To be completely honest, I'm probably not the best person to be previewing an open-world Ubisoft game for USgamer. It's not that I'm opposed to the genre, or have some lingering grudge against the French; I just spent so much time playing (and, at times, reviewing) open-world games over the last decade, I've sort of been on a self-imposed hiatus for the past few years.
After a few hours with Watch Dogs 2, though, I might be back on the wagon. (Or off the wagon—whatever works for this particular analogy.) While most open-world games turn me off with their cycling of players through rote, prescribed activities, the sheer amount of possibilities in Watch Dogs 2 suprised me in a way I haven't felt since experiencing the simple joys of screwing around in Grand Theft Auto III's open world.
To be fair, Watch Dogs 2's choice of setting—San Francisco—may have me more than a little biased. While I don't live in the city proper because I'm a writer and not a goddamned millionaire, I've been a Bay Area resident for just over five years, so it was certainly a little surreal seeing Watch Dogs 2 produce a fairly faithful recreation of the street I walked down on my way to Ubisoft's SF HQ. And its choice of an antagonist feels downright perfect: Douchean Nemek, the egotistical man-bunned tech bro—who likely has "douche" in his name for a reason—resembles one of the many real-life villains who've done their best to make San Francisco uninhabitable in recent years.
But enough social commentary. What really makes Watch Dogs 2 stand out to me can be found in the sheer number of ways you can approach an objective. In fact, it feels more than a little like Metal Gear Solid V with this approach: If you're impatient, you can go in with guns blazing, but more meticulous players can use a variety of tools to disrupt the environment in order to carry out their goals. Granted, it's not an entirely realistic depiction of technology, but these concerns go immediately out the window when you realize how much havoc you can wreak in San Francisco with just the push of a button. Every few feet in Watch Dogs' world brings a new object that can be hacked in several different ways, from blowing open manholes to causing smartphones to ring. And, if you want, you can use your tech powers to be extremely petty: Someone slugged me after I got out of my car due to my reckless driving, so I used my skills to send a falsified police report on them to the authorities, then stood by and watched the ensuing chase. (And to be even more of a dick, I even took a selfie in front of the arrest-in-progress.)
Of course, Watch Dogs 2 asks you to do a lot more than simply screw around, and the story mission I played through set up an elaborate fortress of locked doors, guards, and security cameras between me and a truck I needed to steal. As a rule, it's never a good idea to immediately tackle this kind of a situation with a hands-on approach, and thankfully Watch Dogs 2 allows you to do a lot of prep work without getting your hands too dirty. With the help of an RC car and a versatile drone, protagonist Marcus Holloway can perform most of his hacking functions without putting his body in the line of fire.
Admittedly, I had a bit of trouble with this mission, most likely because I was still in a Metal Gear mindset, and trying to be as meticulous as possible. On my fourth or fifth try, though, I just decided to go all-out with my drone, hacking everything in sight and causing as much chaos as humanly possible. Even though I escaped by the skin of my teeth, this strategy really showed off how reactive Watch Dogs 2's AI can be when you try to screw with it as much as humanly possible.
And this little experience did much to change my mind about Watch Dogs 2 being just another open-world game—even if it does carry a lot of the elements and systems we've come to expect from a game of this type. Plus, the fact that Ubisoft no longer has to tie their game down to the constraints of last-gen hardware means Watch Dogs can come much closer to achieving its ambitions this time around. Look for our full review of Watch Dogs 2 when it launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on November 15th.