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The first thing I did when I started playing a preview of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs 2 was to search for the VentureBeat office in San Francisco, where the fictional game about vigilante cyber hackers is set. Alas, I couldn’t find it. But it was reminder once again at how well this franchise does at blurring reality and fiction.
At Ubisoft’s preview event ahead of the Gamescom 2016 game show in Germany, I was able to play hands-on with the new co-op play in Watch Dogs 2. Dubbed Bounty, you can set yourself up to invite other players to invade your single-player campaign or just play around with other players.
In this mission, I had to find another target hacker and take him out before time ran out. It sounds easier than it was during my hands-on session. The alpha code was a little buggy, but I expected that. If you succeed in killing the target, you get a larger social following. And that is the definition of success in Watch Dogs 2.
The chaotic, dynamic moments of Bounty can take place in just a minute or two. You and your buddies in the co-op team will get a notification of where a target is located. When you get to the location, the target will either be in a car or on foot. If the target is in a car, you’ll have to engage in a high-speed chase across the streets of San Francisco.
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In the car chases, you can tap the left shoulder button and hack something that could cause the driver ahead of you to lose control, ending the chase. I thought this was a lot of fun, and it could add a lot of spice to the A.I.-driven single-player campaign. I played through the entire 40-hour campaign of the original Watch Dogs in 2014, so I’m looking forward to this one, which has more of a silly flavor than the serious original.
I also played around with the single-player campaign that Ubisoft showed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in June. In the story, you play as Marcus Holloway, a brilliant young hacker living in the birthplace of the tech revolution, the San Francisco Bay Area. He teams up with Dedsec, a notorious group of hackers.
San Francisco in the near future (just like the city of Chicago in the original Watch Dogs), has become a smart city, driven by the ctOS 2.0 software that runs the metropolis. This has parallels to the real world efforts of companies such as IBM and General Electric to create smart cities that are centrally managed by a huge computer network.
The fictional story of Watch Dogs aims to expose the hidden dangers of ctOS 2.0, which, in the hands of corrupt corporations, is being wrongfully used to monitor and manipulate citizens on a massive scale. Holloway and his friends have been able to hack ctOS 2.0 and they have been able to turn it to their own purposes.
Your smartphone is the key to control. You can, for instance, walk by someone, hack their smartphone, and drain their bank accounts. You can peer into their psychological profiles and expose them if you wish. You can get a real power trip by walking down the street, causing cars to drive themselves and wreak havoc.
The landscape of San Francisco is huge. It includes landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower, but it isn’t a one-for-one copy of the city. The massive world includes parts of Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, and parts of Oakland, across the Bay Bridge. You can even visit a few big tech companies in a mini version of Silicon Valley. The landscapes are beautiful and believable. All told, the world has 46 neighborhoods.
You can can engage in wild car chases down Lombard street. I flew a drone above Coit Tower to get some hidden intelligence, and then I went off on a mission to hunt down some clues in the game’s ongoing mystery. Hacking is your weapon. You can take control of anything, including drones, cars, cranes, security robots, and electronic doors. You can make your own 3D-printed weapons.
I headed over to a pier warehouse to do a mission. I was able to recon the area by flying a drone and identifying the guards in the area protecting a room with some secret codes. I saw a guard dog among the obstacles on the ground level of the pier. I used the drone to spy the room where I had to find the stash.
Once the drone marked where all the guards were, I hacked a movable crane. It took me to the top of the building. Then I distracted a guard and hit him with my taser. Another guard discovered him and I took him out with a Taser shot from the drone. I planted a trap mine at the stairwell, and that took out the poor dog when it came up the stairs.
I managed to take out all of the goons and get away. Then I went on a co-op mission in the neighborhoods, where we were supposed to assassinate two gang leaders. I drove with another human player to a fenced compound with a couple of two-story buildings. I used the drone to identify where all the guards were. We hopped the fence and took out one guard from behind. I took his shotgun, but then we were discovered. A gun battle ensued.
We got killed a couple of times. But on our third try, we managed to get lucky and eliminate one of the targets quickly. Then the second target hopped the fence and ran for a car. We got in our car and chased him down. We managed to ram into him and cause him to crash. He was toast. Then we had to escape by outrunning the police. That proved to be difficult, but we managed to elude them while driving on the train tracks. It felt good to survive that mayhem.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of San Francisco and I want to see how the developers bring the tech culture and rebellious nature of San Francisco into the story. The sequel has a lot of improvements over the original Watch Dogs in things such as driving control, and the cast of characters from the hacker culture looks pretty interesting.
Once again, real life has given Ubisoft plenty of material for its story, including Edward Snowden, the Panama Papers, hacktivism, and the security battle with big corporations.
The game will be available on November 15 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
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