Watch Dogs 2 Review – Hacking in the City by the Bay

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The hacker group DedSec has returned and this time they are taking on San Francisco. Did developer Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch Dogs 2 live up to its expectations?

Read on to find out.

Watch Dogs released back in 2014 to great reviews and even set a record for new IP preorders and sales, but got some criticism for having a lead character that was a bit stiff and a storyline that was a bit weak and convoluted. Ubisoft Montreal has tried to remedy that with Watch Dogs 2, while still sticking to the things that made the first game so great and improving on the things that gamers weren’t too fond of.

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Watch Dogs 2 finds us after the first game, and in a new city as the ctOS (Central Operating System)  has now been installed in and around San Francisco. We are introduced to a new protagonist, Marcus Holloway, a hacker from Oakland that was framed for a crime he hadn’t committed. Marcus, through his hacking skills, found out that the upgraded ctOS 2.0 made him the prime suspect of the crime even though he had nothing to do with it, so he joins up with DedSec, a hacker collective, to take ctOS and it’s backers down.

The characters in the game are definitely a step up from the previous title.Marcus is a young black guy who was wronged by a system that determined, since he was black, he must be a top suspect in a crime. As we get to know him, we found a young guy with a good heart and a sense of humor, that would rather remain a pacifist then a killer. He carries a stun gun and a weighted yoyo on a string to knock bad guys out with, but you can give him lethal weapons if you wish.How you choose to play is up to you, but it felt like the game preferred non-lethal options to us.

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The DedSec SF crew also feels like a great group of young folks, albeit illegal hackers. You have an autistic genius, a highly talented graphic artist, a guy with an electronic mask, and eventually an older gentleman with a bit of a history. Each character has their own back story and all have a bit of depth that gives them each their own unique personality. The writers and voice actors did an excellent job in bringing these folks to life and added a welcomed layer to the game we didn’t expect.

The city of San Fran itself is like its own character. It is a living and breathing city full of not only hackable citizens and objects, but also collectibles that you can find to improve your overall skills. Other non-playable characters you’ll run across and interact with can be fully fleshed out characters as well. There’s a transgender City Councilwoman who is friends with Marcus and is secretly helping in him in his endeavors. You have an antagonist that is clearly a douche with subordinates that fit that label well, and an overbearing security force that is quick on the trigger and won’t hesitate to gun you down.

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A great story with great characters can only carry a game so far, though, and it’s the game play that ultimately determines a games greatness. Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t disappoint. From the very beginning, hacking anything and everything is only a button press away. The quick hack feature means all you have to do is press a shoulder button, and then one of the face buttons to quickly swipe cash from an unsuspecting passerby, or you could read their texts, eaves drop on their conversations, or distract them by making their phone ring. You’ll be able to hack cars, forklifts, flatbeds, scissor lifts and cranes, among other things, all to aide you along your journey.

As you travel around the city and the Bay Area in vehicles, boats and on motorcycles, you’ll come across areas with items you need to pick-up. You can’t always just walk right into an area, so you’ll have to learn to be creative. At your disposal is an RC Jumper and a quadcopter (eventually). You’ll need to learn to utilize both of these to get into some of these areas and gather whatever might be stashed there. Sometimes, though, Marcus will have to physically go into these places, and how you proceed is up to you. As we said earlier, the game seems to prefer a non-lethal approach, and you do have a stun gun and that weighted yoyo at your disposal. You can also hack electrical outlets, turning them into stun traps for folks passing by, just realize that your RC car and quadcopter will be disabled for a little while if they are stunned by one.

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Hacking skills are also fully upgradeable and you’ll need to find key data and research points around the city in order to unlock them. These upgrades will allow you to hack more and more things, and will give you more flexibility with some of these things. Eventually you’ll be able to make a car take off, back up, turn left, turn right, or just totally shut down, all via the hack. This can come in handy if you have a string of cop cars lined up behind you and all of them wanting to take you down. Upgrades also can give you more abilities for hacking people, objects like fork lifts, cranes and even robots. There is an almost RPG like depth to the upgrades, and that’s not a bad thing.

One of the things brought back from the original title is using a power grid to unlock doors, and it was brought back on a grander scale. One of our favorite puzzles in the game has to be on the underside of the Golden gate Bridge. You’ll find a locked door on the West side of Fort Point that needs to hacked in order to get to the collectible inside. From here, we fired up our quadcopter and followed the red line that needed powered up to the bridge, and then proceeded to fly in, out, up, sideways, backways, frontways and everyways around the Golden Gate Bridge in order to get the power flowing back to the door. There’s also another one of these fun puzzles in and around the Hoover Tower on the campus of Stanford, so keep your eye out for that one as well.

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Anytime you want to get a different look at your immediate area, and possibly see things the naked eye could miss, click R3 on the PS4 for Net Hack Mode. This mode reveals everything hackable in your immediate vicinity and cal allow you to see through walls, find hackable cameras inside a building, and/or find collectibles you may have missed. As with the original title, cameras are the key to scouting out a location as you can switch between any camera that is close and in view. Using Net Hack means you can get to those cameras that are behind a wall, then switch to normal view to  see who or what is in there.

The graphics for the game are definitely top notch with an incredible level of detail and realism. San Francisco is a beautiful city and the developers did an incredible job to portray that with realistic locations and land marks that are pretty spot on. Cruising down the Embarcadero almost feels like you’re there and the only thing missing are the entertainers painted in silver. The crookedest road in the world is beautifully recreated as you go down Lombard Street, but I don’t remember that ramp off to the side.

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The online features of the game worked OK the first time we started playing, but due to some server side issues, those functions were disabled, so we will revisit that separately post game launch. Probably would be a better idea to wait for the game world to fill up anyway, as the seamless and always on features would seem to work best with more online players.

Ubisoft Montreal has taken a great IP and brought it to the next level with a sequel that took great ideas and made them better. With a better story, better characters and improved open world game play, great job team.