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Watch Dogs 2 Review
Somewhere in a bland, well lit corporate boardroom, a group of middle aged men in suits gathered for a meeting. After using the word “synergy” over a dozen times, they settled on their next project: to create a video game that would appeal to the youth of the nation. Their only reference material for this ambitious task was a crate containing three hundred DVD copies of Hackers, which they all agreed was definitely what the kids were into these days. The result of their deliberations was Watch Dogs 2, a game that attempts to compensate for it’s mediocre gameplay with “relatable” characters and up-to-the-minute political themes, but just ends up being vaguely embarrassing.
The basic plot isn’t too bad. In fact, it’s pretty much standard cyberpunk/hacker movie stuff. The evil Blume corporation is using the power of technologically controlled “Smart Cities” to collect massive amounts of personal data, with which they plan to do whatever evil corporations do with such things. The only thing standing in their way is DeadSec, a group of ultra-hip San Francisco punks with computers. In order to put a stop to Blumes machinations, DeadSec must increase their profile through various hacking escapades in order to recruit more citizens, and more computing power, to the cause. And that’s… pretty much it. The story never really develops much, there are hardly any real twists, and everything feels unnecessarily drawn out. You’re just doing a bunch of random computer stuff without any real feeling of story progression until the game finally manages to get a climax together.
In some games, a forgettable story is saved by great characters. In Watch Dogs 2, a forgettable story is dragged to rock bottom by a cast of insufferable clowns. Our “heroes” are a group of obnoxious San Francisco hipsters who dress like what an out-of-touch marketing executive thinks a skater looks like, and talk like they spend way, way too much time on twitter. Dialogue is a blizzard of rage-inducing smugness, awkward pop-culture references, and “how do you do fellow kids” efforts at slang. The characterisation is bad, is what I’m getting at here. But if the heroes are annoying, the villains commit the arguably worse sin of simply being boring. Bland, soulless, and forgettable, not one of them has the charisma to seem like a credible threat.
In discussing Watch Dogs 2, ranting about the characters and story is the easy part. Much harder is writing anything interesting about the game-play, because it’s so, so bland. Still, no review would be complete without some game-play discussion, so here we go. Watch Dogs 2 is a 3rd person open world Stealth/Shooter game. Our hero, Marcus “Retr0” Holloway (Yes, his hacker name is Retr0. See what I mean about the Hackers vibe?) travels around an impressively large recreation of the Bay Area, performing an assortment of story missions and side quests. Most of these missions follow the same basic structure. There’s a building you need to infiltrate, a bunch of guards to either kill, incapacitate, or avoid, and either an item you need to collect or a computer you need to hack. How you go about the mission is up to you: you can either go in guns blazing or attempt a stealthier route, taking advantage of various special abilities to remain undetected.
Should you opt for the violent approach, you’ll quickly realise just how bland the game’s gun-play is. This is truly some of the most generic third person shooter game-play you’ll ever see. Marcus can hide behind cover, carry a few different weapons, and use his hacker skills to stun enemies by overloading their headsets with feedback. It’s… not a huge skill set. You’re own limited arsenal might not be such a problem if the game gave you more varied situations to deal with, but the basic level design and total lack of enemy variety mean that every shootout ends up feeling pretty much the same. It’s not exactly bad. The controls work fine, the challenge level is fine, and the enemy AI is okay, but it’s all so repetitive and forgettable that you’ll be tired of it long before the credits roll.
The stealthy method is at least a little more interesting. Marcus has a few tricks up his sleeve for avoiding detection: he can disable security systems, distract guards with fake phone calls, and send out remote control drones to enter inaccessible areas. At heart though, this is still a very basic matter of moving from cover to cover and staying out of line of sight. There is rarely any interesting guard placement or creative security systems to add variety to the game-play. It also doesn’t help that guards tend to call for reinforcements immediately upon spotting you, resulting in swarms of new enemies bearing down on the location and making any further efforts at stealth largely futile. Make one mistake, and you’ll find yourself in another forgettable shootout.
To spice things up a bit, the game has a simple level up system where completing missions and exploring the environment gets you “Research points” which can be spent on various upgrades and new abilities. You can freely select which areas of Marcus’s skill set to improve, which should allow you to build up your character to suit your play-style, but there really aren’t that many to pick from, and the choices are wildly unbalanced. Some are nearly useless (Improved aim isn’t really necessary when you’re already a crack shot over the distances that most fights take place at), while others are outrageously overpowered (The ability to call down gang members or cops on your target can allow you to complete missions without ever getting close to the enemy.)
All in all, the game-play can best be described as “functional”. everything works well enough, but there’s no real spark to any of it. Gunfights are generic cover shooter pablum. Stealth is basic cover-hopping. The upgrade system is bare-bones. There’s almost nothing here to distinguish Watch Dogs 2 from any similar game on the market.
Where game-play and story fail, visuals can sometimes compensate. Sadly, this is not the case in Watch Dogs 2. The graphics are technically impressive, with lots of details and a realistic appearance, but there’s really nothing visually distinct about it. If I wanted to see detailed and realistic houses and office buildings, I could just go outside, and that’s really all Watch Dogs 2 has to offer.
The game does have one saving grace though: The soundtrack. It’s got everything you could want, from hip-hop to classical, and it’s all available through the in-game music menu, so you can decide for yourself what you want to listen to. Feeling stealthy? Some classical music is just the thing to display your superior intelligence. In a car chase? Turn on Rock radio for some musical accompaniment. The soundtrack is genuinely the best thing about Watch Dogs 2. It’s just a shame it isn’t attached to a better game.
As you may have guessed by now. I can’t recommend Watch Dogs 2. The game-play is decent, but entirely unremarkable, and the terrible writing will turn off even the most determined third person shooter fan. A great soundtrack and some impressive-but-bland visuals can’t save a game so utterly lacking in good ideas. Just go the park and watch some actual dogs instead. It’ll be a better use of your time.
Watch Dogs 2 was played on Xbox One