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 newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags gamese3

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

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?