I have mentioned in the past my dislike for most open world games. They often contain heaps of tedious filler, endless meaningless collectibles, and travel times that do little more than elongate the game. I find this even more irritating in games of this style set in a facsimile of the real world due to it being even less likely to come across something unexpected or out of the ordinary. So obviously I decided to pick up and play Watch Dogs 2, an open world game set in modern San Francisco.
I’d heard a lot of good things about this open world hacking game. Things such as “It’s really fun with meaningful activities!” and “Don’t worry, it’s not as bland as the previous game.” (which seem like odd ways to form a compliment, but I digress). Eventually I caved and gave it a go, expecting to find the characters unlikable, the story uninteresting and the gameplay as generic as they come. I was wrong on at least 2 of those counts, and as Meat Loaf says: 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
We play as Marcus, a young hacker breaking into the ctOS server farm to change his online presence so he isn’t profiled as a potential criminal based on his background. I found this introduction and tutorial to be the weakest part of the game, I had no idea what was going on, how to play the game due to vague instructions, or why I should care about doing this. But after this shaky start the game picks up rather quickly. Marcus is inducted into Dedsec, an underground hacker group dedicated to bringing down companies who would abuse people’s online data for their own ends. This is about as far as I got with the storyline before writing it off as “hackers gotta hack” and just decided to do the missions for the enjoyment rather than the plot.
Thankfully, the missions are great. Plenty of variety in mechanics, approaches and contexts meant I didn’t find myself becoming fed up of gunfights, driving tasks or stealth as in most cases there were plenty of viable options to approach a situation. From racing a smart car stolen from a movie set to breaking into a spoof of Google I felt the tasks were mostly well paced from mission to mission. There was the odd miss (driving a bus to pick up passengers was a pain) but for the most part they were well constructed. This also stretched to the side missions which were mostly great fun, including ripping off a Martin Shkreli type and hacking ATM machines to give money to deserving people. In spite of the mechanics being similar to the main missions, they were kept fresh by applying them to different contexts.
The game offers plenty of options for each mission which is excellent. Sneaking through area whilst using you drones to unlock doors and mark threats is an option, but maybe you’d rather hack a police database and have someone nearby be marked as a criminal causing a police chase to distract everyone. Maybe you could remotely control a fork lift to destroy a drug stash rather than have to fight your way to it yourself. Or perhaps you could use Marcus’ free running skills to get on a nearby roof to scout the area out. You can go in guns blazing, but I found this was at odds with the characters. Straight up murder seemed a bit out of character for Marcus, although it does remain an option that isn’t penalised in any way greater than it would be in GTA or its ilk. This is actually something I’m a fan of, as I tend to dislike GTA as a series due to not relating to the protagonist and finding them rather unpleasant. Marcus and his cohorts are fun and seem to have something of a moral compass. I wouldn’t mind if there was some sort of penalty of some kind for acting out of character and going on a killing spree.
The graphics are rather good (with my wife at one point asking if I was playing Forza Horizon 3), with the environment looking mostly excellent apart from the occasional muddy texture when looking at buildings over a long distance. Animations are also good or character models including some nice transitions from one animation to another. I did come across the occasional glitch with characters floating in mid air, but this was very rare. Sounds is fine, with the usual array of radio stations including a variety of genres (although it didn’t take long to start hearing the same songs) and well delivered voice acting lending the characters their own personality. Seriously, the members of Dedsec are excellently written and acted and weren’t nearly as irritating as i expected them to be.
The main story plus the major side missions took me about 20 hours to get through, but there was plenty left to find and do. Whilst the bike and drone races didn’t interest me, they’re certainly a nice inclusion. The ScoutX missions challenge you to find and take a selfie with certain landmarks around the city whilst hidden collectibles can be found to unlock more abilities (collectibles that serve a purpose?!) so there are a good variety of post game activities. And I’ve not even mentioned the multiplayer features that allow you to co-op missions or invade another player’s world. A good amount of varied content!
Watch Dogs 2 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. I played the game on XBox One and highly recommend it. Once you get through the first hour you have an excellent game with a lot of fun content. I’m not one for open world games so I may not be the best authority on the genre, but as a video game this is well worth a look.