Ubisoft Montreal attempted to create a bold new IP with 2014’s Watch Dogs, incorporating unique hacking mechanics into an open-world setting similar to Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row. While it was successful overall, it had its issues when it came to its stiff protagonist and the hacking itself being a little too basic on some fronts. This lead to the developer going back to the drawing board in certain areas, while also zeroing in on what went right the first time. Ubisoft Montreal hasn’t quite hit a home run with Watch Dogs 2, but it does improve and expand upon the first game’s foundation.
Rather than following a brooding man out for revenge like in the first game, Watch Dogs 2 features a new protagonist named Marcus Holloway. Marcus was accused of a crime he didn’t commit by the powerful Blume corporation and their city-controlling operating system called ctOS 2.0, which results in him joining a hacktivist group called DedSec to expose their corruption to the world. The story ultimately isn’t the most original or engaging one you’ll experience this year, and it tries to delve into some deeper political themes that the game’s script can’t do justice. However, Ubisoft Montreal was at least able to come up with a likable cast of characters that keeps you rooting for them along the way. Marcus is much more outgoing than the first game’s Aiden Pierce, adding more humor and lightheartedness to the game to keep things from getting too gloomy.
Beyond the shift to a slightly lighter tone, however, those returning from the first game will find that Watch Dogs 2 plays a lot like the first game did. You’ll be taking on a series of missions where you need to use your hacking abilities to infiltrate a variety of different areas to acquire a certain piece of information, all while avoiding the army of enemies that patrol the routes to your objective. This time we’re swapping the location of Chicago for San Francisco, and it offers a similar amount of variety of well-designed areas to play around with. There’s a nice mixture of rural, downtown and suburban locations, and there’s also more water this time to allow for boating when the need arises. The city is also littered with plenty of side missions to take part in that have you doing things like hacking into livestreams to mess with people or racing through a series of giant hoops, ensuring that there are many activities for you to choose from no matter where you are in the game.
Watch Dogs 2’s San Francisco feels even more alive than Watch Dogs’ Chicago did, as you’ll wander the streets and see a variety of interactions between NPCs unfold. Some may be engaging in small talk, while others might be in the middle of a heated argument or police situation. Thanks to the return of the hacking mechanics, you once again get a glimpse into the lives of these otherwise filler characters with information like their name, salary and occupation. You can also now use emotes to interact with them in several different ways, which can lead to some hilarious situations if you’re feeling a little mischievous. The city of San Francisco is one of the most believable in-game city’s in gaming yet, and just wandering around it and witnessing life unfold is a joy.
Hacking remains the game’s standout feature, giving you more options than ever before
While hacking various street lights, steam pipes, barricades and so on returns from the first game, the hacking mini-game has received a notable change. While the core concept of lining up pathways between nodes to eventually reach the final point is intact, instead of taking place in a separate mini-game it now takes place within the game’s environment. Once you’ve initiated the mini-game you’ll now see these nodes located all around the architecture of whatever building you happen to be in, requiring you to navigate through the building (while dealing with enemies and other obstacles) in order to complete them. While not a complete revamp of how hacking works, it does make things more challenging and keeps you in the action.
Ubisoft has also expanded upon your toolset when it comes time to infiltrate enemy territory as you now have an RC Jumper and a Quadcopter, which you control remotely and can navigate through vents to more easily manage tough areas. These become invaluable tools the further you get into the game, and properly utilizing them leads to some great gameplay scenarios. There’s also new ways to deal with enemies that will inevitably be in the way, as you can hack vehicles and send them speeding towards enemies to take them out or hack a security robot to cause a distraction. There are many more options to deal with any particular situation this time around, and experimenting with them is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.
However, where the gameplay disappoints is in its actual combat. While Ubisoft claims that Watch Dogs 2 is just as fun “guns blazing” as it is using stealth and hacking, that simply is not the case. In situations where the cover-based third-person shooter combat pops up the game looses much of its appeal, as the combat mechanics are average at best. Enemies are numerous and close in on you quickly, and eventually start wearing armor that makes them much more difficult to take out. These often result in tedious situations where you’re just slowly picking off the seemingly-endless enemies coming at you, and Marcus’ very short time-to-kill means that even one wrong move will likely result in death and potentially having to do a significant chunk of gameplay over. It’s not terrible by any means and is standard for these kinds of games, but this is not a Deus Ex situation where each playstyle is equally appealing.
Multiplayer is once again incorporated into the game’s world, and it’s often a seamless experience that you can either seek out or ignore entirely. As you make your way around San Francisco you’ll be notified of an online event happening nearby, and if you agree to take part in it then the event happens within your world with no loading screens or pauses. You can team up with other players to complete side operations together, or take each other on in the Hacking Invasion or Bounty Hunter modes. Hacking Invasion returns from the first game and has you hacking another player while trying to remain undetected, whereas Bounty Hunter has you invading a player’s world and hunting them down if they’ve committed a crime and have the cops on their tail. They’re not necessarily worth raving about, but they do offer a nice diversion from the game’s solo activities.
Watch Dogs 2 is about what you would expect in a sequel, as it reworks what didn’t click the first time around and expands upon what did. The game’s protagonist and accompanying cast of characters are fun to watch, and the hacking mechanics are better than ever. It’s just too bad that the overall story is forgettable, as it never really sucks you in despite its best efforts. Even so, those looking for an open-world experience mixed with fantastic hacking mechanics likely won’t be disappointed with what Watch Dogs 2 has to offer.
Watch_Dogs 2 PC Performance
While this review was of the PlayStation 4 version of the game, we also got a chance to play the game on PC. While mileage may vary, as there are many different types of PC configurations, we’ve found that, at least for our system, Watch_Dogs 2 performs surprisingly well. Especially so when compared to the PC version of the original.
First things first, we tested Watch_Dogs 2 on PC with the following PC specs: Graphics Card: GTX 1080 CPU: Intel Core i7-4770 @3.40 (which overclocks to around 3.8GHz) RAM: 16GB OS: Windows 10 64-bit.
Looking to run Watch_Dogs 2 in 4K at 60fps? It’s probably not going to happen unless you have an incredibly high-end machine. However, 4K resolution is indeed possible in this configuration, though frame rates dipped considerably and ranged wildly with all the bells and whistles turned on. Though modifications to the quality settings allowed us to get a stable 30 frames per second at this high resolution. Bumping down the resolution to 1920 x 1080, and shooting for 60fps was an entirely different story as the game ran rock-solid at either 30fps or 60fps in almost any scenario you could throw at it. The best compromise we found was a middle groud resolution in the 1440 range that had the best combination of resolution and framerates. Again, depending on what you value most, a fully customizable host of options could be tweaked even further to find that perfect blend. We opted for 4K at 30fps as the game looked great and played smoothly.
Also noticeable is the CPU balance that Watch_Dogs 2 has, a sign that the game is optimized for different types of set-ups. Definitely CPU-intensive, the game will eat up as much CPU as you can throw at it. Our 8 core system saw a balanced load using all cores while testing across a number of different scenarios in game.
The good news for PC players is going to be that Watch_Dogs 2 isn’t the unmitigated disaster that its predecessor was. Ubisoft obviously put a little more work into this version of the game, and players with moderate to high-end graphics cards are going to get a smooth performance overall, assuming that they don’t try to bite off more than they can chew. Checking in with the usual sources of complaints: Steam, Reddit, and other social venues, our experience seems to be the one that many Watch_Dogs 2 players are having on PC with other set-ups.
That said, both GeForce and the internal “Auto Optimizer” that look at your system and determine the best settings for your PC didn’t do a very good job of finding the correct settings. It took some tweaking to find that perfect balance between frame rate, resolution, and effects for the experience that I found enjoyable.