Review: WATCH_DOGS 2 (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: WATCH_DOGS 2
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (24.8 GB)
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
WATCH_DOGS 2 could very well be the poster child for video game sequels directly influenced by player feedback. Some prominent criticisms of the first game focused around the boring one-dimensional protagonist’s revenge tale, an underwhelming representation of Chicago, and an overall gameplay experience that lacked the vision promised by the game’s reveal.

Although these missteps are corrected with WATCH_DOGS 2, Ubisoft Montreal may have gone a bit too far in the opposite direction.

You are now Marcus Holloway, a brilliant young hacker with unselfish motivations, a passion for nerd culture, and a need to defend himself from being classified as a hipster by his in-game cohorts. He admires the work of the hacker group Dedsec and the opening mission is his initiation.

There are three distinct approaches to the missions here and the formula reminded me of another Ubisoft published game, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, where play styles would earn you the title of Ghost, Panther, or Assault.

Ghost players would never be seen and remained non-lethal, promoting video game stealth in its truest form. Panthers were stealthy but occasionally murdered guards and hid the bodies, while the Assault liked to armor themselves up and go in guns ablazin’.

Your skill tree contains upgrades attributed to a similar three branch system. Upgrade the Aggressor skills for weapon improvements, be a Trickster with device manipulation, and/or avoid kills and detection with the Ghost approach.

While this system works and gives players plenty of freedom, the narrative itself hinders the believability of an Aggressor Marcus. Shotguns and rifles aren’t welcome in this story of a young hacker group on a crusade to expose Blume’s invasive technology. But because an open-world, Triple-A game without shooting just isn’t practical, the gunplay feels forced in.

WATCH_DOGS 2 is at its most brilliant when it’s played like a puzzle game in which the player finds the path of least resistance to accomplish a mission. It is sometimes possible to clear objectives without even entering the mission area.

… It really nails fun gameplay …
Gameplay is most satisfying when you’re sitting outside the enemy compound using the tag-team gadgetry of your drone and RC car to subdue guards, gain access, and loot resources. Jumping from camera to camera to survey the area for opportunities is what sets this apart from other titles in the open-world genre.

Your mortality is quickly realized when the bullets start flying and the AI is highly aware of their surroundings, so stealth is encouraged in that way. You can create diversions by blowing up steam pipes or mass hacking the phones of everyone in the area for an easier path to your objective. You can send out fake APBs to sic police onto unsuspecting sentries or even start a gang war with false information. It really nails fun gameplay.

The new setting of bright, beautiful San Francisco is refreshing in comparison to the gritty representation of Chicago from the franchise’s debut. Taking place around Silicon Valley and in the video game Mecca of the world, a game about advanced technology feels right at home.

There are some fun easter eggs and instances of breaking the fourth wall with a significant hub of the industry so close by. Maybe it’s because I live on the opposite side of the country, but I did feel like there was a bit too much fan service for the San Francisco gamer/resident/industry insider.

Because I’m the type of open-world gamer that likes to mainline the story and clean up afterwards, I missed out on some key upgrades that would have been useful throughout the campaign.

Having the ability to attach explosives to my drone or RC car would have proved invaluable during many a mission but that would have required me to search the map for Research Data. I found myself unable to spend my skill points because I hadn’t garnered the collectibles necessary to unlock the skills for purchase.

Ubisoft Montreal set out to improve upon the formula of the first WATCH_DOGS while implementing feedback from the community. As a result, driving, shooting, and maneuvering throughout the world all feel much better. Hacking is more fleshed out, making the player feel badass and in control of the world. This is a definite improvement over the original.

… meticulous development of certain areas …
Visuals:
Gorgeous visuals are now almost commonplace among Triple-A open-worlds but the look of San Francisco here represents some of the best. There are hints of paradise around each corner, beautiful vistas at every beachfront, and detail-ridden structures invite exploratory gawking.

I cannot speak to the city’s authenticity myself, but the internet has offered up plenty of opinions from locals who are impressed with the meticulous development of certain areas.

I was fortunate enough to experience the game on a launch day PS4 as well as a PS4 Pro. I noticed a slight increase in image sharpness with the Pro, but that might not have been the case if I didn’t test the hardware back to back. Close-ups of characters’ faces showed smoother edges but the game did not crash or slow down with either hardware choice regardless of the amount of on-screen action.

Audio:
This game is packed with some awesome vocal performances and NPC quips are often worthy of a chuckle. When in a vehicle, the radio is adequate with a sampling of stations that dabble with different music genres and some funny talk shows.

Marcus has a SongSneak app on his smartphone that allows you to grow your library of the game’s licensed music and the playlist can become very impressive. It’s an innovative way to merge the collectibles and gameplay with the soundtrack.

… a narrative that satirically pokes fun at America …
Online/Multiplayer:
The game launched with the “seamless multiplayer functionality” turned off because of crashing. Bug fixes were necessary to make the mode playable. Read Glenn’s post about it here.

The services are back online at the time of this writing so players from all over the world are free to troll you by entering your game and downloading your data if they’re clever enough to avoid detection. You can do the same to other players but these features can be turned off for the single-player purists.

Linking up with friends or randoms is easy and intuitive while the core gameplay elements can be enjoyed by many. Hacking nodes, freeing prisoners, and neutralizing targets with partners can be more fun and efficient but, as is the case with many online co-op experiences, communication is key.

Conclusion:
Marcus and his supporting cast of somewhat likeable characters find themselves in a narrative that satirically pokes fun at America. They target and parody conglomerates like Google, Facebook, and even pharmaceutical giants while waging war against the watchful eye of Blume.

Perhaps this is just a video game. Or maybe there is a deeper meaning to the story and we should heed the warning of the role these companies play in the Big Brother future we may be headed towards by inviting these services into our personal lives every day. I’ll end with a stolen and modified line from the outro of every Dedsec video: PS Nation has given you the truth, do what you will.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
– Video games
– Rap music
It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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  • Renegade Bastard

    Nice write-up and review, Emrah. I’m glad I was able to get a brand new and sealed copy of this game for only $36! Now I can’t wait to play it. It’s been revived well and reviewing well, also.

    • embelievable

      Thanks, Renegade. Totally worth it at that price. Packed with countless hours of fun, especially if you’re the type that enjoys just messing around in the world.