I played the original Watch Dogs game, and I know a lot of people found fault with the story, but overall I thought it was a fairly decent game. It helped that I was in the middle of a Person of Interest binge when it came out, with the two seemingly sharing a lot of assets. Watch Dogs 2 seemed much, much different to the previous game, with a bit more of a colourful and happy vibe to it, so I was intrigued to play it when it came out.
The original Watch Dogs attracted a lot of criticism, particularly around the main character. I can’t say I really minded Aiden all that much – he was a bit of a mopey sod, but quite a few video games enjoyed having an angsty, angry-at-the-establishment knob running around shooting at things. Watch Dogs 2 decides to go the opposite way with their main crew. This time, instead of being a largely lone wolf, you’re part of a decently sized crew, all of whom happen to be cracking coders – which, given the game, makes sense. They’re a lot more enjoyable to engage with than NPCs in most games, as they’re actually fairly well written and believable. They all have their little foibles, none of them are perfect nor do they ever pretend to be – they act well and are genuinely fun to interact with. It’s definitely an area where Ubisoft fell down on in the first game, so for it to improve so much is really quite spectacular.
The setting in the game is fantastic. Set in San Francisco, you can drive around from the Golden Gate bridge to the tech companies in Silicon Valley. Having never been to San Francisco, I couldn’t possibly comment on whether or not it’s an accurate representation, but it does feel like a decent, living city. There is so much going on – you can interact with hundreds of people, take pictures of landmarks or just be a general bellend and get into fights with bums. You can have the true American experience in this game. Not only does the city feel vibrant and alive, but it’s jam packed with fantastic secrets hidden everywhere across the map for you to find. Some may be slightly obscure – for instance I managed to find a recreation of a random Russian rave from YouTube at one of the oil refineries. It was only a tiny thing, but it amazed me how deep the developers went with stuffing some fantastic bits into their game.
With a game like this, you’d expect some top gadgetry to satiate your weird tech-lust. If you come expecting it, you’re definitely not let down. Although the most frequently used gadget is your phone, there are a couple of nifty toys that you can play with that really enhance the whole experience. One of the bits of tech is fairly common nowadays – a drone – but it is still brilliantly employed in the game. Infiltrating the various compounds with a drone is great fun. You’re able to hack into people’s phones and anything that explodes, which means you can neutralise everyone without even stepping into the area. The other tool is a remote controlled car that is a brilliant way of pissing off your enemies. You’re able to toss insults at people, hack into the ctOS boxes and routers dotted around the map, giving you more ammunition on your task of invading into any potential areas of interest.
One thing that irks me more than it probably should is the parkour. Every game tries to have their characters being amazing at climbing buildings, even if they have no real business doing it. Do I believe that a computer nerd also doubles as some amazing gymnast who can just bounce their way across buildings? No. Not for a minute. It is fast becoming a trope of games nowadays that your character has to be able to do parkour everywhere and it’s so grating. I’m not saying it’s impossible that a hacker would be good at jumping around, but it’s just a little farfetched. There’s also a lot of weird, unnecessary moves. Instead of just dropping down, Marcus has to do a little flip forwards or backwards to get off of a ledge two foot high. Every time he does it, I just think of the below clip from the Office, with Marcus shouting “HARDCORE! PARKOUR!” with every bloody flip.
Other than that, the game still suffers from crap driving. The first was pretty bad, but often got away with it because of the distractions available using your hacking skills. These skills still exist, but because you don’t need to use them so much as there aren’t many car chases, you’re not as distracted by the horrific representation of driving in the game. On the one hand, brakes are incredibly responsive. I was able to drive at a hundred miles an hour, only to tap the brake and come to an immediate halt. That side of Ubisoft’s bad programming offers a really great benefit. If you’ve dinged a cop, it is much easier to escape if you’ve got a car that can stop on a sixpence. However, there is a downside – handling in general is abysmal. On the roads it can be pretty bad. If you try to go offroad, it gets so, so much worse. Even in a 4×4, which you would expect to handle well on a grassy field, it feels like you’re sliding around on ice. It’s a real shame, because as I wrote earlier, the setting is magnificent, and packed full of hidden Easter eggs and secrets to discover. Finding them is just an unbearable chore when you’re driving around though, so you end up missing a lot of excellent jokes because you’re almost forced into fast travelling around.
The first Watch Dogs tried to be very much a hacking version of GTA. This second one feels like it’s trying to be the hacking version of Saints Row, but a little toned down. It hasn’t quite got its own identity yet, but Ubisoft have made strides forward in bedding in a proper new video game series. There are a lot of improvements from the first game, so many fantastic bits and pieces in the game that weren’t present in the first instalment in the series. It’s definitely not perfect, some aspects especially are disappointing, but it is a lot of fun to play through, and a bit different from the norm, which definitely makes it worth playing.