by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
I'm just going to lay it out flat. I'm not a fan of San Francisco, in fact I’m not a big fan of the California area. It's too hot, too expensive, and too crowded. When I heard Watch Dogs 2 was going from the Midwestern setting of Chicago that I was comfortable with to San Francisco, I thought two things. First, I thought they were making it a bit too obvious they planned on taking on the west coast vibe that helped make GTA San Andreas and GTA V so successful. Second, they picked San Francisco which I thought to be mind boggling. I thought they should've picked Oakland (which ended up making it into the game, although quite small.)
Going into Watch Dogs 2, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit cynical. Between the change in setting and the original title being a hype train that ultimately derailed itself, I had lowered expectations. I'm thankful to also lay out the fact that I was thankfully proven wrong by this sequel done right.
Where the original Watch Dogs lacked in a protagonist, it made up for by the addition of Jordie Chin's antics, and a few other memorable if short-lived characters. Now things have switched around as the only interesting person in the cast of characters at all is Marcus "Retr0" Holloway. A breakout character in his own right, Marcus is one part tactical hacker, one part comic relief, and one part misguided anarchist. In short, he's everything you think of when you think of the prospect of a hacker rather than the grim and dark Aiden Pearce.
From his quirky attitude, to enough clothing to make him fit your style, to his melee weapon being a yo-yo, Marcus is an all-around better character to play than Aiden and fits the lightened tone of the new entry much better than a return of Aiden would have. He also lends himself to the role of someone who plays well with others, leaving the door wide open for co-op (we'll talk about that later).
The second star of the game is San Francisco itself. Where the story I found lacking, the makeup of the city and the missions I did within all felt very much alive and fluid. I didn't necessarily feel like I was being guided, but rather encouraged to experience the sights and sounds. One thing the original Watch Dogs did succeed with was making Chicago feel alive, now in San Francisco they've doubled down on that. San Francisco, the bite sized version of Oakland, and Silicon Valley all feel like living, breathing areas if not a bit over-the-top. Or a lot over-the-top, as hacking and peering into the lives of others show that in the game world all the citizens are normal with some humorous (and sometimes dark) backdrops hidden from others.
From dirt bikes and go carts, to tricking a big pharma mogul into donating to charity, to your standard gunfights and car chases. Hacking is of course there, but it doesn't feel like it is more than an afterthought most of the time except on some key objectives or in a very tight pinch of a chase. San Francisco and the content within are ripe with content; and it's a near perfect ground to stomp with friends and enemies alike.
Co Op Insanity
Multiplayer in the original Watch Dogs was kind of a mess. While the 1v1 modes were okay, anything more than that was just a series of fail after horrible fail. When I caught wind that not only was online returning, but also having an integrated co-op mode in the game, I was skeptical. Hopping into the game with a partner however is a blast. While Co-Op Operations themselves take the place of missions, and are often fun, they do at times get tedious. With no context and more of a just "Go here and do this" sort of approach. They're fun ways to kill time and gain some experience with the game. Where I had the most fun with the co-op however, was taking our toys and gadgets on numerous rampages across the city. It's not likely to hold the attention of everyone forever, but there's something satisfying about a high speed chase or a blood pumping shoot out with friends.
I'd say my best example of how the co-op plays out came rather early on into our playtime. We'd just finished up an operation and found ourselves way too tempted to just hack an underground main, sending several cars into fiery messes. This quickly evolved into a running gunbattle with police until we could find a suitable set of wheels; naturally, the nearest bus. With my friend driving, and me on top, we managed to hold out for a good 20 minutes before it all came to a fiery hailstorm of bullets that brought things to an abrupt end. Don't try this at home, I don't think we need yet another game scapegoated for someone being an idiot in real life.
Honestly, co-op is the reason to get this game if you're at all interested in it. While it may end up wearing thin in time, it's certainly a great way to play with a friend here and now.
Repetitive, But Far From Boring
Watch Dogs still has quite a way to go before it becomes a 'must buy' series, but in the short term it's at least on an upswing. With a more likeable protagonist, a city filled with more content to do outside of the main story, and an addicting albeit simplistic co-op system, you may at least want to consider picking up Watch Dogs 2. Especially if you can find it on sale.
Lively city, likeable protagonist, lighter-hearted setting, addicting co-op
Story is still forgettable, most of the characters are forgettable, game fails to maintain the same level of fun that it offers when playing with a friend.