More Of The Same: 'Watch Dogs 2,' Hands-On

The city of San Francisco is the backdrop for Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch Dogs 2. According to Ubisoft, the portion of the San Francisco Bay Area included in the game is double the size of the futuristic Chicago from the first Watch Dogs title. At Ubisoft’s E3 booth, I had the chance to explore some of the city while taking the time to check out some of the new features available to Marcus Holloway, the game’s new protagonist.

New Tools

The journey started at Coit Tower, where I had the chance to try out some of Holloway’s hacking abilities. By aiming at a single person and tapping the L1 button, I could quickly hack their phone to take a sneak peek at their activities. However, if I held down the same button, I could choose from four hacking options (by pressing Circle, Square, Triangle or X) such as a distraction or alerting police to the area.

I could also hack cars in the same way. I initially assumed that you could control any car like a remote control vehicle, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I had to opt for the next best thing: By aiming at the car and holding down L1, I could tell the car to move forward, backward, left or right with the same Shape buttons I used to hack someone’s phone.

In order to see Marcus’ other toys in action, we took on a mission. We had to find out who was stealing data and selling it to the highest bidder. Someone in the Coit Tower area was using a relay to send the data to another location, and we had to track it.

The first step was to find the relay, which was actually located at the top of the tower. Marcus is not an Assassin, and even with his parkour skills, he couldn’t scale the building. However, his drone can fly up and hack the relay for him. I pressed a button on the directional pad to summon the device and searched for the relay. To make the finding process easier, I used the game’s Hacknet view, which highlights certain hackable objects in the world, as well as enemy targets. I traced the data to a warehouse to one of the piers, so I grabbed a car and drove down to the docks.

Driving And Sneaking Around

Unfortunately, it seems that the studio didn’t learn its lesson about improving the driving mechanics. It still felt like driving a go-kart around town, regardless of the car type. A slight nudge on the stick would send my car onto the sidewalk or hit another car in the next lane. Despite the steering difficulties, I sped and crashed my way to the next objective point.

The relay tracked the source to a small room at the end of one of the piers. However, it was guarded by some security personnel as well as a dog. I approached as closely as I could and then scouted the area by hacking cameras in the vicinity. I could tag enemies through my Hacknet vision so that they appeared on my mini-map on the corner of the screen. The camera scouting tactic isn’t new. It’s been the modus operandi of stealth-based players in the first game. It’s an effective way of checking your surroundings before moving forward in a heavily guarded area.

In order to open the door to the room that contained the data, I had to (once again) hack an electrical terminal. That guard dog would easily spot me, but the job was almost too easy with the help of the RC car. It’s small and fast, which meant that it was a better option for hacking a box that was in the middle of enemy territory.

I then hacked a small lift around the corner to bring me up to the room where the data was stored, but it seems that the man selling the data took it in a hard drive. Fortunately, my Dedsec friends knew his address.

Joining The Fight

Before I could grab the data, I needed more help to take down the source and his many goons. At this point in the demo, another developer from the studio joined my game. After a brief hello by using in-game emojis, we fast-traveled to a location near the source’s house in Oakland.

Having a friend help you out in these missions isn’t mandatory, but it does make the fight easier, as I discovered over the next few minutes. My new friend and I scouted the surrounding area for enemies. I then started to infiltrate the area, but it didn’t take long for the guards to spot me and sound the alarm.

Even with the reinforcements on the way, my developer friend had the better idea of hacking the phone of a gang member in the group, and he called a rival gang to fight the enemy for us. What happened next was a flurry of bullets and explosions as multiple cars entered the front yard of this large house. Rival gangs were shooting at each other while I took out the target with my assault rifle and stole the hard drives. I then hopped the fence, grabbed a car to pick up my friend, and then bolted out of the neighborhood.

Change In The Details

The demo showed off many features from Watch Dogs 2, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing the same Watch Dogs game, just with the San Francisco backdrop, some new gadgets, and a slightly improved hacking system.

I need more than a few tweaks to know if Watch Dogs 2 was worth the wait. The idea behind the series has always interested me, but the way it was executed in the first game was underwhelming. With the sequel coming soon, I’m once again attracted to the idea. I just hope that there’s more surprises to the game than what I saw in the demo.

Follow Rexly Peñaflorida II @Heirdeux. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • dstarr3
    Get ready for a bland, repetitive laundry list sandbox with an abysmal, completely unlikable protagonist!
  • koss64
    I don't find the premise or the gameplay that bad, the protagonist doesn't seem to be a mopey sadist like in the first game.
  • ubercake
    I hope they hold off on the release to work any bugs out. The last release was terrible. It was such an awaited title and then boom; errortown.
  • sillynilly
    I enjoyed the first one and never had issues with it - always wondered what people complained about. Loved the premise and, since it is a game, I didn't take it too seriously and just sat back and hacked away. Looking forward to the SF hackfest.
  • mrmez
    Hope they sort the AMD drivers.
    When i played the first on my 280x it was pretty bad.
    Dropping settings didn't seem to help much, and maybe just for me, but the driving seemed so slow and boring.
  • mrface
    I had the opposite experience with AMD GPUs, 290x. I had no issues and enjoyed the game from launch.
  • RazberyBandit
    I had zero issues playing the original Watch_Dogs on my AMD GPU-powered systems; one w/ a 280X and the other w/ an HD7870. I couldn't max everything, especially on the 7870 system, but if I'm recalling correctly, my settings were nearly maxed-out.
  • Xengre
    What are you wanting exactly? You didn't clarify where you felt it might need improvement besides driving... or that you are concerned about. So far it looks, literally, like GTA but vastly superior in every single regard except driving and story/characters (these two remain to be seen and aren't the core reason you get a game like GTA/Watch Dogs in the first place). Why is it alright for GTA to sit on its ass and not improve while the superior Watch Dogs carries the weight? Can't be the story, because they weren't all that great prior to GTA IV nor were the characters yet those were loved just as much, for the most part.