Watch Dogs 2 (Xbox One Review)
As the digital ages continues in full swing the prevalence of hacking and the impact it has in pop culture and games becomes clearer. None more so than in Watch Dogs 2, a game in which I have to stop myself from including an underscore every time I type, as it tries to put a friendly face to hackers and show them as some sort of social revolutionary.
Many players will remember the hype surrounding Watch Dogs, with its iconic hats and even more iconic series of collector’s editions. Thankfully Watch Dogs 2 has taken a far more jovial approach and reduced the age of the characters and added some much needed vibrancy and colour.
With Watch Dogs 2’s new found youth we see a new protagonist in the form of Marcus, a young hacker newly acquainted with DedSec. Marcus is inducted by stealing his data from ctOS, Watch Dogs 2’s central antagonist, and is subsequently abducted for his effort. From there Watch Dogs 2 blends a goofy underground aesthetic found in Marcus’ allies; Sitara, Wrench, Horatio, and Josh as they all endeavour to free the people by some very questionable methods. The central goal of DedSec, and in turn Watch Dogs 2 story, is to take down ctOS and the parent company Blume Ltd for hoarding customer information and using it to reshape the world of finance and exploit the power they are slowly amassing. It seems like DedSec are fighting for the people, although it all hinges on the whim that you are willing to accept a ragtag bunch of mid 20 somethings as your saviours when they actively hack bank accounts to test software – amongst many other questionable actions. For me I really struggled to love the nerdy bunch, motives were questionable as they justify their app to users, proclaiming that everyone using their DedSec app acknowledges that their program might just turn their phone in to an integral part of a super computer that they don’t know the true function of – kind of like ctOS, if you ask me.
Watch Dogs 2 heavily relies on a suspension of disbelief as it progresses, regularly asking you to rub up against passers-by to hack them or just requiring a tedious amount of legwork in a situation you would presume is carried out by the information super highway known as The Internet. Even at a stretch I found it hard to really appreciate the gameplay as personally I don’t associate hacking with driving really close to somebodies car without being spotted or scaling really tall buildings in a game without a dedicated jump button. It all feels a little hamfisted and the central idea of being a hacker is turned on its head as you aren’t the anonymous figure lurking behind a glowing monitor. Instead you are a hip young black dude kicking about with what looks like a snooker ball wrapped in bungie rope, presumably to hack your way in to skulls to extract key information – how retro.
And it’s this central disconnect that flows in to Watch Dog 2’s mechanics as a whole. At some points characters will stress the difficulty of hacking for you to cruise by a set of objects in a car and overturn entire traffic systems with the flick of a switch while downloading the latest songs to your phone, honestly. Stealth sections feel barbaric with the only real options being to shoot enemies with your stun gun, choke them out in a brutal fashion, or simply bludgeon them with the hipster equivalent of some snooker balls in a sock. Even traversal feels quite clunky, requiring you to climb obstacles holding the right trigger, without the ability to physically jump some logical gaps are impossible, where as some really questionable gaps are bridged simply because Marcus was programmed to do so. When compared to some of the earlier Assassin Creed games you feel like this element could have been implemented better as there is a big focus on vertical puzzles for a few side missions – although when faced with a clunky puzzle I would normally travel the city looking for a cherry picker to hack and push the limits of how high it would take me.
This is not to say Watch Dogs 2 does everything wrong, in fact it is leaps and bounds ahead of the initial instalment. Even though I personally feel that the hacking leaves a lot to be desired, it feels more natural and flows a lot better than Watch Dogs. And the same can be said for exploration of this marvellous world Ubisoft Montreal have taken the time to create.
San Francisco feels alive with plenty of different characters that stray away from the handful of walking descriptions of Watch Dogs, soon to be removed genitalia and all. The scenery looks almost realistic and taking a dirt bike out to the countryside and riding until you hit the coast is somewhat cathartic. Even with the cyberpunk aesthetic you can find serene hills and quiet coves. It’s one of the best looking games I’ve played this year and even the palette and style of the cyberpunk HUD and the general feel of the DedSec is well thought out and really comes together.
And what’s more interesting is the choice of audio. Ubisoft Monteral couldn’t have done any better than Hudson Mohawke for a semi-futuristic sound blended with hints of punk, hip hop, electro, and just amazing song choices. Tracks created exclusively for Watch Dogs 2 stand out by a long shot and could be some of Hudson Mohawke’s best work next to Fuse – arguably the best track on Sleeping Dogs’ OST. It’s a delight to listen to and something I have went out of my way to listen to straight after my initial day on Watch Dogs 2, it is genuinely that good. Yet there is still a barrier to entry for enjoying many of the songs as you will need to find some of them in Watch Dogs 2’s world and then download them in an ingame app – yuck.
Although no matter how interesting and inspiring Watch Dogs 2’s scenery and music might be there is a drastic issue with the side content. More often or not the missions wouldn’t really last the length of a song and their overall impact was almost meaningless, at first the billboard graffiti and racing missions caught my eye but after a very small sampling I was already finished. You need to collect almost everything, from upgrade points to new songs and even central data to feed in to your upgrade tree. It all eventually became a big collection based blur and I stopped being able to distinguish missions from items I had picked up due to some similar formatting.
And it’s not like you could just glaze over these aspects of the game, to successfully progress you are required to gain a set amount of followers, followers working as exp for your character and also a metric to how successful DedSec are. So, all these additional activities feel crucial in making Watch Dogs 2 both more enjoyable and easier. Although I never fully understood how some physical interactions worked in terms of followers converting to experience or just how these followers found out all about my illegal activities as I performed them – but I am thankful for their support and ability to boost my phone battery.
And I guess that sums up my feelings as a whole for Watch Dogs 2, I was often confused. Some aspects are great, in fact Watch Dogs 2 might be the best soundtrack and scenic open world game from Ubisoft in recent memory, but inconsistent theme and my failure to really resonate with the central themes prevented me from enjoying it. Although if you are a fan of the Ubisoft formula and chided the idea of Watch Dogs 2 simply because it was a sequel to Watch Dogs (duh) then I would urge you to reconsider because Ubsioft Montreal are definitely heading in the right direction.