Over the last few years, I’ve been awaiting a top quality open world title, with GTA V‘s legacy dragging on longer than an Eastenders omnibus. Watchdogs 2 brings exactly what I’ve been waiting for, and being among those who genuinely enjoyed the first title, I was still optimistic of something even better.
Roll up Watchdogs 2, The hollow Aiden is nowhere to be seen and instead you control a young guy called Marcus Holloway in a world where mega corporation Blume have released CtOS 2 and they’re hell-bent on selling all of your personal details to the highest bidder. Marcus isn’t keen on this idea, but it isn’t long before his dislike for Blume becomes outright hatred when he realises he’s been tagged as a major threat, and responsible for just about every crime he didn’t already commit.
Marcus soon decides it’s best to go off the grid, and after deleting all knowledge of his existence, he joins up with notorious hacker group DedSec who seem to pride themselves on Anonymous, but in a much more light-hearted manner.
The lighter look at life continues throughout and while there’s plenty of mature content that will get your grannies knickers in a twist, it’s all portrayed in a mostly fun, accessible and understandable way.
After a short introduction to controls, a basic infiltration mission and your new friends at DedSec you’re unleashed into the world to wreak havoc, take down the bad guys and fulfill your mission. The main aim of the game all feels a little vague, Blume is a massive digital network, so to take them offline you’re going to need more than a Commodore 64 to push onto their servers. Using the DedSec app on mobile devices you can use the processing power of every device the app touches, and thus create enough of an inter-bang to succeed.
Thankfully this opens up missions to be far more than hunting down the pantomime villain of a company CEO. Instead you concentrate on attracting more followers to the DedSec app, breaking into a movie studio and then stealing a futuristic version of Kitt (Knightriders Car) to produce a trailer, or posing as America’s most hated multi-millionaire to obtain exclusive music. All are sure fire ways to attract more followers, and while it means the story is kept fairly loose, there’s plenty of variety meaning Watchdogs 2 does a fantastic job of avoiding the monotonous backtracking to repeat similar missions.
Even side quests are well thought out, deep, multi-layered challenges that require far more than a A to B journey, and while many aren’t necessary, the fun factor means you’re likely to embark on a side mission just as much as the core story missions themselves.
It all adds up to a much more enjoyable path through the game, and that’s helped no end by the strong host of characters.
The original Watchdogs felt like a very individual experience. The people you met along the way weren’t particularly likable, and those you did want to be around didn’t like you. Marcus is a much more accessible character, both for the gamer and the NPC character’s you’ll meet along the way, this makes for some fun, interesting and even intelligent conversations between yourself and the other DeadSec members. Conversations are all portrayed with high quality voice acting that feels smooth and flowing rather than the Japanese B-Movie equivalent we’ve seen in some titles. With a whole host of chatter from random pedestrians and some deep realistic (in a tongue-in-cheek way) conversations with the person on the other side of the phone, it’s a level of audio presentation we don’t see very often, and credit has to go to the developers for a job well done.
Graphically, there’s plenty to talk about. While I’ll happily admit Watchdogs 2 never really grabbed me and swung me around by the eyeballs, it did consistently deliver and made me look out for the finer details. Down to the board game store fascia to your first home base; a look around will see shelves filled with various boxes all as clearly defined as you’d expect and packed full of detail. Strolling around the streets, I found myself constantly looking for the same level of attention and wasn’t disappointed. Whether it’s a beer bottle next to the BBQ, or the depth of communication from passers-by, Watchdogs 2 positions itself right beside GTA as a fun, believable and engrossing open world location you actually want to explore far beyond the already open limits of the story tree.
Hacking is another reason for this, and it’s just as simple as last time round with the trusty X button doing most of the work. Focusing on a person with LB then hitting X will once again intercept their phones, conversations and bank accounts. This means you can literally spend hours unveiling little hidden quests, accumulating a nice boost to your bank balance and finding out why that woman wants gender reassignment surgery, all because you decided to start on a hacking spree after some random bystander insulted your pink shorts.
One thing that did grate me a little was the controls, and sadly that’s not limited to hacking. I had to hold LB while hitting X to hack a woman ignorantly ignoring me while on her phone, yet I could hack a security camera without holding X, and other things could only be hacked after clicking the thumb stick first.
I’m pretty sure a ‘hack-all’ button would have made life a lot easier, but splitting into various types of hacks without any button prompts to decode what is needed where, means you’re sometimes left clicking through different buttons to try to hack something. This isn’t a major problem, as those you need to do instantly are usually just a case of hitting X or focusing on the item first (LB) but it’s worth mentioning.
While movement is kept simple, melee slapped on a single B button, and hacking (mostly) straightforward, the only area I didn’t enjoy was the driving. It certainly took some getting used to as you screech around a corner, trying to manipulate traffic lights and road vents to disrupt the pursuing police at the same time. Time and time again I felt my car skidding uncontrollably and the camera taking a little too long to realign behind the vehicle.
It’s another case of taking some time to get used to, and it certainly got better with a little practice. But I’d still find myself adjusting the camera with the right stick, aiming to hack and hitting the hack button, all while trying to manoeuvre between cars.
Another area which took some time was the seamless multiplayer, allowing you to cross paths with other agents. This mode wasn’t active at launch, but it’s since come online; and excusing a few little bugs, it looks like a fun and enjoyable experience which perfectly encapsulates everything good about Watchdogs 2. Even the ‘loose’ driving is more than tolerable and I expect a very small patch could fix that, even if only by reducing the camera delay so it swings central quicker.
Even in its current state, it’s far from problematic, more just a mild annoyance which many people will overlook without a second thought.
With a deep, engrossing open world, It should be said that there isn’t the level of unnecessary games, internet surfing and car buying that we’ve seen from GTA, but the actual missions do feel more varied due to an irregular layered structure. It’s almost unfair to compare Watchdogs 2 to GTA because they both portray themselves in a very different way, and while side by side right now I’m sure GTA would take the throne down to franchise recognition and hype alone. In-game though, Watchdogs 2 is every bit as enjoyable as Rockstars behemoth.