Watch Dogs 2 Review in Progress

Watch Dogs 2 makes a life of cybercrime in San Francisco almost irresistibly fun. In what turned out to be a smart maneuver, Ubisoft dialed back the self-serious cyberpunk drama from the first game, aiming for something closer to an absurd hacker sitcom with Grand Theft Auto‘s irreverent atmosphere. We’ve spent almost 40 hours with the game, and though we were able to beat every main objective and most side missions, not every aspect of Watch Dogs 2 was ready for showtime leading up to launch.

In response to reports of heavy slowdown during multiplayer events, Ubisoft temporarily disabled seamless PVP last week. Though we only experienced multiplayer-related frame rate issues a few times, it was relentless when it occurred–rebooting the game was the only cure. We don’t know if the issue will be resolved before Watch Dogs 2 goes public, so our full review will have to wait until we can test multiplayer in real-world conditions after launch. However, the majority of Watch Dogs 2 is designed for solo play and everything outside of multiplayer seems to be in working order.

With San Francisco’s skyline at your back, you guide our upbeat protagonist Marcus into the open arms of DedSec–a well-meaning hacktivist group that fights for privacy and justice against the likes of the FBI and social network giants. Your partners come on strong at times, overflowing with hacker cliches, but outside of DedSec’s secret hideout, the Bay Area’s biggest tech companies, personalities, and headlines steal the show. If you’ve ever wanted to harass the nefarious pharma bro Martin Shkreli or peer into the mind of a social network bigwig, there’s a mission for that.

Your smartphone can manipulate electronics and vehicles remotely thanks to its suite of DedSec apps, and hop between closed-circuit cameras to silently enter municipal and corporate buildings. There’s an art to accomplishing your goals without being noticed, but if you prefer to stand tall and carry a big stick, no major character will question your tactics–least of all Marcus himself. You are free to hijack cars, steal from the poor, and use brute force in place of covert hacks, provided you’re good at running from the police.

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San Francisco and other Bay Area cities look and feel like their real-world counterparts, but there’s a noticeable lack of traffic on sidewalks and city streets. This affords you fewer opportunities to create chaos as a result, but open lanes make it easy to cruise around the bay. Driving feels marginally better than it did in the first Watch Dogs, with motorcycles offering the most control and utility. There’s a wonderful mix of urban variety and natural beauty on the map, and the steep hills of San Francisco offer plenty of opportunities for death defying stunts.

The best moments in Watch Dogs 2 are when it presents open-ended challenges that inspire you to mix hacking and armed combat.

As you coast around and across the bay, you can distract yourself from the daunting task of hacking the world by racing motocross bikes, go karts, and drones. You can also work on your selfie game and drive for a ride-sharing service to earn extra cash and attract new DedSec followers, which in turn allows you to unlock new hacking abilities and purchase weapons. Working through skill trees is a gradual process with few grand and meaningful leaps in technology, and though you’re encouraged to shoot for a specific playstyle, you’ll have no problem if you diversify your skillsets–research points are doled out generously during story missions. There are scenarios where you can easily identify the most reasonable course of action, but the best moments in Watch Dogs 2 are when it presents open-ended challenges that inspire you to mix hacking and armed combat.

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Part of the reason Watch Dogs 2 can allow you to be sneaky or explosive at a moment’s notice is that its AI has a few screws loose. You aren’t given the chance to hide bodies, which makes stealth seem like a non-option, but this is accounted for by easily distracted NPCs. With a simple command, you can distract or overwhelm enemies through their smartphone, even when they know something sketchy is afoot, then knock them out before they can call for help. You can drive forklifts and scissor lifts through crowds, but no one seems too bothered by the inconvenience. With fast and loose rules, Watch Dogs 2 won’t win any points for realism, but it does allow you room to be the creative action hero you (apparently) are.

You can have a lot of fun playing Watch Dogs 2 offline, but multiplayer–when it works–shouldn’t be ignored. There are emergent PVP events that allow you to hack or hunt down other players, and special missions where you and a partner can infiltrate networks and private property together. We can imagine how a server full of players has the potential to make you feel connected to the world and part of a larger community of hackers, but we can’t test that theory until the game is in the hands of more people. We will continue to experiment, so check back later this week to see if Watch Dogs 2 can seamlessly marry single and multiplayer gameplay, and what that means for the game at large.

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