The worst thing about Watch Dogs 2 is not the walking talking emoji man, it’s the checkpoint system.
Or rather, the lack of one.
We’ve not been particularly kind about Watch Dogs 2 here at Thumbsticks. Tom was not at all impressed by the game’s E3 reveal, and its Anonymous-aping approach overwhelmed subsequent press coverage much to the detriment of the genuine improvements Ubisoft were making elsewhere.
Secretly, I was a little more enthusiastic. I have a penchant for open world games – even Ubisoft ones, especially Ubisoft ones – and there’s also a place in my heart for San Francisco, a city I have visited many times and know well. It was always going to be hard for me to resist a game set in the Bay Area – albeit a more compressed version of the place I know – even if I have to wear a baseball cap and wield a yo-yo to experience it.
And it looks like I’m in the minority. Watch Dogs 2 has limped out of the gates, with estimates indicating sales of 80,000 copies in its first week, some distance short of the 380,000 units achieved by its predecessor.
It’s a real shame, as Watch Dogs 2 is a huge improvement. Its hackertude, as it turns out, is naively charming. Lead protagonist Marcus Holloway is an incredibly likeable chap, and the game’s mission design – after five hours played, at least – is full of opportunities for expression and ingenuity.
Of particular note are the remote controlled Jumper and Drone gadgets. They are brilliant gameplay devices that encourage experimentation and, in a surprising and welcome way, allow the game to be played non-violently.
But there’s a but, and it’s a big one: Watch Dogs 2 has a really crappy checkpoint system.
It’s cruel. Really cruel. Grand Theft Auto 3 levels of cruel. Despite all the advances made in game design over the past decade – many of which have come from Ubisoft – the mission checkpointing in Watch Dogs 2 is just terrible.
In part it’s a side effect of just how well the jumper and drone perform their tasks. They allow you to scout a location, hack devices, control other vehicles, and set traps. This encourages the you to take a methodical approach in completing objectives, switching between the two gadgets and Marcus on the fly as missions progress. The effect is akin to playing a miniaturised version of Hitman or one of Grand Theft Auto 5’s multi-character heists; episodes of slow-paced, strategic planning of the sort rarely found in open-world action games.
However, if Marcus gets spotted and put down – which can take all of five seconds – the game is not afraid of putting you riiiiiiiight back to the start of the mission. And that start might have been 20 minutes ago in a location far from where you died.
Perhaps it’s just the way I play. I don’t want to rush through Watch Dogs 2‘s missions but I also don’t want to be punished if I take 15 minutes to formulate a game plan, only for a small mistake to undo all of that work. It’s the one really rough edge in a game that has so far exceeded my expectations with its scope and easy going charm.
So Ubisoft, never mind fixing the seamless multiplayer – patch in some soft checkpoints, please.