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

Hayden Dingman | June 23, 2016
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 CrewThe 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.

 

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