first grabbed the world’s attention in a dramatic and memorable E3 2012 presentation that for many, myself included, was one of the highlights of that year’s conference. Unfortunately, Ubisoft’s world of big brother surveillance, government conspiracies, and hacking collectives was a highly ambitious project that I felt didn’t quite live up to expectations when it was finally released in May 2014.
Two and a half years later, Watch_Dogs 2
is almost upon us. We had a chance to sit down with Ubisoft and play the game extensively. Have the team been able to make the improvements that were necessary to deliver a game worthy of their lofty ambitions?
A new setting
The first things to note about Watch_Dogs 2
is that there is a new protagonist and a brand new setting. We’ve moved from the first game’s dark and rainy streets of Chicago to the considerably more summery San Francisco Bay Area. As you would expect, this gives the game a completely different feel -- locations are bright and colourful and the sunshine shimmers across the bay. The environment is a lot more welcoming than the gloom of Chicago and this encourages you to explore all six districts of the large and sprawling map.
Vehicle handling has been improved
Getting around the map is considerably more fun, too. The driving mechanics have been completely overhauled by Ubisoft’s Reflections team and the vehicles feel responsive and easy to handle, even at high speed. There’s a huge array of different cars, bikes, trucks and even boats to steal and hack, each of which has its own unique handling model.
A new main character
In Watch_Dogs 2
you play as Marcus Holloway, a computer engineer with a grudge against Blume, the technology corporation that runs all of the public systems in the Bay Area. Marcus is a considerably more likeable and entertaining character than Aiden (the star of the first game), and I found myself warming to him immediately.
The return of DedSec
DedSec is back!
DedSec, the hacking collective that assisted Aiden in the first game, makes a welcome return and plays a huge part in the story throughout Watch_Dogs 2
. You’ll be working with them to try to take down ctOS, Blume’s big brother system that runs San Francisco and collects data on all of its inhabitants. Each member of DedSec has their own skillset and you’ll need to make full use of all of their experience in order to progress the story.
Hacking is still the key
Hacking is a crucial part of the game
As you might have guessed, Watch_Dogs
’ core gameplay mechanic, hacking, returns for the sequel and it has been improved, too. No longer is a direct line of sight needed to hack objects; if you can get close to a hackable item using one of your two new remote controlled drones then you can take control of them. There’s many more object-types that can be hacked. Once you do hack into something, you have more options for what you can do with them. For example, as well as turning off car alarms, you can also remotely control vehicles (including pursuing patrol cars), which opens up considerably more escape opportunities.
As well as the Jumper, a segway-style two-wheeled drone that can jump several feet into the air, Marcus can also use a flying quadcopter. Both come equipped with cameras to make it easy for you to stake out key mission areas before trying to enter them yourself. Be warned, though; if they are spotted by enemies, it won’t be long before they are destroyed and you’ll have to brave the area on foot.
Your Thunderball is more impressive than it sounds
Marcus comes equipped with the thunderball, a bungee cord with a billiard ball attached. While that doesn’t sound particularly impressive, it allows Marcus to silently take down enemies. If you prefer more traditional weaponry, you can use the 3D printer in the DedSec hideout to produce an arsenal of different weapons once you’ve gathered enough cash to pay for the raw materials.
One of the best features of the original Watch_Dogs
was the open mission structure -- there were multiple ways to approach most missions. Given your access to the drones and additional hacking options, this is improved upon even further in Watch_Dogs 2
. You can use your hacking skills to distract enemies, unlock doors, control CCTV cameras and even shock police officers using their own mobile phones.
When presented with a new mission, I would usually hack the video cameras in the area and give myself a good overview of the location. This allowed me to plan my entry without being spotted. While it’s possible to tackle a mission by charging in with all guns blazing, it usually leads to a quick death. A much better tactic is to use stealth where possible, to avoid tripping alarms or alerting guards, and to make off with your objective without a shot being fired.
Overall, the changes to the gameplay mechanics and the setting in particular have resulted in Watch_Dogs 2
being a very different experience to the original game. It is brighter, tighter and a whole lot more entertaining. I cannot wait to get my hands on the finished title and get straight back to the Bay.