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Watch Dogs 2 Hands-On Preview: Function

/ Oct 26th, 2016 No Comments

Watch Dogs 2 Hands-On Preview

In many different forms of media, sense of place is of huge significance. Whether it is Charles Dickens’ London, Los Angeles in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, or New York being the fifth girl in Sex and the City, a location can define a piece of work.

In video games — especially open-world games — setting is equally as important. Most of the time, games create places that don’t exist and make gamers feel like they’re actually there. Open-world gameplay has truly opened up what we can expect from games in terms of delivering a real, living space. Recently, Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong and Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos have given players spaces that feel true to life. Even Watch Dogs’ Chicago had a strong sense of place, although the game didn’t take full advantage of it.

Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t let its setting go to waste, creating a living virtual recreation of San Francisco and portions of its surrounding cities like Oakland, Marin County and Silicon Valley. From the moment you start your adventure as Marcus Holloway, you feel like a part of San Francisco, navigating the winding, sometimes confusing streets of the city.

As you spend more time in the game, you get a better feel for the city and the tremendous amount of work that went into bringing it to life. Developers at Ubisoft Montreal spent countless hours taking endless pictures and videos, recording the sound of the city, scouting unusual places, and talking to the San Francisco locals. It resulted in a vibrant, living San Francisco in Watch Dogs 2.

Mr. Flamboyant

Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t just capitalize on a sense of place, it firmly inserts players into a culture. Hacking in Aiden Pearce’s crusade was a means to an end. Even what hacking Pearce did seemed very utilitarian and his effectiveness in combat largely came down to conventional gunplay.

Pearce had some hacking experience, but he only joined DedSec reluctantly and kept his distance. There never was a sense of community in Watch Dogs, and it resulted in an antiseptic tone. Watch Dogs 2 by contrast immediately pulls Marcus and, by extension, the player into the warm, inviting space of DedSec (San Francisco).

This new DedSec is comprised of hackers, each with their own specialities, all working to make DedSec better, but it is missing something. Marcus is the final piece of the puzzle. Even though Marcus is a prodigious hacker in his own right, what he gives DedSec is purpose and a motivation to go against Blume.

Watch Dogs 2 Hands-On Preview

Marcus Holloway is a charming and engaging protagonist.

That won’t be easy, however. Since Pearce’s actions in Chicago exposed the weakness of ctOS, Blume has beefed up its systems. The ctOS 2.0 implemented in San Francisco is going to need some serious processing power to take down.

Since it is impractical to buy and house the computing power necessary, DedSec has a different idea. To get closer to taking down Blume and ctOS 2.0, they are going to build their own app that borrows processing power from users’ devices (the use is completely transparent). Creating the app is one thing, but getting people to use it is another matter entirely.

That’s where Marcus comes in, he wasn’t just the spark for the idea. Marcus is going to be the instrument to getting DedSec more followers and, as a result, more processing power. Getting more followers will take creativity, boldness, and a lot of lolz.

Tell Me When To Go

Every mission Marcus takes on in Watch Dogs 2 helps boost DedSec’s follower count. You don’t get followers easy, though; people are hard to impress in the internet of things. Marcus is going to have make some noise and go after high-profile targets if he wants to up them followers.

The first three hours of the game spans two major story mission chains and one side operation. These three acts are conceived to help DedSec’s end game of destroying Blume. Each one is flashy and tailored to capture people’s attention. Other side missions, online missions and activities also open up as you play, so you’re not linearly going mission to mission.

Watch Dogs 2 Hands-On Preview

Watch Dogs 2’s missions draw inspiration from real life to make them have more impact.

After being passing his initiation and getting thoroughly soused with the members of DedSec under the Golden Gate Bridge, Marcus has to get to work. His first official act as a member of DedSec is to get their name out.

Marcus gets the idea for his first mission by talking to a local San Franciscan who is ranting about Gene Carcani. Carcani is a scumbag big pharma CEO who raised the price of Leukemia medicine, a prime target for DedSec.

Further driving home the Martin Shkreli reference, it appears Carcani offered millions to rapper Bobo Dakes for exclusive rights to his new album currently being recorded. Music is for the people and to ensure the new Dakes joint is for the people, Marcus uses his hacking skills to run a big scam on Carcani. To pull it off, Marcus has to impersonate Bobo Dakes with the help of DedSec and hack directly into Carcani’s house. The payoff for pulling off the job is a bunch of new followers and one thoroughly embarrassed pile of human garbage.

Sprinkle Me

Scamming Carcani is only the beginning. Marcus and DedSec have bigger fish to fry, like a terrible hacker movie with a talking car and an action star turned religious nutball. In the “Cyber Driver” quest line, Marcus is going after Hollywood’s shallow (and off-base) interpretation of what hackers do by taking on the new Cyber Driver movie.

To make a statement against the movie, DedSec is going to cut a fake trailer of Cyber Driver using the car from the moive. In order to achieve this, Marcus needs two things: the script from the studio lot kept under careful lock and guard and the Cyber Driver car.

The script is the easy part, at least once Marcus deals with the guards crawling the lot. The car takes some doing, but it’s a good thing Marcus hacked the studio’s server and got plenty of dirt to trade for information on the whereabouts of the car. The Cyber Driver car is almost laughably under-protected and is not too difficult for Marcus to hijack, but the problem comes when the studio guards tip off the police and Marcus has to give them the slip.

Watch Dogs 2 Hands-On Preview

Sneaking and moving from cover to cover is far smoother this time around.

A problem arises when Marcus gets the car back to DedSec. It is as far from a smartcar as can get. It seems the rocket scientist paid money to design it did a poor job. Now, players must take on the Herculean task of making the Cyber Driver car an actually intelligent vehicle, but don’t worry a sweet 1980s-style montage turns tedious work awesome.

Once the car is outfitted with enough tech to make it worthy of cutting the trailer, Marcus and Wrench hit the streets of San Francisco to give Cyber Driver, themselves really, the best viral marketing ever. Plastered in DedSec labeling, the Cyber Driver car runs amok across San Francisco, giving the cops a merry chase and catching the attention of the news. If scamming Carcani got the ball rolling on followers, then this has DedSec drowning in new fans.

What makes these missions exciting is how radically different they feel compared to the first game. There is still the same combat that favors sneaking by using cover and creating traps by hacking devices, but missions don’t simply revolve around that combat. Some, like the Carcani mission, don’t involve any combat at all.

Watch Dogs 2 Hands-On Preview

Even the hacking puzzles got a smart makeover this time around.

Even when you are engaging in combat, everything feels smoother and you have more options thanks to your drones. In the “False Profits” quest that follows the “Cyber Driver” mission, you can tackle a huge portion of it just using the jumper. Everything about the gameplay philosophy this time around is about options and giving players the creativity to find new solutions.

These early missions are driven by DedSec’s hacker culture. The characters themselves and don’t follow what we traditionally see in an open-world game. It makes it very exciting to see what the rest of the game has to offer.

Every Vote Counts

If the first three hours of Watch Dogs 2 is any indication, the entire game is something to look out for. In three short hours, it felt like the sequel actually realized the interesting concept put forth by Watch Dogs.

It was hard to put down the controller and when my session ended, and I lamented having to leave this virtual San Francisco. I wanted to spend more time with Marcus, Wrench, Sitara and Josh to see how they are actually going to take down Blume.

Luckily, it is only a few short weeks until Watch Dogs 2 releases. The full game will be available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Nov. 15.


Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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