Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 Preview: A Lithe Beast Indeed

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Marcus Holloway is one lithe dude. In our hands-on time with him in the Watch Dogs 2 demo, he was a slick character to control.

For a hacker he doesn’t fit the bill of society’s stereotype of a button-pushing malnourished nerd. When he moves it’s almost as if he’s doing so to a beat, whether he’s shimmying up to a rooftop, dead-dropping off a balcony or smoothly skidding across the bonnet of a car. He’s an elite hacker, sure, but that’s not the end of his skill set. And boy, he is lithe.

This is the main difference between Marcus and Aiden Pearce, the protagonist in the original Watch Dogs, who was about as smooth as a wrecking ball hitting an orphanage. The biggest upgrade Watch Dogs 2 has on its predecessor is movement. Piloting Marcus through the game’s environments – whether they be closed-off or open-world – feels intuitive and natural. One never feels like they’ve been shoe-horned into a series of movements they need to lean on the control-pads’s stick to pull off. In a way the game feels like it’s taken a leaf out of the Assassin’s Creed playbook – which shouldn’t come as any surprise.

Watch Dogs 2 boasts more in common with Ubisoft’s time-travelling stab-a-thon than its parkour mechanics. When the first Watch Dogs was released, the general consensus was that, while the game was pretty good, it felt like a template for a better game Ubisoft hadn’t made yet – much as was the case with the first Assassin’s Creed. Like Assassin’s Creed II, Watch Dogs 2 builds on the promise of its predecessor quite significantly.

Marcus can hack cameras, doors and junction boxes. He can break into and drive cars, use a gun to pop an enemy’s head off and duck for cover when the situation requires it. He can use his magical phone to mess with traffic lights. So far, so Watch Dogs.

But Watch Dogs 2 delves deeper into hacker culture than its predecessor. Once players become cozy with DeadSec – the game’s Anonymous-like hacktivist collective – they gain access to the group’s app, which in turn, allows them to build a botnet as long as they pull off righteous hacks – such as breaking into a film studio and scuppering a bone-headed movie being made about hackers. Such activities garners them followers, which in turn allows them to open up Marcus’s skill tree.

Furthermore, Marcus and DeadSec have a 3D Printer that allows players to create nifty gadgets like stun guns and a remote controlled surveillance drone called a Jumper. The latter is handy for scouting out the terrain in restricted areas – read: those environments that Marcus would be shot on sight if he entered.

The story seems pretty promising too; Marcus has his world turned upside down when the powers-that-be decide that he would be less trouble inside a jail cell than out. To that end, they decided to juice up his police record with a heinous amount of crimes that he didn’t commit. In order to expunge this crap, he broke into a CTOS (that’s Central Operating System that governs the Internet of Things in San Francisco, which is where he currently resides) server farm. This earns him a clean slate and kudos with DeadSec.

In the brief play-through available, I can report that Watch Dogs 2 looks and plays a lot like its predecessor, but it promises a whole lot more. As was the case with Assassin’s Creed II, Watch Dogs 2 isn’t a sea-change from the series’ first iteration, but it packs in a lot more. It’s better written, there’s more to do and this time it feels like the time-sink may be worth it.

Oh, and Marcus is so goddam lithe.