One of the best experiences I had at E3 this year, was the hands-on demo of Watch Dogs 2. True, I was equally as excited to play the original Watch Dogs at Gamescom of 2013, and it ended up disappointing quite a few of you (we though it was pretty good actually), but it seems Ubisoft is really determined to get it right (or right-er) this time. Watch Dogs 2 appears to be a sequel not just in the literal sense, but it the technical sense as well – one that preserves all the was good from the original, but improves everything else, from graphics to gameplay. Allow me to explain.
Watch Dogs 2 is not a direct sequel to Watch Dogs. it does take place after the events of the first game, but we’re now in a completely new city with a complete different vibe. We left dreary Chicago behind in favor of sunny and hip San Francisco. This change in atmosphere doesn’t apply to the location alone; protagonist Marcus Holloway also seems to be less uptight and more fun than the gloomy Aiden Pearce. The only connection between the two is DedSec – the group of hackers that help Aiden in the first game, which Marcus is a member of. Marcus just seems more fun to play as, and he has quite a few new tricks up his sleeve.
Lets start with the parkour; Marcus can scale buildings, jump between rooftops, cars and stuff like that, making the game feel much more active and interesting to navigate. Apart from that, I was introduced to Marcus’ trusty robot sidekicks he can use to enhance his hacking abilities. Sure, he still has his all-powerful smartphone, but sometimes it’s just not enough. Imagine, if you will, a hacking spot out of range of your phone; that’s exactly where the new flying drone comes into play. The drone is basically an extension of the phone, and can be used as a sort of bridge between the phone and any hackable device. There can also be a situation where the object you wish to hack into is off the grid. This is when you send in a little RC robot on wheels that can attach a small modem or access point to a device, thus giving Marcus a way in.
The second part of the demo allowed me to drive around San Francisco, which looked absolutely amazing. The open world map encompasses all of the city, and its big and lovely and pretty awesome. The amount of detail in the demo really surprised me, and even driving around the city felt like a rewarding experience. That could also be thanks to the improvements done to the driving controls, which are now much more comfortable for all the ups and downs of San Francisco.
While I was driving around, admiring the view, I suddenly lost control over my motorbike and crashed right into a wall. Apparently, one of the game’s developers has entered my game as a second player, and decided to mess with me. We immediately started a small scale war between us, as we both tried to take control over vehicles and make them run the other one over. This was the developers’ way of introducing me to the game’s co-op element. In Watch Dogs 2, there are special missions you can play with another player (the demo only featured two-player co-op, but that could change in the finished game). You can approach each mission stealthily, or just give up and shoot every one. Once you start shooting, enemies can call for reinforcements, which can be both good or bad depending on how much you like shooting. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that the shooting is now more accurate and fast, and it was actually fun running engaging in a firefight. I got used to the controls very quickly, and I didn’t even have to think while I was scoring headshots and jumping over cover to pummel an enemy with a few melee attacks.
These intuitive controls reach every other aspect of the game as well. Even though it was a guided demo, I did need the developers to tell me what to do or where to go. It took me mere minutes to figure out the controls and UI, and I was hacking vehicles, barricades, phones and assorted other devices on my own, without a second thought. I think this is one of Watch Dogs 2’s biggest strengths. That, and all the other improvements of course.
My time with Watch Dogs 2 proved to me that it is worth waiting for, even for those who were disappointed by the original. Personally, I was impressed with what I saw and experienced, and I can’t wait to see more of the game’s story, which wasn’t highlighted in the demo. I have to give props to Ubisoft for listening to player feedback and criticism, and deciding to up their game instead of playing it safe.
Watch Dogs 2 is out November 15 on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Of course I dragged the developer over to the nearest co-op mission, just to see who well the stealth holds up. Overall, it works pretty much the same as it did in the previous game, which makes sense since it wasn’t broken or anything. After some stealth and a few takedowns, I decided it’s time to pull out my gun and start shooting, just to see how it felt.