Although I’m in the minority of enjoying the first Watch Dogs game, I still recognise its pitfalls. Aiden Pierce was a bland protagonist who showed no regard to the acts he was committing, not to mention that he had the personality of a spoon. Furthermore, the game didn’t explore the hacker concept as much as it advertised. The gameplay elements were empty, the online felt like it was added to complete a checklist and for an open world game boasting Chicago as its setting, the city felt dull and uninspired.
Still, there was a great concept trapped beyond the layers of disappointment. Luckily, this year Ubisoft is gifting gamers with Watch Dogs 2 and after spending some time with it I can confirm that it’s everything that the first game should have been.
Marcus Holloway is more than just a bitter vigilante; he lives and breathes with San Francisco. Both Marcus and the city feel very much alive, and they both have their distinct identities. Marcus is much more animated than Aiden Pierce, and it’s not hard to see that he has a clear passion for tech, as opposed to Aiden Pierce who wasn’t even believable as a hacker. With San Francisco being the tech capital of America the demo had an aura of authenticity that I didn’t get from the first game.
What had me intrigued about the first game was the concept of being able to hack your surroundings to your will. Watch Dogs under-delivered on that idea, but this time around there’s much more you can use to your advantage after hacking it. I was encouraged by one of the Ubisoft developers to hack a car and doing this opened up a few different possibilities, like accelerating it to distract others, or setting off the alarm.
With the variety of options available, Watch Dogs 2 gives you more control over how you want to play. The mission I played allowed me to scout the area with Marcus’ chopper drone before setting traps for unsuspecting enemies by rigging AC unites to explode.
One of the problems in the first game was that hacking was a task initiated by the click of a button, so it wasn’t really rewarding. This time around hacking is a more interactive experience as there are multiple steps to be taken for the hack to be successful. The ability to use the drone to access other hackable devices was a much more enjoyable experience than simply hacking a sequence of cameras in the previous game.
Going back to the traps, these all had to be activated manually once the unsuspecting enemy was in range, further eliminating the “one button” approach to hacking.
I was also able to use the drone to drop explosives on an unsuspecting foe below. For this I had to ensure I was positioned correctly over the target and then hit the button at the right time. All of this took place as Marcus sat in a corner with his laptop open, completely undetected. Now that’s what you call hacking.
I also had the chance to connect with another player in my session and team up to complete an objective at a compound. This was also a much seamless experience than in the previous games, and it also helps make Dedsec (the in-game hacker group) feel like a tangible thing. As you can imagine the level of fun increases when you approach a mission with a partner, as you can have one person distracting (or taking out) guards, while the other goes after the objective. With gadgets at your disposal, it’s also possible for you and your partner to complete these objectives without your characters ever being on foot.
Speaking of being on foot, Watch Dogs 2 features full on parkour movement, something the previous game didn’t do so well with. I have to be honest in saying that the parkour in this game did feel a little clunky as I managed to fall off the side of a building by attempting to climb into a scissor lift. But there’s still time for them to tighten this up before release.
You can also carry out a bunch of attacks on enemies. I chose to go stealth and choke out the guards from behind in my session, so I didn’t get to fully utilize the fight mechanics. However, I’m told that the fight and shoot mechanics in this game feel much more natural than in the first game.
All in all, Watch Dogs 2 seems like it will deliver in offering up the hacker experience we were desperately seeking from the first Watch Dogs. Everything about this game feels right, from the fully realized San Francisco, to the more relatable protagonist and the gameplay that actually makes you feel like you’re hacking the world around you.
Watch Dogs 2 is like Assassin’s Creed II, in the sense that this game is everything that the first was missing and more.