Video Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwGRheipuJM
Despite appearing to be a sequel by name, Watch Dogs 2 rights many of the wrongs of the 2014 introduction to the series. By taking a lighter tone in its characters, things remain upbeat for the most part, despite a bit of disconnect at times. Top that with a city such as San Francisco that’s just asking to be explored, and you’ve got yourself a playground worth venturing.
There are many hard turns that this indirect successor takes from the first game, none more notable than Marcus Holloway. As Dedsec’s newest acquisition, Marcus and his newly found friends are set to go to war with the technological juggernaut in Blume. With numerous amounts of brand new gadgets at his disposal, Marcus is the front runner when it comes to taking out those who partner themselves with the cyber monopoly. Given the group’s seemingly free spirited-ness, it was occasionally tough to associate them with their ultimate goal a number of times.
Along with that disassociation, and with Marcus being the key player in this story, there are number of opposing forces whose time on screen are short lived, and it did make me question from time to time not the what, but specifically the who that Dedsec is really up against. Sure, we get to know a bit about Dusan and the power he holds as the head of Blume. But in this “us versus the world” struggle, the world is sitting pretty top heavy, and in the end does feel like it comes crashing down far too quickly than it should be.
What makes developer Ubisoft’s portrayal of San Francisco great is not just the historical landmarks you’ll run into, but how the game’s side activities encourage the player’s engagement with these locales. As a scaled down version of the more popular areas of the Bay Area even by itself, and as somebody whose never been to San Francisco, I was looking forward to spending some time exploring the city already. But thanks to a number of side activities that the game gives you, particularly the ScoutX and Driver SF apps, I now had a rewarding reason to do so as well.
The two previously mentioned activities, however, are just a couple of the many that are scattered around the city. While there are side operations that are quick little bits of objective based missions, a large number of your recreational options are purely for your enjoyment. There are a number of forms that racing takes, like using your own personal drone, taking part in go kart races around Stanford, or sailing around Alcatraz. You may also come across restricted areas that contain data points which can be used to upgrade Marcus’s hacking or weapon abilities. Practically any event you join rewards you with more followers to Dedsec, which is the game’s form of experience and skill earning. Since most of the main operations are more drawn out with multiple steps required for completion, it was nice to be able to run a quick race or do a mission that was much smaller every now and then.
Back to the experience system for Marcus. All of the followers you acquire allow you the processing power to further build upon the game’s skill tree. While raising your follower count is the foundation to expanding what Marcus is capable of, being able to infiltrate and acquire specific data points around the city are crucial to uncovering some of the more powerful and efficient abilities.
After having the chance to try multiple methods of approach to the first few missions, trying to go in quiet and stealthy is the most viable option is nearly all situations. Thankfully with the remote control car and flyable drone that’s offered, completing missions without detection was possible. Another big reason for the silent game plan was because whenever Marcus was spotted, enemies immediately pull the trigger on him. Sure, the natural response would be to pull out my gun as well and fire back, but it goes back to the vibe that Marcus and his group present. This lighter tone that the game tries to portray in its key characters doesn’t fully reflect in real time scenarios. So, stealth it was for me. Not only because that’s my preferred style as well, but because the aggressive approach just felt, for a lack of better terms, “off”.
Between finding missions or looking for the closest clothing shop to find your next absurd outfit to purchase, finding places in the city to travel via the game’s cell phone inspired menu was fairly enjoyable. Like most phones today, Marcus’s phone is littered with apps that have both practical and recreational purpose. Being able to effortlessly move from trying to find races throughout the city, to pulling out your songsneak app to add another track to your playlist, to looking for a cooperative multiplayer match. There is little break in moving from one job to the next, and I love the idea of not feeling like there’s anytime wasted between missions.
Ubisoft’s portrayal of San Francisco brings the ideas of gameplay and overall enjoyment to fruition. The shift in locales, characters, and new abilities have paved the way for a much improved addition to the Watch Dogs franchise. While there are clear leaps in the overall experience, the story depth runs the most parallel to its predecessor, and it’s shift it tone takes away from a few areas of the game.