The original Watch_Dogs was in many ways a success for Ubisoft Montreal, ticking all the required boxes for it to meet the standard of a AAA open world title. However the hype that built up around it, specifically from that one E3 video, led many to be disappointed with the final product. To their credit Ubisoft remained committed to the franchise and has spent the following 2 years developing Watch_Dogs sequel. Whilst at a base game level this sequel features many of the mechanics that made the original great the tone and feel of the game is radically different. That combined with improvements in some of the original’s more glaring issues makes Watch_Dogs 2 a notable improvement over its predecessor.
Watch_Dogs 2 takes place in San Francisco, the next city to install the ctOS system which integrates all city subsystems into one giant interconnected grid. You’ll play as Marcus Holloway, a young hacker who’s been targeted by ctOS for a crime he didn’t commit. Because of this he decides to join Dedsec, the hacktivist group responsible for wrecking havoc and exposing corruption. What follows is a story of Dedsec’s crusade against ctOS, the people in power who use it and any of the numerous corporations who would seek to exploit the citizens of San Francisco.
The original Watch_Dogs was criticised for failing to live up to the visuals that were seen in its E3 demo and Watch_Dogs 2 goes a long way to closing that gap. The environments are far more detailed with more cars, people and interactive objects scattered across the San Francisco backdrop. There’s notable improvements to the lighting engine, draw distances and other modern post-processing techniques like motion blur. Taking into consideration that open world games tend towards the lower end of the graphical spectrum (due to their scale) Watch_Dogs 2 is certainly one of the better looking titles in this genre. It’s still a hair shy of that fated demo, however.
As I mentioned before the core game of Watch_Dogs 2 hasn’t changed much from its predecessor, staying true to the open world norms with the inclusion of their trademark hacking mechanics. The progression mechanics have been reworked to focus around you gaining “followers” to help boost your cause, most of which you’ll gain through Watch_Dog 2’s main and side missions. The online components have been reworked significantly and are far more seamless than they used to be; the transition between offline and online play a much smoother experience. Driving has been improved significantly, no longer feeling like you’re trying to drive a boat through a sea of molasses. The stealth mechanics are also retained however there’s a little less variety in what you can hack, something which is made up for in a few new choice abilities which can cause all sorts of mayhem. Overall Watch_Dogs 2 improves on the original in nearly every respect something which Ubisoft Montreal should take some pride in.
Combat feels largely the same, still following the same two stage formula that its predecessor did. Whilst you can likely complete every mission with just hacking alone it’s very likely you’ll do something to be detected, forcing you into combat. Interestingly there doesn’t seem to be any downside to killing anyone and everyone in your path but there is a very notable downside to taking the non-lethal approach. Enemies downed in that way will eventually get back up and will alert everyone else to your presence when they do. This does add an extra element of challenge if you want to go full non-lethal, stealth based approach but without additional rewards it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason to. Indeed by the end I’d just end up using my vast hacking abilities to simply run past everyone, forgoing any notion of stealth or even non-lethal attacks.
The hacking powers are a little more interesting this time around, especially some of the end-game abilities which allow you to affect everything in the area around you. It didn’t take me long to max out the powers I wanted to get and I spent most of the game with 20 or so research points ready to spend should the need arise. Some are simple quality of life improvements (like the car unlocking one) whilst others don’t have much of a purpose other than causing a bit of mayhem here or there. Probably my favourite out of the lot was the ability to call the police on a target NPC, something which can be used to great effect when you need to get into a restricted area. If I had one complaint it’s that all the higher end powers require you to go and find another item to unlock them which becomes a bit of a chore when you have to do it for the 10th time.
The driving is thankfully much improved over its predecessor, making it actually fun to drive around rather than fast travelling. Watch_Dogs 2 also reduces the number of car chases you’ll find yourself in so you won’t be spending hours trying to escape from the endless supply of police. There also appears to a be a larger number of vehicles to choose from including my favourite: the single person electric car that seems to be as fast as any of the sports cars. The NPC drivers though still seem to suffer from random fits of craziness every so often with cars just randomly running off the road or into each other, even when I hadn’t gone near them. That could very well be intentional, to give the city a more lively feel, but I do wonder if it’s just an errant part of the AI.
The multiplayer aspects are far better done than its predecessor was. I can remember trying to do some of the online activities in the original with most of them failing to even connect to other players. Watch_Dogs 2 by comparison (by default, you can change this) drops you in and out of other player’s games on a whim. It can be pretty awesome when you’re just driving around and a bounty hunter challenge comes up, putting you alongside law enforcement to chase down a rogue enemy player. Some of the other, hacking focused games are a little one sided, being incredibly hard for the hacker to actually successfully hack someone and get away with it (especially if the other player is armed in any way). Still they’re a fun distraction, one that I hope Ubisoft explores even further in future releases.
Watch_Dogs 2 drops the serious tone of its predecessor in favour of a more kitschy, light-hearted take. The characters are stereotypes or satires of particular hacker tropes with the overriding them following the hacktivist ideas that have been popularised by the various real world incarnations of other -sec entities. Weirdly, whilst the game has the usual disclaimer about it being a work of fiction unrelated to the real world, numerous events are carbon copies of their real world counterparts (like Martin Shrekli buying an exclusive Wu Tang album). The pacing and character development is weirdly out of step, seemingly moving at a faster pace than what the missions would imply. This might be because I was mostly doing campaign missions but surely that’s where you want the bulk of your character development to occur. Realistically I don’t think you’re supposed to read much into Watch_Dogs 2’s story but it’s disjointed nature mirror’s some of the mistakes that its predecessor made.
Watch_Dogs 2 is a solid improvement over the original, addressing many of the concerns that players had whilst retaining the core mechanics that made it worth playing. It may not be a revolutionary instalment in the series but the incremental improvements go a long way to making Watch_Dogs 2 the game that many were hoping the original would be. It’s not perfect, with some of the previous issues rearing their ugly heads again, but it definitely feels closer to what the original should have been. For fans of the open world genre there’s a lot to love in Watch_Dogs 2 and is most certainly worth checking out.
Watch_Dogs 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $60.95, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 18 hours of total play time and 51% of the achievements unlocked.
Ah Crysis, one of the few games that basically dared anyone with a top of the line PC to try and run it max settings only to have it bring it down in a screaming mess. I remember the experiences fondly with many machines coming up against the Crysis beast only to fall when things were turned up to the nth degree. To it’s credit though it aged quite well, meaning that unlike other games like Far Cry 2 that chugged for seemingly no reason Crysis was really a generation ahead of itself. I only managed to get a full play through of it done after I upgraded in mid-2008 and I can remember it being quite a beautiful game even then. It’s been a long time between drinks for the Crysis series but last week, after over 3 years since its first release, Crysis 2 debuted to much fanfare and the lament of those who had not upgraded.
I was amongst those who had upgraded just after the original Crysis came out and haven’t done so since. Apart from upgrading the graphics card once my machine is still a Core 2 Duo E8400 with 4GB RAM and a Radeon HD4970 graphics card. You can then imagine my anxiety as I booted up the game for the first time and seeing the game choosing a somewhat less than optimal display resolution for my widescreen monitors. Still I figured I should at least give it a go at native resolution before turning it down again, figuring it would be fun to see my beast struggle under the load of the next generation of Crysis, something which I haven’t really seen in years.
You can then imagine my surprise when everything ran, for want of a better phrase, fucking brilliantly.
Whilst the first 15 minutes of the game aren’t much more than a glorified movie quite a lot of it is done in game. Whilst I was first taken a back by how smooth it was running I figured it was because of the limited scenery and effects, thinking that once I was out in the urban jungle of New York my PC would begin crying under the load. But still the whole way through the game from wide open scenes with explosions going off everywhere to the various underground passages I spelunked the game ran incredibly smooth with the only signs of the framerate dropping when my PC decided it really needed to do something on my games drive.
It’s at this point that I’d usually make some quip about how all games run well on old hardware since they’ve all been primarily designed for consoles first but looking at Crysis 2, even though it’s on all major platforms, I couldn’t really pick any areas that suffered because of this. The graphics are phenomenal, easily trouncing everything I’ve played through this year. This is even after they’ve included all the goodies like volumetric lighting, realistic fog and awesome effects like the cloaking transparency. Truly Crytek have outdone themselves with CryEngine 3 bringing great graphics to the masses.
After all that gushing about the graphics, I suppose I should say something about the game 😉
Crysis 2 is set entirely in New York City where the Ceph, an alien race that players of the original Crysis will be familiar with, have begun their invasion of earth. It appears to be a 2 pronged invasion with them releasing a virus that seems to be randomly striking down all of the burrow’s denizens as well as flooding the streets with their cyborg warriors. You play as Alcatraz a marine who’s being sent into New York to extract Dr. Gould, a scientist who may have information regarding the alien invasion. Unfortunately your submarine is taken out by a Ceph ship and you’re seemingly left to die until Prophet (again a familiar face for original Crysis players) rescues you and bestows his nanosuit upon you.
Game play has been refined and streamlined from the original Crysis. Instead of picking a particular mode for your suit (speed, strength, cloak, armor) most abilities will automatically engage when you do something that requires it (like sprinting or holding down the jump to do a super jump). You still have cloak and armor modes which have to be actively enabled but thankfully they’re mapped by default to E and Q respectively, making the transition quite easy. Additionally the suit can be upgraded through a very similar interface to the gun modification menu, requiring you to collect Nano Catalyst which drops from Ceph enemies when you defeat them. This allows you to change the way you play the game quite significantly, giving you the choice between your typical run and gun FPS to an entirely stealth game with only smatterings of toe-to-toe combat.
Indeed unlike many of the more recent cinematic shooters we’ve seen released over the past year or so Crysis 2 doesn’t have that feeling of being totally locked to the one path the game designer had in mind. Nearly every encounter can be completed through the use of stealth or just as easily by jumping into the thick of battle and blasting your way through the waves of enemies that come at you. This is also complemented by the range of weapons the game throws at you, leaving you the choice to take the most appropriate one for your particular play style. Of course there are some encounters where doing it in a particular way with a certain weapon will be an order of magnitude easier than the other choices but it’s still much better than have no choice at all, like we’ve become accustomed to with the recent influx of AAA FPS titles.
The game is unfortunately not without its faults however, as the screenshot above would allude to. Whilst this particular incident of tearing was isolated to a 30 minute section of game play (and no it was not overheating since it went away in the next scene) there were a couple other non-breaking issues that plagued my game time. Often I’d find a weapon I’d like to swap my current one for after seeing what’s coming up ahead only for the game to not register the gun’s existence, rendering me unable to pick it up. Reloading would usually fix this but since there’s no option to manually save your game this could sometimes send me quite far back in the game so most of the time I just went wanting. Additionally some of the scene geometry’s hit boxes would be bigger than they appeared on screen, getting my character stuck on invisible boxes. All these problems pale in comparison to the games biggest flaw: the multi-player.
Now I don’t do a whole lot of multi-player gaming unless it’s with friends but I really enjoyed the multi-player in Crysis and Crysis: Warhead so I figured I’d give it a go, thinking it would make good blog fodder. Hitting the multi-player link on the main screen I was prompted to enter in my game key again, strange since I was pretty sure I had to do that to play the game. Thankfully it came up with my pre-order bonuses so I figured it must’ve just needed it for the initial multi-player set up. After looking around the server list for a while I found one with some spots spare and clicked join, only to receive the error “Serial code currently in use”. Unphased I restarted Crysis 2 to attempt it again, only to be asked yet again for my serial key and receiving the exact same error upon attempting to join a server.
Strangely enough I could join empty games no problem so I figured it might be something to do with the way I was trying to join games. I hit up the quick match and chose Instant Action (everyone for themselves) and managed to get 2 games in. Those brief moments were quite fun as the games were chaotic with people appearing and disappearing everywhere. Satisfied that I wasn’t doing something wrong I tried yet again to join a server only to be greeted with the same errors. My frustrations were compounded by the fact that there’s no auto-retry function to attempt to join a server that’s full, leaving me the option of trying to find one that’s partially full (which doesn’t seem to happen very often) or waiting in an empty room for people to join (which also doesn’t happen). I tried in vain for another 30 minutes to get in one more game before giving up entirely and tweeting my frustrations at the Crysis team.
Like nearly all AAA titles Crysis 2’s ending also screams “OMG THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL” so loudly at the end that you’d have to leave the room not to know about it. Sure they made it clear at the start that Crysis was a trilogy so 2 sequels were a given but this almost felt like Crytek saying “Hey guys, guess who’s going to be the next Call of Duty franchise?”. I’m a fan of solid FPS action as much as the next guy but leaving the ending deliberately open just gives me the shits, even if the current story was wrapped up well enough.
Despite these problems the core of the game is good, extending on the success that Crysis enjoyed whilst showing off the capabilities of the CryEngine 3 magnificently. I’ve had several on the fence friends see me playing through the game on Steam ask me if it was worth the purchase and I’ve told them, even if you negate the multi-player (which in all honesty where the true replay value of games like this lie), the game is still good value for money. Whilst I haven’t been at a LAN in over a year I can still see Crysis 2 being a LAN favorite for some time to come with the extensive variety of multiplayer modes available along with numerous smaller maps to cater for smaller groups. Whilst the game ran incredibly smooth on my current rig I’m still excited at the prospect of upgrading yet again just to see how capable the game is when everything is driven to its absolute max as it was unabashedly gorgeous on my now 3 year old rig.
Rating: 9.0/10 (I’m being kind an excluding the multi-player snafu since I don’t usually include multi, but if you want to know I’d rate it 8 with it in).
Crysis 2 is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and Playstation 3 right now for $69.99, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC version on Hard difficulty with around 10 hours of game time total. Multiplayer was attempted on the 28th of March 2011 with 2 Instant Action games played totaling about 30 minutes.