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Jul 03 2017

Late Watch Dogs 2 Review

Did the Ubisoft developers watch the 3 videos I did on the bugs in the original Watch Dogs, ensuring not a single one appeared, whilst adding eye boggling graphics, a story that makes you think, and has become a surprise hit in my books. Literally and metaphorically.

The game is a modern classic, not only in a gaming sense, but in a literature sense. What kid these days (and grown ups for that matter) reads books? Specifically books that questions the status quo, broadening young readers mind to future possibilities, worthy of an outrage from concerned parents, burned in piles and banned from public libraries for 50 years. Books such as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Stephen King’s The Running Man plus William F. Nolan’s and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan Run are no longer read and referenced by the younger generation. Books that were well ahead of their time, that predict dystopian worlds in the future, caused by generations of humans losing their liberalism’s for the comforts of modern-day living, under the thumb of a governing body that monitors everybody’s thoughts and movements. Big Brother is watching you.

Now on the surface, it does of course appear that the timelines in these books never happened, we still have free enterprise, “free speech”, free to live wherever we want, to see who we want, eat what we want etc. We don’t feel that we are confined to 6ft cells at night (unless you live in New York City), or that we have a man in black dogging our movements and also don’t feel that our decisions are influenced by the media, only well-informed by it. Did the books actually warn us in time, to not to fully consent to giving our freedoms away, or are the alarm bells only just starting to stir up. Oh actually, that’s just my phone alarm ringing in the background. Let me just turn it off… whilst I’m distracted, let me just post a selfie about writing this review up for my followers, random strangers and corporations to admire. Nothing at all sinister in just telling the world about my day…

We may feel that we know the risks of our actions on the electronic devices that have cropped up over the last 20 years, anything that’s connected to Internet, and more recently, those lifeline slates that we carry around with us at all times of day. Are we fully aware of what we are revealing to those who have no business with our personal information. Freely revealing our lifestyles and inner thoughts. Information that could be used against us by fraudsters, stalkers and data miners. But atleast we’ve consented to this sharing of information to keep our friends and family up-to-date of our personal goings. But what about the 99% of the other times that our information is handled without our knowledge or consent, when our phones are secretly taking photographs of our surroundings for “advertising purposes”, when your car journey is recorded by small hidden black boxes, or when companies (and governments) are selling your information to marketing and insurance companies, building their own picture of you, a model that is more accurate than you are of yourself, and worth much more than your actual self. Well the message seems to be, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Now in a perfect world, nobody would have anything to hide, the problem though, is that nobody’s perfect. And if the system is in the hands of individuals with their own agendas, then the system can be used to be turned against anyone who doesn’t agree with these agendas, highlighting and labelling them as high risk. Minorities become chastised, and freedoms disappear as everyone else clamours to fall in line, not wanting any of their privileges taken away. This is where the dystopian fictional writings seem to originate at, with a population that is scared to speak out, to look out for one another and hands over full control of freedom over to the state in the name of ‘safety’. Is Watch Dogs 2 this generations warning of what’s currently happening, what needs to change, and what inevitably will happen?

Now it may seem that I’ve waffled off topic from what is supposed to be a video game review, but whilst the game is full of action, side quests and puzzles, an underlying theme is that it’s a thriller, to scare you of the big bad wolf that you can’t see, but is all around you. Towards the end of the game, I was actually scared of how far we have let technology infiltrate our lives. Whilst we keep saying to ourselves that everything’s perfectly fine whilst the house around us is on fire, we’ve limited ourselves to a small amount of breathing space, and if anything was to go wrong with that, then the entire infrastructure comes down, with military, healthcare, utilities, media and government toppling down on us. Just look at the effect of the recent simple ransomware attack, WannaCry that brought down the NHS for an entire week here in the UK, plus many corporations around the world. For those that can crawl out of the embers, they will only be able to ask where things went wrong, why didn’t the fire alarm sound earlier, all whilst they are forced out the area as the wolves move in to take what’s left.

The core of the game certainly is a message to us all to review our current dependency on technology, whether it can be currently sustained, to question the new interfaces that require far too much information to use, and what freedoms we really are willing to give up. I know I don’t like someone looking over my shoulder every 5 minutes, and only actually last month uninstalled Facebook from my phone when it was recently announced that it was going to take photos on its own accord of your surroundings to potentially identify products around you, that you might be interested in seeing adverts for. Now seeing past the massive shortfall that if the product is already in my surroundings, it probably means that I already own it, so I then don’t want to see adverts for it, I’m tired of letting someone use my own phone against me any longer. And to be honest, Facebook is so 2010. It’s not exactly innovative anymore, never really was anyhow. Facebook is nothing more than being flogged a dead horse, I wanna see something new if it’s costing me my personal data.

Now getting back onto the review, this game really is a hidden gem of last year. The triple-A title game really did go under the radar, with only 3 million total sales 7 months after release as compared to the original Watch Dogs 9 million sales in the same period. This is probably due to the original Watch Dogs not offering on some of its promises that the gamers were hyped for after the E3 trailer of 2012. Now for me, the problem with the original Watch Dogs wasn’t that they downgraded the graphics from the E3 demo, which even though they did look nice, and still did even in the actual game considering most areas you’re running through with barely a glance, and I can agree that it probably was mostly down to performance issues, for me it was the numerous bugs and the boring, non-relative storyline. The game did offer some interesting gameplay mechanics that did keep the action fresh, and it was a good effort by Ubisoft to create a sandbox game based in Chicago, but when cars and AI aren’t reacting as they ought to, and you’re having to play as a character that isn’t relatable, it brought down the rest of the game, making it a bit of a drag.

Thanks to the original Watch Dogs failings, Watch Dogs 2 suffered from a poor number of pre-orders and overall sales, with burnt gamers originally putting this title aside, waiting for the reviews to come out, at which point they probably forgot about it and already moved onto newer game releases, though they could possibly have missed out on an experience which has had a lot of what was wrong with the original game fixed and actually gave us a plot that we can get behind. I can only hope that the low sales numbers isn’t the death of the series, as it has great potential which I’ll expand on later. In the mean time, let’s just get the word out the people need to get this game, it’s currently on sale over on Steam for £25.

We start the game as Marcus, a young man from the rough side of town that wants to make a change to the system. TIred of being seen as a danger by society due to being a young black man from the wrong side of the tracks, he wants to enrol into DedSec, a hacker group, to bring down the new ctOS system being installed around San Francisco. Marcus’ first mission is to complete his initiation into DedSec, going knee-deep into Blume’s servers, the company responsible for creating ctOS, who have their hands in many pockets in organisations and governments around the world. Having successfully completed his task, you get to meet the rest of the team as everyone makes it down to the beach party to celebrate his enrollment.

Upon waking up the next day, you tasked with getting yourself to a meet up in the middle of San Francisco. This gives you a chance to explore the local area and experiment with some of the skills you currently have unlocked. It’s also a good starting place to just examine the attention to detail in the local area. Every building and land plot are entirely unique, and are fantastic to take a stroll past. As expected, many actions are that of any other sandbox world exploration game, being able to hijack cars, pet dogs and punch passersby in the face. Learning to get used to using the hacking tools whilst performing other actions is a must, and something that I seem to have lost the ability to be able to do properly since the last Watch Dogs.

By being apart of the San Francisco arm of DedSec, as Marcus, you’re part of a small group of hackers, who each have their own problem with the system. They all provide specialised skills that will help to forward the following of DedSec in the area, and provide some of the drama that plays out in the game. It’s nice that there’s a team involved in this game rather than just playing the vigilante Aiden as in the original who had little interaction, coming off as quite boring and though we want to get revenge for his family, can’t really relate to him. Having said that, I think the original Watch Dogs had a much more interesting range of support characters than WD2 has. Marcus on the other hand as the protagonist, being a bit younger and more intune with trends alongside with the rest of the DedSec group, provides more comments on the situations arising that players can relate to, as well as possibly to any of the inside jokes.

After the initial meet up at the DedSec base, alot of side quests open up, so if you prefer levelling up before tackling the main campaign, this is perfect for you, essentially what I always do. Interestingly, this is the first sandbox game by Ubisoft in years which doesn’t contain the towers that are used to survey points of interest in the local area, instead requiring you to scan the area every 10 feet. It certainly makes for a change, which many people did receive well, I wasn’t really fussed, it required being more involved in the game, but you lose a sense of organisation, which grates on the old OTC chalkboard.

You will want to generate as much money as early as possible to unlock the two drones that are new to the series. By using the 3D printer, can print off the drones with a multitude of skins that can be unlocked throughout the game. These are a great for infiltrating buildings and getting past watchmen, with a two wheeled jumper that rolls along the floor, able to jump as the name entails and can physically hack into access points. The heli-drone is much better suited for surveillance, whizzing around the map within a certain range of the player, instantly revealing enemy positions, objective points and routes of access. The drones are susceptible to being broken, and will take a bit of time to regenerate. You are able to use your hacking abilities via these bots, and these can later be upgraded to be made quicker and to take on more roles, such as being able to place explosives and stun grenades.

When Marcus switches over to using a bot, he will immediately sit down on the floor, whether it’s in the middle of a highway or on a pile of dog poo. I’m not sure why this wasn’t implemented, but Marcus isn’t able to sit down on any of the many benches scattered around the world, which would have made him much less obvious that he’s the hacker causing mayhem in the work site behind him. Most missions can be completed using solely the drones alone, sort of taking the human element out of the game. When having to use Marcus to infiltrate sites, I have to say that those missions didn’t go as well as I had hoped and usually ended in gun fire.

 

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San Francisco is beautiful, and Ubisoft deserve a commendation for creating as many open worlds as they have in the last 5 years such as in 2 Watch Dog games, 3 Assassin Creed Games, 3 Far Cry games, The Division and however many Ghost Recon games there’s been, all in the timeframe that GTA 5 has been out. Ubisoft really do deserve the credit for the amount of content they create on a yearly basis, as compared to Rockstar’s paltry offer. In retrospective, I have no idea how GTA 5 ever became as popular as it is.

The graphics in this game really did push my SLI 970s, managing Very High at 1080p ultrawide, with a few frame drops in extremely built up areas. This game will have many years of looking beautiful, with atleast 6Gb cards required to run Ultra textures. I still can’t stress the attention to detail, with one of the greatest graphical animations I have ever seen. Whenever you drive a car that’s been parked under a tree, especially any tree that resembles a cherry blossom tree, any petals that have come to rest on the car’s body fly off when moving forward. The first time this happened, I thought I was in the Matrix. Absolutely lifelike and helped with immersion after I recovered from the first time it freaked me out.

I especially love games that are built on real locations. Having watched a documentary the other day about the current state of driverless cars, a segment of the film was shot in San Francisco, and having just played WD2, I instantly recognised many landmarks and streets that I’d driven down as though I had actually been there in real life, which I never have and probably will never get the chance to. I love video games for that chance to experience someplace that I would never otherwise have a chance of seeing, and being able to experience a sense of recognition, and the fact that everything was scaled and detailed perfectly, ensured that I had a genuine experience. So I’m thankful to all developers for that, and again, well done Ubisoft for creating an absolutely beautiful game.

Just coming back to the attention to detail, it was as quite simple to observe as just simply making Marcus stand still and looking all around him. I saw some brilliantly realistic, simplistic little things such as a guy scratching his nuts as he walked down the street, a tramp raiding a bin for some scran, two dogs play fighting on a patch of grass, a couple dabbing each other in the face with ice cream, plus the beautiful artwork on the side of buildings. Never once did I see a unique asset used twice. Some the of the city landscapes, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background just looks so spectacular.

The main campaign can be very interesting at times, going on missions infiltrating a space rocket laboratory, trolling the FBI and escaping from Alcatraz! Alcatraz was certainly cool, being able to relive a classic. The side quests are all about being the hero, defeating local gangs and crooked police. There was a bit too much of having to drive all over the town for nothing more than simple conversation, but missions containing action didn’t feel too tedious. I played a few co-op missions, they do repeat so didn’t take them serious even though most of the game’s updates has cater towards this game mode. I did find it funny that the 24 online avatars only featured balding male avatars with or without goatees. I’m not sure if it was just a bald bloke who was in charge of creating these at Ubisoft, who wanted to exact revenge on all the players with hair. It was surprising to not see female avatars in this day and age though, whether or not they were also made bald.

I really tried to play this game pacifisticly (which I’m not sure’s even a word), usually relying on the drones to complete the mission, but the times when Marcus was required to personally hack machines, it was hard to pass by enemies unnoticed, usually either just spamming the hack to distract them using their phones, or the overall mass communication hack, problem with these hacks is that they never work on dogs, so if you run into one of them, you’re gonna have to smack them into the face to knock ’em out, which also applies to humans, but usually the bodies are found halfway through the mission, always raising the alarm causing everyone to draw guns. At this point, I would either attempt to stun everyone which would just result in me being killed, or pulling out my 3D printed automatic shotgun with a 30 round magazine that was essentially an assault rifle, just running though waves of enemies and completing the mission in 2 minutes. God forbid you try to hide or escape when spotted to ensure your playthrough remains passive, as missions will definitely take you 10x longer for absolute zero reward. I do think the original Watch Dogs beats this game on being able to sneak better, maybe from the practise you get as you have no drones to rely on, or if it’s just down to level design and watchmen being stationed on every corner.

Also there’s no benefit to playing as a pacifist, even killing hundreds of people has absolute no effect on the local events in the game or the story, which makes killing feel out-of-place, not something that you would expect from a simple hacker but more along the lines of what a terrorist would do, making me not warm up as I probably was supposed to towards Marcus and the DedSec crew (aside from all the hipster remarks aswell), so the act of killing does essentially ruin the immersion in the game and its authenticity. Also when you consider that most of the people you’re killing are simply innocent guards with families at home, caught up in some bickering between corporation big wigs and hackers. Don’t get me wrong, mission level designs are built with interactable objects that can knock out enemies, but they’re then usually woken up by their teammates if you don’t take them all out fast enough or if any reinforcements are called, and like mentioned, there’s no reward for being nice, so shotgun to the face it is. It’s a shame as in the original Watch Dogs, there was a reputation system that depending upon actions done by Aiden, would either have the general public in the vicinity either report Aiden to the Police upon sight of him or keep quiet about what they had seen. I wish this had been implemented back into the sequel as it would have made me think twice during those times when I’m not able to just use drones to circumvent the gun fights.

Cars can be a joy to drive and I especially liked the one seater car. Absolutely versatile and nimble, I really wish they existed in real life as this is the solution I’ve been looking for rather than getting a moped which some idiot will probably end up knocking me off anyhow. There are a few races in the games, with the ekarts and motocross races not being too hard to get gold in. Surprisingly more interesting was the sailboats race that required a good eye and decision-making on how to make best use of the wind and the drone races that were actually really fun, with a high-speed aerial race using drones that have agile controls in any direction. It did take 10 minutes to get used to the controls, but after some practise, was unbeatable and makes me feel that if I had a go in real life, would probably nail it, which I wish i could have a real go at, especially those courses that are all lit up that as well use the VR headsets.

One thing that I honestly couldn’t get my head around was the number of skins in the game. Absolutely everything in appearance was open to customisation, with skins for guns, cars, drones and clothing. I don’t know if Ubisoft were taking a note out of CS:GO’s book, but the skins just kept on coming, with many unlockable in the game aswell as many more that could be purchased as DLC. This game has one of the largest DLC libraries that I’ve ever seen. I tried to make it my personal mission to buy every article of clothing in the game, but there was just too many. I actually really liked the attires, being very sharp and I wish I could get these in real life (at an affordable price and not the 3K price tag in the game), I hope there’s a supplier out there somewhere in the world. Everything is entirely varied from one another, and again, that attention to detail, you can make out every single stitch that the texture artist has so painfully included. Again, hats off to the design department. Just on the topic of merchandise, I do wonder if Ubisoft missed out on a trick by not marketing some real life Wench masks. There are quite a few videos on YouTube on how to make your own, and I think these could be have been successful, even though having said that, nobody seemed that fussed when actual working Pipboys from the Fallout series were made available at an affordable price, so I guess it’s just one of those things.

Something that was mentioned in the game that sadly never came to fruition was a 3D printed gun in the shape of a sex toy or a cat. This would have added a layer of humour in the game that it sort of needed, unless you can understand the dry film references between the characters. This may have though taken the game down the Saint’s Row route, which I think Ubisoft are careful not to do, wanting to ensure that the series is taken seriously. Also on let downs for 3D printed gear, I was surprised they didn’t make the jumper double up as a hoverboard that you could ride incase you couldn’t locate a car and also the sniper rifles in the game were absolutely pointless. There was no point initiating combat from far range when all it did was give your position away to the public around you that would call the police on you as well as give the enemies time to group up and spray away. There are only a few guns with silencers pre-attached, and even those sounded like cannon fire, giving you away as soon as you take one shot.

Sound effects were on point. Donning on a pair of headphones, you can hear so much to what a pair of monitor speakers might not catch. The only thing with wearing headphones though is depending on the orientation of the in-game camera view, sounds could become muted such as npcs you’re talking to. Essentially the camera worked opposite to how you would expect it to work. Spinning the camera around for it to be closer to the npc would make them quieter rather than louder. An innovate item that the developers have included in the game, probably influenced by modern society even though I’ve been wearing them for the past 10 years, is that Marcus is wearing a pair of bluetooth headphones, used as his comms link and able to now stream music in all situations all throughout the game. You can either create your own playlist or listen to the in-game radios, which are definitely on par with the selection of radio stations in GTA. The stations each have their own DJs that are fun to listen to, and who will comment on events that transpire in the game, alongside the breaking news reports that come through. The music selection is ok, the electronic music very fitting to the game, with the rock station making me want to rip my ears off with some stupid song that would keep playing which contained nothing but someone just basically trolling you by screaming like a dying cat. I liked that the tune from Rebel Galaxy was playing in the bikers clothes store. Felt like a bit of an ode and really took me back to that game.

Another ode that cropped up was that the arcade cabinets scattered around the map, the only game on these cabinets was Far Cry: Blood Dragon. Even Ubisoft know that this is one of their greatest ever games and wanted to pay omage to it. The fact that the game is still in their minds make me hope that they may create another.

Which brings me to my next point about the what I’m hoping for from Watch Dogs 3. Watch Dogs 2 pretty much wrapped up going up against a load of corporations, showing them for what they truly are, as well as taking down some douche that was the head of Blume. Ubisoft have to be careful to not just simply repeat the entire game its in entirety with just some new faces. As well as the fact that this WD2 really suffered on sales, Watch Dogs 3 could be the last of the series. If that’s the case, than Ubisoft needs to allow the series to go out with a bang, which is why I propose that the next Watch Dogs game has to be set in 2099.

Watch Dogs 2099 needs to be a dystopian picture of the future in which the corporations have won, as we continued to let them over the years data mine, profile and control us. Plus who doesn’t want to drive a levitating car. I really think this could be what the series has been working up towards, creating what could be one of gaming’s golden trilogy. Please don’t string these games out like the Assassin’s creed series, which lost its appeal after the death of Ezio. I feel that as they’re already making a futuristic Beyond Good and Evil 2, that this could maybe even be somehow worked into its timeline, linking all of Ubisofts game series together in some way. Plus they’re going to have many futuristic assets lying around from the production of Beyond Good and Evil, that it could reduce the costs of making Watch Dogs 3, which I can’t imagine getting a massive budget based off of WD2’s performance. I’m absolutely convinced this has to happen, and hopefully the rest of us can convince Ubisoft this is the path they have to take, but we’ll just have to see.

Watch Dogs 2 is a really fun game, filled out with a nice 40 hour campaign and just those beautiful graphics that will take me awhile to get over. The game on its reflection of our use of modern social technologies, passes on the same message that DedSec sign their videos off with, in that they have given you the information for you to use, do what will you with it. The best quote I actually heard in this game I think came from one of the radio DJs, who says “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything!”

 

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