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Watch Dogs 2 Review: Hack the World

By: Derek Strickland | Adventure in Gaming | Posted: 6 days, 3 hours ago
TweakTown Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Ubisoft
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Watch Dogs 2's Bay Area is recreated with superlative detail, complemented by a set of new dynamic weather effects (atmospheric volumetric fog, rain, unique lighting and shadow effects, etc) and incredible new NPC integrations that make the game feel literally alive.

 

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Next-gen NPCs

 

 

The game world has such incredible depth that players can gets lost just watching the city itself: the NPCs are beyond anything I've seen in most open-world games, and go about their business like real living people.

 

 

They'll fight, shoot each other, smoke, steal cars, do jobs, take selfies, kiss, dance, sing, laugh, cry, cuss and genuinely act like people--but sometimes it's not what they do that's so impressive, but how and where they do it.

 

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These characters are extremely diverse and colorful and actually have their own personalities. Their interactions in the world are very organic and natural, adding an important sense of agency to any experience, regardless of where you are.

 

They all have names, occupations, quirks, personalities and will react different in certain situations.

 

But these characters are more than their individual parts, or more than each other; it's when they come together as an entire populace, when they group together and live among one another, does the magic shine through.

 

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The actual DedSec characters are awesome as well, even if they're a bit unrealistic and too rebellious. They do have their own spark, a kind of youthful spirit that invigorates the game and the franchise altogether, making the experience feel aligned with its overall themes. There's not really any inconsistencies here and the team's meme hacker culture is intact.

 

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I particularly like Wrench, who wears this humorous LED mask that actually reflects his emotions--instead of seeing his actual face, you see text-based faces on the mask itself, with things like o___o and x____x and ^___^ showing up frequently. Wrench is the fixer and is more attuned to actual hardware--he's responsible for the groups custom robot and just about all the fancy tech they use.

 

Sitara is the colorful artist of the crew, adding her own personal touch to the HQ hackerspaces and even the hacked DedSec Cyberdriver smartcar, which is pretty fun by the way.

 

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Josh is a high-functioning autistic who's actually the most grounded of the crew, and is probably the smartest of them all. He finds ways to manipulate code to infiltrate the interconnected world, as well as hacking bank accounts, servers--you name it, Josh can most likely break into it.

 

Horatio is street-smart, but he's also a whiz when it comes to computers and serves as the operation manager for the team. He actually had a job at Nudle, the game's satire on Google, so he learned many of Big Brother's secrets.

 

 

The NPCS themselves will interact with players in such a way that makes the game feel genuinely alive. For instance, I pulled a stun gun on a particular woman.

 

After looking at her hacker profile card, I saw that she's a legal handgun carrier; so when I pulled my stun gun on her, she pulled out her own gun in self-defense and actually shot me.

 

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This is an everyday NPC we're talking about. Not an enemy, not a cop--just an everyday woman who walked around in the streets and just so happened to have a legal permit to carry a firearm, and was totally willing to gun me down for threatening her (I only shot her with a stun gun, by the way).

 

 

I've seen gay NPCs hold hands, I've seen a man and a woman make out nearby a party, I've seen a bunch of college students sing songs and drink beer by a bonfire. Hell, I've even seen NPCs eat ice cream outside of an ice cream parlor.

 

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I've seen cancer patients and Parkinsons patients smoking marijuana outside of medical marijuana clinics, dazzling body-painted performance artists, flower girls, and even a guy dressed up in a donut outfit offering free hugs for a donut.

 

They'll use umbrellas when its raining, and even shiver when they're caught out in the pelting torrential showers. They'll cower in fear and beg if tormented by assailants, or even defend themselves with weapons if they have them. The NPCs will pick fights with each other, and even discuss their daily lives to the point where the conversations can veer off into different directions, sometimes ending with a simple handshake, a loving hug, or a brutal fistfight.

 

The NPCs will even fight the cops! I've seen it happen many, many times...and sometimes the cops are even ganged up on by multiple characters.

 

The game constantly finds new ways to impress you, whether it's the interactive and dynamic NPCs, the amazing buildings and environments, or the action-packed mechanics and rather sci-tech infused storyline.

 

 

These characters are quirky, humorous, dangerous and unique--but more importantly, they genuinely feel alive, and so does the world by association. They bring a true sense of vibrancy and vitality to the in-game digital space, merging with the amazing backdrops in a fluid and believable way.

 

You forget that the NPCs are just pixelations there to make the world feel real, and they genuinely take on a different dimension and scope, adding something marvelous to the in-game world.

 

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Some NPCs will also be scripted to do certain things. For instance, there are these crazy "bat ladies" that will smash their boyfriend's cars with a baseball bat to punish their erstwhile lovers for cheating.

 

I've seen this happen many times, and often the NPCs will smash the car until it's in flames, and then turn and fight others.

 

 

The cops are also absolutely crazy and hilarious, and often react in absolutely ridiculous ways. For example, I saw a cop arrest a woman, and a nearby NPC actually cussed the officer out. So the policeman let the lady go and tried to arrest the miscreant, but he ran.

 

Then the officer started shooting, which provoked a nearby gang member. A massive shootout ensued, and SWAT were actually deployed, kicking up the craziness to a whole new level.

 

It's these small things that go a long way to making the game feel alive. Watch Dogs 2 is replete with interesting and often hilarious NPC interactions, and clearly showcases Ubisoft's next-gen NPC engine.

 

 

I'm also quite amazed with the level of detail that the Bay Area has: the buildings are digitally rendered in painstaking detail, providing some absolutely beautiful and incredible backdrops.

 

No matter where you are in the game, the world is so filled, so alive, so genuinely immersive that you have a true sense of scale. There's beauty everywhere in this game, even on an outdated console like Sony's PlayStation 4.

 

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Next-Gen Open World

 

 

The game takes place over three regions in the Bay Area: the massive city of San Francisco to the west, the forested Marin to the north, and the busy Oakland to the east. Each of these regions are recreated with such vivid attention to detail that I was blown away--I still am, actually--ever time I crossed a bridge, or simply ran around any given area in the game.

 

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Watch Dogs 2 is so absolutely massive in scope and size that it represents a new calling for Ubisoft; it transcends what I've seen from the publisher in terms of realism thus far, and they took a slice of our real-world and placed it in digital form.

 

The map is big, but it's what's inside the actual map that makes Watch Dogs 2 feel magical. The world is filled with all kinds of little secrets and places to explore.

 

During my travels I found the real-life town of Twin Peaks, a massive computer at a park, a bunch of gnomes, a mock-Google headquarters called Nudle that had a nifty slide and an incredible building structure, reveled at the sunset gleaming off the Tidis building, cavorted around Silicon Valley, and I came across these amazing Frank Lloyd Wright-styled smart-home condos in the southwest of San Fran that even had retractable garages.

 

Ubisoft has fully fleshed out San Francisco with authentic locales and world-famous monuments and regions: everything from the legendary Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Japantown, Sausalito, the Bay Bridge, the Palace Fine Arts, the famous Painted Ladies, and so much more have been rendered in-game, anchoring the experience to reality.

 

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This is the type of game you could play for months and still find new things. There's so many small little details that pull you in, and you genuinely want to explore, look around, and take a bunch of screenshots of the amazing sunsets or incredible skylines at night.

 

 

The buildings themselves are incredible. Every edifice is a work of art, making Watch Dogs 2 feel like a galleria of masterpiece paintings that, to me, transcend the mock-Los Angeles of GTA V's Los Santos. Mixed with the atmospheric effects and the day to night cycle, the world looks absolutely spellbinding, and invokes all kinds of feelings as a result.

 

Every time you feel like you've seen something incredible, the game throws something else at you and makes you redefine your expectations.

 

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