PC Gamer

Hackers are often portrayed as computer savants hunched over a keyboard, sucking down a Diet Coke, and writing script faster than the characters can appear on a dirty CRT. They’re performing sorceries a half-step removed from actual magic, exploiting people and systems without leaving the house.

Watch Dogs 2, an open world action adventure set in the San Francisco Bay Area, turns hacking into a full contact sport. Starting with the GTA template of a city, cars, guns, and ragdoll physics, you can also use a phone to remotely overload a circuit box and knock security guards comatose or hack underground pipes to blow up huge sections of the street. (Yes, you can hack pipes.) It rarely feels like you’re using technical expertise to give big, insidious tech companies the run around. Instead, you’re using brute force, whether by equipping a drone with shock mines to knock out your enemies or using a literal grenade launcher to ‘hack’ them to death by the dozen. 

Even if you’re murdering people to steal data, Watch Dogs 2’s loose take on pop culture hacktivism assumes a more bizarre, self-aware direction for the series overall. There’s a lot of goofy open world fun to have in Watch Dogs 2, mostly as a byproduct of the chaos your abilities enable, and especially by combining abilities in the free roam co-op mode. But its stealth systems are undermined by hacking and combat abilities that feel too unwieldy and passive to be reliable, and as slapstick as it can be, relying on the same powers throughout a thirty hour runtime turns Watch Dogs 2’s best abilities boring far too soon.

The biggest lesson Watch Dogs 2 learned from its predecessor is that we’re a bit tired of mopey, edgy videogame protagonists, which Aiden Pearce embodied completely. This time around, Marcus and his support cast in the hacker collective DedSec are likable, funny people, and it’s good to see a black lead in a big-budget game, where people of color are so often relegated to supporting roles. Marcus and his friends are upbeat and know how to laugh, and their energy goes a long way in making the worst parts of Watch Dogs 2 tolerable. I didn’t feel like I was best friends with the DedSec crew, but they were nice faces to return to after every mission. They’d clap me on the back, high five one another, toss some beers around, and get to planning the next attempt to stick it to The Man. 

Why-fi

Stick it to The Man we did, over and over again. The main missions typically task Marcus with extracting or sabotaging data from a heavily guarded building, most often an obvious stand-in for the known Silicon Valley giants (Google is Nudle, for instance). Simple AI guards patrol the arenas, and using two new RC drones—one wheeled and the other airborne—you can scout out the area, marking enemies and interactive tech. 

Because you have hacker smarts, you’re able to use drones, security cameras, or Marcus to interface with CTOS, an operating system embedded into city infrastructure, which means you can remotely influence anything connected to the system, like traffic lights, robots, and those handy explosive pipes, just by looking at them and pressing a button. For instance, when you’re trying to climb a building to get a clear vantage point to hack a massive construction crane, you can rotate it and lower the platform on the end to scale the tallest buildings in the city. Drive a motorcycle onto that thing and take it off the highest point as an attempt to infiltrate a few outdoor enemy bases. It didn’t work for me, but I laughed at lot, and it was more interesting than shocking guards with circuit boxes or calling in mob hits to murder them all. The life of a hacker.

To truly be stealthy, you’ll spend a lot of time controlling your drones. Snaking around most spaces are ventilation shafts just big enough for a small RC robot to roll through, but there’s never a sense I’m being stealthy or subverting the enemy threat when using vents. I’m infiltrating through the same obvious path that everyone else will, just going through the motions so I know where my objective is and where all the guards are. There’s no tension in mapping out an arena with drones since everything is always in its designed place. It’s busywork.

There were entire floors I’d scout with a drone, sneaking by unseen to download classified files or plant a virus, only to find that Marcus’ physical presence was required to tap some keys in the end. And so I’d essentially replay the whole level, but as Marcus, who is easily spotted unless he’s ‘in cover,’ meaning I’ve pushed him against a wall. I moved through the same rooms, the same guard paths, and to the same objective only to die from getting caught by a guard whose red outline was barely visible against a visually busy scene. Then it’s back to square one, scouting and setting up with the drone again.

If you do get spotted, Marcus’ toolset swings in a different direction with no impact on character. At your HQ, you can 3D print a complete arsenal, everything from a shotgun to a grenade launcher. It’s strange that lethal weapons are included at all, given the peaceful ends DedSec is shooting for, and Marcus doesn’t seem the type to murder. Shooting your way out of a situation isn’t much fun either. The cover system is serviceable, but with enemies that like to make a beeline for your position and no dodge roll to dance around them with, there isn’t much you can do once you’re flanked except run and shoot. Marcus is soft too, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed and torn up from any distance. Together, the hacking abilities are too passive to be as playful as Saints Row 4’s superhero sandbox and the shooting feels dated in comparison to GTA 5, which is over three years old. Without many ways to stack abilities or exploit the world and enemy AI beyond bullets and electrocution, Watch Dogs 2 is suspended somewhere in the middle, and gets tired over the course of 30-plus hours of play.

I left my # in San Francisco

Watch Dogs 2 is not a short game. It's bloated in the same way Ubisoft open worlds tend to be, with a massive list of side missions. Some are fairly involved and funny—in one, you hack Ubisoft’s office to leak a trailer for an unreleased game—but most want you to climb a building to tag a billboard or hack a CTOS service box for a quick scene that pokes fun at Silicon Valley bigwigs. There’s a whole series of mundane missions where you just hack ATM machines and mess with terrible people trying to withdraw money, which I’d be into if it wasn’t the same joke told six times via what amounts to a fetch quest. You can race your drones, drive San Franciscans around in a Crazy Taxi-esque series of challenges, and take selfies near famous landmarks to gain followers and upgrade your hacking skills. There’s a glut of stuff to do in the side missions, but none of it is particularly focused or exciting.

NPCs scream to one another about how good wine is over the familiar clank and whoosh of the city s signature cable cars, just like the real thing.

As mundane as the main missions can feel, they at least take place in one of my favorite open worlds in recent memory. Watch Dogs 2 is set in a scaled down recreation of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Oakland, Palo Alto, and a small chunk of the Marin Headlands. San Francisco is the primary location, and it feels like a real place. NPCs scream to one another about how good wine is over the familiar clank and whoosh of the city’s signature cable cars, just like the real thing—without the omnipresent poop smell, that is.

Huge sections of the city are missing, and as such feels a bit misrepresentative for someone that lives there, but as a big mashup of the wealthy and tourist-heavy bits it works as satirical backdrop for an endless stream of Silicon Valley jabs and dick jokes (some pretty good ones, too). Even so, the parts it recreates are captured with eerie realism. I could intuit where such famous landmarks might be located, and found them just based on my sense of direction. Most striking are the vistas. Head up a hill in the evening for a beautiful and fairly accurate skyline. 

Do it on a nice PC if you can. No short attention was given to the port, which features a huge selection of graphical options, including frilly features like a built in upscaling and downscaling tools that let you change pixel density independent of the window resolution and advanced shadow effects that make them blur the further they are from their caster. There are enough knobs and switches to make Watch Dogs 2 both run on an older rig without sacrificing too much detail, and push newer PCs to their breaking point. Further, the UI has been completely retooled to work with a keyboard and mouse. It doesn’t make driving as precise as it is with a controller, but I played the entire game that way without trouble. If you have a controller plugged in, you can seamlessly switch back and forth between them too. Each menu has a hotkey, and there are control options to tweak everything from steering sensitivity to how quickly the camera recenters on your vehicle after making a sharp turn. After the first game’s dodgy port, it’s clear Ubisoft didn’t want to repeat the same mistake. 

Watch Dogs 2 never made me feel Hella Cyber, but when used to leverage as much chaos as possible in the open world, it can feel like playing GTA with a measured god mode enabled. Silly, strange things happen often, but only if you ignore the missions and mess around in the beautifully realized open world. That’s where Watch Dogs 2’s true enjoyment lies—not in its cheeky Hot Topic hacktivism story and frustrating, bland stealth scenarios, but in the nonsense you can pull off in a big sandbox with wacky toys and fast cars.

PC Gamer

According to a report from Variety, Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, other movies about a strange man not acting professional in a professional setting), is set to star in an upcoming movie about esports, playing the part of an esports competitor who isn’t getting worse with age, miraculously. The pro gaming scene is known for players who skew younger as hand-eye coordination and reflexes tend to fade with age, so I’m sure we'll get 90 minutes of Ferrell making jokes about his age and videogames.Michael Kvamme and Jordan Dunn, whose comedic trappings you’ll no doubt recognize from Spongebob Squarepants 3 (which I definitely have not seen), will write the film under the production banner of Legendary Entertainment. Evil Geniuses and Fnatic are currently in talks to appear in the film, but their role is still uncertain.We’re not sure what game will feature in the film, if a real one at all, but I imagine the movie would work best with a big game like League of Legends or Dota 2 at the center. Let’s also collectively hope the writers don’t endlessly riff on how bizarre the concept of esports is rather than provide an informed, relatable backdrop for fans. Just let Ferrell be a goofball, and I think we’re set for some baseline fun. Either way, we’ll be definitely be having the ‘are esports actual sports’ debate in the marketing push up to the movie’s release in a few years. See you then.

PC Gamer

Andy covered the announcement of the promising Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, which is basically a modern-day version of Commandos, but in Edo-era Japan. You can download a demo right now, but if you want to exchange money for a full version of Mimimi Productions' isometric, tactical stealth game (man, what a weird idea), you can finally do so today, as today is when Shadow Tactics is out.

You can grab the game (and, indeed, the demo) on Steam or from GOG or on Humble, or at least you can when the game goes live in a couple of hours. Shadow Tactics has garnered a positive reaction so far, so if you're a fan of the Commandos or Desperados games—or that one isometric Robin Hood—you should probably check it out.

PC Gamer

I’ve been playing Euro Truck Simulator 2 regularly for almost three years now, despite originally installing it as a joke. When I first heard about it I snorted at the idea of driving trucks at a reasonable speed around Europe, dutifully obeying the traffic laws. Then I lost 60 hours to it. As I often tell anyone who’ll listen, it’s a genuinely brilliant, well-made game, and the virtual road trips it’s taken me on are some of my fondest PC gaming memories.

So I was delighted to hear that a new expansion had been released this week by developer SCS Software. Vive la France adds 20,000km of new roads and motorways, 15 new cities, enhanced vegetation, a French tollgate system, and authentic roadside scenery including quaint rural villages and majestic chateaus. The perfect excuse (as if I needed one) to climb back into the driver’s seat of a virtual truck and go for a long, relaxing drive.

One of my favourite features in Euro Truck Simulator 2 is being able to tune into live radio stations from around Europe. For this journey I chose Nostalgie Rock, a French classic rock station that plays absolutely perfect trucking music. Bombing down the road to the sounds of Creedence, The Kinks, Canned Heat, and David Bowie… there’s no feeling quite like it. And the French adverts between songs add an extra layer of immersion.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 is an surprisingly atmospheric game, despite the fairly mundane subject matter. My first experience in the expansion is driving through the countryside at night and seeing the glowing lights of farmhouses in the distance, and the silhouette of a grand chateau towering over them. The sense of place these little details give you is powerful, and in general the updated France map feels a lot more hand-crafted.

Because most of your time in ETS2 is spent on largely featureless roads, the moments when you see something—a plane taking off, a hot air balloon, a chateau, a bridge—are bizarrely exciting. I perk up like a dog having a treat waved in front of its nose. Look! A thing! And then it’s back to the grey road. And I love that. It triggers the same reward response I get from, say, loot spilling out of a boss in Diablo, but in a very different way.

And there’s plenty of that in the France expansion. I saw the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant poking out from behind some trees, which was pretty exciting. And I marvelled as I drove through a dense forest. Anyone who’s ever been on a long road trip will know how important having something to look at through the window is for keeping you sane, and the same applies here. Some jobs in Euro Truck Simulator 2 can take an hour or longer.

The ETS2 map has grown so much. Last year’s Scandinavia update added a huge amount of new country and some of the prettiest scenery in the game. And while Vive la France isn’t quite as dramatic as that, it’s a worthy purchase for anyone invested in the game. Paris feels more like a city, the addition of bespoke road signs, advertisements, and speed traps adds authenticity, and the extra roadside detail helps bring the world to life.

For me, ETS2 is the perfect expression of PC gaming. A weird, niche simulator that no big publisher would ever back, but that found success anyway. A rich modding scene that has added everything from multiplayer to snowy weather. And a passionate dev that’s still supporting the game long after release. If you still think pretending to drive trucks sounds weird, give the demo a shot and you might be surprised by how much you love it.

PC Gamer

Ho! Ho! And, indeed, ho. IO Interactive has a festive treat for Hitman fans: a new mission set in a Christmassy Paris that will let you dress up as a murderous Saint Nick. It's coming next week, on Tuesday December 13, and without further ado, here's the fun trailer:

"The 'Holiday Hoarders' mission," the official site reveals, "gives a festive feeling to the existing Paris location with snow, decorations and even presents, which have been scattered all around the palace. Unfortunately, not everyone in attendance at the fashion show is there to spread festive joy. Two thieves have gained entrance to the fashion show event and are stealing the presents. As Agent 47, it's your job to stop them, for good. If you are able to get to the presents first, feel free to open them and use whatever you find inside to help eliminate these two sticky bandits..."

IO/Square Enix say they're releasing the mission in support of the World Cancer Research Fund; they're asking players for a voluntary donation to the charity.

However, the Holiday Hoarders mission isn't all that's coming to Hitman this festive period: there's going to be a new thing every week until the end of the year. Thing The First, arriving this week, is the Master Sniper Challenge Pack, which adds five new Sapienza challenges. Meanwhile, next week brings the aforementioned festive assassination mission, along with a game update and a new elusive target. Week 3 brings an escalation contract in Sapienza, on the other hand, and there'll be a new Bangkok elusive target at around Christmas time.

Have a read of this post on the Hitman site for a bit more info.

PC Gamer

Counter-Strike: Classic Offensive is a remake of Counter-Strike being made inside a remake of Counter-Strike.

Yesterday the modder Z00L released a launch trailer for his curious mod, a project that aims to reproduce the look and feel of the original Counter-Strike (version '1.6' as it's more colloquially known) inside CS:GO. "The main goal of the mod is to get the gameplay from 1.6 right into CS:GO including weapons, sounds, movement, all the old stuff you've dreamed to see in CS:GO," he writes on ModDB. "As you can see, I'm pretty near."

The mod is built within CS:GO's version of Source, and it'll require CS:GO to play. At launch, planned December 25, Z00L says that retro versions of Dust2, Italy, Mirage and Inferno will be playable. Each of these maps exist in the current version of CS:GO, of course, but they've since been aesthetically and structurally reimagined in small or significant ways. 

As stated in August, Z00L's goals with the project are to make weapons that behave similarly to 1.6, remove 'GO'-specific guns, replace all sounds, and remove skins. He also outlines what he is not able to do as a result of the engine:

  • Wallbangs as in 1.6 (even if I change it it won't penetrate more than 32units)
  • Remake the crouching jumping bug (no I won't edit the dlls)
  • Playermodel selection (a plugin could fix that though)
  • See inside smoke particles (the game don't draw the world when inside, so nope..)
  • Bring back the tactical shield
  • Change flashes, smoke time, nade physics
  • Add buying ammo

So although the project is appetizing to folks like me who grew up playing 1.6 in internet cafes, it does seem to be operating under some fundamental constraints that might make it impossible to include certain movement quirks and 'desirable' map bugs what were buffed out over Counter-Strike's different iterations. It's hard to tell from the in-game trailer exactly how well Classic Offensive captures the movement and weapon feel of old CS, but to my eyes it resembles the higher-fi Counter-Strike: Source more than anything. I guess that isn't unsurprising, considering it's the link between 1.6 and GO.

Which version of Counter-Strike was the best, the most pure, or the most tactically interesting remains a hotly debated topic by FPS players. For the year following its release in 2012, CS:GO wasn’t even the most popular version of Counter-Strike—some players were still actively arguing the merits of GO against its thirteen- and nine-year-old predecessors.

PC Gamer

Bulletstorm, developed by Epic and People Can Fly, and published by Electronic Arts, was originally released in 2011. Despite being a very decent (and pleasingly ridiculous) shooter, it wasn't exactly a runaway hit, and so there was never any sort of follow-up—until last week, that is, when Gearbox announced the Full Clip Edition at The Game Awards. It's not a sequel, unfortunately, but a remaster of the original, which led some people to wonder if owners of the original would get it as a free, or heavily discounted, upgrade. 

Alas, the short answer is "no." Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford took to Twitter shortly after the announcement to explain that it's "not possible" to offer the remade game as an upgrade. "Completely different publisher, era, platform (they were Games for Windows only), product/sku, etc." he wrote. He also addressed an unflattering comparison with the recently-released Darksiders Warmastered Edition, a new version of the game that was given freely to owners of the original release. 

"Someone else's game being a rebuilt/remastered/enhanced game over something previously offered by a different publisher," he continued. "Nordic bought entire rights past-future from a defunct publisher. This is a very different situation."

Clearly not everyone is happy about it, especially in light of the precedent set by Darksiders Warmastered or BioShock: The Collection, which was offered to owners of the originals as a straight-up freebie. And personally, I think 50 bucks is pretty steep for a re-release of a five-year-old game. But it's also awfully presumptive to expect studios to remake games and then give them away for nothing (or next to it), especially without knowing the full circumstances behind the decision. Presumably 2K can afford to take a victory lap with a BioShock re-release; People Can Fly may not have that luxury.

It's possible that minds will change between now and the launch day, which is more than four months away, but I wouldn't hold my breath.  

PC Gamer

Stellaris! The game so big they named it 'Stellaris'. And it's about to get even bigger with the free Horizon Signal DLC, created by guest writer Alexis Kennedy (he of Fallen London and Sunless Sea). That's arriving today at some point, and to accompany it Paradox has released a new patch, codenamed, rather touchingly, 'Kennedy'. (Each patch so far has been named after a sci-fi great—the last one after Robert A. Heinlein—so it's quite the honour.)

You can scan the full patch notes here, but the highlights include 33 new achievements, a change to the way extradimensionals work, some new events and a butt-load of balance changes. "Evasion is now capped at 90%", for example, while the devs have also increased the frequency of "alien pet deposits". Great. Thanks for that.

Does PC Gamer like Stellaris? Why not travel through an extradimensional wormhole (AKA a hyperlink) and have a read of our review.

PC Gamer

We're used to waiting weeks or sometimes months between Telltale episodes, so here's a bit of good news if you're looking forward to The Walking Dead's upcoming third season. It was revealed this weekend that the first two episodes will be released on the exact same day, on December 20. No more waiting! Unless we're talking about the wait between episodes two and three, and who knows how long that will be.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier wants to reel in new players as well as returning ones, hence the subtitle, and a new protagonist by the name of Javier. He joins Clementine as one of the leads of the five-part series, and if you want to pay for it all in advance you can buy the season pass now on Steam or GOG.

PC Gamer

This week on the Mod Roundup, a useful mod for Fallout 4 makes running power lines through your settlements considerably more logical. Also, a series of small tweaks to The Witcher 3 removes some mildly annoying issues. And, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive gets changing weather including rain, sandstorms, and fogs.

Here are the most promising mods we've seen this week. And if you're looking for more mods, check out our lists of the best mods for Fallout 4 and the best mods for The Witcher 3!

Wall Pass-Through Power Conduits, for Fallout 4

Nexus Mods link

Running power lines around your Fallout 4 settlements just got considerably easier with this useful and logical mod created by Daedragon. Since you're building with crummy, rusty metal walls full of holes, or wooden ones that would be easy to make holes in, why can't you run power lines right through them? This mod adds new conduits you can snap into place on the back of standard ones to allow lines to pass through your walls. Works with concrete walls and even roofs.

Nitpicker's Patch, for The Witcher 3

Nexus Mods link

Speaking of little, logical improvements, here are several for The Witcher 3. Play a game a little while, and you may notice a tiny little defect that you find a little annoying. Play for hundreds of hours and it can become a huge, throbbing irritation. Modder chuckcash has fixed a bunch of little details in the celebrated RPG, like clipping errors on armor and sleeves, small water glitches, discolored textures, floating props, and other tiny annoyances. I love mods like this.

Changing Weather Collection, for CS:GO

Steam Workshop link

As we wrote last week, modders Lewis Palfrey and Luke Millanta have brought some interesting changes to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Ten different weather patterns, randomly selected at the start of each round, can enhance four different maps (Dust 2, Cache, Mirage, and Overpass), bringing thunderstorms, heavy rain, sandstorms, and thick fog to the game. In addition to having an impact on visibility and sound, rain can also put out fires.

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