Watch Dogs 2 PC impressions: A smooth-running romp through meme-filled San Francisco

Step 1) Download. Step 2) Put flowers in your hair.

Watch Dogs 2 has already been out for about two weeks on consoles, so maybe you’ve already heard people’s feelings concerning the game as a whole. In short: People seem to like it, I think. That’s what I’ve gathered from Twitter and the like.

The PC version was delayed though, and just arrived yesterday. That means we don't full-length review of Ubisoft’s pseudo-San Francisco ready yet—hopefully that’ll come sometime in the near future. I do come bearing impressions though, taken from the first five or six hours.

Watch Dogs 2

First, the technical side of things: It seems smooth. I’ll be keeping an eye on Steam, Reddit, and the usual sources to see if problems start cropping up in large numbers, but so far I haven’t seen much in the way of issues and what I’ve played has run without a hiccup.

To quote some hard numbers at you, I’m hovering around 65 frames per second. That’s with everything on Ultra, at 1080p resolution, on a GeForce GTX 980 Ti, Core i7-5820K, and a boring ol’ 7200 RPM hard drive. The frame rate drops to 45 when I’m driving full-tilt through downtown San Francisco or when it rains, but I haven’t seen any load-stuttering or any conspicuous pop-in.

That’s...actually kind of amazing. Even last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate had tons of issues with texture pop-in at release, and there I was limited to the speed of the Victorian London’s fastest horse. In Watch Dogs 2 I’ve bombed through crowded Embarcadero traffic on the back of a crotch rocket and still never seen the frame rate drop below 40. (And needless to say, those numbers are even better if I dip to the still-respectable-looking Very High settings. There, I get a near-constant 55fps to 60fps even when raining, rising to 70+ in more sedate scenes.)

Watch Dogs 2

Worth noting: Watch Dogs 2 mimics Shadow of Mordor with an optional 6GB texture pack for those wanting to run the game at full quality. I downloaded it and used it for all the tests above, but haven’t done much of an A/B texture comparison test.

And while I still don’t know if we’d say Watch Dogs 2 is visually up to par with those original Watch Dogs trailers from 2012, there are some nice technical flourishes in this game. My favorite so far came when I ran a motorcycle through a hedge and the hedge actually deformed and tore apart appropriately. It was a small moment, but with so many open-world games having static, plastic-looking foliage Watch Dogs 2 wowed me the tiniest bit.

So yeah, it’s good...as long as you’re alone. Unfortunately the “seamless” multiplayer doesn’t quite live up to its name. Like the console versions at release, the few times I’ve had someone invade my game I’ve seen stutters, outright two-second freezes, and drops down to 20-something frames per second. It’s abysmal, and desperately needs touching up. Or you could just do what I do and turn it off, because I hate that stuff anyway and it’s not worth the stutters.

As for the game itself: The hacking hasn’t changed much, but the story’s certainly gone through a tonal shift. Aiden Pearce, protagonist of the original Watch Dogs, took home the silver medal in the “Blandest Character Ever Conceived in Ubisoft’s Underground Character Laboratory” category—with Assassin’s Creed III’s insufferable Connor taking home the gold, of course.

Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 ditches the self-serious moralizing of the first game for a neon-drenched world full of internet memes and booze and parties and lots of swearing. Imagine someone took the goofy ‘90s film Hackers and updated it for 2016 and you’ll get the idea.

It’s over-the-top absurd, with main character Marcus spending half his time taking down The Man and the other half listening to trance music and crashing sports cars into swimming pools or whatever other mayhem you can imagine.

Sure, it’s not the most accurate depiction of San Francisco and its satire might not pack the sting of Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, but what I’ve played is at least entertaining. That’s a welcome change from the original Watch Dogs. Also, you can visit a virtual version of PCWorld’s building:

Watch Dogs 2

As I said, I’m only a few missions in, and this isn’t an official review. Everything might go to hell in the ensuing 15 to 20 hours, and we could end up circling back to “Hey, this game sucks.” So far it’s running fine though, and seems to be a decent (albeit dumb) time.

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Hayden Dingman

PC World (US online)
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