The first Watch Dogs was an ambitious game for Ubisoft back in 2014. It was one of the publisher’s first franchises to launch on current generation systems, and the game imagined an open-world version of Chicago where being able to hack computers was basically magic. Watch Dogs 2 looks to expand and improve on that concept this holiday season, and after playing around in a pre-Gamescom demo, I can tell you that Watch Dogs 2‘s San Francisco can be pretty darn fun.
I started off at a landmark familiar to a Bay Area resident like myself, Coit Tower, where I was discreetly hacking sensitive information as a member of politically charged hacking group DedSec. But I couldn't just stick to my objectives when walking around such a familiar area. As soon as I could, I whipped out my phone and (because hacking is basically magic in Watch Dogs 2's San Francisco) I turned on a nearby car remotely and had it drive off a cliff. I then found a nearby stranger's deepest secret and called down the police on them. It was all such unpredictable fun that you could call down with a quick press of the square button.
Unfortunately, that silly urban destruction makes the regular plot objectives a little less fun when it was time for me to hop in a car and drive downtown to the next waypoint. It did get much more fun when I realized I could remote control other cars while I drove mine on the road. The best moments I had with Watch Dogs 2 were the ones that didn't feel like your standard open-world game. And that includes just about everything to do with San Francisco because it's been many years since this specific area of America had been recreated with such accuracy and scope in a game.
I was similarly impressed with the accuracy when I tried out Watch Dogs 2's new version of multiplayer. Now any player can drop in and out of your game world for co-op or competitive action, and in your respective games, you'll still look like the protagonist while they look like a random DedSec member. It's a great compromise that keeps the reality of the world going even when you're heading off to a two player raid with a player in (virtual) Oakland.
After heading across The Bay to have an intense bit of co-op against the AI, I could definitely see the appeal of this new push for multiplayer excitement. Watch Dogs 2 got even more fun online when I tried out its equivalent of Deathmatch. This two-on-two battle had one pair identified as fugitives that AI-controlled police would chase down, and the opposing players would join in with the cops to take you down.
On the receiving end of this manhunt, it's got a great "us against the world" feel where you're constantly searching for a way to flee the cops, with a couple of human players joining in the chase. And it's just as fun on the other side, driving around through real life San Francisco locales to track down fugitives with extreme prejudice. The mode was particularly eerie for me when one round of multiplayer took the chase right past my office.
Perhaps Watch Dogs 2's San Francisco won't have the same effect on non-residents, but I can definitely say I had more fun with my brief time with the sequel than I did with its predecessor. And now I can't wait to get the complete version of the game when it's out November 15, if for no other reasons than to try and hack my way into my friends downtown apartment.