When I think about it, there really aren’t that many open world shooter games where you can run around freely, or snatch vehicles if you prefer a faster mode of conveyance. I’m not counting the Assassin’s Creed series, and Dying Light, since those games are more of the parkour variety. The only other games that really embrace what I’m talking about are the Saint’s Row series and of course, any of the superb Grand Theft Auto franchise.
Ubisoft recently took a stab at the rather sparsely populated market back in May of 2014 with their herculean effort, Watch Dogs. Although the game did in fact feature lots of car thievery as well as plenty of running and gunning, it stood apart from its competition with the fact that it introduced hacking into the equation. Personally, I thought the game was pretty fun, but it received mixed reviews from the gaming press as well as many Steam gamers.
Ubisoft, ever the intrepid developer, took some lessons from their first foray into the open world shooter genre and is back with Watchdogs 2. With overhauled visuals, a cool new main character, and a total change of setting, does this new effort do enough to bring disgruntled gamers back to the table? Let’s find out…
Watchdogs 2 takes place in the fabulous, world famous city (I’m just a little biased here) of San Francisco. Since San Francisco is my hometown, it was a real pleasure to see it so well-articulated within the digital realm. Well almost—although you will be able to check out all of the usual sights of renown, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and the infamous Alcatraz Island, it doesn’t feature every single building, side street, and nook and cranny within the City by the Bay, and not exactly to scale. Now, I can only know that because I know San Francisco like the back of my hand, but most folks out there won’t be as keen to be able tell that this is just a knock-off. Surrounding areas such as Oakland and certain parts of Marin County also open up as you progress throughout the game.
Watchdogs 2’s titular main man is none other than hacktivist anti-hero Marcus Holloway. It’s good to see that the main character is an African American this time around, as they seem to be rather underrepresented in today’s gaming world. Marcus belongs to a group of fellow hacktivists who have a wide variety of disparate missions available to them from the get-go, and that can be played in any order. In addition to the main missions, there are also an entire plethora of smaller side-missions that may be taken on as well.
In a drastic departure of tonality and vibe, Watchdogs 2’s world is much brighter and upbeat than the rather drab and dour environs of the first game, with the hacktivists issuing forth fast quips and plenty of sarcastic digs. Watchdogs 2 feels much less serious than its predecessor, which for me, is a welcome change. Indeed, I felt that the original Watchdogs took itself way too seriously, and sort of left it devoid of anything in the way of charm and levity. Fortunately, however, Watchdogs 2 makes up for that by delivering plenty of mirth and several large dollops of kitsch.
The missions in Watchdogs 2 involve lots of—you guessed it—hacking, including such things as sabotaging, frame ups, and other high tech hijinks. There are also a wide array of techy gadgets and gizmos at the gang’s disposal, such as a flying drone and mini RC car, which can be utilized to reach areas that aren’t accessible on foot. I really enjoyed Watchdogs 2’s gameplay style and all of the various things that were available to do within its environs, and felt that it was a much-needed change of pace from its poorly received predecessor.
One really cool feature was the ability to drop in on other people’s games (or allow them pop into yours). If you’re feeling especially mischievous, you can even attempt to hack into other player’s data in order to steal their secrets, resources, and other important stuff. The same can also be done to you, however, so you have to constantly stay on guard and keep a look out for interlopers. Those who wish to venture through the game in solitude, however, can disable this seamless multiplayer feature.
The combat and stealth systems present in Watchdogs 2 are both intuitive and responsive. There are many ways that you can not only sneak past guards and other hostiles, but also distract or incapacitate them, if need be. You can also have Marcus go all out and run and gun, if that’s more your thing. There are plenty of firearms to play with in Watchdogs 2, but for myself, being a fan of a more covert approach, I enjoyed outsmarting the game’s many enemies instead of facing them head-on.
Watchdogs 2’s visuals certainly remind you that it’s been a full two and a half years since the original game came out. I was playing on a souped-up gaming laptop (with a GTX 1070 graphics card), and with all of the visual settings maxed out, Watchdogs 2 really delivers the goods in terms of eye candy. Of course, I just had to show it off to a few friends who are evidently envious that I get to review games for a living. Not only was the city highly detailed, with realistic cracks and other minute details in the masonry of buildings and streets, but the character models are brilliantly realized as well.
Watchdogs 2 is a worthy follow-up to the much-maligned first game, and offers enough of a departure to make its hacking/stealth/shooting/driving gameplay stand out from other games of its ilk. Its highly intuitive gameplay mechanics allow gamers to experience it however best suits their particular style of play. It also features a fresh new setting (whoop whoop San Fran!) and some sumptuous graphics that you’ll probably want to show off to others. In all, Watchdogs 2 makes the bold statement, that it has not only put the series back on track, but it also has something unique to bring to the table in order to set it apart from other similar titles.