who wronged him, San Francisco and the surrounding cities in the Bay Area have become the next region to install ctOS (central Operating System), which connects everyone with everything. Using this new system, the local governments hope that crime and other issues will fall.Young hacker Marcus Holloway was punished for a crime he did not commit by the upgraded ctOS – ctOS 2.0 – which categorized him as the suspect in the supposed crime. Never really standing up for anything, Marcus realizes that the new system only brings harm to those it is claimed to protect. Wanting to see it brought down, he decides to work with the hacking group DedSec to take down the ctOS 2.0 and Blume, the company behind it. Along the way, he will expose the corruption of the corporations of the Silicon Valley, the law enforcement agencies of the big cities, and bring light to the citizens of the Bay Area of the harm this new world can inflict on them.
    Watch Dogs 2 returns the player to the United States that has been corrupted by the corporation Blume, this time a few months after the events of the first game. The ctOS program has been upgraded and is being tested around the country in new cities.The system is designed to connect everyone and everything, including security cameras, personal information, traffic lights and barriers, and much more. In Watch Dogs 2, the player’s playground consists of Ubisoft’s vision of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region full of hope, technology, crime, and contention. As an open world game, Watch Dogs 2 features a very large world that consists of the high rises of San Francisco and Oakland, the sleepy and affluent Marin, to the technological powerhouse of Silicon Valley and everything in between. The world is not a perfect representation of the Bay Area, a place that I grew up in and live not far from now, but as a general representation of it I find it is more than suitable. It nearly perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere and culture of the area, possibly even to a better degree than Chicago was represented in the first game, though this might just be because I am more aware of Bay Area culture than Chicago. I was even pleasantly surprised to find that my hometown was mentioned on signs (but not seen) within the game. This world is vast and beautiful, and can take hours to fully explore. The world looks absolutely gorgeous and visually stunning on the newer systems and PC, no longer being held back by releasing the game on the older consoles.
    There are some issues with the world, in my opinion. For one, I feel like the world is too large for the story that is being told, and the locations are generally wasted. Every location besides San Francisco is hardly utilized fully in my opinion, and are only occasionally visited over the course of the story. This can often be a problem with open world games, but it was hardly an issue in the first Watch Dogs, where I felt every area of the game was utilized very well. It is just a shame to see so much work go into these areas only to have them be relatively ignored outside of maybe multiplayer and the side missions. In addition, there is a relative lack of people on the streets. Anyone that has spent any time in San Francisco or the Bay Area in general knows how crowded it can get, and to have so few people reduces the atmosphere somewhat, especially since there were plenty of people walking around Chicago in the first game. There were also a few technical issues when it comes to loading things such as unnecessary pop in on things that were not that far away It’s a minor issue, but something that Ubisoft should consider fixing in the next game. Overall, while the world is really interesting and large, I kind of wish they concentrated their efforts on just the San Francisco Peninsula and left out Oakland. It is not really used much, and it would have allowed the creators to increase the size and detail of San Francisco and the surrounding areas. Of course it would have led to more things being cut out but I think the tighter focus would have been much better for the world they were creating. Regardless of this opinion, I cannot deny how vast and beautiful the world we DID get ended up being.

    Getting around this beautiful world has never been easier. The driving mechanics, a huge criticism I had in the previous game, have been drastically improved on. I absolutely hated the driving mechanics in Watch Dogs, and in this game there are few if any issues present. And there is such a lovely amount of things that can be driven: cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, quads, and even boats. There are still some minor issues such as driving bikes (it takes a LOT to throw Marcus off his bike) as well as absolutely terrible handling in some cars beyond what is to be expected in a game with a variety of vehicles. However, it is a step in the right direction for the Watch Dogs franchise. In addition, Marcus can use some minor parkour skills to get around the city quickly and reach new heights that Aiden simply could not.

    Like the first game, the primary draw of Watch Dogs 2 and the thing that Ubisoft marketed the game on is the ability to hack the world in which you play. Like Aiden in the first game, Marcus is able to hack into many things throughout the world using his cell phone. His most notable targets include cameras, computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. In addition to these abilities, Marcus can also hack into the city systems itself. The upgraded ctOS 2.0 may have made it easier for the Bay Area to keep the crime and other issues at an all time low, but the vulnerabilities it opens up for Marcus and his cohorts to abuse the system leads to issues for the government and Blume. The ability to hack both large and small systems is both fun and incredibly practical for Marcus. These abilities can help him aid his escape by using barriers and blowing up steam pipes, disabling pursuit vehicles, and many other things. Its usefulness cannot be overstated; hacking must be utilized in order to complete your objectives, especially escaping from the police. However this time around there is no loss of reputation in shooting the police (or civilians, for that matter), so it isn’t entirely necessary for Marcus to do such. Marcus can also directly control cars such as forcing them to break or turn, which is incredibly helpful during police chases. All of this is accomplished through Marcus’ smartphone. Helping Marcus are two different little robots that can help him hack from the air and in hard to reach places on the ground, which is a mechanic that was carried over from the Bad Blood DLC for the first game. This hacking element is fun, and while perhaps not as revolutionary as the first game now, it is still a fun and useful mechanic. I’m disappointed that Ubisoft removed much of the need for using hacking by eliminating reputation issues for killing, but more on that later.

    Combat in Watch Dogs 2 has improved over its predecessor. Fighting in the game is fast as well as varied, with Marcus able to utilize a large variety of weapons at his disposal. This time around, Marcus can use two different styles of weapons, with ones that can be picked up in game from fallen enemies, or new guns that can be made using a 3D printer that DedSec has. While each gun that can be printed has their benefits ultimately they don’t really make a huge difference in comparison to the regular guns, so it ultimately does not matter much which weapons you choose; the cool DedSec weapons or the plain old regular ones. The one exception are the special weapons with different abilities, which are worthwhile to purchase and make if you intend on doing the large variety of side missions. In addition to lethal weapons, Marcus also has the use of an improvised melee weapon that he uses for non-lethal takedowns, a requirement in some missions or activities. In addition, Marcus has the use of a taser for ranged non-lethal takedowns, which was a criticism I had in the previous game. All told, Marcus’ combat abilities are refined and varied, and like its predecessor Watch Dogs 2 has no shortage of combat opportunities that can be both fun and challenging. However, there are some issues with combat that I will discuss later.
    The missions of Watch Dogs 2 are incredibly varied, all relying on Marcus to use a variety of hacking, combat, and sometimes stealth in order to achieve the objective. Like the previous game, there was not a single mission that felt like it was rehashing a previous mission. The missions are incredibly outlandish at times as well, and while they may be frustrating to accomplish sometimes they are still fun to beat. Ubisoft has really nailed down missions that make good use of stealth, combat, and puzzle solving, and I think that with continued growth the mechanic could be nearly perfected by the next game. The only issue that I have with the missions are the plot holes (in my opinion) that pop up. A perfect example of this is a mission where you infiltrate a facility that is about to launch a satellite into space. Your primary mission is to upload a program and attach an object to the satellite to be able to exploit it. It’s a fun mission that is the culmination of a chain of them, but it has a problem. It is one of the few missions in the game where I feel like even leaving a single guard or scientist dead or knocked out should lead to the failure in the mission, as logistically any incident at such a highly secured facility would lead to the security forces scrubbing the whole facility looking for the reason why. It is not a huge issue, but it is something that, in my opinion, should have been considered when writing the mission and addressing its parameters.

    While there are side activities and missions in the game, I am disappointed that a lot of the fun ones from Watch Dogs were removed. There are some interesting ones still, but what made the first game so much fun were the varied and numerous side activities that helped boost reputation by ridding Chicago of criminal elements and also helped Aiden in many ways. I assume that much of the reason is because that reputation was removed, but in doing so it makes it clear that the protagonists in the game are not as interested in eliminating issues in the Bay Area like Aiden was in Chicago. It does not make a lot of sense to me since Marcus’ reason for taking this journey of his is to help people, while Aiden’s was motivated by revenge. For Marcus to not have the ability or will to help the city and the people through the side activities and missions that are designed for that purpose is an unfortunate mark on this game’s lasting appeal. The rest of the side missions and activities are fine, and they even have their own chains of missions that tell their own stories. But it just is not the same in my opinion. Hopefully the issue will be corrected in future installments as this just feels like a massive step back. Combining the new types of side activities with the old would be a good direction to go, and hopefully that will be what happens along with new games as welll.
    The story, unfortunately, is where the game mostly loses me. While the missions are fun, the story overall is a big let down. The game is less serious than before, and while it is more fun at times I find the omission of the seriousness present in the predecessor game to be a large problem. In addition, Marcus is a weak protagonist in terms of motivation, in my opinion, as is his DedSec cell in San Francisco. In the previous game, I could totally dig the “lone wolf” style protagonist in Aiden, who was out for revenge and used the city systems for just that. In this game, I feel like the whole message of DedSec and Marcus is lost amongst missions that are just there to cause chaos or embarrass Blume. In addition, the DedSec cell presented in this game feels like just a bunch of whiny and entitled teenagers or young adults who just want to have some fun and make some noise. This is completely different from the DedSec that was presented in the first game. In that game, they felt like a potentially terrifying, mysterious force that was deep underground and ready to strike against the heart of the Blume corporation. One can certainly argue that since it is a different group of hackers they are bound to have different personalities, which is fair. But I feel like the DedSec cell concentrated in the Bay Area of all places should be far more engaging and intimidating than what we got. Not even the addition of T-Bone from the first game saves the story, in my opinion. It is a shame that this part of the game is such a significant step backwards, but hopefully the eventual sequel will rectify that.
    Related to this and just as important is just the overall mission structure and how each piece fits into the story. Again, the missions are fun, but something is missing. With the previous game, each part of the story felt like it had a purpose, a message. But Watch Dogs 2 has little to none of that. And when you lost someone in Watch Dogs, it felt like it affected the story. Here, even losing a relatively major character had little to no impact on me, though it was admittedly surprising. This series of criticisms could partly stem from my general annoyance with hackers and “hacktivist” culture, so I will admit that this may be coming from a point of bias. But I still do generally feel that the story and point of the game, while not terrible, is simply not as good as the previous game. Even the villain is hardly intimidating compared to the previous game's antagonist, which is again a major step backwards. The tonal shift between the two games have simply not done it any favors in my opinion; it’s more fun now, but less serious, I find the lack of seriousness to be a problem since the ctOS issue was firmly established to be a serious problem in the universe of the franchise.

    Another problem that I feel ties into the larger issues of the game has to be the loss of the reputation mechanic. In the previous game Aiden was limited in the degree of destruction he could wreck by his reputation. If Aiden killed too many civilians or police, even accidentally, his reputation would fall and lead to civilians being more likely to call the police on him. The only way to rebuild your reputation was by doing good deeds. In this game, though, Marcus is free to kill cops and civilians without fear of reprisal or issues regarding his public perception. While for many players who want to simply create havoc, this is a good thing. But in terms of the game, it makes no sense. DedSec (and Marcus) are supposed to be the good guys, and while they have their own issues with the “system”, I feel that being able to freely target those that have nothing to do with it runs contrary to their goals. Their should be a form of punishment for that. The mechanic also made it in the past so that the player and Aiden had to be creative with escape opportunities...now you can simply blow up everyone and run. It’s not nearly as fun in my opinion, and again, feels like a contradiction to the goals of the protagonists of the game.

    Some other things that are worthy of consideration for this game. The skill progression is still engaging, and illustrates how Marcus grows his skills over the course of the game. While it is entirely possible to beat the game with few of the skills, it is far more fun to go through the skill tree to become a better hacker and fighter. The enemy AI remains pretty challenging, which was one of the positives I discussed in my review of the previous game. It has even been improved on, and while I would not say the game is overly challenging throughout the whole game, the AI is certainly advanced enough to make you have to think during missions, and are also very competent at flanking maneuvers and other tactics. The weather effects for the game are pretty though for some reason does not look as good as the first game, which is disappointing considering the fiasco concerning Watch Dog’s graphical issues. There are also other things as well that are concerning while playing the game. For whatever reason, the game STILL suffers from the occasional shadow glitch that has plagued Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry off and on over the past few years, which is somewhat disappointing. It is much less than the previous game but it still does pop up occasionally, and will hopefully be fixed in Watch Dogs 3 if they manage to bring the game to the new engine standards set out in the more recent Assassin’s Creed games. There are also some technical glitches that have since been patched out, but are nonetheless frustrating to have experienced.
    Despite my issues with the game, I still find it to have been a solid experience overall. It is certainly a fun game, has some solid mechanics, and overall a technically fine game. There have been some big improvements in the gameplay mechanics that were sorely needed, but it seems to have come at a cost of relative realism and a good story. It is a shame, because the first game set such good groundwork for the franchise. Luckily it is still recoverable, and if they learn from their mistakes (or at least, what I feel to be mistakes) in this game I can see myself returning for more. The overall plot of the franchise so far has fascinated me, and one relatively minor pitfall will not lose them a fan in me. With everything you can do in the game, Watch Dogs 2 is certainly worthy of your time, and I think everyone should give this game a chance if they enjoyed the first game.

    Note: If you would like to read my review of the first game, click here.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      Detailed and informative, great review as usual!

      Love open world\sandbox games so I think I will give it a try.
    1. TheDarkKnight's Avatar
      TheDarkKnight -
      It is worthwhile. There is definitely a lot to do, I just wish that the game had taken steps forward rather than steps backward.
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