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Watch_Dogs 2 Review: Hacktivism Made Fun

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Ubisoft continues their exploration into the new age of digital cloak and dagger with Watch Dogs 2 on the PlayStation 4. This time instead of playing a brooding loner who’s desperately fighting to save whatever’s left of his family, you’re given ‘Retr0’ and his cast of jolly millennial friends that seem to have been casted out of an 80’s teen movie. We pick up where the last game left off and follow the group of hackers called ‘DedSec’ in their mission to take down the system that has taken control of the lives of helpless citizens, that being named ctOS 2.0. All this while making money on the side as a cab driver and a few other odd jobs. Sounds a bit like GTA, right? Well, let’s have a closer look at Watch Dogs 2 and see how exactly it keeps itself off Rockstar’s grid.

 

Production (4 / 5)

The studio being known for making convincing cities of old with their Assassin’s Creed releases definitely do not disappoint in making a convincing replica of San Francisco and its surrounding areas. For the game’s own purposes there are areas that are completely different but if we’re going to look for notable tourist attractions there’s definitely little to complain about. Even the design for individuals added a depth of immersion to the experience. From how they looked to how they talked, you can tell that the people behind this most certainly did their homework.

Watch Dogs 2 also loaded a pretty smoothly on the PlayStation 4 at every point while keeping a constant and healthy framerate. The aesthetics of the UI was simple and minimalistic which tied well together with its retro-graphics theme.

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Mechanics (4.5 / 5)

The predecessor to this title would have you act as a vigilante of justice who more or less uses his hacking skills to shift the situation to his favor. That hasn’t really changed much in the sequel, at least conceptually. But rather small changes as well as new additions straight up expands your options in how you can deal with every situation. It also changes how you play the game entirely.

First of all, the game now runs on a level up system which goes up upon gaining ‘followers’ which is just another word for experience points only rethemed to sound more relevant. You gain this by basically doing anything that passes off as a task in the game. That includes your quests available in the DedSec app, driving people around with DriverSF, or even just looking for sights to see with ScoutX. Do enough and you eventually level up.

Levelling up gains you research points which allows you to obtain new skills or upgrades. From three, there are now 7 sub-sections for skills. From simply upgrading your capacity, to hack to powering up your gizmos, to hacking people and even the city’s functions itself. Some skills that were previously unlocked have become available by default to make room for these new expanded skills.

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Really though, it hasn’t changed how you’ll mainly play the game. You can choose to run and gun, or be as sneaky as possible, or even go somewhere in-between. Only that these new additions allow you to further fine-tune your upgrades to how you really like to play. Personally, I’ve relied plenty on the drone to get most of the work done while I have bombs to either create distractions or reduce enemy numbers.

Eventually though you’ll more or less have enough to unlock everything so you shouldn’t over-think about what you’ll get. You also don’t have to invest too much if you simply want to know what using them is like before going-all-in to max out their capabilities.

 

Content (5 / 5)

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If anything, the team behind Watch Dogs 2 has given no shortage of content to play. You’ll find quest chains which are your main draw-in. But doing anything significant at all rewards you in some way. Found a tourist attraction?  Maybe you can take a picture with it to gain followers. Drone Race available? Man, you better get first place. Heck you even get a passenger that wants you to drive as crazily as possible.

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But that’s just random activities, unlocking all theses different quest chains is what really opens up its world. Some of them even touch upon events or issues that have affected USA recently. Like a millionaire who ridiculously jacked up the price of a certain medical drug, tracking a serial killer, investigating possible abuse of power by police, or even investigating an election getting rigged. There’s also quests that have nothing to do with recent events, like basically the main story, or stuff like messing with people while doing ATM transactions. There was even a point where I found myself hacking the Ubisoft office to leak material about an upcoming project, talk about self-aware.

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But it’s no open-world game if it doesn’t really have rewards for exploring right? It’s actually pretty important to explore plenty if you want to maximize your game as you can easily find research points, key tech, and even full quest chains just lying around some street or rooftop. And there’s a good chance you’ll find these while driving around or doing other quests, so many happy accidents in this game.

 

Features (3.5 / 5)

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The most interesting part about Watch Dogs 2’s multiplayer experience is that it takes a page off Dark Souls’ book. They’ve attempted to mix it in seamlessly with single player mode. Which so far, on the PS4, works perfectly. You can be just minding your own business, exploring or travelling around the world when suddenly another player tries to hack you. Giving you possibly a most frustrating experience of ‘Where’s Waldo.’

It’s also entirely possible to cooperate with others especially with how these online type missions are really difficult to do alone. It’s actually pretty satisfying when somebody wants to do several online quests with you and you really work to cooperate. Though there have been episodes of connection issues once in a while.

There are also events that the game itself launches at you, mainly comprised of chasing somebody down, which you can choose to participate in or not. Mainly, the online features add-on to the experience even if you hadn’t intended to play online in the first place. Almost every online encounter was a welcome surprise. It does make me wonder though, if they could have taken this any farther at all.

 

Overall (4.5 / 5)

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With all the cutscenes and conversation going on between the characters, you might imagine that you’re playing through a movie. Though not quite with as much flair as Uncharted does. They do succeed however, in making these believable, engaging characters and stories which are really the main driving force of why you want to see what happens next in every quest chain. Then you realize you just sank maybe 6 or 8 hours into the game and you still want to see what to do next.

The game certainly isn’t perfect though, game balance feels off which you can mostly forgive if you’re mainly going with single player mode. However AI is eventually very easy to deal with so you have a tendency to stick with the one trick that fools even the most elite guards, spamming their phone. There are also moments of having irrecoverable bugs where you either try to fast travel to reset your position or restart the game.

The sheer amount of activity you can do in the game may feel like a treasure trove for some or simply a pile of disconnected distractions depending on your taste. Thanks to its levelling up system, there’s always some sort of long-term value in most of the activities you take.

Rather than a game that may look like a GTA template with hacking, it really feels closer to Assassin’s Creed with less mobility options, or maybe even Metal Gear with all the sneaking and espionage you do. Along with its blemishes, Watch Dogs 2 on the PlayStation 4 has certainly given me a world that feels all-too-familiar with one big difference that turns it into a huge playground.

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We give Watch Dogs 2 a truthful rating of 4.3 / 5.

Watch Dogs 2 is available on XBOX One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

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