|System: PS4, Xbox One|
|Dev: Ubisoft Montreal|
|Release: November 15, 2016|
|PC Release: November 29, 2016|
|Players: 1-4 Players (2-4 online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs|
by Jenni Lada
Watch Dogs was a good game. Some would even call it great. It offered the sort of urban, open-world experience we expect from games like Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, while leaning heavily on hacking and technological know-how. It started something. With Watch Dogs 2, we get the sort of game that is going to constantly be referred to with terms like “bigger” and “better.” That may seem cliche, but it fits. After playing Watch Dogs 2, you feel like you can never go back to the original. The sequel surpasses it in every way.
Watch Dogs 2 begins with our hero, Marcus Holloway, breaking in to ctOS 2.0’s servers. The system labeled him as high risk for criminal activity, even though he didn’t commit the robbery he was accused of. After getting off of community service, he went in to erase his profile, make a new one, and place a backdoor for himself. This “test” proved him worthy of hacker group DedSec’s attention, and now he acts as one of its core members as they attempt to take down the system.
The story itself isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. A group of underdogs topples an unjust, high-powered corporation and its leaders. The reason it works so well in Watch Dogs 2 is because of the way Ubisoft Montreal tells its tale. We have a colorful group of capable characters. Literally. The group is predominantly made up of people of color. Marcus and Horatio are both African American. Sitara is Indian and a woman. Josh is white, but also on the spectrum. The only typical white male is Wrench, but he’s hardly ordinary. Each one has joined DedSec for a reason; every character has been wronged or hurt in some way. They’re unheard, marginalized minorities. Given the current climate in the United States, there are sure to be people who identify with them.
But this isn’t about their race, gender, or health. The great thing about Watch Dogs 2 is that all of these characters are all of these things, but it’s incidental. What matters more is that each one is interesting, well developed, and has something to say. Whether it’s from initially learning about them from Horatio’s notes in the hacker space, taking missions from them, or hearing their commentary as you go through dramatic and serious side stories, they come alive. You care about Marcus and the members of DedSec, which is a big step up from Watch Dogs’ Aiden.
That’s only one positive change immediately noticeable in the game. It felt like Watch Dogs 2 was trying to prove from the get-go that it is bigger, better, and more competent than the original. It isn’t just about having an improved story with characters who feel like they matter and a narrative that ties important themes together. Every action feels like you’re becoming better and more important. You’re constantly acquiring money for new cars, outfits, and equipment. You’re earning research points, which add to your repertoire of skills. You’re acquiring followers, which is giving you the power to confront and cripple Blume and its ctOS 2.0. You feel like you and your organization is blossoming.
It’s an overarching theme. I feel like Ubisoft could have put on the box, “We did more and got it right this time!” San Francisco is an amazing place and well recreated within Watch Dogs 2. There are lots of little side missions or opportunities to pick up a little extra reward on your way to and from missions. Hacking abilities have been further expanded, allowing you to mix and match play styles to become an aggressor, trickster, or ghost. Not that you need to conform to any labels, as you can pick and choose any combative or technological skills and actions to make your Marcus fit your needs. You can also get anywhere you need via a number of methods, thanks to an immediately available on-demand app and already-unlocked fast travel options.
The UI is wonderful. You have so much information immediately available to you. Nudle Maps always has a mini-map in the lower left corner, giving you a good look at the area. Bringing up information on people gives you a crisp, clear window. Hacking offers a menu with easily recognizable icons, so you always know what your button presses will do. Your phone has all of the apps perfectly organized, so you can do what you need to. You can easily identify every objective or item in an area. It’s a well laid-out game.
Games need to be really forgiving for me to succeed at stealthy missions. Yet, with Watch Dogs 2, I felt like I could get by with a ghost and trickster playstyle, because the game enabled me to overcome my shortcomings with skills, hacking, and robots. I’d make someone a target for police or gangs to get in somewhere. I’d hack into vehicles to make a better way for myself into an area. The drone and jumper were especially helpful in running interference, distracting or disabling enemies, and making sure I could get where I needed to be. And, if I tossed in someone who was willing to work with me on a cooperative mission, it made things even easier and better. I could go ahead and use the remote lethal and nonlethal options, as well as standard melee after luring someone away, to get by. And if there was a stealthy situation where I was unfortunate enough to be temporarily seen or caught, I could hide away to throw my pursuers off and get to safety.