Just three weeks before the official release of Ubisoft's next open-world game, Watch Dogs 2, we have once again taken the opportunity to explore the sometimes sunny San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area, this time as new boy Marcus Holloway.
In addition to the metropolitan area, three other districts await us; the rural Marine County, Oakland, and the most interesting place from a hacking and technological point of view, Silicon Valley. Right off the bat we noticed that the world map is pleasantly quiet and icons and mission waypoints occur only sporadically. Like Grand Theft Auto V, we have to find a lot of things before icons will appear on our map, so it's certainly not overloaded and we didn't feel overwhelmed.
With the unique appeal of San Francisco and the Bay area, Ubisoft Montreal has renewed its driving physics and introduced a sophisticated damage model for the many vehicles you can steer up and down the iconic city streets. There has also been a lot of work put into the movement of the character, too, as Marcus is well-versed in parkour and can easily overcome obstacles as moves around the world. We would compare it to the movement of a young and energetic athlete, in that you move with more freedom, although you are by no means an Ezio Auditore.
Watch Dogs 2 is set in the present day and thus it tries to take into account current trends. The Internet of Things, a networked life, and our digital footprints; all themes that are addressed in one way or another. For example, some of Marcus' missions can be obtained by scanning certain people with his smartphone and tracking that information. The characters themselves are young, free and crazy, and that is the mood of the game overall, despite some of the serious issues that are explored. Some missions seem to be designed to capture the spirit of the times, and even if the funky setting doesn't appeal to us personally, we felt entertained by the vision that the game offers.
The multiplayer element was a big deal in the first game, and its successor tries to build on those foundations. In many missions other players supervise you and occasionally intervene, and Watch Dogs 2 uses seamless multiplayer that mixes offline content with multiplayer. Loading screens only occur when you jump to another point on the world map, and joining and leaving the online servers does not interrupt your game in any way. However, as far as we can tell at this moment in time, it seems that there's very little variety in terms of the activities that you'll find in multiplayer, which is a shame.
In the preview build we played we also came to another realisation: it doesn't seem particularly well suited to stealth. We tried simple hacking missions where we had to penetrate a well guarded area and download data from a server therein. This would in turn trigger the guards, who would then pull out their weapons and go loud, and it was these moments that we really missed having the option to load the last checkpoint (we had to let ourselves be killed so we could start the section again). When we encountered other hackers during normal play, these situations escalated very quickly, and stealth lovers should approach Watch Dogs 2 with this in mind.
Watch Dogs 2 can be great fun, and with its youthful charm, over-the-top characters, and a focus on current technology and media trends, Ubisoft wants to win over the tech-savvy hearts of prospective players when it lands on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in November. Despite a couple of concerns, Watch Dogs 2 still leaves a great impression, and the sandbox in and around the city of San Francisco had us convinced. In addition to some highly sophisticated multiplayer features, Ubisoft looks set to provide us with plenty of reasons to travel to Northern California in the coming winter.
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