Watch Dogs 2 (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 28.12.2016

Review for Watch Dogs 2 on PlayStation 4

When Ubisoft first unveiled Watch Dogs way back in 2012 via a carefully orchestrated E3 demo, its hackable open world premise impressed on many levels. It was an announcement that predated the arrivals of both the PS4 and Xbox One by over a year, and for many it acted as an indication of what to expect from the imminent arrival of the next generation of consoles. It seemed a real shame, then, that upon its eventual release a couple of years later, it appeared to have been subjected to a considerable visual downgrade when compared to that early demo. While it didn't turn out to be a bad game by any stretch, it failed to pique this particular reviewer's interest who admittedly gave up on its campaign pretty early on. As is often the way, though, the sequel provides the perfect opportunity to take on board criticism, address any shortcomings, while building upon and improving on the initial vision. Watch Dogs 2 is bigger, better and err...hackier.

Set in a fairly bleak, near future interpretation of Chicago, the first Watch Dogs honed in on the plight of a highly skilled grey hat hacker called Aiden Pierce (who incidentally makes a cameo in this) as he sought revenge for the murder of his niece, the unfortunate recipient of a bullet with his name on it. Armed with a cell phone and a laptop (and numerous firearms), Pierce was able to casually conjure up chaos by hacking into an ultra-connected city that was being controlled by an operating system called ctOS, developed by a shady tech company called Blume. Handing total control over to a private organisation doesn't sound like the brightest of ideas, yet somehow Blume has managed to win the contract to install and manage ctOS 2.0 in San Francisco where this sequel takes place.

Watch Dogs 2 seems to have adopted a far more light-hearted approach than its predecessor, as while DedSec (the hacking collective appearing in both games) is still intent on sticking it to the man, they opt to take the social justice warrior route by exposing the insidious misuse of surveillance tech via humorous stunts, public humiliation and shaming on social media, rather than going full vigilante. Don't worry, though, there are still guns.

This time around the main protagonist is 24-year-old Oakland resident Marcus Holloway, better known by his alias Retr0, a gifted hacker who has already been flagged and profiled by ctOS 2.0 as a potential troublemaker, despite a total lack of involvement in any criminal activity. Clearly feeling unjustly victimised, he decides to join DedSec and uses his initiation into the collective (a spot of light breaking and entering into Blume's heavily guarded server farm) as the opportunity to wipe his profile from ctOS altogether. Upon seeing the wealth of data that Blume is accumulating on the San Fran residents and selling on for unscrupulous purposes, Retr0, alongside his fellow DedSec hacktivists (Sitara, Wrench, Josh and Horatio), decides to take affirmative action, while operating from the basement of a board game shop.

Despite leaving a backdoor exploit on Blume's 'secure' server, the team still lacks the raw processing power to knock ctOS 2.0 out of action altogether, so hit upon the bright idea of using social media to generate support. Exposing the illicit mishandling of sensitive data in outlandish and entertaining ways helps raise awareness of their "brand," while simultaneously promoting the download of the DedSec app—an app that just so happens to power a Botnet that can be used in their daily operations and increases in strength with each new follower gained. What they aren't aware of, however, is that they are already being watched far closer than they realise.

Screenshot for Watch Dogs 2 on PlayStation 4

It should come as no surprise that Ubisoft has utilised its now standard open world template on Watch Dogs 2, meaning that veterans of The Division/Assassin's Creed/Far Cry series should feel right at home straight away. Much like its real-life counterpart, San Francisco is a vast, sprawling, living world that can be traversed on foot, by car and even by boat for the more nautically inclined, but thankfully Ubisoft has been thoughtful enough to slap in a fast travel system for those that don't enjoy soaking up the sights and sounds in a more traditional way.

What makes the Watch Dogs series slightly different from the likes of Grand Theft Auto is that a lot of the surrounding environment can be hacked and manipulated via a single swipe of Retr0's smartphone. This can range to anything from creating diversions by controlling cars, traffic lights, turning junction boxes into electrical hazards, steam valves into scalding hot deterrents, and so on, while average citizens/cops/gang members can also be spoofed on the fly by hacking into their smartphones to either glean information, intercept messages, wire cash out of their bank accounts, or even dispense a nasty electric shock that knocks them out temporarily.

Of course, the hacking goes a bit deeper than that as the majority of the missions involve pilfering data from secure locations that can occasionally take a bit of forward planning to reach. Pushing down on the right stick activates 'NetHack,' which serves as a visual overlay indicating everything in the immediate vicinity that is vulnerable to a hack, be it one of the aforementioned opportunistic diversions or any nearby computers/security locks/CCTV that can be utilised to help clear a path to the task objective. Some minor hacks can be done remotely through compromised CCTV feeds, with a remote-controlled car that can negotiate air vents or with an airborne drone that can hack into rooftop antennas. The larger missions, however, will generally require a physical hack, which can culminate in either having to solve a puzzle that involves manipulating nodes to direct the power flow to the terminal, or slowly downloading data from a server while the security forces do their damndest to stop Retr0 from succeeding.

Taking a stealthy approach works to an extent, but the sharp AI-controlled security tends to pick up on the tiniest of infractions, so more often than not it will end up in combat. For the most part, the gunplay is quick and snappy, though the cover-based system can occasionally be a bit finicky during some of the more intense skirmishes. Weapons can be added to the loadout via the 3D printer back at the hackerspace, and as a standard issue there are also a couple of non-lethal options in the form of a stun gun and the yo-yo like Thunderball (think the modern day equivalent of Ray Winstone's pool ball in a sock, for reference), though adversaries taken down with these items have a habit of regaining consciousness after a short while.

Screenshot for Watch Dogs 2 on PlayStation 4

Each of the main missions take place as a multi-staged operation, which, more often than not, starts with a lead that might require a few investigative undertakings, followed by the setting up of a sting of some kind, which finally culminates with a big pay off. Smart homes that spy on its inhabitants' eating habits then report back to their life insurance provider, a Hollywood actor suspecting the religious cult he's a member of is actually a front for a criminal organisation, and the breaking into the Nudle campus (the non-copyright infringing version of Google) to investigate their potential links to Blume are a small cross section of the many operations that crop up during the course of the campaign. Numerous side operations will also crop up during regular exploration of San Francisco and can be stumbled across innocuously via a random conversation with an NPC, an overheard telephone call, a hacked computer, or even the random interception of a whale song broadcast. Pffft. Hackers.

It's all about the followers, though, and as the count increases with each successful completed mission, Retr0 gets to level up his resources via earned Research points that can be spent on upgrading and unlocking new abilities on the skill tree. These are split into three fairly self explanatory classes: Trickster, Aggressor and Ghost, which cover areas such as:

Vehicle Hacking: The remote hijack and control of other motor vehicles.
Social Engineering: Which amongst other things adds the ability to call in a Police APB/gang attack on an innocent party to cause a distraction. Advanced profiling flags up individuals with large bank accounts, which can come in handy when a bit short of cash.
City Disruption: As well as causing traffic chaos this can be used to trigger bollards and steam pipe explosions, close down the infrastructure temporarily or even cause a blackout.
Gadget Tinkering: Which is mainly geared towards dispensing electric shocks in innovative ways, as well as explosive devices.
Markmanship: Fairly self-explanatory, and as one might expect, it concentrates on improving the weapon handling and stun gun duration/potency.
Remote CTRL: Very handy for operating forklifts and cranes/window cleaning apparatus to reach elevated areas. Also adds extra abilities and enhancements to both the remote-controlled car and the drone.

Just to make it that little bit trickier, Research points can't be spent until the relevant Research Key has been discovered, and while these do tend to be located in fairly heavily guarded areas, as a rule, they do at least get revealed on the map once Retr0 has been within vicinity of it. Research points can also be spent upgrading the BotNet, which is fairly essential given that this is the main resource at DedSec's disposal. Thankfully, this can be done fairly quickly, as there are no key requirements to do so, and the reduction in the time it takes to regain a fully recharged BotNet can be very noticeable in the heat of the moment.

Screenshot for Watch Dogs 2 on PlayStation 4

San Francisco looks visually stunning on the PS4 Pro, as Ubisoft has done a phenomenal job of optimising the performance for Sony's new machine, while maintaining a high level of detail throughout. As one might expect for an open world sandbox, there are plenty of fun diversions to kill time between missions, with quite a lot of them focusing on the excellent vehicle handling, which is a massive step up from its predecessor. There are go-kart, sailboat, motocross and drone races to get involved in, as well as a fresh interpretation of the old Ubisoft's classic Driver SF series that acts as a Crazy Taxi-esque side game, packed full of fun assignments.

Multiplayer is treated more like an embellishment rather than a separate component, as it gets integrated seamlessly into normal play. PVP Hacking makes a return and occasionally presents itself as the opportunity to hop into somebody else's game in a bid to steal data from them while attempting to remain undetected. Should the victim spot the intruder then they need to give chase and kill them before they escape, but it's worth noting that the roles will often be reversed given that your own game can be invaded at any time, too. It's a game of virtual hide 'n seek, basically.

Alongside this, persistent troublemakers with an elevated Heat level (the in-game mechanism used to increase police response times) will inadvertently become the central character in a Bounty Hunt mission, where up to four other players can hop into their game to help the law enforcement take them out of commission. Both are fun little distractions that add an authentic 'living' feel to Watch Dogs 2, but the whole online aspect can be opted out of altogether for those not interested. There are also a number of co-op missions, too, and it seems fairly easy to find a random online partner if a friend isn't at hand.

Retr0's reliance on his smartphone is maybe a slight understatement that, sadly, many of us have no trouble relating to, though understandably in his case it plays a fairly pivotal role in his activities. Haven't actually seen the guy plug it in for a recharge, though… Nevertheless, there are a selection of apps that can be downloaded to enhance Retr0's day to day activities out in the field. Nudle Maps is probably the most used app in his arsenal, and this populates with points of interest around the world as the game progresses, as well as acting as the fast travel facilitator. ScoutX is the in-game equivalent of Instagram and can even be used to increase the DedSec follower count whenever Retr0 posts a picture/selfie next to a famous landmark. There is even a Shazam-like music recognition service called SongSneak that can be activated upon hearing music out in the wild, which will be added to the in-game playlist, and much like the real thing, it's prone to failure. Genius.

Screenshot for Watch Dogs 2 on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Watch Dogs 2 is lightyears ahead of its predecessor in every way imaginable and conveys a smartly written precautionary tale regarding the perils of living in a 24-hour surveillance society. Clever mission structure, sumptuous visuals, great acting and sound design all contribute to a living, breathing world that's a real joy to explore. While it tackles a subject matter that can occasionally come across as being a bit 'Black Mirror' at times, recent news stories concerning the UK government's controversial Snooper's Charter or the Arkansas Police Department's attempt to leverage Amazon Echo data to help with a murder investigation only serve to enforce that maybe this isn't really that farfetched at all.


Ubisoft Montreal







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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