Watch Dogs 2 hands-on: All I want to do is drive around and admire digital San Francisco

It's San Francisco, but without the crippling rent issues or the traffic

“In real life, that’s a Hard Rock Cafe.” It was a throwaway comment that launched the developer watching over my shoulder into a lengthy explanation of licensing deals and how it would be prohibitively expensive for Ubisoft to get real brands into Watch Dogs 2.

But I think he unintentionally missed my point. I wasn’t saying “I’m disappointed this isn’t a Hard Rock Cafe.” To be honest, I’m not sure anyone has ever uttered that sequence of words. What I meant was, “I’m amazed this recreation of San Francisco is so spot-on that I can match each building to its real-world counterpart.”

Watch Dogs 2

I have little inherent faith or interest in Watch Dogs 2. After the middling mess of the first game, I find it hard to get excited about what’s essentially just modern-day Assassin’s Creed, with all of its banalities but without the simultaneous history lesson and ten years of sunk-cost fallacy to keep me playing.

I am however fascinated by digital tourism, and in that regard, Ubisoft is in a category all its own. Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, The Crew, The Division—they're mediocre games, but incredible worlds. The most expansive, yet detailed and intricate, scale models ever created, I’d warrant.

If nothing else, Watch Dogs 2 looks like it will continue that legacy with its large-scale reproduction of the San Francisco Bay area. The Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, the Bay Bridge, Pier 39, the Embarcadero—all the big landmarks are here.

It goes beyond that, though. With each new generation of open-world games, these cities get a bit more uncanny. The first time I came to San Francisco, I remember navigating (at least in part) by my memory of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Watch Dogs 2? It makes San Andreas look like a crayon drawing. This is...well, it’s San Francisco.

Watch Dogs 2

It's still not a block for block recreation, of course. I’m sure in ten years I’ll be saying Grand Theft Auto VII makes Watch Dogs 2 look primitive. If you live in San Francisco, I doubt you’ll find your apartment (unless your apartment is in a major landmark building).

But the neighborhoods are there—the warehouses along the Embarcadero, the Bay Window-festooned apartments of downtown, the rows of Victorians arrayed along hillsides out to the ocean.

And that’s just what I could see from Coit Tower and Pier 39, where my demo took place. The map is a bit bizzaro-Bay Area, but there’s quite a bit of it. To the south, there's a blend of Palo Alto/San Jose. East Bay is Oakland and Richmond—though no Berkeley for some reason. Then Marin County is mostly a stretched-out Sausalito. As I said: Bizzare.

I’m still in awe of it though, and it made an uninspired demo more interesting. My hands-on was standard Watch Dogs stuff—break into a building because some guy with a voice modulator said so, then hack a computer. Then there was a shootout in Oakland. The most I can muster for that side of the game at the moment is a “We’ll see.” I’m encouraged by the goofy tone of the trailer, hoping that maybe this won’t be as self-serious white-bread as the original Watch Dogs. But again: I have no inherent faith in the series. What I played wasn’t so radically different as to get me frothing for more.

Watch Dogs 2

Yeah, I’ll take more of that world, though. I just want to drive down a curiously traffic-free Embarcadero, or take walks through the Presidio. Why? I don’t know. I honestly can’t fathom why digital tourism fascinates me so much, especially when it’s of cities I’ve already visited—let alone currently live in.

My only guess is it scratches some techno-lust about video games. It’s a concrete point of comparison. Sure, we all know games are getting prettier, they’re getting bigger, they’re getting more complex. But I’ll never visit Cyrodiil, or French Revolution-era Paris, or Velen/Novigrad/Skellige, or Azeroth. Neither will you. There’s no way of knowing how faithful a recreation those digital worlds are.

I know San Francisco, though. I can walk outside and look at it, then boot up Watch Dogs 2 and see how well it translates. It’s something I can latch onto and say “Damn, video games really are amazing these days—at least on a technological level.”

Digital tourism's absolutely not enough to make up for a mediocre story or tedious mechanics, however, and Watch Dogs 2 will need to do quite a bit to convince me it’s not just More Watch Dogs a.k.a. Assassin’s Creed. But I’m looking forward to taking a walk through my neighborhood just the same.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags gamese3

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Hayden Dingman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?