Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Genre: Action, Open-World
Editor's Note: Every screenshot contained in this review with the exception of the DedSec art pic was captured in-game from the base PS4 version of Watch Dogs 2. I've noticed that a portion of the screenshots, while at native 1920 x 1080 resolution, are rather pixelated, jaggy, and lower quality. Oddly enough, the actual game doesn't look like this on a full 1080p HDTV screen, and I'm not sure what's causing the disparity in quality.
Watch Dogs 2 is Ubisoft's sprawling open-world magnum opus that represents a new leap forward for the developer's sandbox engine. The game itself is a crowning jewel in world-building, and stands as a pinnacle of true next-generation open-world action-adventure gaming.
Ubisoft are fast-approaching the master status of open-world building, going toe-to-toe with the skillful artisans at Rockstar Games. Watch Dogs 2 feels every bit as immersive, dynamic and massive as Grand Theft Auto V, propelling not only the franchise into new heights, but Ubisoft's own world-building technology.
More than anything, though, the game is built around one thing: fun. Despite all the incredibly detailed cityscapes, buildings, neighborhoods and NPCs, the Ubisoft put player enjoyment at the forefront of everything else. And given how impressive the rest of the game is, this says a lot.
You genuinely feel like you're a kid in a candy store while playing Watch Dogs 2. That old phrase "the world is your oyster" rings with total truth here, as you're given the freedom to do what you want and how you want. While there are still some balancing constraints to ensure the game is, well, an actual game, the experience is built upon sheer enjoyment and hilarity.
In Watch Dogs 2, you can hack everything.
You can hack every car on the road, and create your own traffic accidents for chaotic fun or diversions for stealth infiltration.
You can hack cameras and spot enemies, or hack doors remotely. You can hack remote-controlled scissor lifts and cranes to reach the tops of buildings, or use your 3D printed drone to scout locations and even drop grenades on foes.
This sheer level of freedom gives the game a whole new sense of depth, allowing players tons of different ways to not only have fun, but tackle missions and objectives.
Players take on the role of Marcus, a young black hacktivist who joins up with the colorful and young hacktivist group DedSec. Instead of being chilling and sober like hacking group Anonymous, DedSec is radical, colorful, and all about targeted chaos.
While they do peddle havoc, DedSec's hacks always carry with them a sense of rebellious youth, and are aimed at "freeing the people" from the always-on world of surveillance.
DedSec's hacks and infiltrations are one-half freedom fighter and one-half publicity stunt: the game's main motivation is to recruit followers who willingly lend their computer's processing power to fuel the hacktivist group's collected power. So the missions themselves are focused on being flashy and getting attention, which they then use to "wake" people up from their heavily surveillanced slumber.
As Marcus, players are given the tools to ply their trade to ultimately become a modern-age amalgamation of Robin Hood and V mixed together: a phone that can hack the entire city, a drone that can fly around and remotely hack, and the amazing RC drone that can infiltrate restricted zones and hack computers and terminals.
In more ways than one, Watch Dogs 2 feels like a high-tech GTA V. It matches Rockstar's blockbuster hit in a multitude of different ways and comparatively feels deeper in scope and specific themes.
For example, Watch Dogs 2 speaks a specific message and warns about the dangers of constant always-on surveillance via ctOS and our inter-connected world becoming a hacker's playground--which, luckily for us, it is.
The game has fun with this message, opting for a more rebellious and colorful approach that merges Anonymous' somber tone with Mr. Robot's devil-may-care attitude.
Throughout the game Marcus takes part in missions that "free the people" by exposing the truth behind ctOS, always-on smart-homes, and more.
For example, one mission revolves around showing how HAUM, a company that makes IoT devices to make smart-homes more "smart", is actually selling the data they collect via always-on devices to insurance agencies and the government.
In this soon-to-be futuristic dystopia, HAUM watches people in their own homes and monitors everything from their eating and recreational habits and sells the data accordingly. People have become a kind of data commodity, with their daily lives being sold to the highest bidder; what they watch and do is sold to advertisers who target the populace with more relevant ads, and if you eat a cheeseburger or smoke in your own home, insurance agencies are notified and you have a hard time getting health insurance.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of Watch Dogs 2's high-tech themes, and players uncover all kinds of interesting (and often satirical) corruption and conspiracies.
Despite its similarities to GTA V, the San Fran hacktivist adventure isn't derivative: rather than borrow heavily from other open-world games, it furthers mechanics, features and themes found in Aiden Pearce's original hacktivist romp.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Watch Dogs 2 is empowered by its similarities to GTA V, not weakened by them. The game pushes many boundaries that GTA V doesn't, specifically in the strategic high-tech DIY stealth options, and the seamless drop-in co-op, which merges singleplayer and multiplayer together incredibly well.
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