First games of a franchise are rarely good. There might be exceptions to the rule, but most of the time, they lack variety and mechanics tend to be rather unoptimised. After playing the first Assassin’s Creed game, I wouldn’t have expected the series to become as big as it is today. With a forgettable protagonist and repetitive mission design, the initial Watch_Dogs game was also far from perfect. Can Watch_Dogs 2 follow into the footsteps of Ubisoft’s biggest IP and improve on its initial concept?
Snapbacks instead of trench coats
Aiden Pierce and the Chicago scenery are a thing of the past. Except for the general concept of 2013’s debut, Watch_Dogs 2 got rid of all its baggage and exchanged the tainted past for a new beginning in the light-hearted San Francisco. It now plays with the hacking theme much more eloquently and dropped the serious tone of it predecessor for a more charming bay area vibe. No children have to be saved this time, nor is it a story of revenge. Protagonist Marcus is a simple tech-savvy hacktivist, who groups up with like-minded people to combat the evil data conglomerate ctOS and make a name in Silicon Valley. The characters are written in such a way that you can feel how much they love what they do, which reflects on the player’s mood and establishes the perfect foundation for hours of fun with crazy side-activities.
Having a set of different characters also requires plenty of time to provide them with enough depth and presence. Watch_Dogs 2‘s narrative development is slow, especially since its world clutters you with amazing things to do apart from its main storyline. ScoutX, for example, captivated me in an instant. This app on your smartphone indicates you when you are near to crazy events, hotspots or landmarks, only for the reason to let you shoot and upload a creative selfie and get more followers, ultimately leading to more skill points and even more absurd tools to play around with. With generous quick travel, ultra-short loading times and almost no respawn penalties, exploring felt like a natural part of my experience and perfectly conveyed the zeitgeist of today’s millennials.
Hacking is once more a crucial part in both gameplay and the story. The tools you have at your disposal this time around were both improved in quality and quantity. From causing car mayhems with the press of a button to huge environmental puzzles and drone usage, there’s a lot to explore and play with in Watch_Dogs 2. The newly introduced ability to control any vehicle you come by resulted in the most fun me and my friends had with the game. Clearing whole restricted areas with a car that only goes back and forth without the enemy having as much as a trace of you feels so much more fun than actually running them over yourself. Causing explosive car wrecks while you watch from meters away and having the cops be absolutely oblivious is almost too entertaining. But in there lies one problem. The AI is completely atrocious, especially in the case of the police, which could actually be an accurate depiction of how the SFPD handles their business for all I know.
Watch_Dogs 2 made me immediately forget about the existence of its predecessor and managed to completely make up for the unfavourable start of the brand. It improved substantially by focussing on the one thing the first game lacked the most – having character, both in a literal and figurative sense. San Francisco might be one of the most compelling open-worlds I’ve seen in the last few years, and will certainly keep me entertained for the next few weeks. Once again, Ubisoft proves that they now how to turn the foundation of a promising idea into a notable franchise.
What we liked:
- Vibrant, diverse environment
- W(h)acky abilities
- Contemporary Silicon Valley hipster spirit
- Weird physics
What we didn’t like:
- Simple AI
- Repetitive infiltrations
- Slow character development
This review was written using a PlayStation 4 review copy provided by Ubisoft. Do you think that the Watch_Dogs IP has improved since the first game? What’s your favourite Ubisoft franchise? Tell us in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!