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Watch Dogs 2: Review

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It's hard to escape the bad press that the original Watch Dogs game received when it was released in 2014. It was a great game that was clouded in disappointment after the downgrade in graphics and the missing pieces of technology that were supposed to be in the game. Along with that struggle, was the argument that the price tag for the season pass never amounted to any sort of value for the fans dedicated to the new franchise. Watch Dogs 2 made it through development regardless of how the predecessor was received and this might just be a good thing for all involved.
Watch Dogs 2 is an open world action adventure third person game which has been developed by Ubisoft Montreal. It's a sequel to the original Watch Dogs game, however this time around you won't be playing as the same protagonist from the first game. Aiden Pearce from the first game has been replaced with a new character named Marcus Holloway. Marcus is a big time hacker that joins the hacking group DedSec with the explicit aim to bring down Blume and ctOS 2.0.

Watch Dogs 2's story continues on after the events of the first game where the company Blume attempted to run Chicago using the original iteration of ctOS. Our new hero Marcus is has become disgruntled with Blume after he was accused of hacking crimes that he did not commit, and so he joins up with DedSec and wages a war against Blume and ctOS 2.0.

To simplify the story's arch, ctOS 2.0 is an operating system that promises everything from making day to day activities easier for the citizens of San Francisco (where this game is set), to keeping everyone's lives more private and secure. DedSec find out that this is not the case and that ctOS 2.0 is spying on people and giving their data to companies at high prices. Although this is a work of fiction, all of this does sound familiar to what can and is happening in real life. An example of this intrusion is that for people that order too much pizza, health insurance companies will get this information and in turn, raise premiums for these people. So the war begins with Marcus and DedSec taking on the big guys to put a stop to this nonsense that the people just don't seem to realise is happening.
The new characters introduced into Watch Dogs 2 come across as childish simpletons early on in the game. At first I began to feel a sense of embarrassment for the characters as they started off with tasks that made them look like foolish fanboys by stealing a car from the set of their favourite blockbuster movie. Although my opinion of these themes still remains the same, after progressing through the story more, I started to feel a little more respect for the characters as they grew.

One of the biggest drawbacks for the emotion and immersion in the first Watch Dogs is that the main character wasn't very relatable. He was in all essence a nobody. I found it hard to connect with him and he didn't feel like the hero that he was meant to be. A little bit of this feels like it's still here with Marcus but I can't help but feel that it was meant to be like that in order to give the feeling that you are playing just a regular person that has skills in hacking. Either way though, Marcus does come across as a little bland with emotion and expression most of the time, to then only display strange over the top celebrations when you succeed.

While Marcus isn't exactly the type of hero I would be dying to control, he does do a lot of things right in the game play department. Marcus brings with him a new arsenal of toys and gadgets to play with which is expected for a progressive sequel. The addition of the Jump Car, a remote controlled device that can fit into small places and hack terminals from a distance is extremely welcome and adds more choices on how you complete missions within the game. Another great addition is the Quadracopter, a remote controlled flying drone that has the ability to fly around a mission area for the purpose of reconnaissance and for planning out your attack. It would have been too easy to make these tools overpowered and break the game, but they have been used intelligently to add more options for approaches to game play without unleashing too much power on the player.
The movement system has been revamped to make moving around environments a little more enjoyable. Marcus is a master of Parkour and will often use style to move around and climb up and down obstacles. The animations are nice and offer some neat tricks along the way. This form of movement does add some personality to Marcus, but the game never explores the reasons why Marcus moves the way he does, its just simply something he knows how to do.

In addition to the single player campaign, an improved co-op experience has also been added. It's simple enough to join your friends and cause havoc around the city and it's even easier to plough through many co-op missions that will earn you money and upgrade points. They connections have been smooth and seamless which is also a plus when you're trying to play a fast action game with a friend. As with the previous game, you can't progress through the single player story while in co-op mode, however you can complete fun co-op missions with a friend, and you can also thoroughly explore the entire map together all while collecting all the bits and pieces that have been left out there to find.

The world of San Francisco feels alive this time around. I have never been to this part of the world but I have heard from my jet setting friends that the world captures the US quite well and looks and feels like a functioning environment. The city feels alive with a lot of different vehicles driving around the streets with a lot of people in the city populated areas. Further to the world feeling alive, there is also a sense that the game lives and breaths without your consideration. There are little stories going on in the background all the time that you can, if you wish, stop and pay attention to. I had to laugh out loud when I saw a disgruntled woman taking out her frustrations on her cheating boyfriend by taking to his car with a baseball bat. It was fun to just sit back and watch the carnage unfold.

So to answer the question that has been asked a few times, "Is Watch Dogs 2 any good?" I would have to say it's more than good. It's a fantastic improvement on the original and it does everything a good sequel should. It plays well, looks good and most importantly it's fun to play. There's a lot there to keep the player busy by exploring and experimenting. Watch Dogs 2 gives the feeling that it really is up to you how you play and complete your objectives. With the addition of new hacking tools and gadgets you will only be limited by your imagination and your ability to think outside the square.

Thanks for checking out our review of Watch Dogs 2. In case you've got a few more unanswered questions I have added the Q&A with the developers from Gamescom, courtesy of Ubisoft. Enjoy.

SCORE: 8 out of 10

Positives:
  • Excellent weather effects
  • Engaging game play mechanics
  • Fun and thoughtful puzzle elements
  • No stupid drinking mini game from the original
  • Plenty of game play available for completionists

Negatives:
  • Characters aren't taken too seriously
  • Story is slow to ramp up to interesting
  • Co-op missions limited to 2 players only

PUBLISHER: Ubisoft
DEVELOPER: Ubisoft Montreal
PLATFORM: PS4, Xbox One and PC
RELEASE DATE: 15th November 2016

Lucas Aurelius
Aussie Gamers Express.



GAMESCOM GENERAL Q&A
Q. DedSec plays a central role in the game. Who are the other notorious members of the group?
Answered by Lucien Soulban, Senior Writer

A: DedSec is full of extraordinary individuals. Three of its members will have key roles in Watch Dogs 2

Wrench
As the group’s self-proclaimed anarchist, Wrench excels at breaking things: the law, the system, or anything vulnerable to a sledge hammer. The Wrench hides his face behind a bizarre electronic mask, his emotions expressed only through digital emoticons and a distorted voice. He may be vulgar and crude, but he’s always entertaining. He’s also an absolute adrenaline junkie.

Sitara
The closest thing DedSec has to a leader, Sitara’s focused on their public face. Her propaganda videos and rebellious art style have put the group on the map and she is easily the most politically motivated member. Sitara has taken full advantage of the educational system, focusing on marketing, PR, and just about everything related to art. Hoping for a change, she relocated to the Bay Area from LA, but found hollow celebrities replaced by soulless tech giants. She believes culture is being crushed by cold industry, which creates the perfect opportunity for her brand of artistic rebellion.

Josh
Josh is DedSec’s strongest programmer as well as the group’s biggest activist, preferring to view things through a positive lens and assuming the best in people. While some might call him naïve, he’s a much needed counterbalance for DedSec’s wilder elements. Despite his drive to help people, Josh comes across as antisocial and distant. He finds his rare moments of comfort behind a keyboard, digging through code, spotting patterns in social media, or solving complex cryptography. He was a perfect candidate for DedSec’s meritocracy of skilled social misfits and they were ecstatic when he agreed to join them.

Q. What were the main inspirations behind DedSec’s visual identity?
Answered by Mathieu Leduc, Art Director

A: Inspirations were drawn from pop culture and Internet subcultures. In Watch_Dogs 2, DedSec’s imagery mixes the classic horror pulp genre with visual archetypes from some online underground art scenes. The main goal was to have an aesthetic that represents the hacker culture in a playful way while retaining a rebellious and cryptic signature.

Q. DedSec is rewarded with followers each time you succeed in a mission. How does DedSec’s social media audience work? Does it improve the group in any way?
Answered by Danny Belanger, Game Director

A: Gaining followers is the central goal of the whole game. Having more followers essentially allows more power to be used to hack. Every new follower gained provides the player with more “botnets” which can be seen as the equivalent of firepower. As the player receives more followers, the player and DedSec gains more hacking abilities. The player can then decide which hack they want to unlock for the group. Also, more operations (story missions) will be uncovered as DedSec gains followers, it allows them more power to dig deeper and reveal hidden secrets.

Q. Is it possible to lose followers?
Answered by Jonathan Morin

A: No, it is not possible to lose followers. Everything you do in Watch_Dogs 2 helps your progression in-game adding more meaning to the game content overall.

Q. What are the unique tools Marcus has at his disposal?
Answered by Danny Belanger, Game Director and Colin Graham, Animation Director

A: His phone is quite similar to today’s smart phones and the player will have many apps that he can purchase in the App Shop™. With the phone you can take pictures or selfies, contact friends, or partake in activities such as sailing, e-karting or doing taxi-like activities with the Driver SF app. Marcus will also use his phone to hack people. Everyone can be hacked in Watch Dogs 2, and this is a very important improvement to the game. This allows the player to be more creative and select which hack he can do on any AI. You can distract an AI, create a fake profile to alert the police, trigger gang wars or find anyone’s secrets hidden in their data. The situations that can arise out of this are incredibly rich, allowing players to use the systems to create unpredictable gameplay.
Marcus also has two remote-control devices. The jumper is a ground-based device, while the drone has the capacity to fly. These are both an extension of Marcus’ hacking abilities and he can project himself, using these devices, to explore layouts and cause all sorts of havoc in the city. In many ways, the jumper is a mobile extension of Marcus's abilities since it can distract AI and interact with objects.

Marcus has a special homemade weapon called the Thunderball. It’s made from a billiard ball that is threaded onto a lanyard made from 550 paracord. The weapon looks rather inconspicuous until Marcus starts swinging it in wide arcs, and at that speed the Thunderball can knock someone out cold in a single blow. To craft this weapon, Marcus did some research, and after an afternoon of watching videos and reading various self-defence blogs, he crafted a very powerful weapon. In true hacker style, Marcus can see how to take different objects and combine them into something new. Marcus shows his natural prowess for movement and combat when he swings the Thunderball in devastating arcs, combining raw force and poetic movement. Finally, Marcus can also 3D print and wield a wide variety of weapons to suit his playstyle. From the non-lethal taser, to the powerful grenade launcher, every single player will find a weapon to suit their style and mood.

Q. Marcus was accused of a crime that he did not commit. What was this crime?
Answered by Lucien Soulban, Senior Writer

A: Marcus was identified by crime prediction software as being responsible for a nearby high-tech burglary that required the technical expertise he possessed. The evidence fit him, he had no alibi, and the crime prediction was the nail in the coffin that allowed the cops to press charges and close another case. It was only because of a sympathetic judge that Marcus escaped a harsh sentence, but the damage was done and Marcus had a record.

Q. It seems you will be facing rival hacker groups in the game. Can you tell us more about that?
Answered by Ethan Petty, Writer

A: DedSec will face off against different types of hackers working for various factions, but Prime_Eight is their rival hacking group. Where DedSec is driven towards hacktivism and holding the powers that be accountable, Prime_Eight is a destructive force, interested more in personal profit. Where DedSec might steal a company’s dirty secrets to expose them to the world, Prime_Eight would use them to blackmail the company. DedSec find allies in activists and whistleblowers. Prime_Eight relies on connections to violent criminal gangs. Both groups sees the other as a waste of talent: DedSec thinks Prime_Eight is dragging down the reputation of the hacking community, Prime_Eight thinks DedSec are a bunch of pretentious “goody two-shoes” squandering perfect opportunities to make a dishonest buck. Lenni, Prime_Eight’s leader, only adds more fuel to the fire. She’s an egotistical, abrasive troll and she’s going to do everything she can to drag DedSec through the mud.

Q. Can you tell us more about Lenni and her role in the game?
Answered by Ethan Petty, Writer

A: Lenni is the relentless leader of Prime_Eight. Her rivalry with DedSec goes beyond loyalty to her group – she wants to personally get under their skin. She is the worst kind of troll, crossing every line to provoke the maximum reaction and backing it all up with technical superiority or (hired) physical violence. Her ego is unmatched, in fact she’s trying to transcend humanity through body modification and implanted biohacks. But her ego can be a weakness, she’s often tempted to toy with her prey, giving DedSec a window of opportunity.

Q. Does the game offer character customization? What can be customized?
Answered by Danny Belanger, Game Director

A: Absolutely, Marcus’s look can be customized. All the different clothing parts can be changed, from the shoes to the hat, and each player will have a unique look.

Q. What are the mini games present in Watch_Dogs 2
Answered by Jonathan Morin, Creative Director

A: There are several mini games in Watch_Dogs 2 that reinforce the DedSec hacker fantasy or encourage players to explore the Bay Area. For example, you can install the Scout X app and start taking pictures of landmarks and interesting people making followers along the way while learning about places. Or you can push your racing abilities with motorcycles, sailing boats or flying drones. Exploring the world for possible rewards also play a big part in your ability to progress more efficiently and as you do so you can find new DedSec operations each offering a different story.

Q. How do you start the missions? Can you play them in any order? How customizable will the experience be?
Answered by Danny Belanger, Game Director

A: The operations can be done in any order. Many of them can be found by exploring the world so each player’s experience will be different. There are some key narrative moments that we want the player to live that will unlock new operations and create narrative continuity, but these are exceptions. We want the player to feel a lot of freedom in the way they choose to play the game.

Q. What is Net Hack?
Answered by Danny Bélanger, Game Director

A: Net Hack is the ability that Marcus has to see and understand the “code.” It is a player perspective we have added to the hacking tool kit allowing the player to toggle a digital filter to visualize everything that is connected in the game and better understand the technology around them. This allows the player to see their hacking opportunities and flagged Information to discover hidden operations or research points in the world. By using the Net Hack view, the player becomes more efficient hacker.

Q. How has the driving changed from Watch_Dogs 1?
Answered by Danny Belanger, Game Director

A: We have completely changed the driving engine to make it more accessible to players while keeping the depth we want between the vehicle types. We are using Ubisoft’s Reflections technology and working closely with them to benefit from their great experience in the genre.

Q. Can you run me through the demo that was shown during E3?
Answered by Sean Crooks, Associate Producer

A: In Watch_Dogs 2 you play as Marcus Holloway, a brilliant hacker within the technology hub of the San Francisco Bay Area. Marcus, along with other likeminded hackers from a group known as DedSec, have promised to expose a corrupt senator who is working with a social media giant to control and engineer his votes. We demonstrated Marcus’ improved hacking abilities, showing that now everything is more connected than ever, controlling any vehicle you see and unleashing mass hacks to distract large crowds via their mobile devices. Another DedSec member, Wrench, guides Marcus towards the senators elaborate skyscraper Penthouse where he uses his tech-toys to infiltrate an offline data store, scouting ahead with the new quadcopter drone coupled with Net Hack, a detailed view of the local network’s exploitable devices. After deploying hacking tools using the robot arm of his jumper device to strip the senator of all his private data, Marcus manoeuvers his way to an elaborate exit (thanks to Wrench) while under fire and hacking everything he can to provide cover. But not before leaving the senator with a final surprise. The demo showed what’s at the heart of Watch_Dogs 2, Marcus has more control, more power and a lot more attitude breaking the digital leashes of corporate control over society.

Q. Can you run me through the free roam co-op demo presented at Gamescom?
Answered by Sean Crooks, Associate Producer

A: The demo introduces Marcus in the open world of San Francisco along with hacking and RC tools (such as the flying Drone and RC Jumper) available to him in Watch_Dogs 2. Hack vehicles, RC tools, and infrastructure and use social engineering to discover new side operations in the San Francisco Bay Area while exploring using Watch_Dogs 2 new vehicle handling.
In the demo, Marcus discovers suspicious hardware and follows the trail to the servers of data thieves, stealing personal data from civilians, which he must promptly shut down.
Seamless online encounters take place, where you can team up in co-op with another player to take out a notorious Oakland Gang who are trading stolen equipment and data that DedSec needs back. Together, hack them with your tools, distract and trap them with your drone and jumper, stealth your way to the objectives or move in all guns blazing, the approach is entirely up to you!

Q. How does the online component work in Watch_Dogs 2?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: The online component of Watch_Dogs 2 is seamlessly integrated with the single player experience. The player will meet other friendly DedSec hackers while exploring the city and participating in optional DedSec events. This occurs without a loading screen or matchmaking request. The game does this quietly, under the hood and feeds the player opportunities when they are nearby. If the player chooses to team up with another player he can play cooperative missions located throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Players will also be presented with online hacking opportunities in the world, which has received improvements from the first game. With the introduction of new hacking tools such as vehicle hacking and the flying drone, players now have more ways of manipulating the environment as either a hacker or potential victim. This breathes new life into PVP.

Q. Can I play the entire game in co-op?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: While the online experience is part of the core game, some missions and activities must be played solo. When a player is teamed up with another player, they can play co-op missions, participate in DedSec events throughout the city, help one another completing free-roaming operations and explore the world to collect rewards. The player can even participate in player-versus-player activities while in co-op.

Q. How many players can join a co-op session simultaneously?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: Players can team up with one other player for co-op.

Q. What’s the difference between the co-op and PVP experience?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: In both co-op and PVP, activities will be proposed to players as they play the game. These activities are entirely optional. In the co-op experience, players working with another DedSec member to collaboratively complete an event or mission. Teamwork is encouraged between the two players. In the PVP experience, other players acting as rival hacker groups are competing directly against you.

Q. Since the game is focused on Marcus, what characters are controlled by other players during the co-op mission? How is my avatar seen by other players?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: Your visual identity when playing online is entirely controlled by you. While you will always see your avatar as Marcus, other players will see your avatar with a different face. This is something you can either set manually or have as a randomized option. Your online avatar will also wear whatever clothing you’ve chosen for Marcus.

Q. What online modes are in Watch_Dogs 2?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: There are three online modes in Watch_Dogs 2: Hacking Invasion (PVP), Bounty Hunter (PVP) and Online Co-op (PVE + PVP).

Hacking Invasion
The player’s goal is to download data from a target player while remaining undetected.

Bounty Hunter
When a player is being pursued by the police, that conflict may trigger a multiplayer PVP event called Bounty Hunter. A bounty event pits the target of the police against up to three hunter players that try to neutralize the target.

Online Co-op
Players can team up to explore San Francisco and participate in co-op operations. In co-op, players can also participate in Online Hacking and Bounty Hunter activities.

Q. How does the PVP Bounty Hunter mode work?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: The Bounty Hunter activity is tied to the police heat system. When the player creates lots of chaos in the city and raises their wanted level, it’ll reach a point where rival hackers can connect to their session and join the police pursuit. Players can also choose to trigger a bounty on themselves using the Contacts app, which challenges rival players to come in and attempt to take them down.

Q. What is the minimum and maximum number of players needed to trigger a bounty?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: The target of a bounty can be either alone or in co-op. This online activity can played by up to 4 players. For example, it could be a target vs 3 hunters, or 1 target and his co-op partner vs 2 hunters. It takes at least 1 target and 1 hunter for a Bounty Hunter event to take place.

Q. What is the narrative and gameplay motivation for the Bounty Hunter mode?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: The player is rewarded with followers whether they are a target or a hunter. Targets are given bonus rewards for any hunter they neutralize along the way.

Q. How do Bounty Hunter challenges impact player progression in-game?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: By playing Bounty Hunter, players are rewarded with followers and visual customization items. Followers allow DedSec to unlock additional operations, and for the player to improve their avatar’s skills in the research tree.

Q. Are the rewards the same for both the hunter and the target?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: Hunters are rewarded when the target is neutralized. The target is rewarded for each hunter neutralized, and when they finally escape their pursuers.

Q. What do you need to do to be successful when you are the target? The hunter?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: The target’s objective is to escape both the police and the pursuing hunters. When playing with a co-op partner, the protector’s objective is to defend the target. On the other side, the hunters are tasked with neutralizing the target before he escapes.

Q. Are all your equipment and skills available during a Bounty Hunter event?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: The player can use any tool and skill that they have unlocked in their progression. We expect players to get creative and find new ways of catching enemy players.

Q. What are the different ways to trigger the Bounty Mode? For a target? For a hunter?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: Players will naturally become the target of a Bounty by having police heat on them. Additionally, players can manually trigger a bounty on themselves by doing so with the phone’s Contacts app. Hunters can seamlessly join the world of a potential target that has triggered a bounty. They can also look for ongoing bounties anywhere in the world through the phone’s Contacts app.

Q. Is it possible to turn off the online modes?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: The game will look for online opportunities and propose them to the player as optional nearby events in the city. The player can choose to participate in those activities, which will reward him with Followers. If the player does not want to participate at that particular time, they can either ignore the event and do something else, or turn off individual activities if they never want them to be proposed.

Q. How does the matchmaking work for the different online modes?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: Each online activity has its own timer under the hood. This means the game will propose online activities every once in a while. However, players that actively want to play online can use the phone’s Contacts app to initiate a pull request. The matchmaking system always tries to find players that are physically close to your position in the world to minimize the time it takes to get players to play together.

Q. Can a Bounty Hunter challenge be triggered while already playing in coop with someone else?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: When players have teamed-up for co-op, either player can trigger a bounty. One of the players will be the target of the bounty, while the co-op partner will be the protector. In this case, the target’s objective is to escape while the protector’s duty is to help his partner by any means possible.

Q. Can a bounty be triggered while playing a main single-player mission, or engage in an activity?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: Bounty can be played (and triggered) while not engaged in a mission. Players must be free-roaming the city.

Q. What are collaborative events?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: As players are roaming the city alone they will seamlessly encounter another player in their world and an optional, short co-op event will be proposed. Once the event is completed, players will be encouraged to team up to take on co-op missions.

Q. What is the Leaderboards app and how does it work?
Answered by Jean-Pascal Cambiotti, Lead Online Game Designer

A: Leaderboards is an app on the player’s phone that display his performance in online activities with a score and rank achieved. Depending on their performance, the player will achieve rankings. Leaderboards operate on a cycle called a season and there are rewards to grabs in each season. When a new season begins, previously gained scores and rankings are reset, new rewards and introduced, and players can start again.
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