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Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2

Ubisoft has really upped its game for the hack-filled open-world sequel.

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Ubisoft listens to their fans, that much is certain. The first Assassin's Creed was filled with good ideas, but it was held back by repetitive mission design and by a main character who lacked depth and nuance. Assassin's Creed 2 took all those good ideas and made them live up to their initial promise. Today Ezio stands as one of the best main characters in gaming history, and his various adventures benefitted from more varied activities and a more fleshed out world. The first Watch Dogs was also filled with great ideas, but like Assassin's Creed it was held back by a main character with no depth and by gameplay that never quite managed to live up to our expectations. Fortunately, Ubisoft still knows how to make a sequel.

The first Watch Dogs ended up being a victim of its own hype. It became the big surprise reveal at E3 back in 2012, but it wasn't released until 2014, and even then it couldn't live up to the promise of what we had seen when it was first unveiled. Expectations had been growing throughout the years between announcement and release, but the game simply didn't live up to them. Luckily, though, it sold well, and Ubisoft didn't just throw a quick sequel at us for the sake of turning a profit. They stood back, taking their time in development with this follow-up. And now as we edge closer to launch they're determined not to delay the game again. Determined now to always show the product that fans will later get to play. And determined to live up to the expectations they first set with that first game and its initial reveal.

We had two undisturbed hours with Watch Dogs 2. That is always a good sign that the developers are happy with their game. They didn't interrupt or offer to show us the ropes, they simply let us learn from our mistakes and achieve our own successes. The first person we met in the game is Marcus, the young hacker who takes Aiden Pearce's place. Not the biggest footsteps to follow in, but nevertheless it's a path he succeeds in walking. Whether Marcus seems more characterful because we keep comparing him to Aiden is difficult to say. But no matter, he is definitely a much needed change of scenery.

Part of us feared that Watch Dogs 2's dialogue would be defined by youth, in the same way that, to an extent, it was in Life is Strange. By which we mean "hella-bad". Or to put it another way: dialogue written by older writers trying to craft younger voices. Luckily that wasn't the case. The dialogue is sharp and sometimes also quite entertaining, so much so that at one point we even stopped the car just to listen to characters finish their conversation.

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It isn't just the characters and the dialogue that have been tuned since the first game. The same can be said about the new free-run system that allows Marcus to roll and jump across obstacles in a flowing motion. Just like when a few button-presses could help you jump across the rooftops of Rome like it was nothing at all, Marcus is equally straightforward to control. You just have to start running, press R2, and then he handles the rest. The way that Marcus fights and runs also adds to his rebellious personality. He doesn't take any crap from anyone and will always shove his middle finger in the face of the big, evil corporations. With Aiden Pearce it always seemed strange to run over 17 people on your way to your nephew's birthday and then afterwards pretend not to be a serial killer. The relationship between Aiden in the cut-scenes and the Aiden you were in control of never quite tallied up. Marcus, on the other hand, loves to create chaos. He sends cars flying in all directions and never apologises for doing so. But that is not all that separates the two.

Our new, young rebel also has access to more toys than his more serious predecessor, and both the drone and the pint-sized vehicle spring immediately to mind. The drone is perfect for checking out an area you're sneaking into. By flying high above the heads of the guards or in through windows, you can mark your enemies and even throw bombs down at them. When the drone has seen the whole area it is time to whip out the small vehicle. The houses are all equipped with ventilation shafts that are perfect for driving into and hacking from the inside. We managed to hack our way into a house and get out with the mark without ever going inside.

Watch Dogs 2 never judged us based on how we played. Throughout the demo we got caught almost every time we tried to sneak Marcus into a building, but it was never a problem. We would just switch weapons and try to hack everything explosive around the place. The game let us change our approach so that it could reflect the situation we were in. Whether you opt for total stealth, or if you prefer to go loud when the occasion arises, different styles are facilitated here.

An aspect we weren't so pleased with was riding on motorbikes. The cars seemed to have the weight you would expect them to, but the motorcycles felt unnaturally light. If we took off after a jump we would keep flying for such a long time that you'd think gravity had taken a short tea break. The rest of the vehicles had more finesse, but don't expect the same control over them as in, say, GTA V. They will get you from A to B, but the game only truly shines when you step out from behind the wheel and let Marcus run, sneak and hack.

It's doubtful whether in ten years Marcus will be remembered with the same fondness as Ezio, but even if there's a little less love it could still turn out nicely for this new anti-hero. In classic Ubisoft style there's activities all over San Fransisco, but Watch Dogs 2 is not a lazy repetition of previous successes. The stealth part of the offering is surprisingly strong, the dialogue is funny, and Marcus has access to a lot of lovely toys. Ubisoft has certainly learned from the criticisms they received following the first game, and are now making changes to a similar extent to what we saw during the transition from Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed 2. So yeah, it would seem that Ubisoft listens to their fans.

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REVIEW. Written by Sam Bishop

"The art of hacking in Watch Dogs 2 produces gameplay variety that fans of the series will appreciate."



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