Having spent around 25 minutes with Watch Dogs 2 it is clear that it's a very different game from the first one. If Watch Dogs was Star Wars: A New Hope, then Watch Dogs 2 is Space Balls. Perhaps the difference isn't quite that pronounced, but the tone is certainly altered. It's still a game about screwing with big brother, and there are still some rather dark real world implications, but Ubisoft seems to have looked more towards the tone of Rockstar's GTA V than towards that of its predecessor.
Even if rather serious issues like surveillance and manipulation of elections are part of the story, Watch Dogs 2 isn't taking itself too seriously. The structure of the game where you build support for Dedsec does also appear to give the player more freedom in terms of what sort of missions they want to complete.
Whether that's a good or a bad thing we leave up to you to judge, but Wrench certainly seems like the kind of sidekick you'll either love or hate. Marcus Holloway on the other hand seems much easier to like than Aiden from the first game.
The demo we played saw us discover an anomaly at the top of Coit Tower. Someone was picking up information using Stingrays and the mission saw us first do some detective work before heading out collect the data over near Pier 39. Sadly no time for sea lions (we did go looking, but didn't see them), but we did get to sample two of the customisation available in terms of Marcus' outfits. Using the radio controlled drones at Marcus' disposal we went for a stealth approach and managed to collect the data. As we made out escape we were spotted, and running away we hacked into some cars that we sent backing into our pursuers. The drones themselves offer some great alternatives for exploration.
The Bay Area is the true star of Watch Dogs 2 and it's important to note that while San Francisco may be the most recognisable part of the game world to most, it's not a game set entirely in San Francisco itself. There's also Oakland, Silicon Valley with its tech companies, and you'll also get to explore Alcatraz (though Ubisoft weren't keen to divulge just what the former prison island, current tourist attraction and bird sanctuary, will offer in terms of gameplay). Landmarks like Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, Coit Tower, Lombard Street are in there, and while the scale isn't 1:1 there's certainly a large sandbox to explore and manipulate, and the topography of San Francisco is just as you'd expect.
One thing about Watch Dogs 2 that's noticeable from the very first minute that you play is how much more systemic the world is and how much depth Ubisoft have put into the mechanics. Sure you can still do quick hacks that will get the job done, but for players who like to get a bit more creative there's tons to play with. Even though 25 minutes was not nearly enough to get a feel for how rewarding the mechanics are long term, we certainly got the feeling that there's much to master. Ubisoft talked about three play-styles: the straight forward approach, the stealth one, and a trickier one.
Watch Dogs 2 isn't a shooter at its core, but the shooting is serviceable and works when you're in a tight spot. It does feel more like a last resort, however, when stealth and tricks have failed, rather than something you'd choose as a strategy. The same goes for melee - it works well, but it just doesn't have the gameplay depth of the hacking and manipulation of the world.
For the second mission in the demo we were joined by a developer for a bit of co-op. A bit like in Dead Rising 3 you'll come across other players in your game world and you can choose to pair up with them and play through missions. It seems like a great casual solution, even if what we got to experience was a highly controlled scenario, and this sort of thing obviously needs to be sampled in the wild before we can pass any judgement.
This mission took us to Oakland and we could clearly see how different the environment was compared to the more affluent San Francisco. The dogs in Oakland are larger and meaner (yes, there will be actual watch dogs in this game, and lots of them too). The objective was to collect a couple of pieces of data that two characters had on their person.
Our first taste of Watch Dogs 2 left us with a positive impression. It is clear that some of the stylistic choices are going to appeal to some players more than others, and the new tone and attitude is a bit much at times, however, that should not overshadow the many positives including the new setting, the deep mechanics, and the many opportunities on offer here.