Watch Dogs 2 Review
With Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft creates the trick of giving us as PC gamers a good feeling before we even start the hacker adventure. Because already during the installation we are asked if we want to install the High-Res-Pack, which implements especially high on solved textures, in addition to the main program.
Whether San Francisco can unleash its full magic depends primarily on how well you get along with the heroes of Watch Dogs 2. Because the hackers of Dedsec are one thing above all: too cool for this world. But no longer in the way they were in the first part. Two and a half years ago, Aiden Pierce and his cohorts were still dark avengers, acting outside the law and taking on other criminals. It soon became clear that data manipulators are not to be trifled with and that any means is acceptable in the fight against the all-supervising ctOS data network – even if it means abusing people’s data.
When we drive through San Francisco, symbols pop up everywhere around us at any time – in contrast, even the maps of Assassin’s Creed and Co. look like they’ve been swept clean. We can find skins or research points, take cab missions with the winking name “Driver: San Francisco”, play co-op operations, go shopping, race, visit places of interest (and shoot selfies in front of them), and hack just about anything that doesn’t run out of battery on three – cell phones, traffic lights, cars, and even manhole covers. In addition, there are special multiplayer events like bounty hunts or hacker invasions of other players that appear without notice. And of course we’ll be following some side and main missions as we get to them.
Since pretty much all missions are designed for hacking or driving in the game, we are spared from collection tasks and radio tower liberations. The very different tasks provide variety and interlock so cleverly that they don’t feel useless – everything is designed to help us become better known as the hacker organization Dedsec, especially the driving missions complement the hacking missions so wonderfully. The awareness is to be understood literally, because our experience points are measured in the style of modern social platforms in followers and we put our backs into them.
The only time we had the feeling to work off something was during a side mission that sent us all over the city to spray Dedsec graffiti. We have to get to higher and higher and harder to reach places, which not only sounds suspiciously like certain towers, but also wears on our patience at some point.
But at least the scrambling is worth it in numbers: For the graffiti climbing we get a lot of followers. The more interesting actions we do, the more people become Dedsec fans and the more influence we have. But this is not really noticeable. We earn research points through the followers and thus activate new skills and hacking options via the research app on our smartphone, but we don’t conquer areas like a syndicate or feel the positive mood towards us in the comments of passers-by. However, special actions within the main missions are at least commented on on radio and television – or by the odd passer-by on the street.
Our enemies are only hostile in restricted areas, in the city itself the private security guards of ctOS or gangs of gangsters leave us alone. We have a similar situation with the police, as long as no one calls the police and reports a crime or observes us directly, we can wreak as much havoc as we want. But at least she stays stubbornly on us once she has us on the screen, so chases are a thrill and escape is not easy.
But we can make it easier for ourselves by hacking: As in the predecessor, we have the possibility to manipulate the traffic network and involve our pursuers in accidents via traffic lights, blasted manhole covers or even hijacked vehicles. This is also great fun in the second part, but it is not so easy at all, because we execute all hacks via the middle mouse button – so more than once it happens that instead of the traffic light we catch a car or a passer-by and instead of the rescuing traffic jam we suddenly only have a few dollars more in our account because we have accidentally tapped the person’s online banking via a cell phone.
Hacking can also be a tricky task in the missions, but it is also our big ace up our sleeve. If you do it cleverly, you can infiltrate entire building complexes again and execute the mission without setting foot inside. Just like in the predecessor, this works via the security system. We hack into the cameras and get new perspectives again and again, which we can use to manipulate the telephones of security guards, power distribution or gas lines and provide a distraction, a non-lethal shock or an explosion.
So it is often cleverer to sneak to the target silently like a ghost. But here the cameras are not always enough, because complex hacking operations can only be performed manually – or by drone. So to avoid endangering Marcus, we send our little helpers into the danger zone. With jumpers or quadrocopters we can reach the target on the ground or in the air by remote control and steal important data or even distract enemies and unlock new access points. Marcus rarely has to go out and steal files or hard drives himself – then neither drones nor cameras help.
While hacking initially requires only one click, later on we add real puzzle passages in which we have to connect different nodes with each other. Especially under time pressure or when another hacker is working against us, this can be quite tricky. In general, the hacking mechanism is the heart of Watch Dogs 2, and the interaction of the possibilities is fun throughout and offers enough freedom to try things out.
And hacking is only one of many possibilities: It’s not a good idea to storm a restricted area with your gun drawn, but it’s not impossible either, if we want to prevent reinforcements from being called quickly. Or we simply sneak from enemy to enemy with Marcus, distract them and then silently take them out one after the other. Or we can cleverly play off the individual factions against each other – in other words, set gangsters against gangsters or secretly alert the police and comfortably watch as the officers do our job.
This freedom sets Watch Dogs 2 apart from other open world titles, we can play it like GTA 5 or Splinter Cell, but despite its own skill tree for firearms, sneaking is clearly preferred, hackers just have it easier.
So if you don’t know anything about the hacking mechanics and don’t enjoy stealth and the puzzling hacking passages, Ubisoft’s open world sequel is nothing for you. Because despite the GTA-like open-world impression, the title remains basically a rather quiet game, in which one should proceed calmly.
While GTA 5 lures us with many interesting places that have their very own stories, San Francisco seems strangely uniform and sterile – only scripted events like a small marital quarrel or playing dogs arouse our curiosity, but the city doesn’t really want to tell us anything. With the exception of Silicon Valley, which, with its large media corporations and passing smartphone zombies, captures a possible glassy future in a way that is as exciting as it is gruesome. As in the first part, the conversations and information boxes about passers-by are a nice idea for this, but they have no playful expressiveness whatsoever apart from the all-encompassing surveillance character. In general, the AI remains apathetic if we do not involve them directly in the events, for example by walking around with a gun drawn.
Away from the usual vehicle controls, Watch Dogs 2 is in no way inferior to the competition: Especially the “seamless multiplayer” integrated directly into the game brings a breath of fresh air into the action. The mode has been reworked since part 1 and, unlike GTA Online, is permanently activated if we don’t explicitly disable the feature. So we can start various multiplayer or co-op activities at any time. It gets especially exciting when another hacker infiltrates us similar to Dark Souls – we have to find him as fast as possible, which can become an interesting hide-and-seek game. But we don’t have to be really afraid of losing anything.
But it can happen at any time and ruin important jobs for us. So if you don’t want to be hacked, you can either turn off the hacker invasions via the online settings in the start menu or become an intruder yourself. Those who like it less subtle can also participate in the Bounty Hunter PvP missions. Here, a reward is offered to a player who stands out particularly negatively – if you take him out together with other players, similar to GTA Online, you will be rewarded with a nice prize money. The fast vehicle chases are quite chaotic due to the fiddly controls, but they are still a lot of fun when played together with other players.
The right co-op missions, so-called operations for two players, to which we can also invite our friends, are also a great fun. With them, we explore the game world together and complete missions that would be too hard for one person. Although the partner missions can also be played solo, we already had our teeth pulled out the first time. We have to enter a building secured by the FBI and steal data from there – let’s start the download, but all the agents become aware and pull out their weapons. If there is not one player defending and one backing up the data, we have almost no chance. Compared to the Rockstar version, we don’t get much content here, but the existing one is quite fun and a good alternative for all those who don’t want to create an online character and deal with bulky matchmaking – ideal for a few short missions together with the buddies.
If one looks over the clear story weaknesses and annoying characters away, one receives so a moody open world adventure, which dares many refreshing new beginnings – no GTA clone or product of the Ubisoft formula, but evenly a hacker paradise with obstacles.