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Watch_Dogs 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Nov. 15, 2016


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PS4 Review - 'Watch Dogs 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 15, 2016 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

Watch_Dogs 2 is the next installment in the open-world action-adventure.

Buy Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 opens a few years after the events of the original game. Despite the massive disasters in Chicago, the Blume CtOS project has continued unabated. The new CtOS has been set up in multiple cities across the country, including San Francisco. Players are Marcus Holloway, a gifted programmer who CtOS has marked as a risk, so he's placed on the wanted list before he's even committed a crime. To save himself, Marcus hacks into the CtOS mainframe and erases his own profile, an act that caught the attention of the San Francisco branch of the elite underground hacker group, DedSec. Marcus teams up with them to expose the threat of the CtOS project and return freedom to San Francisco.

In Watch Dogs 2, Marcus and DedSec are trying to set up a botnet by encouraging people to download their app. Every download provides them with more processing power, which increases their hacking capabilities. To get people to download their app, they perform stunts and hacks that attract attention. Most of these are "ripped from the headlines," such as getting back at a rich CEO who raised the price of leukemia medicine and was planning to spend his money frivolously, or harassing a cult that draws in famous actors and actresses. Each mission you complete unlocks followers, which levels up your character and unlocks new abilities. The goal is to get enough power and presence to stop the CtOS.

Watch Dogs 2 is a Grand Theft Auto-style, open-world game. All of San Francisco is wired using the CtOS software, and you can hack into it. New to Watch Dogs 2 is a greater level of control over the hacking. You can open a context-sensitive menu that lets you issue more specific commands, such as order a parked car to suddenly drive backward. There are more complex commands, such as altering someone's social profile to mark them as a criminal or shutting down power. Unlike the first game, all the actions you can take are governed by your botnet power. The more difficult the action, the more energy it takes. Energy regenerates naturally over time, but you can also replenish it instantly by hacking someone's phone.

The game essentially supports three different play styles: Aggressive, Ghost and Trickster. Each upgrade is tagged with one or more of these monikers, though they are mostly for show. In short, you can aggressively take down enemies, sneak past enemies, and trick enemies. The game also supports an almost entirely non-lethal play style. Marcus begins with a stun gun with infinite ammo, and many of the options allow you to avoid killing.

The flexibility of play styles is simultaneously Watch Dogs 2's biggest strength and weakness. It's possible to start a mission fighting and sneak through without getting noticed, or clear out a place without stepping foot inside. Unfortunately, a bit of creativity can overcome a lot of level design in a way that can leave big, dramatic moments feeling toothless.

Perhaps the biggest change to Watch Dogs 2 is that Marcus is much less of a combat monster than Aiden. Grabbing a machine gun and tearing your way through enemies is still an option, but Marcus is less bullet-resistant and more easily outnumbered. The game encourages you to make fights uneven whenever possible rather than going all-in. There are forced combat or chase segments, but in both cases, it's just as valid to hide until you can escape as it is to take down your foes. Marcus is also more agile than Aiden and can sneak into places that his predecessor couldn't.

The most significant tool in your arsenal is drones. You have a ground-based jumper drone and a flying camera drone that you can call out at any time. Both are remote-controlled and have a surprisingly long range, so Marcus can frequently avoid having to set foot in enemy territory. The jumper drone is basically a portable Marcus. It can drive around, hack things, and access physical hack locations that normally need Marcus to be physically on-site. It lacks meaningful combat capabilities but is so small that it can go through broken windows or holes in fences. In comparison, the flying drone can't access physical hack locations, but it can fly and can skip over huge chunks of enemy territory. Neither drone can sustain damage without being destroyed, but their destruction only initiates a cooldown before they can be used again.

The drones are fun, but they're too overpowered. Basically, the only reason to ever put Marcus in danger is if the level is designed in such a way that Marcus must go to a spot or occasionally pick up an upgrade. Otherwise, the two drones do everything he can. Later game upgrades allow the drones to drop explosives or stun grenades; many an assassination target can simply be crushed by a kamikaze run.

In addition to the main story missions, there are a number of side-quests. The game has less random stuff than the first Watch Dogs, which is both good and bad. It keeps the title focused on the stronger elements, but it means the world sometimes feels a little empty. You can take on side-quests for DedSec that unlock more followers and new upgrades, costumes or weapons. There are also Driver SF missions, which are effectively using an Uber knockoff to play a light version of Crazy Taxi. Collectibles are fairly common, including plot-related information, clothing, songs and even research points to upgrade your character. There are a lot of things to do, and most of them have a purpose, so the game doesn't feel as bloated as some modern, open-world games.

Watch Dogs 2 is a hard game to read. I can't tell if it's being tongue-in-cheek, but half of the time, it feels like someone sat down a group of 70-year-olds and asked them to come up with things that "hacker kids" like. There are times I'm not sure if the game expected me to be laughing with it or at it. The jokes might be dated, but it's better than hearing Aiden complain about his dead niece yet again.

The cast is more likeable than in Watch Dogs because Marcus is infinitely more sympathetic than Aiden; he has a sense of humor and treats people with respect and friendship. The cast is likeable when they're being giant nerds and having fun together, but they are a touch insufferable when they talk about waking up the "sheeple" and getting into serious plot.

Unfortunately, the plot is all over the place. The story missions are semi-nonlinear, so there can't really be any coherent flow to the action. Characters change personalities all the time, and characters and events exist in a limbo where the game can't be sure they happened, so it can't compensate for them. That leads to certain characters getting badly underdeveloped since the game can't be sure if they're part of the story at that moment. Quite a few plot elements are poorly explained unless you find hidden dialogue tapes, and there's at least one plot point that only felt sensible because I'd played Watch Dogs first. It's not enough to sour the experience, but it made it difficult to get into the plot. I enjoyed individual character moments, and while the overall story is a step up from Watch Dogs, it still feels too disjointed.

What I enjoyed most in Watch Dogs 2 was the online implementation. As in the first game, Watch Dogs 2 supports invasion-style multiplayer. While you can manually enter the multiplayer, you'll also find that other players appear in your game in a variety of ways. Sometimes, you'll find a friendly player nearby who can assist on a mission. Other times, the player may be running from the police, and you're offered a bounty to help hunt them down, but this can get increasingly complex. I was hunting down a fleeing enemy when another player hopped in to defend them, and a third player who took the same bounty mission appeared in my game to help. It got frantic as all four players struggled to complete their own goals in the middle of a street race that ran across half of San Francisco and involved a bunch of explosions.

This drop-in instant multiplayer is a shocking amount of fun and feels incredibly integrated. Story-wise, the other player you're hunting down is a member of Prime-Eight, a rival hacking syndicate, and you're encouraged to stop them. The rewards are more followers and faster progression, but it's also a fun break from the story. The biggest flaw I encountered in my playtime was the sudden appearance of a friendly player when I didn't want it. I was trying to sneak through an area to steal a bag of money when the friendly player popped in and murdered all the guards. It's possible to opt out of online play if you're not interested, but it's worth keeping on since there's no real punishment for failure.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, the aforementioned multiplayer is not going to be entirely available at launch. This is a frustrating setback since the drop-in/drop-out multiplayer contributed a lot to the game atmosphere. It helped compensate for how empty the title occasionally felt, and the chance of a friend or foe popping in added some much-needed spice to the game. When the multiplayer is fixed, there will be more to recommend Watch Dogs 2, but until it's up and running, a rather integral part of the game is still missing in action.

Visually, Watch Dogs 2 is quite nice. The environments are varied and have a lot of nice touches, and the character models are detailed and expressive. It can be a little bland at times when you're out in the countryside, but overall, it's a good-looking game. The voice acting is mixed. The main characters are pretty solid, but side characters range from boring to bad. There are several NPCs who sound like they're reading from the side of a milk carton, and it's distracting when they're supposed to sound enthusiastic about helping Dedsec. I found the soundtrack rather anemic, with a lot of tracks that wanted to sound like popular songs instead of actually being the popular songs. However, it's also nice to get some variety rather than the same hits that we've seen in dozens of games.

Overall, Watch Dogs 2 is a solid title that improves upon the original in gameplay and plot but still has some flaws. It's too easy at times, and the plot isn't structured well enough to have the desired impact, but that's easy to forgive when you're setting up a Rube Goldberg contraption to send a hacked car covered with sticky bombs into the middle of a group of gang members. It won't drastically change your mind if you disliked the first Watch Dogs, but if you found it flawed but fun, you'll probably enjoy the bulk of the sequel's improvements. The drop-in multiplayer and freedom of gameplay do a lot to keep the title feeling engaging, but it depends on a player's creativity in order to thrive.

Score: 7.0/10

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