Watch Dogs 2, coming this November 15 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, looks and sounds even more remarkable than Watch Dogs did when studio Ubisoft Montreal trotted out the latter in 2012. That’s the takeaway from today’s nearly 20 minute world premiere, which included nods by studio heads to features the first game delivered half-heartedly. It had me wondering whether the new game shouldn’t be subtitled “Watch Dogs 2: No Really, We’re Serious This Time.”
Serious about letting you interact with its new San Francisco-based open world more meaningfully, that is. You play a new hacktivist of sorts who’s adept at parkour in a way the last game’s protagonist wasn’t, ergo moving through the Bay Area’s multifaceted urban-scape should (in theory) feel more gymnastic and vertical. The world itself is now capable of many more autonomous permutations, claims Ubisoft, calling it “almost a simulation” and stating that it “feels like the city is alive even if you do nothing.”
Above all else, hacking’s been completely rethought to make it feel like your connection to a city that’s once more given itself over to a sort of master control program is both fluid and deep. Hacking in Watch Dogs, you’ll recall, was limited to a handful of municipal systems and preselected characters or vehicles. And hacks rarely recombined to create emergent scenarios that surprised or delighted.
In Watch Dogs 2, by contrast, Ubisoft says it’s going to let us hack almost anything: any vehicle, any person, multiple people simultaneously and most of the electronics throughout a city that looks as sprawling and intricate as Rockstar’s San Andreas. Whether there’s interplay between those systems as they’re triggered or to what extent that interplay matters remains to be seen. But the messaging is clear: Ubisoft’s listened to all the complaints about hacking’s superficiality in the first game, and feels it’s addressed them here.
- The studio chose San Francisco as the setting because it “struck a chord” as the place associated with “the birth of the attitude of the hacker.”
- Marcus Holloway, the game’s “rebellious” new protagonist, is a young actor, but also a member of DedSec, the hacktivist collective from the first game loosely modeled after Anonymous. His motivation (at least in part): He’s been profiled wrongly, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and that’s “made him go against the system.”
- You can play as you like, be it shooting your way through scenarios, playing through with full stealth, or mixing it up with hacks.
- They’ve expanded the concept of “seamless online,” meaning you can cross paths with another player, and since you’re both technically members of DedSec, hit a button then form a cooperative team. (Ubisoft says to expect to hear more about this soon.)
- The backdrop hasn’t changed: Criminal factions at war over the city underground, corporations out for profit and control over people or society, and other hackers trying to tap into the “smart city” operating system to further their own ends.
And that’s about it. I’ll be going hands-on with the game next week at E3 in Los Angeles, and have more to say about it then.