If television, film and games are all to be believed, the world of hacking is a place full of good looking geeks, with brilliant fashion sense, wise cracking wit and enough amazing tech to take all your money in a touch of a button. In reality I think most hackers might really be those who haven’t left their house in years, care little for personal hygiene, wear a lot of “comfy” clothing and partake in tedious coding whilst drinking a whole lot of Red Bulls. Watch Dogs 2, thankfully for our gaming pleasure, falls into the initial description. But does this “too cool for school” game play as well as it talks?
Ditching the world of “Chicago” and its middle aged protagonist in the first Watch Dogs, the franchise has uprooted and gone all West Coast. It has also left behind its serious narrative of a man seeking revenge for this lost family, for a group of hip hackers mucking around with 3D printers and speaking cars, while taking selfies next to street art. Now your first reaction might be “Oh god, shoot me now”, but hold on, please stay away from the gun, because actually the tone of the game is spot on and the world it inhabits is fun, colourful and exciting.
You play as Marcus Holloway, a hacker being trialed as he attempts to get into the ultra cool, and rage against society, hacking group Dedsec. After passing his trial, which serves as the tutorial, he becomes part of the group and they start to rage hard against the injustices of society. One particular group that Dedsec are targeting is the Blume corporation that has produced the CTOS operating system, which controls the whole of the city. They also have other interests such as movie studios, new age religious groups and tech companies, and as you progress through Watch Dogs 2, will find yourself dealing with each of their offerings. Your task is to take down Blume, and its allies, by taking part in missions to discredit them and gain more online followers to Dedsec, so you can use their processing powers to take out CTOS once and for all.
The open world you are in is San Francisco and it really does capture the city well. After working there myself a few years ago, I found it really captures the vibe, the people and the feeling of the west coast metropolis. There are all the main sights to view and play in, while the world looks stunning in the sunlight and even more gorgeous in the rain. There is a bit of over familiarity with being in a open world set in the California sun that makes you think of GTA and that is hard to shake when you start playing. But the mission structures are very different and that’s to do with the hacking skills you acquire from the beginning and extra goodies you gain with experience. The best way, in my humble opinion, is to play Watch Dogs as a hack-em-up rather than the standard combat way. Yes you have all the combat skills, melee opportunities, big guns etc.…but the combat isn’t brilliant, the controls are sometimes fiddly and the AI is a bit useless. Hacking is the way forward with some stealth play thrown in and a quick enemy knockout from behind. Driving is fun, fast and furious with a good selection of cars to drive and secret ones to find around the map.
In the hacking options you can flit between camera to camera across the city to view your surrounding area and mission objectives. When you see your enemies, you can distract them by ringing their phones or making them go to a certain area before blowing them up by exploding circuit boards or gas tanks. This never gets boring and it’s fun to explore different ways to approach any given situation. In between missions, while strolling the streets, you can also use your hacking skills by looking at each person walking by gaining a personal insight into their careers or lives. You can steal money from them without them realising, you can hack into their emails and text chats. In a car you can hack the traffic lights, or move other cars in any direction, or blow up parts of the road from the sewer system. The world is your online oyster.
The mission structures are a very strong side of Watch Dogs 2. You can run through the entire main mission, which is entertaining, rewarding, challenging and very unique. You can also take part in loads of side missions which again are also very entertaining; I particularly enjoyed the ones when you hack into someone else’s home or life and turn their world upside down by playing around and causing chaos with their online electronic devices. You then have your standard races, etc. and we also have the online modes. What I have had a chance to experience is the online co-op mode. These are extra missions in the campaign that you can play with a friend or a random. There are leaderboards and special Dedsec events that you can have a go at as well as the missions. The online missions are seamless in the connection and good fun to play, even though I was useless and my partner did all the real legwork. The best time we had was suddenly finding ourselves in trouble with the police and running away from all the law in the world with a 5 star wanted rating for about 20 minutes. It was a brilliant game of cat and mouse that was exhilarating, funny, frightening and successful. We did escape, I know you would be pleased to know, even though we had trashed half the city in our wake.
The other modes are Bounty Hunter, where you stick a bounty on your head and put out calls to other players to see if they are hard enough. The Invasion mode from the first game is in place where you can disrupt another player by hacking them from a secret place, giving them a short window to find you before your hack is done. After the initial “Seamless Multiplayer” problems Ubisoft was having at the start of the launch, these modes seem to be up and running fine – fingers crossed.
The game itself looks like a million dollars when outside in the San Francisco sunshine, with its great locations, beautiful skies and colourful city design. Some of the interiors are a bit generic and some of the characters animations can be a little flat, but for such a big world it looks and feels superb. Sound design is brilliant within the voice over work; with the actors bringing wit, fun and conviction to their roles. The actual score is good and effective, but I feel the radio playlists that we expect from an open world experience like this isn’t as solid as some other games in the past. I do love the fact though that through your phone you can make playlists of your favourite tracks.
Overall, I’m loving my time in the Watch Dogs 2 world. It’s a step up from the first game and really does put down a marker for future games in this franchise. The story, characters, hacking and mission structure is great fun, with its deep pockets and knowing winks at the audience. The combat sections are the one thing that lets the game down and the controls can be a bit fiddly, but overall the other good points heavily outweigh the bad.
I promise you will have a great time playing this game, both online and offline, and maybe you might, like me, start thinking about moving to San Francisco to embark on a life of hacking.