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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Watch_Dogs 2.

TranscriptEdit

 Ubisoft, serious question, are there any actual human beings making your decisions anymore? Your credit sequences are longer than an episode of Inspector Morse so I know human beings are involved somewhere, in the same way that that cloud of smoke coming out of the concentration camp chimney probably 'involved' human beings at one point, but the moves Ubisoft've been making lately are consistent with an entity that has needed to have the concept of human emotion patiently explained to it. First people complained about Assassin's Creed: Unity not having enough women so that got fed into the calculating machine and out popped Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, with optional female protagonist and remarkably gender-diverse Clockwork Orange rape gangs. And now, after everyone pointed out that the story of WATCH_DOGS 1 was a depressing self-pitying gritfest starring the world's least interesting vigilante tramp, the calculating machine has promptly taken the obvious step in the exact opposite direction with WATCH_DOGS 2 and made it about colourful wisecracking millenials who if left to their own devices would probably devolve until their spoken language consisted entirely of sarcastic memes and snorting noises. 

 Our protagonist is Marcus Holloway, gifted young hacker who was wrongly sentenced to community service and decided that the most balanced, level-headed response would be to start gunning down police officers. To this end he joins an underground hacktivist group consisting of two spectacular super-spergs, a fairly indistinct black dude to whom I immediately pointed and yelled "That motherfucker's gonna die first", and a girl with a middlingly brown skin tone, corn rows on one side of her head and a white girl hairdo on the other, who I can only assume was an attempt to fill the entire diversity quota with a single character. 

 All these youngsters talk the way a roomful of thirtysomething writers assume kids talk like these days, but despite being the kind of achingly trendy that starts ageing poorly the second after the producer envisions it during a turkish bath gob job, the story of WATCH_DOGS 2 is remarkably reminiscent of Hackers, the 1995 movie starring a young Angelina Jolie. With some differences. Marcus doesn't get off with the hot girl hacker at the end, because that would require either character having a granule of passion and genuine human warmth. Also, the tagline of Hackers was "Their only crime is curiosity". Which would require a bit of modification to apply to WATCH_DOGS 2. Perhaps: "Their only crime is curiosity, trespassing, criminal vandalism, assault, bank fraud, grand theft auto and one or two good old-fashioned first degree murders." 

 And that's where the tone problems come in, because the streetwise treehouse club are already difficult to like when they're sitting in their mum's basement quoting goofy memes at each other, and then they leave the house and commit vigilante murders. It makes them come across like reckless idiots with no grasp of the consequences of their actions. If the game was a more overt spoof like your Saint's Row or your Sunset Overdrive it might work, but the overall tone is a hair too straight-faced. Probably because the points being made about data security, technological integration and corporate control of the populace are actually very relevant to our present lives, magic wand phones notwithstanding, in which case, you know how you explore these themes? By making the hero a NORMAL FUCKING DUDE, not a grim gravel-voiced avenger and certainly not a neon pink rollerblading Scooby Gang who all deserve to have their mouths filled in with expanding foam sealant. 

 Admittedly while the game does its best to tempt you with a selection of colourful firearms with cute names that are sure to give your victims a chuckle as they struggle to breathe through the blood bubbling up from the ruin that was once their jaw, you CAN stick to stun guns and wholesome non-lethal traffic pile-ups, but there's still an air of hypocrisy. "Hey, let's hack into my niece's stream and humiliate her live to show her how bad it would be if some nasty person hacked into her stream and humiliated her live," goes the premise of one side mission. It'd've been nice if the plot had had a self-reflective arc, and so long as I'm fantasising, it would also have been nice if there had been a plot at all. 

 I'm going into spoiler town now 'cos I need to illustrate my point and because I hate you and I'm an antisocial massacre in waiting. Remember that bloke I immediately realised would die first? My obvious correctness need go unstated. But are they killed by the main villains to up the stakes, or to make the heroes start taking things seriously? Are they bollocks. They're killed by a hitherto unmentioned street gang and avenged five minutes later in a manner reminiscent of the nerd frat house in the college sex comedy avenging themselves upon the jocks with a strategically placed pig in a cheerleader outfit. 

 On reflection MOST of the missions involve targeting or being targeted by a hitherto unmentioned organisation and hacking their headquarters until you can find and publish AllTheShadyStuffWe'veDone.txt. The only connecting element is the main villain who materialises every now and again to go "Hello everyone, don't forget I'm the mastermind behind all these seemingly and functionally unrelated events," until in the final mission you take him down in a way that I feel like we could have done at any time. So the story aspect's a complete wash, frankly, although not without some highlights. 

 There's one bit where our heroes target a movie studio for misrepresenting hackers in the media, and that made me laugh so hard that my lungs inverted and flopped out of my mouth like a pair of greasy oven mitts. It's a shame, because the gameplay's actually a lot more fun than it was last time. The remote control car and drone are good additions to the preparatory, distant approach to problems, although it's a bit weird how guards smash your toys to bits at first sight and start patrolling for intruders without even considering the possibility that it might be Bring Your Incredibly Spoiled Children To Work Day. 

 But sitting safely outside in the grass gaily downloading data while the security guards roam about angrily barking like their owner pretended to throw a ball is quite satisfying and is after all what hacking should be about, not brightly coloured assault rifles or beaning people with a tennis ball on the end of a string that we nicked from a dog toy shop. Sadly Ubisoft are all aboard the "Do it YOUR way" bullshit van and don't want to dictate how to play the game like they're some kind of, I dunno, game designers, so every mission is set up to allow pretty much any approach including crawling through on your belly using only your cheek muscles, and consequently tends to be a tad too easy. Even when you get spotted and have to go in guns blazing, the stungun is an instant take down with infinite ammo, and guards forget that you're there if you stand behind a middling-width lamp post for ten seconds. 

 So I can't recommend it if you want a challenge, nor if you want a good story, so what's left? Well, as I say there's some catharsis to be had from the core gameplay, especially if you have frustrations you want to take out on the bay area. Or rather a miniature effigy of the bay area with about 0.0001% of the traffic.

AddendaEdit

  • Talentless hack: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Couldn't help noticing that Berkeley was conspicuous in its absence from the Bay Area in this game but no worries it's not like there's anything important there
  • Only the fucking University of California
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5

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