The latest release in a packed winter schedule is Watch Dogs 2. The original was a disappointing return on its early promise, and it struggled to recover after being downgraded in comparison to the much-hyped trailer first shown in 2013. When it did come out, it wasn’t much fun to traipse rainy streets as the chronically depressed Aiden Pearce, and the game was soon forgotten, left to gather dust on second hand shelves in video game stores across the country.
There’s a new hacker in town for the sequel, who goes by the name of Marcus Holloway. (Retro to his friends.) Marcus is a definite improvement, adding much needed humour and character to proceedings which can often take a dark turn. His dialogue is snappy, and the gameplay is smoother and more engaging than the original as soon as you take control. He’s tasked with taking down a corrupt corporation that has crossed the line with public data, continuing with some of the themes of the first story. That being said, it’s easy enough to delve in with no knowledge of the original.
The gameplay has been improved in every department, and there are lots of details that serve to bring the world to life, such as fist-pumping when you take the lead in a race, or whooping as you go down slides in a faux-Apple HQ. You can now swing punches at pedestrians, or control drones and RC cars that you make with a 3D printer. It's a clear break away from the grey seriousness of its predecessor, and it translates into an enjoyable experience for the most part. In fact, the world itself has finally been brought to life, and it restores the reputation of the series after a shaky start.
The story lampoons government surveillance and genuine real-life concerns with a satirical twist, perhaps hoping to do a little more than simply entertain. It’s a little heavy-handed in its earnestness at times - as though we didn't know that companies selling our personal data could be anything less than bad in the long run. That being said, it’s still interesting to get a glimpse into one of the darkest potential timelines in our near future.
The main quest is furthered by gathering followers to your cause, which unlocks new missions as the numbers gradually go up. The main missions take you to interesting locales throughout San Francisco, while there’s a host of generic side missions to choose from via your in-game smartphone. You're unlikely to be short of things to do. It looks beautiful, and it’s backed up thanks to great voice acting and a varied soundtrack that can be customised through playlists within the game.
The multiplayer finally started working halfway through my play through, and it was an interesting distraction at first. It's fun to hop into a game to assist the police in dealing with another player, and more satisfying still to find the enemy hacking you with just a few seconds to spare. Regardless, it can be annoying as they tend to occur as you approach main quest markers on the map, knocking you off your stride.
Instead of the obvious comparison with GTA, it’s worth judging Watch Dogs 2 on its own merits. It’s fair to say that Ubisoft have learned from the mistakes, and it makes for an improved experience all round. Watch Dogs 2 isn't perfect, but it’s more than just a step in the right direction. It’s unlikely that you’ll be back to play through the story once again, but it's a blast while it lasts, and it’s worthy of your attention during the Christmas period.
Verdict: Game and Watch 5/5
Watch Dogs 2 at CeX
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