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I think if you’re of a certain age, that is, GTA3 came out when you were in like, 8th grade or so, you have an understanding of the GTA-likes. I don’t think I’ll get any disagreement for calling Watch Dogs a GTA-like, either. It’s an open-world, gun-totin’, crime-doin’, car-stealin’ mission focused third person shooter. WD2 weaves in  “darn near everything is hackable” as part of the gameplay and the premise, which is kinda fun but also super goofy.

I never played the original Watch Dogs, though I do remember watching the trailer and thinking, “Yea ok, that’s pretty neat.” I picked up WD2 during a PS4 sale after playing the demo. Maybe PS4 wasn’t the right platform. The world is pretty fun, and having spent a lot of time in San Francisco it was pretty neat just driving around and checking out spots like the Castro, Japantown, and Jack London Square. There’s even a little Sutro Tower nestled atop Twin Peaks. Ubisoft has an SF office, so it makes sense they’d do a good job modeling out the Bay Area. You can ride a streetcar, but I’m a little sad there’s no BART to shuttle around when you don’t want to drive. Even GTA3 had that shitty elevated train.

The story

Story? Oh, it’s got a story. It’s stilted fake hacker culture nonsense, with your hacker group DEDSEC based loosely on like, Anonymous and luzsec. The characters develop sorta-kinda through the story, whose premise is that: ctOS, a citywide surveillance and IoT network was highly successful in reducing Chicago’s crime, so it’s expanded to San Francisco…or something. They explain it pretty well in the opening cinematic, but the gist is that everything is connected. Gas pipes are connected. In-ground transformers? Connected. Literally every car on the road? Connected! The cell phone of every NPC? Connected. That’s the bit you have to suspend disbelief for.

So there’s this ctOS, run by a company who basically just uses it for pseudo-evil, like concentrating minorities to certain parts of the city, or creating an instantly-readable profile of every citizen including extremely private details (which you, the player, can see as well). The story missions are basically aimed at exposing and taking down those who use the ctOS system for personal gain at the expense of the masses. and ideally the entire platform itself. Kinda straightforward. 

Truthfully, I’m not that involved in the story. I only picked it back up once I ran out of side missions. For the first half of the game, it feels like you just hang out with your plucky hacker friends, drink beer, and do these small-time story missions. Meanwhile, Marcus (that’s you!) has the option to rampage through SF, murdering anyone and everyone for literally no reason, and generally just cause mayhem. But! You and the hacker buddies hang out on top of Sutro Tower and drink and it’s a fun montage scene. I imagine the dialogue as such:

Marcus: Hey guys! I had a heck of a day.
Sitara: Oh yeah? What did you get up to?
Marcus: I murdered two dozen cops and ensured a small section of Golden Gate Park will be unusable for weeks!
Josh: At least it’s better than all the dog poop!
Group: *shares laughter*

So…yeah. The tone does take a darker turn around the midpoint, and the fact that you can 3D print weapons at the hackerspace HQ starts to feel a bit more within reach.

The gameplay

It’s okay. It’s not exactly bad, it’s not great. The car physics can feel kinda sloppy sometimes. The weapon and on-foot controls can feel really clunky when you’re fighting off multiple baddies. That could be a result of playing on PS4, though. It’s a little buggy in places, too. I stopped halfway on the Bay Bridge, blew up all the cars around me, and then waited. I had a 4-badge wanted level, and I could see cars spawning and heading towards me, but about…50-75 meters away they would de-spawn and nothing new would show up. From time to time, a destroyed car would de-spawn and one or two new cars would eventually drive up…but no cops. Again, I chalk that up to console nonsense. Since I haven’t played on PC I can’t say if it’s just part of the game, or part of the PS4 port.

The hacking controls while driving are especially clunky. There’s no way to “aim” your hack reticle, and it definitely prefers cars, so if there’s a non-car target you want to hack, you’ll have to do it on-foot. I do like that most of the game’s menus and the “quest UI” are all handled on your smartphone, which just shows up on the right side of the screen. I’ve been fully distracted while on the phone and driven straight off a cliff, or into an indestructible tree.

There’s a great phone app called Car on Demand, which literally spawns a car. You have to buy various cars at dealerships around the world, which means you need cash. Aside from getting cash for finishing certain missions, there’s loot. Literally every car you steal has some kind of valuable in the glove box. There’s also little drops around the world, but they are usually guarded by a gang or a private security firm, or sometimes even The Police. Sometimes it’s not loot, but a fat bag o’ cash, which means you can skip the step of selling loot at a pawn shop. The gang territory challenges are kinda fun, and they add some variation to the game without having to start a mission. You can go in guns blazing, stealth it, or use your RC Jumper to sneak in and steal the goodies.

Oh yeah, there’s 2 RC gadgets - a Jumper, which is a little 3-wheel RC car with a spring allowing it to access areas that Marcus can’t. There’s also a quadcopter which is good for surveillance. If you upgrade them, they can be used to drop explosives or shock gadgets. Both of them can also hack things remotely. The cops don’t seem to care as much if you blow shit up, but if you start shooting…better hunker down.

Everything else

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about WATCH_DOGS 2 (stylized as such). There’s lots of stuff to do, they sprinkle in some fun little drop-ins, like a guy wearing a 360 camera apparatus used for mapping the trails around Twin Peaks, or the rainbow sidewalk in the Castro. and  slight spoiler , at one point you deface the Golden Gate Bridge which is kind of amusing. The music outside of missions isn’t great. There’s only a few stations, and the songs get repetitive.

Oh yeah, and there’s multiplayer. I’ve pretty much turned it off completely, since your session will just randomly get shared with other players. There’s a whole aspect of gameplay related to the online multiplayer, and there are some kind of interesting co-op and competitive missions, but I ran into too many trolls who just do stupid shit like ram your car or who don’t actually play the missions. But maybe it rules, and I’m just a curmudgeon who wants to play alone.

I think I’d recommend WD2 if you like GTA-style games, but you might enjoy it more on Steam than PS4. Though, it’s not bad for just wasting a few hours on the couch with a controller, either.

Final ranking:

I wouldn’t have bought it were it not on sale.

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