Watch Dogs 2 is on the right track


But I’m growing tired of the Ubisoft formula

In my mind, Watch Dogs 2 has two things going for it over its predecessor: a not-dreadful protagonist (Marcus Holloway) and a sunnier, more dog-filled real-world setting (San Francisco).

The rest of the changes are the sort of safe but still-appreciated mechanical improvements we’ve come to expect from a Ubisoft sequel. In other words, if you were ever into Watch Dogs — even on just a basic, conceptual level — you’ll probably like this one okay.

I got to play a brief demo last week at E3. It gave me a feel for hacking random parked cars to cause mayhem (love that high-tech new-car smell), freely piloting a drone (much like another Ubisoft title), driving an RC robot that could jump and use its mischievous lil arm, regular ol’ driving (it feels better!), and other sandbox-style shenanigans. You’ve likely seen about as much of the narrative side of the game as I have, so I can’t speak to that other than to say, tonally, parts of it reminded me of the outrageous mid-’90s movie Hackers, and others the more grounded-in-the-present Mr. Robot.

As a quick aside, I tried to pet one of the dogs in Watch Dogs 2 but that dog just wasn’t having any of it. The Ubisoft rep guiding me along the demo tried to offer increasingly specific advice — “Get closer! Actually, no, wait a second. Step back. Wait. Wait. Try now!” — and after 30 seconds or so of unsuccessful fiddling I figured I’d best move on. There’s always next time.

The demo itself was fairly limited in that Ubisoft had an agenda of things for me to very quickly see and do. They had me go shopping for clothes (I got a pinkish hoodie, which was apparently a popular choice) and meet up with another player who was roaming around my world. We danced for a bit, then I brought him in for a co-op mission that, in theory, would have had us working in tandem.

I was going to be the lookout, unlocking doors in a heavily guarded building and distracting gang members from afar while he stole some goods in-person, but I accidentally hacked one of the men in such a way that it caused all of his associates to think he was a traitor that needed to be terminated with extreme prejudice. They all swarmed the poor guy who, as luck would have it, was situated only a few feet away from my co-op buddy. Chaos ensued. We taser-shot our way out and the ordeal eventually ended with us hopping in a stolen car and repeatedly running over a fleeing target until he finally stopped getting up and we could fetch his hard drive. All in a day’s work for a hacker.

Despite having decent-enough fun, at this point, I don’t know that I’ll care to play the full game. It’s shaping up to be better than the original, and I suspect it will turn out just fine. The thing is, I can only get into so many “just fine” open-world games that lean on the same tired trappings while swapping in new characters and locations. At E3, Watch Dogs 2 didn’t wow me. It kind of needed to.