15 November 2016 (released)
21 November 2016
I start the game. I watch the opening cutscene. I begin playing the tutorial mission. Game crashes. I restart the game. I finish the opening mission. I begin the first proper mission. Game crashes. I continue with the mission. Driving physics are god-awful. Reach first objective. Game crashes. I again continue the mission. Complete mission. Attempt to research new skill. Game crashes.
This is not the PC version. This is the PS4 version. And if the game had not stopped crashing, I would have traded in my copy then and there, and ended the review here. My patience for this game was at the absolute limit.
Then, the game stopped crashing and I got to drive a hacked Night Rider homage car around the city listening to "Turbo Lover" by Judas Priest. At last, the game had done something right. But quite frankly, when the first few hours are that bad, it permanently sours your experience. And even after the time I’ve now sunk into this game, I do not understand how people can compare this positively to Assassin's Creed 2. That game was a humongous improvement over its predecessor; this is not. It’s just swapped out the dark, serious tone for Sunset Overdrive-lite.
From the off, the game is throwing memes and ‘hacker speak’ at you like it’s the coolest, most hip thing on the block. Even the characters reflect this stereotyping, from the ‘artist lady’ Sitara to the ‘socially awkward super-hacker’ Josh, with characters confirming in-game that he is autistic. Then there’s Wrench; this game’s rather hit and miss attempt at a comedy anarchist who dresses like a punk and wears a mask with stupid emoticon eyes, who enjoys smashing stuff and… well, other means of general destruction and mayhem.
So the story and characters are pretty bad. But what about the gameplay: has that improved? Well, as I mentioned back at the top of the review, the driving is atrocious. Forget "too arcade-like", this feels like Scalextric. There’s no sense of physics while you drive as it all feels like you’re glued to the tarmac in a very unnatural way. And then there’s the on-foot action. This game is trying to promote ways of doing things without pulling the guns out, but it feels like an incredible slog at times in the early game until you unlock better skills that allow easier stealth. And God, the hacking mini-game… why this got to stay in is beyond me. It should have either been fundamentally changed or cut out entirely, because as it is, it’s a stupid roadblock that pops up way too often. As for the hacking on-the-fly - the "unique feature" of this game - there are more features available to you, such as manipulating cars on the fly, or shutting down certain electronics such as doors to deny access, but it’s still all negligible stuff. It never feels like something you can rely on.
So there you have it. Watch Dogs 2 is an attempt to swing wildly in the opposite direction thematically from the first entry, but just like the first game it lacks something that makes open-world games of its ilk truly thrive. It never feels alive, despite how colourful they make it, and San Francisco is a lot brighter than Chicago was. It’s a shame; usually the number two is lucky for Ubisoft. Assassin's Creed 2 springs to mind, and this game has been compared to it more than enough for that reason alone. But Watch Dogs 2 just doesn’t have the magic that A.C.2 did. It doesn’t have what Watch Dogs needs to not just escape the label of being a victim of its own hype, but to be a great game. It’s a hollow imitation of a great game.
I’d also like to apologise, as the lack of any multiplayer in this game at the moment (due to it being disabled at the last minute before launch due to crashes) means I could not experience and review the game with any of it... not that I didn’t have enough crashes to deal with already...
Still, I’m happy I bought it on the PS4 for one reason: I have the physical copy, so I can now go and trade it in, and get most of my money back. So that’s a positive note to end this review on, I guess.
+ Nice and colourful
+ Expanded hacking features
+- Marmite characters
- Gameplay feels detached from story
--Terrible driving physics
-- The damn hacking mini-game
--- CRASHES OFTEN