The first Watch Dogs game was a slow-burner; it took a fair bit of time for the game to properly kick off and become as fun as it ended up being, and were it not for the fact that I had a review to write I might’ve left it alone for longer than I did. But, as luck would have it, I stuck with it and soon began to enjoy a great game which had enough novelty in it to stand out from the other city-based open world games around. With Watch Dogs 2 I had the same early issues – a lack of early engagement, an opening mission which seemed far harder than it needed to be to teach you the ropes, and a linearity which seemed strange for such a large city. But as before, beyond the opening hour of the game things really kick off, and do so in some pretty impressive style.
Confined to nothing but a very brief, non-speaking role there’s no sign of Aiden Pearce in Watch Dogs 2. Instead you’re going to meet Holloway, a young new recruit for DedSec doing his business in the San Francisco area. He’s a more fun and likeable character, as are the fellow hackers he works with throughout the game who kick up some genuinely amusing conversations both during and away from action-filled moments. He also brings some more toys to the party in addition to his mobile phone (which is still used for much of the hacking) – not only does he rely more on his laptop, sitting cross-legged wherever he fancies to start doing some hacking, he also has two fantastic bits of kit to help: the jumper and the quadcopter.
The jumper is available very early on, and takes the form of a two-wheeled remote controlled ground drone (if you’ve played Rainbow Six Siege you’ll have used them at the start of each offensive round) which can hack the usual environmental items such as gas pipes or electrical boxes to knock out or kill bad guys, but also has an awesome extending arm which allows you to perform some physical hacks on computers or control boxes without having to get yourself into the area first. Getting spotted will still set the alarms off and probably get your drone shot to pieces, but at least it’s not your head they’re shooting at initially, and you can always try to scoot off through a ventilation shaft to escape. Meanwhile the quadcopter, which you can only unlock later on when you’ve got enough cash to 3D print yourself one at your base of operations, is an airbound drone which can’t physically hack items, but can still set off traps, scan enemies and have a very useful scan round with far less chance of being seen. After all, how many enemies will expect to be spied on from 50 feet up in the air? These two gadgets give a very different lean to the hacking and infiltrating within the game, making it slightly lower risk but certainly no less challenging.
Those who have played the first game will recognise a lot of things though, from the blowing up of gas mains in the street and changing traffic lights, through to the tech unlock tree which lets you spend research points on whatever skills you need, be that better weapon handling or the ability to shut off all the power in the city for a few seconds. But these things were never problems in the first place, and the inclusion of them again gives a satisfying air of familiarity which manages to avoid feeling overly repetitive from the last game. It’s a nice mix of old and new, and with so many missions, side missions and extra activities to do you’ll probably not care one jot that you’ve played with some of these toys before. Serious, there’s LOADS to do. – you’ll even get to do some detective work and plan some ambushes later down the line, something which leads to some awesome explosions and very tense escaping sequences.
And even if you get bored, there’s the seamless multiplayer. You’ll find other DedSec operatives roaming round the game (or being chased by the police, either/or) which you can instantly team up with, or you’ll be told you need to chase them down and kill them. There are specific events which you can choose to start up as well, giving a good combination of ad-hoc instant multiplayer and organised intentional games. You can switch a lot of it off, but it’s still cool to be wandering round and suddenly get the chance to hop into a nearby car and try to kill off another human player who you’ll probably never see again. Very cool.
So while Watch Dogs 2 has some previously used ideas and mechanics, I had a great time. It’s a stunning looking game at times, and when I found myself at the very top of the Golden Gate Bridge (long story) watching the sun rise across the water it was a genuinely breath-taking moment. There’s a huge amount to do both offline and online, and if you enjoyed the first game in any way then you’ll love this. It takes a while to get into, but stick with it and you’ll have one of the better games from the past few months to enjoy.
Reviewed on PS4