Platform Reviewed: PS4
Platforms Available: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: November 15, 2016
MSRP: USD 59.99, Php 2,695.00
Ubisoft Montreal has taken a big turn in their approach on Watch Dogs 2. With their past mistakes and struggles in the Aiden-Pearce-starred hacking open-world action adventure, they have learned from every bits of error and technical difficulties in their latest installment.
I’ve just finished the game a few minutes ago from writing this review. It’s still fresh in my mind and that Watch Dogs 2’s refined gameplay mechanics have impressed me more than its narrative — the story is not bad, it’s still better than the first Watch Dogs, I tell you.
Watch Dogs 2 takes on Marcus Holloway in the beautiful city of San Francisco. He’s a newly recruited hacker in the known organization that was featured in the first Watch Dogs — DedSec. This organization is comprised of his group of friends and an old timer against the company who’s behind the world’s central operating system, ctOS, Blume. It’s now up to DedSec to reveal the dirty work that Blume is doing with the massive data they collect from individuals, companies, stock market, elections, and the like.
The plot has walked away from the vigilante-focused revenge plot of Watch Dogs 1. Ubisoft Montreal wanted to focus on what the organization of hackers do to protect what is so-called “privacy” of individuals and the people’s freedom. It was a risk that Ubisoft Montreal has taken, others would have preferred to continue the story of Aiden Pearce after his disappearance, but the real spotlight is now on DedSec, and this decision has led to a better story than Watch Dogs 1.
Their take on fictional politics and the corruption behind all the big names in the real world like Nudle (Google) and Invite (Facebook) is more or less creepy but interesting. Just imagine when the world is ready to take on a world-scale operating system to gather all of our data and controls mainly most of our devices. It’s scary.
You might not enjoy Watch Dogs 2’s ending as it felt “convenient” and less satisfying. Everything fell into place and that made everything convenient just to close out the story. The main plot sums up roughly about 13 hours of play-time — that’s putting aside optional-missions.
The supporting characters are a step up from what you had with the dull Aiden. DedSec has the most unique geeky and nerdy personalities as a hacker organization. They have a graffiti stylist and artist, Sitara. Then there’s the awkward, emotionally detached, weird, and the master of hacking, Josh Sauchak. And lastly my favorite amongst the group, the anarchist, the destroyer and fixer, and the sarcastic, Wrench. When I said geeky and nerdy, they all are, including Marcus.
What I love most about their group is that they have conversations about popular franchises like Star Wars and Aliens vs. Predator. They get super hyped on upcoming trailers, and get super-geeky on new powerful hardware and servers they find. With an awesome voice-cast that fits perfectly well with their characters, you’ll never have a playthrough where you won’t listen to their engaging conversations.
Now, we get into the gameplay mechanics. It has been refined and a lot of options and abilities were added at your disposal. The Quadcopter and Jumper are your buddies in missions. The Jumper is a remote-controlled 2-wheeled car with the ability to hack computers, jump, and pass through small gaps that Marcus can’t. Then you also have the Quadcopter — if you own one for photography purposes then you know what this is.
With these new toys to play around with, Ubisoft Montreal has given you the freedom on how you can start and finish missions. The flexibility and adaptability in Watch Dogs 2 makes everything enjoyable and satisfying. In our interview with Watch Dogs 2’s Creative Director, Jonathan Morin, he shared that you can finish the mission without wasting a bullet. They have tried it, and it’s true. Even if I did shoot some people, 80% of the time I never had to pull the trigger. I had the option to not fire a gun but I sometimes become too impatient and just went all around trigger-happy. I’m going for another round without firing a weapon this time.
Aside from the new enjoyable toys, your new hacking abilities can now control vehicles making them move as distractions. You can also control lifters and cranes to give you the best approach you want in a certain mission. You also have these new options in your Profiler that you can tag people as wanted criminals, or make them an enemy of the Tezca Gang. It’s fun and hilarious to tag one of the police officers as a most wanted criminal especially when they’re both sitting inside the same car.
Combat feels the same as the first Watch Dogs, it’s still solid yet wonky. But your character is weaker this time around. Marcus deals damage horribly that you die in a couple of bullets from those heavy brutes with machine guns and shotguns. And it’s also challenging at best since you can only equip 2 different weapons at a time, especially that the A.Is are genuinely smart and they outflank you at the most timely manner; even throw grenades perfectly to force you out from cover. They call in reinforcements fairly quickly too.
The fast travel is more accessible, quicker, and more convenient than ever. You’re not forced to travel on road if you don’t want to when you get to the mission start point. You can simply fast travel to coffee shops and clothing stores that are close to your objective.
You might get misled with the “DedSec followers” as a progress for you to get access on the “Take out Blume” main mission. These “followers” are considered as your experience points for you to upgrade your tools and skill set. It’s the same skill tree you have from the first Watch Dogs, but there’s a little change in unlocking some of the upgrades. You are forced to get this “green” Research Point at certain locations to unlock specific skills. These unlockable abilities can be your advantage in your missions, but it wouldn’t really have that impact if you miss them out.
The world of Watch Dogs has shifted from the first city that acquired ctOS, Chicago, to the blooming bright and beautiful city of San Francisco. Ubisoft Montreal has given the city in the West Coast almost the identical touch of San Francisco itself. It’s rich and vibrant compared to what you get from Watch Dogs’ Chicago. The Golden Gate Bridge is massive, and fun to drive through.
I’ve never been in San Francisco but hell it’s one of the best sights I’ve seen since Grand Theft Auto V’s San Andreas or Los Santos. You also get to visit key landmarks in San Francisco especially a replica of Google’s office in Silicon Valley, and Ubisoft’s office in the South Park area with their promotional poster for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed movie.
Graphics-wise, it’s safe to say that Ubisoft has done it right but with some minor dips in Watch Dogs 2. We all know what happened with Watch Dogs 1’s E3 2012 demo which was visually deluding for advertising purposes, and that they explained those assets and effects were turned off to have stability in terms of performance and the balance of quality. Watch Dogs 2’s graphics can sometimes be inconsistent, but it was never downgraded. There are times when you see better-detailed characters like Marcus and Wrench, then to dull and plain faces of Dusan Nemic and Mary Catskill. But it’s something that’s not unimpressive.
There are graphical glitches that can be amusing at some instances. You find your vehicle having a hard time balancing on small rocks. You can also see some bodies going through walls. And there was also a rare sight that the police officer suddenly went through at the back of their car instead of walking around it. It’s not game-breaking, fortunately.
But those framerates going down at the Galilei area was unacceptable. Stuttering most of the time, and I tried to turn off online features but it still didn’t rectify the problem. I restarted on the last checkpoint, it fixed it for only a few minutes then the stuttering came back. I had to play with the horrors of stuttering until the mission was over before it fixed itself.
Now I’m done reviewing 80% of what Watch Dogs 2 offers, it’s hard to give out a final verdict and a score for now; because at the time of this writing, the seamless multiplayer has been disabled temporarily due to some issues that the feature has on the performance of the game. I’ve tried searching for public sessions on Bounty Hunt, Hack Invasion, and Co-op missions and I’m unable to find anyone to play with. It seems that the feature works properly if you have friends to play with it.
I’ll have this review updated with the final score and verdict once multiplayer is available again.
[UPDATE: 11/25/2016 6:52PM GMT +8]
Version 1.05 was available the yesterday after I announced the possible patch within 12 hours which was told by our contacts over Ubisoft Hong Kong.
After the patch, I was excited to invade players and wreck madness on them. And it was totally worth it. There were a lot of times where laughter just bursted out from me. You get to see players tend to get nervous when they’re being hacked and dying in result.
Earlier, I invaded a player at the middle of the bridge in the area of Silicon Valley. The player was on the crane trying to get to somewhere he needed to go, and then I started the invasion using my Quadcopter to hack him while I’m at a wrecked vehicle hiding. Then I saw him getting frantic to look for a way to get down, and all of a sudden he fell to his death. It’s funny and enjoyable. With the new gameplay mechanics applied to Hacking Invasion makes everything hilarious and creative.
Bounty Hunt is what you call the fast and the furious. You get to be the hunter or the hunted. When other players’ heat goes high enough, you’ll be notified that there’s a high-speed police chase within your vicinity, and it’s up to you if you want to neutralize the other player to gain followers or just ignore it.
The other option is you can mark yourself as the most notorious criminal to attract other players and see if they can take you down. It’s an exhilarating experience when you get to be the hunted. Bounty Hunt is quite easy when you’re the hunter, with the ability to control vehicles and explosive manholes, it tends to get OP (over-powered) through time. Sadly, the waiting time is tad long.
Even if hacking invasion is the best of the bunch, co-op mode can be frustrating but also fun at the same time. Why is it frustrating? If you have a headset with a mic and you want to make every strategy work when you both approach a mission, and then the other player doesn’t have one makes everything far more disheartening when he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Now, why did I say it’s fun at the same time? When you get to play with players who does have some sense into how to go about each mission even without a mic, the satisfying feeling can definitely give you a breather after the mission.
The objectives can vary in each co-op levels, it can be stealing cars, freeing other civilians or DedSec members, or destroy illegal shipments. It may look like that it’s repetitive, but it’s not. Every location where you and your partner will start has diversity. Just like in the single-player campaign, both of you can approach the mission in various angles and styles which makes co-op mode entertaining at best.
It was disappointing to say that Ubisoft Montreal didn’t polish the seamless multiplayer mode before Watch Dogs 2 launched, and they were left with no other choice but to disable the feature because of its impact to the game’s overall performance. However, the lovely campaign, great character development, improved driving, the beautiful virtual San Francisco, and the interesting gameplay mechanics made Watch Dogs 2 one hell of an open-world experience. The story may not standout but it’s a far better plot than the first Watch Dogs. Watch Dogs 2 is inventive and amazing! A sequel worth playing.
This review is based on a review copy provided by the developers/publisher.