Watch Dogs 2 Is No Hack

User Rating: 8 | Watch Dogs 2 PS4

This review originally appeared in the January 2017 of Miami Dade College's newspaper, The Reporter:

In a world where our cyber security is always at risk Watch Dogs 2 seems to have come out at a perfect time. A week after Donald Trump was announced as president-elect, Ubisoft releases a game about a diverse group of hipsters and their quest to take down mega-corporations.

And, in all honesty, it’s pretty good.

The team at Ubisoft Montreal set out to improve the issues of the first Watch Dogs and, for the most part, succeeded.

First, the good, because there’s surprisingly a lot of improved aspects in the game. Specifically, the story and characters are a lot more dynamic. Gone is the gruff and two-dimensional Aiden Pearce, a character that tried being Sam Fisher or Solid Snake, but only came out sounding like a parody of every action character ever.

Instead, we are introduced to Marcus Holloway, a member of the hacktivist group, DeadSec. Holloway is easily the more interesting player character of the two games, his story of proving himself among the ranks and trying to make the world a little less awful is compelling and relatable.

The first few hours into the game offer an interesting storyline for players to follow, but it’s a lot to work for. The first few missions are a drag, having sneak into a place, avoid guards and hack something. Occasionally you’ll get steal a cool car or get into a wild police chase, but it’s not that often.

Once you explore the world however, it’s much more beautiful and rewarding. San Francisco is a detailed and (somewhat) populated world full of some dynamic citizens. The game offers interesting interactions like dancing and taking selfies. It’s a pretty fun way to waste time when exploring.

The game builds a more convincing world than Watch Dogs’ Chicago. The sun-soaked beaches and sprawling urban landscapes feel alive and well, listening to music whenever you’d like makes it feel real. Nothing beats escaping the cops while Run the Jewels blasts through Marcus’ smartphone.

Gameplay improvements have been made to the hacking. After complaints that the one-button mechanics in the first game were too easy, Ubisoft added a few more features to add a strategic element to the hacking experience.

Marcus can remotely control cars, enter an Arkhamesque detective mode to survey the area and even control a drone. Unfortunately, the gameplay can’t fix the difficulty spikes. Cops now act like predators, able to detect Marcus and alert others by sight alone. Stealth options are plentiful, but not being able to move downed bodies makes the game unnecessarily difficult. The amount of times that I have been gunned down by enemies is too frustratingly high to count.

Driving still feels awkward and there’s no weight to the cars, but being able to fire guns from any vehicle is a nice addition.

Character customization is also vastly improved. Instead of changing the color of your trenchcoat like in the first game, Marcus can wear a donut shirt, short shorts and a beanie while causing mayhem around Silicon Valley. It makes the game more personal, though the personal aspects also bring in more problems.

As good as the story is, the shift in tone between missions and cutscenes is jarring. Marcus is a fun-loving and laid back guy, so why is he killing cops and security guards?

It’s a small complaint, but one that impacts the flow and pace of the story line.

The flow of the game is also interrupted by the various online chases and hacking encounters. On more than one occasion, my single-player experience was invaded by another player. At first, it was annoying and there were constant disconnections from the Ubisoft servers, but it gets more and more fun each time.

The immersion, including your computer controlled partners explaining why you’re being hacked, adds a lot to the experience.

The minute-long load times? They do not add to that experience, but it’s a minor complaint.

Ultimately, Watch Dogs 2 is an evolution in an up and coming franchise. The hacking mechanics, the Power Rangers-esque group of characters with attitude and the intriguing narrative easily make it leagues better than its predecessor.