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Watch Dogs 2 Review: Hack the World

By: Derek Strickland | Adventure in Gaming | Posted: Nov 26, 2016 6:55 pm
TweakTown Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Ubisoft


The sequel is filled with a vivacious and funky-fresh feel that carries over to the basic game mechanics. The general basics not only look new and smooth, but they feel that way too.


Marcus--aka Retr0, aka the main hipster hacktivist character--is much more acrobatic than Aiden Pearce: we'll see Marcus frequently backflip and frontflip off of ledges, and perform slick slides and fluid parkour movements straight out of Assassin's Creed.


In fact, the entire game feels like a mix of Assassin's Creed and Watch Dogs in terms of its overall controls.



The see-through x-ray vision is back, functioning similar to Eagle Vision in Assassin's Creed. The x-ray vision lets you see through walls to identify enemies and powerlines for terminals, which you'll often have to trace and hack multiple paths and points to access areas.



The third-person snap-to-cover system is back, but it's much more streamlined and dynamic to allow gamers to easily slide around corners and run from cover to cover. Even still, I sometimes have trouble with the cover system as Marcus will snap to objects when I need him to run, or sometimes not even snap to nearby objects. It can be tough to tell which objects you can hide behind and which you can't.


Hacking is responsive, and rightly so, as it's so intimately connected with the game and how you complete objectives. Hacking in itself is more dynamic and fluid this time around, with a bunch of fixes to make things feel more natural. Driving is better, but not by much, with the awkward camera still mucking things up.







Marcus gets seven different skill trees in the game, each with their own distinct advantages and functions. Some of the skills are necessary to make your hacktivist life much easier, including Create Distraction in the Social Engineering tree, which will distract any NPC in the game for a brief moment.


The best skills in this tree though are the APB: Suspect Located perk, which allows you to call the cops on anyone in the game (well, except for a cop) as well as the Gang Attack perk, which does the same thing only calls in a gang member.


Things get rather amusing and crazy when you start firing off these abilities left and right.




Remember how DedSec is trying to increase its followers to boost its processing power? The more followers you get, the more power you can invest into researching hacks.


So the progression feels natural and actually makes sense: when you reach a specific follow threshold, you're awarded a specific number of Research Points which are spent in any tree of your choice.




You'll want to choose wisely at first, however, as there's technically a finite amount of Research Points in the game.


These skill points are also strewn across the world and require ingenuity to grab. For instance, some skill boosts are on top of a building, requiring you to hack a scissor lift to reach, and some are hidden in vents, which can be grabbed by the RC Jumper. Some points, however, require specific perks to unlock, like the RC Jumper's extra high jump perk.







The entire Bay Area is pretty much connected, meaning you can hack almost everything in the game: NPCs, every car in the game, cranes, scissor lifts, gas pipes, etc.


You can hack a gas mane on a busy intersection and explode half a dozen cars, hack the cars themselves and move them in specific directions, use your RC Jumper to infiltrate zones via vents and hack nearby terminals to unlock doors, and a ton of other different areas.



You can hack everyone's phone and see their personal messages, conversations, and info, or steal their money and even overcharge their phone batteries to make them explode like a Samsung Note 7.


One of my favorite things to do in the game is to hack the scissor lifts and ride around town while 50 feet in the air, especially since I can practically get on top of every building.




Hacking is very situational, and Ubisoft has done a great job making each area feel both realistic but also provide you with the tools you need to solve a particular problem. Marcus will frequently have to access restricted area to grab data or hack a router, with the areas themselves just crawling with baddies. Using the RC drone you can fly up and mark each enemy on your HUD and remotely trigger nearby hazards like vents and HVAC units to knock them out.


There's so many different ways you can combine your hacktivist skills to tackle missions, and even more different outcomes. The NPC AI isn't stupid (unless you hack them, of course) and they'll react to situations quite aptly, making the entire experience feel immersive.




Watch Dogs 2 also has a puzzler mini-game dynamic that can be kind of frustrating at times. It's built on the hack-the-terminal-and-follow-the-path function found in the first game, and this time around you'll have to swap these little pipe icons to ensure the electricity flows through and unlocks a node.


While most of these puzzles are easy, some of them--especially the ones locking Research Points like the one at Blume Stadium--can be pretty tough.




Tactical Stealth


Watch Dogs 2 has a strong emphasis on strategy and tactical planning rather than brute force; while you can rush into specific areas and gun everyone down, you're strongly discouraged to do so. Marcus can't really take a lot of bullets, and the firefights will often explode out of control and end up with you facedown and dead.


Players are pushed to use Marcus' array of unique hacking skills and tech to complete missions, and the devs give us a huge assortment of nifty gadgets and tools to solve goals.


In many ways you feel like a kid in a candy store, not sure what to pick, with the toys themselves offering a number of different ways to tackle objectives.




Using the RC Jumper to silently infiltrate hostile areas through vents and ducts can be satisfying, but it also takes some practice. The drone is absolutely amazing, and allows you to get the lay of the land and mark enemies on your HUD.


You can even hack enemy phones to distract them, or hack their headsets to deliver squelching feedback to temporarily disorient them. Slip by unnoticed while they're distracted, or even sneak up and take them out with a silent takedown.




One of the best methods to distract guards, however, is the ABP: Suspect Located skill in the Social Engineering tree. With this you literally hack an NPC's rap sheet and convict them of a crime they didn't commit, sending the police to their location immediately.


This often results in a chaotic gunfight between police and security guards or gang members, allowing you a window to slip on by unnoticed. You can do this multiple times, and the cops usually almost always find a way into the restricted compound to arrest the bad guys.




You can also use the Gang Attack skill in the same tree to call in rival gangs and start a literal gang war. It's a very bloody way to get past security, but it's still hilarious and shows just how out-of-the-box Ubisoft's thought process is with this game.


I rather enjoy calling the cops on enemies or sending in gangs to take down guards or baddies, and I think this is one of the most creative features Watch Dogs 2 has to offer.


It changes the entire dynamic and flow of the game completely, and gives you an almost guaranteed distraction that helps you get out of hairy situations.




What's more is that there's a very distinct window for stealthiness; enemies will spot you rather easily, and you have only seconds to improvise a solution before they instantly alert all the other enemies and gun you down.


As a result, missions can often be time consuming and take multiple tries to complete. While I enjoy challenge in games like this, I do find that Marcus' marshmallow/spongy nature to be a roadblock when things go out of control, and sometimes the enemies are eagle-eyed to the point of unrealism.





Shooter mechanics


Watch Dogs 2's third-person shooter mechanics are actually pretty satisfying, but the game doesn't really want you gunning down enemies; Ubisoft wants you to think about solving missions tactically. But there will always be moments where you have to use lethal force, so you'll want to be prepared.


The best way to tackle Watch Dogs 2 is to go at it as a jack of all trades. Now it is entirely possible to play the game without killing anyone, but it's very, very difficult because accidents happen, and the NPCs can be rather stupid. But even if you wanted to use non-lethal force in combat only, it'd still be tricky, as the baddies are pretty ruthless and will pepper you full of bullets without much provocation.




Luckily Marcus has a nice array of potential weapons in his arsenal. Players can use the 3D printer at any Hackerspace HQ to make their own firearms, but you'll have to pay to unlock them. The most enjoyable of all these--the CTRL ALT DEL grenade launcher--is about $100K so it's not exactly an early-game item. You can also make rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and more.


There's also these grenades that either explore or knock enemies out--or both--depending on which node you unlock on the skill tree.




You actually don't have to pay to unlock certain weapons. Marcus can swap out any gun lying on the ground from his dead foes, so if you see a nice Goblin rifle from a SWAT team, you can go and grab it and lock it into your inventory.


Even if you die, your items and guns are still there--again, Ubisoft is focused more on fun than punishing gamers.







Driving is improved in Watch Dogs 2, but it's still hit or miss. Some of the cars feel extremely clunky, and I understand that's by design, as not every car can be a svelte Ferrari. Every car has its own stats this time around, and you can even unlock cars permanently by buying them at a retailer. Once bought, these cars can be teleported to you via a handy car-on-demand service...but most of the good cars are pretty expensive.


Although vehicles handle differently, the driving is generally improved over the first version. Despite this boost Rockstar Games is still the king of open-world driving, and Ubisoft still has a lot to learn.


This is evidenced by one key flaw that makes driving much more complicated than need be: the auto-centering camera.




When you're driving any vehicle in Watch Dogs 2, whether it's a car, a bot, an ATV, a four-wheeler or even a go-kart, the camera always auto-centers itself against your will. This is particularly frustrating when you're in a high-speed chase and need to turn the camera to make sharp turns, but only having the damn thing swivel back to the middle of your bumper and mess up your vision.


There's no way to toggle auto-centering drive cam on the PS4 or Xbox One, so it's something you just have to live with (but you don't have to like it).




You can also add a hefty speed boost to any vehicle with the engine overclock skill, making for some energetic and rather fun tire-screeching chaos around the city.


Watch Dogs 2 has a smattering of little side-quests like go-kart races, dirt-bike races, and even an awesome Uber mission that involves as thrill-seeking YouTuber hiring you to blast across ramps at high-speeds throughout the city. Ubisoft has put a heavy emphasis on pure enjoyability this time around, and it shows at nearly every turn.



Immersion interruption


Any time you start a mission, the game does a loading transition that interrupts the game. These transitions actually will interrupt everything and basically reset a given area, which can lead to some frustration, but it can also save you.


For example, let's say you're in a huge firefight with the cops, but there's a "Star Mission" indicator nearby. If you run to this icon and start the mission, the cops will disappear. Sadly, any awesome cars you have nearby will also disappear, so keep this in mind.


I had just stolen the rare Frutatto Rainbow Missile before I started a mission, and the motorbike promptly disappeared after the transition interruption. So don't pull up in an awesome sports car before you start up a mission unless you're okay with losing it.












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