Review: Watch Dogs 2 Improves its Predecessor’s Shortcomings

Sandbox Third Person Shooters are as common as fish in water since Rockstar laid the foundation on how to build a Crime simulator with Grand Theft Auto. Since then, many developers have either been trying to re-invent the wheel or build a better mouse trap. In order to stand out from the rest, developers have to ask, ‘what sets my game apart from the dozens of sandbox 3PS games out there, and what’s going to make my game better than the ones that came before it?’

Red Faction had a destructible environment. Saints Row had its emphasis on gang culture, then switched to over the top action and toilet humor. Even the Mafia series set itself apart from the others by telling well written time pieces dealing with the mafia in 1940’s America. While the formula might be the same, they managed to keep their identity with great story telling, interesting characters, and memorable missions and gameplay.

Then, in walks Ubisoft with an interesting idea: Take the famous Grand Theft Auto formula, mix in some George Orwell’s 1984, and evenly bake it in the millennial era. Thus, Watch Dogs was born in 2014, receiving moderately OK review scores from critics, and mixed feelings from fans. The concept was well received, but felt a little lack luster after a while. Cool, you can hack the city, but after a few minutes you find yourself realizing you don’t need many of the hacks you can use.

You can go through most of the game as if it were another third person shooter, occasionally hacking something here and there. On top of that, the biggest complaint about the game was that it was boring. The story was boring, the characters were boring, and what wasn’t boring was depressing instead. Ubisoft took these issues with the first game to heart as they went back to the drawing board for the sequel. 2 years later, Watch Dogs 2 was released on November 15, 2016.

While a lot of the framework is still the same, there’s an immediately noticeable difference between the two games. Watch Dogs 2’s depiction of San Francisco is a brighter and more inviting environment than Watch Dogs’ depiction of Chicago. From street musicians to different people in costumes, the city seems like more than just a backdrop for the game to take place. While I can’t say that the city mapping is 100% accurate, Because I’m sure it isn’t, it’s nice to see the few real-world sites they could squeeze in there, such as, Lombard Street, Coit Tower, The Civic Center, or Silicon Valley. It’s obvious the developers took this project seriously, and it translates into a very beautiful cityscape.

Watch Dogs 2‘s story follows Marcus, a brilliant hacker who, in his past was framed by a profiling algorithm for a crime he didn’t commit on the probability that he “could” commit it. Now he seeks payback against the programs creators, and to free society from the control of “Big Brother.” Off the back I must say, the characters are much better and easier to deal with. They all seem to actually have personalities, they’re more relatable, and to top it off, they aren’t super depressing to watch. The conversations between the characters are funny, the interactions between them are natural, I genuinely found myself wanting to hear the conversations that went on.

This translates over to the side quests as well. While a lot of the side quests are simple and straight forward, the stories that connect to them are unique. While the missions can sometimes feel a bit repetitive, I didn’t run into any instances of repeated dialogue. Watch Dogs 2‘s gameplay was very simple and easy to jump into as the game’s set up promotes being stealthy with all the different hacks and gadgets at your disposal.

This is another game you could play through without killing a single person. With that said, it never forces you to complete your task in any one way. You finish each mission your own way. You can go in passive and quiet, or aggressive and loud. The driving does take some getting used to, as the vehicles have some weight to them and for a while it’s oddly uncomfortable. It’s not a driving sim, but you could play this and something like Grand Theft Auto and tell there’s something different between them.

The shooting is your classic third person shooter, however, instead of taking your classic weapon wheel and magically cramming every gun in your back pocket, it takes a slightly (and I do mean slightly) more realistic approach by giving you only two guns, a taser, and some disposable gadgets, such as explosives and disruptors. Like I said, this game encourages a stealthy and less lethal approach to each mission. To be honest, I found the stealthy approach to sometimes be the easiest approach. Often, NPC’s won’t call for back up until they see you, giving you more than enough time to get to your objective or knock them out one by one.

I only had very slight problems with the game. There were a few instances of the game crashing on me, especially when dropping in and out of the online co-op. I also had a few instances where the drone would glitch through surfaces when flying in compacted spaces. With side missions, while the stories could be interesting or funny, the missions themselves tend to get a bit repetitive after a while. Lastly, the bars and cafes; I didn’t so much have a problem them, but after a while they seem to serve no purpose other than a place to use for fast traveling. They’re a cool idea that someone put effort into designing, and I found myself only using them for fast traveling. I just felt like they could have done more with them is all.

In the end, I’d give this game a 4 out of 5. Lots of fun, great story and characters. Definitely worth picking up. Only a couple problems and glitches, mostly dealing with online co-op. this game is an improvement on the series and I would love to see more after this title.

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