Watch Dogs 2 is all over the place. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one moment the game will be preaching about the dangers of mass information and then minutes later it sends the player on a ridiculous mission that revolves around stealing a talking car from an upcoming film. This isn’t exclusive to the narrative as the gameplay can range from traveling around areas taking pictures of murals to using a shotgun to murder Google employees.
It’s a game without a real identity (which is understandable when you consider that hundreds of people had their hands on the game) and instead feels like a sort-of messy combination of ideas. Once I began to accept that I wouldn’t enjoy everything about Watch Dogs 2, I started to really appreciate what I did like about the game. For example, I spent hours using the game’s sightseeing app to travel around the city and look at all of the small touches that Ubisoft put in the game.
My favorite moments in Watch Dogs 2 weren’t the combat sequences that I found myself in while progressing the story, but rather the calmer moments provided by the game’s side-missions. Climbing to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge in order to create a giant piece of graffiti was so much more memorable than any segment where the game forced me to fight generic security guards. The game is at its best when it’s doing something new and being itself rather than a poor man’s Grand Theft Auto with hacking.
Those that have played the original Watch Dogs should know what to expect here. This is still an open-world action game where the core gimmick is hacking the environment and using it to your advantage. From causing wrecks to making cell phones overheat, the player has a lot of power at their disposal. There are a few cool additions that the protagonist Marcus carries around, such as a flyable quadcopter, but it’s still mostly the same game from a mechanics standpoint.
Since the mechanics don’t feel nearly as revolutionary as they did the first time around, they end up taking a back seat to the game’s real star: San Francisco. As I wrote in my preview (which also touches on mechanics more in-depth), Watch Dogs 2 has one of the best open-worlds that I’ve ever experienced in a game. Every inch of the Bay area was exciting to explore since I was constantly running into hilarious dialogue, seeing random events take place such as seeing people dressed up as “zombies at a cemetery, and finding myself in fun situations. I actually had more fun exploring this virtual version of San Francisco than when I actually went to the city last month (although that might be due to the fact that I didn’t have to walk up those hills).
It also helps that the game’s many missions take the player all around the city. Even those that don’t get bit by the adventuring bug like I did will get to see a lot of the fantastic sights the game has to offer, and in some pretty fun scenarios too. While it’s cool to wander around the Google (or Nuble if you want to be on-brand) campus without a goal, it’s even more fun when you have to infiltrate it later in the game.
The biggest disappointment about Watch Dogs 2 is that it suffers from a lot of the same issues that the original game did. Not only does the armed combat feel a bit clunky, it feels completely unnecessary. Why does a super cool hacker have to resort to using guns as if he was a two-bit criminal? Relying on these generic gaming elements only hurts what is so unique and interesting about Watch Dogs.
It also feels really out of place from a story perspective as none of the members of Ded Sec come across as a cold hearted murderer. I never felt good about using a gun to finish off enemies, but it’s something I had to resort to since enemies wake up pretty quickly after being knocked out. It may technically be possible to finish Watch Dogs 2 without killing anyone, but I can’t imagine anyone actually doing that as simply driving around the city will result in a few civilian casualties.
Since my playthrough did have several deaths occur, it felt really out of place when Marcus would chime in with a witty one-liner afterwards. During one of the game’s earliest missions, I ended up accidentally running over (and killing) a homeless man who had taken refuge underneath a bridge while trying to escape from police. Seconds later, Marcus was joking around over the radio to his teammates back at the base, and he totally ignored the fact that he just committed manslaughter.
I guess this sort of ludonarrative dissonance could be dismissed in the first game since Aiden Pearce was the absolute worst, but it’s spotlighted here. Marcus is such a likeable guy, that it feels beyond messed up to watch him murder someone. Watch Dogs 2 would be such a better game if it forced players to strictly use their hacking abilities and didn’t offer any sort of direct combat. Some of this was relieved later on once I was able to send police and other gangs against enemies to do the dirty work for me, but I really hope Ubisoft goes in a different direction for the next installment.
Another issue that rears its ugly head is the seamless multiplayer, which has players randomly popping up into the player’s world as either a friend or foe. In theory, this is a really cool feature, but the execution feels totally off. First off, when I’m trying to explore the world or finish goals, I just don’t want to deal with random people trying to hunt me down. Nor do I want to go on the offensive and start killing people when I’m trying to take photos in the world.
The moment that really made me hate this feature was when I was hanging out on the beach and had just watched a cute couple get engaged. As I was taking a selfie with the couple, a friendly player showed up. He immediately started shooting innocent civilians and killing them. He wasn’t a friend, he was just a jerk. I tried to leave the scene since I didn’t want to deal with him in my game, but he started following me and hacking into objects to try to kill me. It was easily the least fun I had in the game and turned a beautiful moment into a nightmare.
I loved every moment of Watch Dogs 2 when it wasn’t trying its best to be an action movie. The most fun I had was exploring a virtual San Francisco, pretending to be a 21st century Robin Hood, and taking photos of seals. There are so many rad ideas in Watch Dogs 2 and so many of them take a backseat in order to deliver a focus-tested wide-appealing AAA video game in the main campaign. Thankfully, those elements are still there, you just have to look a little harder to find them.
While I still think that the best from Watch Dogs is still to come, Watch Dogs 2 is a solid step up from its predecessor. Getting to be a hacker is phenomenal fun, but the game tends to stumble when it becomes a sub-par third-person shooter. If you’re willing to put up with a story that doesn’t always jive with the light-hearted feel of its characters, then you’ll experience one of the most interesting open-world games in years.
Review code for Watch Dogs 2 provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.