Watch Dogs 2 review

Two and a half years ago, speaking of Watch Dogs, we had expressed the hope that a possible sequel would be able to file the defects of the first chapter, allowing the ideas guessed by Ubisoft to be free from the ballast of some basic ingenuity. In short, we practically asked Watchdogs 2 to do what the second chapter of Assassin's Creed had done for the other big franchise of the transalpine house: cut the superfluous and fix the useful aspects of the product that had not worked, leaving the substance at the base unchanged. After having completed the experience we can say it: Ubisoft's response was certainly different from what we had imagined, but it certainly cannot be said that on balance it was not effective anyway.

Version tested: PlayStation 4

Does "different" mean "worse"?
The protagonist changes, but also the style of the product, more colorful

Mindful of the darkest cut that had outlined the outlines of the first chapter, the first impact with Watch Dogs 2 is almost alienating: The setting moves from Aiden Pierce's Chicago to the more colorful San Francisco Bay Area (with a doubling of the size of the in-game map), and even the clothes that you go to dress, pad in hand, are no longer the controversial ones of the protagonist of the first chapter, but they belong to Marcus “Retr0” Holloway, an African-American hacker in his early twenties. The experience begins in the middle of Marcus's "admission test" to DedSec, the hacker collective freely inspired by Anonymous (and which Mr. Robot fans will recall the FSociety) already met at the time of the first chapter and involved here more directly in the events. Having deleted his profile from the ctOS 2.0 servers, Retr0 is finally ready to join the local division of the collective, which also includes the other supporting characters of the game: Sitara, artist and communications officer of the group, Horatio (who works in Nudle, the equivalent of Google in game fiction), the introverted Josh and Wrench, responsible for most of the citations to other works (and the funniest lines of dialogue), as well as recognizable thanks to the mask he uses to interface with the world , which allows him to express his mood using LEDs. The purpose of DedSec is basically to bring to the surface the shady maneuvers of the managers of the second version of the ctOS, the Blume Corporations, which, as the experience continues, it will be discovered to be behind a very long series of abuses related to the information which has access (directly or through some of its partners, such as the social network Invite, practically the Facebook of the world of Watch Dogs).

The topics covered are less complex, but leaving more space for the various members of DedSec

Compared to the first chapter, therefore, the tone is more light-hearted and, in a certain sense, the topics covered are flattened out: where behind Aiden's actions there were questions related to the morality of the same, in Watch Dogs 2 it all basically boils down to a conflict between the DedSec wearing the white hat and the multinational on duty (finally arriving at Blume) to take on the role of the villain. In fact, various crimes are committed during the experience, ranging from theft to murder, but without the due emphasis on these actions by the media or the citizens of San Francisco, who will find themselves supporting DedSec also in their private conversations that can be heard and read by hacking their smartphones. It is not necessarily a bad thing, given that the approach ultimately allows to bring out the most quotational and meta-referential vein of the product., even within the missions themselves. This is the case, for example, of the secondary mission that has Ubisoft itself as its object, which indirectly mentions the Assassin's Creed franchise and among other things may have anticipated the name of the next chapter; but also some dialogues where we talk about a series with a huge number of chapters in which "the favorite of many is the tenth" and "even the twelfth had its reason" (impossible not to think of Final Fantasy), or, again , of the mention to the Level of the Diablo Cows. But there is no lack of winks at other media such as films and, as we have seen, at some companies and apps that then find a correspondent in everyday life, where for example Uber is replaced by Driver SF (with an evident reference to the chapter of Driver published by Ubisoft). The approach also has the advantage of being able to give a "narrative" justification to the level-up of Marcus' skills: the more missions you complete, the more followers of DedSec increase, which by installing the collective app can lend their computing power to hackers and allow them to use it to hack the ctOS at more advanced levels.


To learn more:
A Watch Dogs 2 mission reveals Assassin's Creed Osiris


Hacking meets parkour
The cut of the reputation system weighs, but aside from that from a playful point of view, Watch Dogs 2 has grown positively

Obviously, however, there are some downsides linked to this simplification of the relationship between the player and the virtual citizens present in-game, given that the reputation system is missing that, depending on the style of play chosen for Aiden two years ago, was going to change some dynamics (with the NPCs more or less inclined to report the thefts and acts more to the limit of the player's legality to the authorities). In Watch Dogs 2 this does not happen, and basically if you steal a car, use non-silenced firearms or kill some innocent bystanders it can happen, in a more sporadic way, that a civilian alerts the police, but all in a less "heavy" way compared to what happened in Chicago (and without causing "chains" of alarm attempts when the citizen on duty is forcibly dissuaded to desist). On the other hand, it happens, however, that some characters respond more violently to Marcus's actions, attacking him with his bare hands or in some cases even opening fire, trying to partially fill the void left by the previous system. For the rest, the basic mechanics are those already encountered two years ago. The setting is that of an open world experience along the lines of what we saw, for example, in Gran Theft Auto, where, however, the mechanics of hacking permeate all the most relevant aspects of the production. On the basis of the followers collected and the points accumulated (it is possible to collect some even simply by exploring the city) you can unlock new skills, going to recover some of the branches of the skill-trees of the first chapter but also inserting several new ones: the possibility of stealing is back cars without triggering the alarm, such as some of the more useful hacks available to Hayden during chases (and also, in the later stages, the possibility of causing blackouts or disturbances to communications on a larger scale), but there are also new possibilities from the point of view of remote control, allowing for example to hack vehicles (stationary or running) so that they change direction or light up by investing the unfortunate person on duty. Above all, there are two new high-tech devices that embellish the exploration and infiltration phases in enemy bases: the Jumper, a radio-controlled device on wheels capable of jumping, infiltrating tight spaces and performing some of the physical hacks in place of Marcus (always if you can guide him through the enemies without them noticing and destroying him), and a useful quadcopter capable of flying, devoid of the previous possibilities of action but able to amply compensate for the lack as it becomes very useful for fast reconnaissance, as well as to perform some hacks on the move (especially if it is a question of recovering the access keys which then unlock the rest of the possibilities related to the ctOS in the area). The two devices then show their usefulness even when some violations require the solving of “graph” puzzles, where it is necessary to ensure that the energy passes through the various joints by modifying some of the elements present on the screen; these violations will also be the protagonists of some main missions, but will be reused in the exploration phase when you try to collect skill points or some keys that then allow you to access the most advanced skills of a skill tree. All this is then coupled with the "urban platforming" seen in the first chapter, where using cranes and other elements in the surrounding area you must try to bring Marcus close to the target (or in any case close enough to be able to free the Jumper and reach his goal), where however the hacker compared to Aiden shows a different physical prowess and he manages to try his hand at some climbs and stunts that are more choreographic than the "moves" of his colleague from Chicago. Let's be clear: the series hasn't suddenly become Assassin's Creed and you don't climb palaces with your bare hands as if you were a XNUMXst century Ezio Auditore, but the mobility of the protagonist is slightly increased and, undoubtedly, enriched from the point of view of the animations.

Gunplay more muted

Arms in hand, on the other hand, the situation becomes slower. Do you want because on the one hand Watch Dogs 2 puts (rightly) the accent on another style of play, more based on the use of hacking and technology to free the way from enemies, or because the style chosen to go to branch the skill tree does not fit the progression designed for weapons, the gunplay of the production feels a bit of the blow. In fact, there are some stakes related to the order in which you must access the skills, which for example preclude the possibility of enhancing the shots of sniper rifles without first having improved Marcus' skills relating to two-handed weapons. The result is that therefore it is often preferred not to face situations head on above all because in these cases the enemy superiority is recognized (due, it must be said, also to the number of guards and gangsters in the area), and therefore there is a certain tendency to use the rest of the skills available.

Forever Young, Forever Online
Online multiplayer works well (after the first few problems), but why eliminate AR games and Digital Trips?

Victim of some problems in the launch phase, during the last week the chatted dynamic multiplayer of the title was finally put online, which adds to the main missions and secondary activities (many and varied, since it ranges from the classics introduced in an area at solar-powered kart racing) also some objectives where you interact with other players. There is the possibility to face some missions in cooperative or, if you want to play against others, to challenge players in matches to the death where those who play the role of the prey must escape from the police (receiving bonuses if in the meantime they eliminate the opponents humans) while the others support the CPU in the role of bounty hunters. But the most interesting additions are undoubtedly the ones that, from time to time, Watch Dogs 2 suddenly proposes to the player, warning him that (following the trend launched by From Software) he has been invaded by a rival player who is trying to steal data from him and must be located in the crowd and then shot down before he escapes. Or maybe there's a police chase nearby, and that by supporting the department you could deal a blow to the rival Prime Eight hacker band and gain a few extra followers. A mechanism that works, especially since if you don't want to be disturbed, simply access your smartphone (the game menu, in fact) and disable the function in the options. And indeed, from this point of view 'sorry instead that it was decided to eliminate some of the most interesting ideas that the first Watch Dogs offered under the extra item, such as Augmented Reality games (a trend that could have been easily ridden, given the recent success of Pokémon GO and the quotation attitude seen a few lines above) and Digital Trips, where two years ago the development team had literally unleashed his creativity. Of all this, however, there is only a sort of quotation in one of the most advanced missions of the experience (on which we do not reveal anything) and it is definitely a shame since they could have easily benefited from these features online and made the verse to some other too. app, in addition to Instagram (crossed with Foursquare creating ScoutX, which requires you to take a self-portrait near the various points of interest scattered around the map).


This time no downgrade
There is some drop in frame rates, but overall Watch Dogs 2 performs well

Without the need to also come up with a version for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, Visually, Watch Dogs 2 undoubtedly manages to do better than its predecessor, benefiting from this point of view also from the chromatic change of course given to the series. The San Francisco proposed in-game is undoubtedly convincing and well done, and from a technical point of view everything runs almost constantly anchored to thirty frames per second. There is some drop in frame-rate, especially in situations where you enter some areas of the city suddenly (perhaps turning too abruptly or changing direction unexpectedly), but for most of the hours we lived in the Bay Area digitized by Ubisoft we did not experience any problems in particular, especially since, as mentioned, visually the developer has certainly hit the target. The sound accompaniment is also excellent, which once again proposes the idea of ​​using some tracks as collectibles (this time not to be hacked, but to be obtained by exploring and using SongSneak, which in practice is Shazam) and, as for other typically videogame expedients, it is justified in terms of narration, given that during the missions it will be Marcus who will ask the other members of DedSec to put the right soundtrack to take to the field (or to use his smartphone and select a song from his playlist, if the player does not go well the choice).

Verdict 8.5 / 10 Sells less than the first chapter just because the protagonist is black Comment Watch Dogs 2 is different from what we would have expected imagining a sequel two and a half years ago, just finished the first chapter. But different does not necessarily mean worse; it is true that, in our opinion, Ubisoft has exaggerated in cutting some aspects that instead could have reappeared almost unchanged (the AR mini-games and the Digital Trips) or only refined (the reputation system), but overall Marcus, thanks to the ctOs 2.0, can use several new hacks that further enrich the experience, both as regards the more direct aspects (missions and secondary) and on the exploration front. Undeniably then they took back the more successful aspects of the prequel and made them "bigger and badder", which is basically what we were asking for. The only big regret? The flattening of the narrative component, which loses many of the cues (even if only hinted at) of the first chapter. Pros and cons More hacks, more fun
Funny, quotation, meta-referential
Solid performance ... x ... Except a few smudges
x Some unwarranted cuts
x Narratively flattened

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