Watch Dogs 2 Review

toxikk-review-5In June of 2012 Ubisoft announced Watch Dogs with the promise that you could hack the world. Sadly the game failed to live up to that promise and the hacking turned into timed button presses to stop a helicopter or prevent someone from calling the cops on you. Then during E3 of 2016 the sequel was officially unveiled after years of rumors. Ubisoft promised to do better with this game, they brought on people to act as hacking consultants. The following will contain plot spoilers for the game.

Set after the events of Chicago, Blume has introduced ctOS 2.0. With data collection at an all time high you are introduced to the main character Marcus Holloway or as he is known in the hacker community Retr0. His exploits have piqued the interest of Dedsec and for his final test they have him break into the Blume Corporation and delete his ctOS profile. Which the members claim has never been done. After breaking into Blume and successfully deleting his profile Marcus is then welcomed into Dedsec, the core members being Wrench, Josh, Sitara and Horatio.

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Then the members of Dedsec plan how they will bring down Blume, it is here you are introduced to the mission system. The missions are set of mini stories that aren’t connected and outside of the main missions can be played in any order at any time. Some missions require uncovering intel through out the world though. The purpose of these missions is to gain followers, as Dedsec gains followers people download the Dedsec app. The application turns the device that downloaded it into a zombie as part of the Dedsec botnet.

Eventually Marcus is lead to check out unusual activity on the Dedsec network, Josh has discovered that there is a spike in followers and computing power that appears to be coming from the social media app !NViTE, which is essentially Facebook. After breaking into the CEO’s office he comes face to face with Dusan Nemec whom is the CTO of the Blume Corporation. During which Marcus learns this was all a setup, Blume was trying to get to Dedsec so they faked deleting Marcus’ profile and allowed the backdoor to exist.

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Blume CTO Dusan Nemec

After rallying the demoralized group Dedsec discover the truth that Blume has been using the space launch company Galilei to launch satellites as a way for them to bypass the undersea cables that carry the internet and control all data on a global scale. After breaking into Galilei and adding a modified board to the satellite that allows Dedsec to hack them from orbit you learn that Blume has been using Bellwether to control the world. After outing !NViTE for manipulating social feeds to get people to support Mark Thruss, you then prove that Nemec was behind everything. He gets arrested and Dedsec vows to continue fighting Blume and ctOS 2.0.

The main plot itself is interspersed among conversation after missions between Dedsec members. This game expects you to pay attention, if you zone out during intro segment it is easy to miss out that while the missions and activities are all self contained they serve one goal; to build up the Dedsec botnet. The conspiracy elements are interesting and Ubisoft did a nice job pulling from real life conspiracy theories and accusations. The concepts of hacking are also interesting though it has the hollywood approach for execution. The characters themselves are also unique and have personality, however again its like Ubisoft googled some Anonymous and 4Chan memes, then watched the movie Hackers a couple of times.

The game play is also very well done, Ubisoft gave the PC version an extra couple of weeks to smooth out bugs and improve controls. The parkour system is simple though sometimes imperfect with Marcus occasionally missing jumps or vaulting over an object when you’re trying to land on the object. The car handling is also very arcade like, with cars easily spinning out of control during some sharp turns. During missions this game also tends to punish recklessness and reward careful thought. Marcus cannot take very many shots from a gun, guns themselves are also loud; making enemies more likely to discover him if used. Distractions, sneaking and silent take downs are Marcus’ bread and butter.

The hacking was also improved over the first one, like the first one you can hack the cameras to scout a location. However you also have a drone and RC vehicle that can be deployed each have pros and cons, the drone being able to fly can hide more easily, but cannot perform physical hacks or pick up items. The RC vehicle can pick up items and perform physical hacks, but cannot hide as well and has limited movement.

As you gain followers you gain research points which lets you unlock varying hacking abilities like planting evidence to get people arrested or a localized black out to distract enemies. More powerful abilities also require key data which is located through out the San Francisco, requiring puzzle solving and platforming to reach. There are also research point nodes that can be accessed the same way as the key data, as usual with open world sand box games there are a lot of collectibles to be found.

The puzzles could have used more variation though, it breaks down to two types, find the key and network bypass. Finding the key is pretty self explanatory, the network bypass is a puzzle where you rotate nodes to reroute connections, as you reroute the connections you unlock segments to progress. Some puzzles of this type are more difficult having either time limits or nodes that randomly rotate when you unlock a segment.

Visually the game looks good and Ubisoft did a great job mapping a realistic version of San Francisco. Other than renaming some building to match companies that exist in the world like renaming the Oracle Arena to the Blume Arena in Oakland you will find familiar locations like Stanford of Lombard street. The in-house disrupt engine did a fantastic job of rendering these locations.

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San Franciso as seen from Marin Point near the Golden Gate Bridge

As with other open world sanbox games Ubisoft opted to license tracks, while there is variety here there may not be something for everyone. The official radio stations are pop, rock, hip-hop, world, classical and electronica. Music can be heard via either the car radio or custom playlists. Custom playlists start with a limited number of songs and more songs are unlocked via the Song Sneak application on Marcus’ phone. The sound effects themselves and background audio like random NPCs are all ok. The music however could use some more improvement and more variety.

specsSadly while looking good and controlling well the game has some optimization issues. Despite Ubisoft giving the PC version more time for optimization the efforts don’t show here. While the frame rate wasn’t dipping constantly, it was fairly stable; it failed to hit 60 FPS on any graphical settings. The game also hits the CPU fairly hard, using between 65-80% CPU utilization during intense moments where a lot of things are going on. With the minimum specifications being: i5 2400s or AMD FX 6120, 6GB of RAM, GTX 660 or Radeon HD 7870, and the recommended being: i5 3470 or AMD FX 8120, 8GB of RAM, GTX 780 or Radeon R9 290. The game also requires 50GB of storage space, however it currently takes up 22.4 GB so this estimate includes DLC. Waiting for better optimization is recommended if your system falls within the system requirements published by Ubisoft. Unlike past Ubisoft attempts there were no noticeable missing textures, this is far from the infamous Assassin’s Creed Unity missing face. The performance is solid, it could just use a few more patches to improve optimization and deal with the high resource utilization. As a note the day one drives from Nvidia had minimal impact on performance in testing.

Ultimately the story is fun with parallels to real life, though it remains to be seen how well the game will hold up with such topical and contemporary references. The characters are interesting, though not entirely fleshed out. The music could use more varieties and genres, the cars and gun sounds could have also used more work. Finally the game could use some more optimization patches. In the end the game gets a final verdict: Try it. What is here is fun, though if you own a less powerful machine there may be issues running the game. During a sale the game is definitely worth the price of admission. The game is currently $59.99 or your regional equivalent and can be purchased from a variety of sites including Steam, Uplay and the Humble Bundle store.

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