Watch Dogs 2 is meta at its best. Here you are, the player, controlling a hacker, hacking a game’s open set of systems as dynamically and as haphazardly as you please. You could say you’re almost a hacker yourself, with Marcus Holloway -- the game’s hacktagonist
-- your backdoor into Watch Dogs 2’s matrix of open-world wonderment. On multiple levels, it’s brilliant.
What’s even more amazing though, is how subtly the game drags you into the world of the justice-seeking hacker movement. What you do is fun, for the most part -- muckraking at its best -- but the social and cultural component to the game’s core division is beyond poignant. It’s here, now, and it holds no hostages in its presentation of the larger picture. This is a videogame with a voice, and while so much of it is built around the idea of player-engagement, it does so with a conscience not many other games are capable of pulling off, let alone trying. And the most on-point component of this is in Ubisoft’s choice for the player lead -- Marcus is someone we can all relate to, race aside, but he’s also someone only minorities can relate to on an entirely different plane. He’s as multilayered a hero as we’ve ever seen in our space, and his plight is one we can all latch on to, even if we’ve never experienced it because we’ve seen it unfold in real-time over the past several socially connected years. And in the wake of the world as it’s shaping ahead of 2017, he’s arguably one of the most important characters we might control against “The Man”, ever.
It might be fiction, but sometimes truth is stranger than.
Let’s not get politically ahead of ourselves though. Amidst all this poignancy lies a game that is full of interesting and fun elements. It is open-world at its best, with your usual “press X to hack” system starring over almost everything else. The ctOS-livened city of San Francisco is brimming with chaos opportunities, as well as a peripheral life, and the drudgery of playing in rainy old Chicago in the first game becomes a distant memory. Watch Dogs 2’s main attraction is SFO, and when you get a handle on how the city works, and how you can work
within it, the game truly comes alive.
Structurally, the single-player portion of Watch Dogs 2 is very familiar. If you’ve played an open-world urban-based game before, you know what to expect -- missions designed to involve you in myriad gameplay systems strewn about the game-world while equally advancing characterisation of the main protagonist and his buddies. Emerging baddie with Bond Villain-esque traits (all-too believable when you throw Silicon Valley into the mix), and cars to steal -- it’s all there. But the Ubisoft team does go a bit further. You can become an Uber driver (well, it’s not “Uber” in the game), with each and every passenger rating your performance as a driver while you go about their ridiculous passenger requests, such as beating driverless cars in a race from Point A to B, tracking down a robot with advanced AI who’s gone missing, and so on.
You’ll also partake in various mini-games ranging from go-kart racing (which also involves some stealing and stealth) to drone racing, motocross and much, much more. The game-world is as alive as its animated life represents on the surface, delivering a compelling amount of discoverable depth based on how far down Ubisoft’s SFO rabbit hole you want to go. Moreover, more importantly, this peripheral life is a wanted distraction from always being
the hacker you are. A lot of these experiences don’t require your smartphone, they’re just fun off-the-beaten-track additions to the game that elevate the experience in Watch Dogs 2 so far over that of the first game, you won’t remember too much about Aiden Pearce and his vigilante ways, transitioning in full to the far more relatable and enjoyable-to-control Marcus Holloway.
This review of the game in particular might be appearing a lot later than most, but there’s good reason for it, and it comes by way of the belated “seamless multiplayer” that, at launch, was anything but. The time we’ve taken to get these words up though, has been well-spent truly exploring the game, and when the seamless multiplayer was announced as being ready and raring to go last week, we also took the time to explore that, to great effect. It’s not always
seamless, and we can’t speak to any platform beyond PS4 which, since we’ve ever had our hands on the game at preview events and the like, has been the lead demo platform, but for the absolute most part it has been very good.
You can opt not to partake in it, of course, which is a solid decision on Ubisoft’s part, but if you do, you’re going to find some seriously emergent experiences with both friends and strangers. Oddly, describing the nuance of multiplayer in the game is actually a lot harder than listing a set of objectives, because the whole thing just becomes a dynamic playfest with either very disciplined players, or complete Heath Ledger Jokers who just want to watch the world burn. On numerous player-created levels, the seamless multiplayer in Watch Dogs 2 is simple, yet brilliant. This comes from each multiplayer engagement essentially presenting participants with a sandbox within an already dynamic game-world, so having access to every toolset you do when just trouncing around on your own, only with others and in a more confined space, means anything
At the time of writing I’d managed a handful of multiplayer sessions, and found almost all of them to be truly unique and fun. You’ll need PlayStation Plus or an Xbox Live subscription on those platforms in order to play, but if you’re already playing games on either platform anyway, chances are you already have those subs. At any rate, the multiplayer was definitely worth the wait, and I’m glad Ubisoft waited until they knew they had a functioning product before opening it up to players out in the wild.
If I could leverage one decent complaint against the game though, it would be in the lack of aerial transport. The San Francisco International Airport is missing from the game’s all-inclusive map, and the highest you’ll get off the ground is via the camera on your drone, but with such a huge playspace, and beautiful city, it feels like a massive missed opportunity. I personally managed a helicopter tour around San Francisco recently and was treated with a loop under and over the Golden Gate Bridge
because the weather was so good. And having experienced that in the real-world and also seeing the city from the air just brought home how lost the game feels without the ability to fly. We’ve been told the concern is that just being able to grab a flying vehicle and use it in most missions would break the experience, but considering how challenging the game’s missions already are, and how well thought-out each one is, I think Ubisoft could have been up to the task of handling aerial support in the game.
In my original Watch Dogs review
, I posed that ill-fated question at the review’s close as to whether or not Watch Dogs was comparable to the king of open-world urban-based games -- Grand Theft Auto. The answer then was no. With Watch Dogs 2, the same question has a place, but the answer is less poignant now because the pursuit of an entirely different type of game utilising the same city building platform has greatly separated both franchises. In some ways it’d be like trying to compare Dishonored to Battlefield, simply because they’re both ‘shooters’. What Watch Dogs 2 has done for the newly-minted Ubisoft IP, and for the hacking culture they so enthusiastically embrace, is prove above and beyond that the concept and foundation are sound. They’ve injected more fun and diversity this time around, and they’ve done so with a city backdrop that is truly alive, and is utterly inviting.