Editor’s Note: While we’ve spent a lot of time with Watch Dogs 2‘s single-player campaign, we haven’t really been able to dig into the game’s seamless multiplayer, as Ubisoft has shut it down in order to work on performance issues. Once we’ve spent more time with multiplayer, we will finalize this review.
Release Date: November 11, 2016Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PCDeveloper: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftGenre: Action-adventure
When the first Watch Dogs was released in 2014, Aiden Pearce’s somber quest for revenge was met with somewhat mixed reviews. While Ubisoft had promised a sprawling sandbox playground where anything and everything in the city of Chicago was at the mercy of your cell phone, the end result simply amounted to driving around and pushing a single button over and over to make underground pipes burst or traffic lights change color. But with Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft has set their sights on the sunny streets of San Francisco, and new protagonist Marcus Holloway helps usher in an exciting era for this action series.
The world of Watch Dogs 2 is infused with all sorts of pop culture that’s defining of the millennial generation, and it speaks to our widespread use of technology. The game’s interface is contained entirely within Marcus’ smartphone, with special apps that mimic the functions of real ones we use today, like ordering a car service or identifying songs that are playing nearby. But my favorite has to be the geocaching-inspired app, which rewards players for taking a selfie in front of popular landmarks.
Besides the lifelike and believably quirky cast of characters, Watch Dogs 2 also features topical subject matter pulled right from the Sunday morning headlines. There’s a conniving pharmaceutical executive who wants to purchase an exclusive track from his favorite music artist. There’s whispers in the media of a potential e-mail scandal. And a few of the side operations crank the meta meter up to eleven, like one that involves a game trailer leak at the Ubisoft San Francisco office and another that pokes fun at the nature of games journalism in general.
But it’s the bold and vibrant city of San Francisco that really makes Watch Dogs 2 pop. There are just so many fun and interesting areas to explore, like a bustling college campus, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and the playground-styled offices of the powerful tech empire, Nudle. Outside of the main story operations, San Francisco is covered with dozens of side operations and other activities. While many of these asides involve races of some kind (mostly of the drone, bike, sailboat, and go-kart variety), a few others require players to solve elaborate hacking puzzles to unlock additional abilities in the skill tree.
Seeing as how Marcus is a hacker first and foremost, as opposed to the vigilante Aiden Pearce, there is definitely a greater emphasis on stealth in Watch Dogs 2. But while your skillset evolves to remotely controlling cars or hacking robots on patrol, going in guns blazing is still a viable alternative should things go south. The biggest new additions to the gameplay are Marcus’ RC Jumper and Drone, two nifty spy toys that let you enter buildings from strategic angles and execute some remote hacks or other maneuvers, like pinpointing enemy positions.
So even though Watch Dogs 2 may not be a massive leap forward from the first game in the series, the changes it makes are smart and well-envisioned. The new location and characters add an extra vigor that puts some real weight behind all of that hacking. From the topical subject matter, to the ways that technology and Internet culture are utilized, to the incorporation of the RC Jumper and Drone alongside the many stealth-focused encounters, Marcus Holloway and DedSec are here to put hacking back on the map.
Joe Jasko is a staff writer.