A return to the late to the party series that I’ve dabbled in over the years is a game that came out in the winter of 2016, and a follow up to one of this generations most hyped games which unfortunately fell short amidst the new console generation hype. Watch_Dogs 2.
Watch_Dogs 1 was revealed around the time that the new consoles were shown off and due to launch, the trailers for it looked pretty impressive and it was refreshing to see Ubisoft introduce a new franchise to the new generation. The game went on to feature at a few E3’s and unfortunately by the time it did release, it was surrounded by a fair bit of negativity at the downgraded visuals (which is quite absurd as it still looks impressive) and it turned out being just, not that great. Still it sold bucket loads and the sequel was obviously green lit the moment it became one of the biggest selling games of the year.
So 2016, Watch_Dogs 2. A lot was learned from the first game. Gone is the grey, rainy and somewhat depressing city of Chicago (Sorry to Chicago, I’m sure your city is great), replaced with the bright colours of San Francisco. Gone is the moody, mysterious and pretty much boring protagonist Aiden Pearce, replaced by a young, confident and definitely not a hipster (from the protagonists own mouth in the game) Marcus and his band of merry hackers, each again with their own bright and colourful personalities.
For starters, the new location for the game I think is absolutely perfect for the themes of the game. Hacking and technology. What better place to host this story that San Francisco, the home of Silicone Valley and numerous technological giants such as Facebook and Google. And aside from it being the perfect setting in that respect, the almost constant sunshine and brightness of the map is such a welcome change.
The spoof companies that Ubisoft created for their imitation of San Francisco are actually really impressive too. !nvite the Facebook knock off, Nudle the Google knockoff, and the pedestrians roaming around certain parts of the city all discussing these companies. This city and this theme for a game is a perfect pairing.
So how about the actual game then?
You play as Marcus who wants to become a member of the notorious hacker group DedSec. The game starts you off in somewhat of a trial to see if you’re worthy or not to join the ranks of these hackers. Your missions is to clear your record from your previous employers database and while you’re at it, clear any other miscellaneous dirt you might have on your record like parking ticket fines and such. The trial requires you to do this as stealthy as possible. I wasn’t particularly keen on signing up for an Assassins Creed style game (not that I dislike that series), but I was expecting a bit more gung ho, hacking from a laptop outside the area, patching into servers, sending gadgets in, but whatever, mission one, clear your record… Done.
The missions that follow are all about increasing DeadSecs popularity by digging dirt on the technological giants within the city, causing them to publicly make mistakes, and just take over events all by the power of hacking.
It started off pretty great fun. One of the earlier set of missions involving stealing a car similar to KIT from Knight-rider, which features in a new upcoming film. Your idea being to recreate a trailer for the movie, using the same car, just hacked so it’ll drive around the city without a drive and plastered in DeadSec pictures and logos. It was quite fun stealing the car, and the work prior to it, and even more fun driving it around the city once the work had been complete. Another fun mission was bringing down a smart housing company called Hume, which pride their selves on building the ‘houses of tomorrow’ where everything is connected, such as security, cars, appliances, electronics etc. It was a pretty great mission testing the security parameters on one of their show homes and then releasing a DeadSec video showing the ease at which these connected houses could crumble, spilling all personal data to the world.
But then the game changed, the missions became more explosive as you attempt to push DeadSec further into the public eye by taking on more of these companies. And then it hits the point of pure ridiculousness as you hack the FBI by actually breaking into the building and attaching to their servers and the like. It’s no easy feat either.
As these missions became more elaborate, so does the ridiculousness of them and the number of guards and security you need to clear preferably unnoticed to complete your goal or goals. Of course if you did get caught, it’s not mission fail, you just have to then continue trying to download records, or upload viruses under gun fire from what seems like the entire state of California in one office.
It did unfortunately get to the point where I was playing the missions simply to finish the game, I began to not care so much about the cut scenes before the missions when explaining what to do, as I knew it’d be something stupid like break into a space organisation and switch out a motherboard on the nose of a space shuttle that’s due to launch within a few days and replace it with a specially created one to allow DeadSec to hack from space… oh wait this is actually a mission in the game you partake in.
As I got closer to the end game, and began to dread the next missions as they were all becoming far to familiar, I was pleasantly surprised by one set of missions involving sneaking a robot into a company called Tidis who manufacture helper and security robots. I had to sneak the robot into a warehouse of Tidis with an EMP bomb planted on it, in order to sneak around the factory to get a look at other robotic projects the company was working on. What followed on from this was actually really fun, but I won’t give details away on the off chance some of you are yet to get this game or get to this level.
Aside from the actual main story missions there are some pretty fun side missions and side tasks to partake in. One side mission to sneak into Ubisoft Studios in San Francisco and leak their new video game trailer due to be shown at E3. That was actually pretty cool. And the side tasks like go kart racing, boat racing, drone racing. Plenty of stuff to spend 30 minutes on to take a break from the repetitive main story missions. I also quite enjoyed the touristy type of side quest in which you take a picture of monuments around the city and upload them, was a nice reason to explore the city in more depth.
There are elements of character building in the game too, and Ubisoft do try desperately to make you feel for the characters within DeadSec and become attached to them, no more so than a specific set of missions gaining revenge for a tragedy that happens within DeadSec, but it doesn’t really work. I unfortunately didn’t care for the apparent large dramatic and emotional moments that happen to certain individuals in the group during the story. While they are improvements on Aiden Pearce, they certainly didn’t grab my attention like Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us, or Aloy from Horizon.
I’ll just touch up on a bit of fun I did have while progressing through the missions towards the end of the game though. I unlocked an ability to give pedestrians and guards criminal records. So now when approaching areas that I’m meant to sneak into for some utterly ridiculous reason, I’d tag one or two of the guards with a wanted level, await the police to arrive to apprehend the perp, and just sit back and watch some flat out war between police and area security. Normally worked to my favour as police would take down anyone that fired at them. I just couldn’t be bothered to send a drone in to scout the area, then send the jumping robot in to hack items enabling me to somehow sneak in past 20 armed guards.
Watch_Dogs 2 is definitely a game of 2 halves. Initially I was really into it, the first few main story missions were ridiculous, but fun and not too reliant on stealth. As it progressed though I found the missions repetitive and became too close to Assassins Creed territory rather than hacking. And the way the steaks ramp up as the missions become more absurd was laughable. Fortunately there are plenty of side missions and activities to give you a break. It’s a huge improvement over its predecessor in terms of setting, characters, tone and if you’re into it, attaining trophies or achievements (I went out of my way to pet 10 dogs). And it couldn’t be in a more perfect location given the theme of the game.