Thanks to Xbox for the code for this one!
I enjoyed Watch_Dogs for what it was, it had issues, it had an annoying protagonist that I didn't really resonate with. I could be Hacker Batman though and that had a certain appeal. Aiden Pearce shared part of my name, but I didn't connect with that character and the only other character I had any love for in that particular game was: T-Bone. The mission design promised a lot of freedom, but it didn't really deliver - fortunately for me, Watch_Dogs 2 manages to take what I disliked about the first game and turn it around, putting in my hands a hacker's playground of opportunity where there are multiple ways to get stuff done.
Watch those Dogs Again
I was sceptical about Watch_Dogs 2 after time with 1, like I said, I enjoyed 1 but I didn't really go back to it after I'd done all there was to see and do. It felt flat, lifeless and the city just didn't come alive at all. After spending over 48 hours with the game in terms of playtime, finishing the main story and doing the side operations (with a bit of online co-op with a friend) I can tell you that Watch_Dogs 2 is a much more enjoyable game, with colourful characters, interesting elements and a greater hacking scope than previous.
My time with it has been thoroughly enjoyable and I normally don't really connect with the characters here, like some of you, you might find them trite or irritating. I did at first, but as I delved deeper into the game and got to know them, there are moments of pure genius here that define the characters in their human emotions and render them as people rather than just mission givers or NPC tag-along counterparts.
Even the protagonist Marcus is a likable guy once you get to see his layers.
At least I thought so.
I'm not going to dive too deeply into the story or the characters, save to say that I preferred it to Watch_Dogs and enjoyed every mission, side operation and minute where I was able to hack and sneak my way through the expansive sandbox environments.
Different, and Familiar.
If you played Watch_Dogs then you'll be on familiar ground, save for a bunch of changes and the inclusion of some nifty new tools. Gone are the parts needed to build explosives and tools for example, they refresh after time. So you're never without a remote IED or shock charge. There's an emote wheel to interact with NPCs in the world, or other players if you play co-op.
Note: At the time of writing seamless open world multiplayer is still disabled, so I couldn't test that - but I did test a whole lot of co-op and so on.
There's the weapon wheel where you can choose your hacks, your weapons (slot 1 and 2) and gadgets. You print your weapons from a 3d printer in your HQ (Hackerspace) -- how cool is that?
Left on the d-pad rocks out the RC car (Jumper) and right drops your quadcopter (once you buy it) - both of these can be upgraded in the expansive skill tree.
A lot has changed, movement is smoother, shooting is smoother, cover to cover is smoother and traversal has been made simple. Sprint, hold RT and Marcus will parkour around various things in the world pretty seamlessly, allowing for some pretty spectacular escapes and breathtaking chases when you're running from gun-toting gangs and goons.
You can fight back, but Marcus isn't a combat vet, when the bullets start flying its best to seek cover. Melee is a solid option for sneaking around and KO'ing bad guys, but if you combo that with a quick hack phone stun, you can become a brutal powerball to face fighter in 1-on-1 situations.
Driving has been tweaked and overhauled. Muscle cars are my favourite mode of transport, and they're pretty spot on in this game. They've a nice acceleration, weight and mass to them, they drift and slide through tight turns nicely. You can also now shoot from the car too, dropping gadgets and even deploying the RC and quadcopter.
Hack the World
Hacking has been overhauled drastically, you can use the lmb tap to quick-hack which executes the most common hacks in Marcus' arsenal. Such as making the cars targeted veer off to the side suddenly, or an NPC's phone ring. Or you can hold lmb and pick from a variety of sub-options via the face buttons.
Call in a gang attack, or APB on someone... take that Donut Guy!
Experimentation is half the fun and I found some nice combos in my adventure through the story and side content. (there's a lot of both). The new VR hacks are fantastic uses of the quadcopter, simply go into Nethack mode and start the complex hack at certain locations/points in the story. It's the same deal, spin the various nodes to connect the blue power lines, only this time it handles really well and the nodes are actually superimposed over the place in the world.
This leads to some spectacular hack locations.
San Fransisco is a great playground, there's a lot going on, and at times I'm reminded of the living world of Saints Row 2. The NPCs all do their own thing, get angry with each other, you, have their own lives and mini-events to deal with. They drive recklessly sometimes and get into car crashes, they might calmly talk it out, or push it to a fight. The cops step in to various crimes that might happen around you, gang wars kick off and the world reacts with signs of emergent gameplay.
You can escalate things too.
Take a car for example, it nearly runs you over as you cross the road. You can choose to hack that guy, send him in reverse as he shoots past and run him into the bonnet of a cop car that's just behind him. Or you can stall his car, by hacking it forward and then back, until he gets out. Run over and smack him in the teeth for trying to run you down.
Or you can wait until he gets out of the car, hack him, steal his cash, make his phone ring. You can also call out an APB or a gang hit. I've seen cops go after a gang, with another rival gang joining in and watched the chaos from the quadcopter high in the sky.
Calling out a gang hit is a good way to sneak into restricted areas, because whilst the guards of that area are busy fighting the gang they're often too busy to notice you swoop in and borrow what they have.
San Fran is also a gorgeous place to drive around, lots of life day and night and lots of interesting landmarks with their own flavour/NPCs/world events.
There's a lot of side content too to discover, both in Nethack mode and also just driving around and interacting with your phone apps. You can do Driver SF missions for example, which are little driving tasks that often payout a pretty good salary.
It's all about DedSec this time and they need followers to do their thing. The more you do, such as taking photos for ScoutX app shots, Driver SF, missions, side operations, online co-op and more nets you followers and when you get enough, you level up, you get new story missions to play and new research points to spend in the Research App (where you improve Marcus' skills). This plays into the overall plotline too, you can choose to do the main stories, side operations in any order, mixing and matching as you like.
Yet the main narrative appears when you want to see it, and never intrudes unless you let it.
It's an interesting way of doing mission design and in this case: it works.
Watch_Dogs 2 is a good looking game, it has some nice graphics, some really gorgeous locations and on the Xbox One version I've not seen any glitches/errors in the textures or even frame-rate hitches. I'm told that with Seamless Online active all versions are really messed up, which is why Ubisoft deactivated the feature until they can ensure a good experience across the game.
I'm impressed with the animations in this one across all fronts and the voice work is solid. I love the music, and the radio station tracks are solid choices as well with a nice slew of stuff in Rock for example.
Playing with Others
You can play co-op, choose your online Avatar, but no ladies? C'mon Ubisoft - what? What have we not learnt from Assassin's Creed: Unity? Thankfully I know Ghost Recon: Wildlands has that covered, and so does the Division, but really? There are ladies that play the games too folks!
You can start a co-op game with a friend really easily, then you can play online missions, which are random and repeatable. You can explore the world, create chaos, find collectibles and have a load of fun. I played for hours with a friend in co-op and never got bored with the mode - we did a lot - we had a lot of fun and escaped from the cops numerous times.
There are Bounty Hunts where you can be summoned to take down other players, the intrusion hacking mode returns and so on. All of these can be launched from the map, just not seamlessly yet.
More Play, Less Watch.
Watch_Dogs 2 manages to improve on the first game a heck of a lot, does a lot of things well, has a few irks in terms of certain choices - such as no way to respec after you finish the game, or no way to earn more points once you're done with the story - so you can't max out those skill trees.
One glaring error
One huge bugbear and I'm going to take the side of gamers on this one: There is at the moment, unlike say the new CoD, no way to alter the safe zone on your TV. So unless you change your TVs settings to change aspect ratio, overscan and so on, you're stuffed if you don't have those settings on the TV model.
"I'm hoping that Ubisoft actually adds an option into the game, because this is a glaring error and really needs to be fixed." <-- This (Ed)
A good game, not a fantastic game (for the reasons outlined) by any stretch. It is fun, with lots to see and do and in an open world action-adventure its easy to get bored. I've not been bored yet and with the online operations (also completable solo) there's always a steady stream of stuff to play with.
Time to go chase down the Donut man again, and perhaps pet some more dogs.