[Review] Watch_Dogs 2

written by Matthew Finneman

Hype is a tricky beast. On one hand, it is a powerful tool for motivating gamers into anticipating your new IP. But that same wave of excitement can quickly turn to backlash when the hype-fueled, unrealistic expectations give way to reality. Hype can quite literally make or break a game. There are quite a few notable games this generation which have fallen prey to “the hype,” and one of the most well-known of them is the game which encapsulated all of the excitement and anticipation of the new generation of consoles – Watch_Dogs.

Years went by. Hype grew and turned to skepticism and snark. The game sold well, but its grimdark setting, repetitive mission structure, unlikable grimdark protagonist, and its GTA me-too gameplay kept it from becoming a true classic, despite the novelty and fun of a fully hackable world.

Enter Watch_Dogs 2.

Ubisoft seems to have a knack for this. Create a new IP, have it not live up to its potential, and then knock it out of the park with the sequel. I call it “the Assassin’s Creed Effect”. Watch_Dogs 2 is no exception. Reading like an apology letter to fans and new gamers alike, Watch_Dogs 2 fixes almost every issue with the first game, infuses it with likeable characters, humor, real-world-influenced missions, great multiplayer and more. Is it perfect? No. Is it great? Let’s find out together!

You play as Marcus, a character who is such a 180 from the first game’s Aiden Pierce that if you play the two side-by-side, you might just get whiplash. Replacing a revenge-driven dark and gritty character who has an “I wanna be Christian Bale’s Batman” voice with a hipster-influenced uber-hacker who is equal parts nerd, social justice warrior, and parkour master fashion model, Marcus is a marked improvement. I loved playing as Marcus. He was funny. He was charming. He was a great wingman. He always fought for the little person, and always valued stealth and tech over run-and-gunning all of his adversaries. His interactions with the rest of Deadsec really endeared him and the whole team to me.

And that is one of the game’s biggest strengths – the crew of Deadsec. They have several standouts among them: Wrench, a snarky, bitter hacker with social anxiety and a look straight out of Hot Topic’s “edgelord” section which lets his mask do the talking. Josh, probably the most fully-realized autistic character in video games. Sitara, the “leader” of Deadsec, and a badass female character who owns her skill and position. They even manage to redeem Watch_Dogs 1 a bit by bringing back T-Bone and making him a mentor of sorts to the team. Even the villain is great in this – the scheming and confident Dusan. A yoga-practicing business mogul who is just as comfortable buying out corporations as he is throat-punching someone annoying him. Dusan, man…you really love to hate him. What a douche.

But seriously. Wrench and his emoji mask are just a delight.

One of the other best delights about the game are the missions and sidequests. All of them are either loose parodies of an actual event, or are so topical that they might as well be. Whether it is hacking a Martin Shkreli fill-in for buying the rights to a popular rapper’s album, getting revenge on a little SWATting asshole, making a pedophile’s life a living hell, hacking powerful life insurance companies or corrupt utility companies and giving back to the people…every mission has you rooting for the good guys as they live out their hacker-fueled Robin Hood dreams. While the subject matter of each mission is a joy, their actual execution is a little formulaic. Go to a destination. Hack something, either in person, via drone, or from afar. Maybe do a little hacking-based puzzle. Escape. Rinse. Repeat. But unlike the first game, the repetition is not nearly as fun-murdering in Watch_Dogs 2 because of the story, the characters, the dialogue, and the fun of parkouring around town.

Hacking is a blast and is easy and fulfilling to do. Hack emails, texts, bank accounts, phone calls, etc. on civilians. Hack people’s cars to make them drive wherever you want, setting up some pretty hilarious scenarios. Put an APB on an enemy and watch the cops swoop in and arrest him for you. Or if you’re more sadistic, put a gang hit on a target. Hack traffic lights, gas lines, power grids, cell phone reception, guards’ headsets, security camera, drones, robotic guards, doors…the list keeps going.

The rest of the gameplay is pretty standard open-world fare. Driving mechanics are decent, but I always found myself grabbing a motorcycle so I wouldn’t need to combat my own car while I try to escape the fuzz. The shooting mechanics are passable, even sub-par if I’m honest about them. So why doesn’t that bother me? Because Watch_Dogs 2 encourages you to never even fire a gun. It’s phenomenal. The entire game can not only be played non-lethally and fully in stealth, but the game actively seems to want you to. You start the game with a taser and the world’s most badass yo-yo. You never need a gun, but they are there for those who desire them. Personally, I never did. It seemed weird to play as a group of lovable hacktivists and then go out and murder a bunch of cops. Watch_Dogs 2 carves out its own identity in this way, and I love it. Half the fun of each infiltration is figuring out how to hack your way in unseen. Hack a crane across the street to put you on the roof? Hack a window washing unit to come get you? Hack the robotic guard to view human guards as enemies? Create a blackout and sneak in? Use your drone to distract the guards away from the door? Tase them out of the way? Create non-lethal electricity traps? The possibilities are all there for you.

I love the RC car and the drone. They are both essential to your success and a blast to control and utilize. Scouting ahead with the drone, zipping around to scan enemies and prep for ambushes or to plan an infiltration, it’s all easy to do and fun to pull off. Sending your RC car ahead to taunt enemies with the speaker before zipping away from their attacks is a joy I never stop having. Am I weird? Probably. Do I care? Nope!

Finally, let me talk about some of the odds and ends. Co-op really shines in this, allowing drop-ins/drop-outs with friends. There are a series of co-op-specific missions that are a ton of fun to play with friends, all either hacking your way to the objective independently, working together towards a goal, or just dicking around San Francisco. Whatever works for you. I also enjoy the PvP aspects – hacking a fellow player while trying to remain hidden and joining the cops on bounty missions to take down a more violent player on the run. Both are quick to do, easy to join, and – since it’s you vs. another player – always unpredictable.

There is a mission late in the game which involves you infiltrating a robotics lab and a rocket lab. Both missions are standouts and you should be very excited about both.

Dressing Marcus in different fashions is surprisingly addictive, and allows you to really customize him to your style. Mine is a polo-wearing preppie guy who wears a sweater vest unironically. I feel the real Marcus would hate him.

The RPG-esque upgrade system is nice, making you feel like you’re truly progressing throughout the game.

The game tells you when you have reached the final mission, which is such a wonderful thing. I love it for that.

There is a mission which involves hacking Ubisoft itself, and the entire thing is proof that they can make fun of themselves. It’s indicative of the entire tonal shift away from Watch_Dogs 1.

Figuring out the trick to unlocking each Research Point or Key Data makes you feel real good.

PROS:

  • Marcus is a great protagonist.
  • Wrench is bae.
  • Amazing sense of humor.
  • Mission plotlines and sidequest plotlines.
  • RC Car and Drone usage is a delight.
  • Playing the entire game non-lethally and fully stealthed.
  • The robotics lab mission.
  • Fun co-op.
  • Driving motorcycles.

CONS:

  • Music selection is pretty lackluster.
  • When you have to enter combat, it’s pretty meh.
  • Driving cars.
  • Horatio was kind of a wasted character.

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

Watch_Dogs 2 is out now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Matthew can be reached on Twitter @NOLANerdcast, and his podcast is available at http://nolanerdpodcast.libsyn.com/.

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