In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Andy plays pick up on Market Street and beyond.
As an exaggerated snapshot of life in the 2010s, it was inevitable Watch Dogs 2 would include an Uber-like taxi company. In this alternate reality it’s called Driver San Francisco—a nod to Driver creator Ubisoft Reflections, who designed the game’s vehicle handling—and allows Marcus to make some extra money on the side as a taxi driver. Grand Theft Auto had taxi missions years ago, but there wasn’t much to them besides driving from A to B against the clock. In Watch Dogs 2 they’re more bespoke, with stories and a few surprises, and this elevates them above the usual open-world filler.
Uber is famously controversial, with stories emerging of drivers being attacked by traditional taxi drivers who feel their livelihoods are being threatened. I don’t know how accurate or widespread these stories are, but they’re common enough that Watch Dogs 2 directly references them in its ‘Just Earning a Living’ Driver mission. You pick up a guy called Roman who’s asking a lot of questions about your job, and being slightly passive aggressive about it. Then when you arrive at his chosen destination you’re ambushed by a group of armed men. It doesn’t actually say they’re disgruntled taxi drivers, but it doesn’t have to. This is a good example of how the game’s taxi missions often have unexpected, and sometimes violent, outcomes.
But others are more light-hearted. In one mission a paranoid conspiracy nut asks you follow a drone buzzing over Silicon Valley, which involves a challenging section of fast-paced off-road driving. In another a baseball coach hires you to search the local dive bars near the stadium for a star player who’s gone missing on the day of the big game. These little micro-stories are simple and throwaway, but they give the taxi missions some added personality. You’ll rush a bride to the church to get married, hunt for a stolen car, search for a programmer’s missing robot, and more. They’re little comical snippets of life in the city you don’t otherwise get a taste of in the main game, which helps flesh out the setting in an entertaining, interactive way.
Special passengers like these are referred to as VIPs, which means their journey will have dialogue, set-pieces, and often multiple objectives. But once you’ve finished all 16 of them and reached the highest Driver SF rank, you don’t have to hang up your driving gloves. Open the app and you’ll find an endless selection of randomly generated taxi missions. They’ll have certain rules like never dropping below a certain speed or taking as little damage as possible, but they’re pretty easy, making them a great way to explore the game’s beautiful, detailed recreation of the San Francisco Bay Area. As far as open worlds go, I think Watch Dogs 2 is second only to Grand Theft Auto V in terms of atmosphere, attention to detail, and world-building.
Open-world games are guilty of filler missions more than any other genre. Developers stuff their worlds with pointless tasks designed to artificially extend the game’s length or make it seem bigger than it actually is. However, Watch Dogs 2 is different—for the most part, Ubisoft makes every distraction and side mission worthwhile by giving it a hand-crafted charm. The ScoutX app, which tasks you with taking selfies next to famous landmarks and points of interest, is a great way of exploring and getting to know the city—and I love how your DedSec pals leave comments under the photos when you post them. Compare this to running around catching fluttering bits of paper or collecting feathers in Assassin’s Creed and it’s clear which one respects your time more.
And even when you’re just doing randomly generated taxi missions, the city is so stunning that there’s value in that too. It’s relaxing in the same way as something like Euro Truck Simulator, and I’ve spent a good hour just driving around and taking in the atmosphere. The Golden Gate Bridge, which is often shrouded in fog, is a remarkable sight. And although the city feels pretty small, especially compared to Grand Theft Auto V’s sprawling Los Santos, it captures the look and feel of San Francisco perfectly. I don’t think I’d enjoy being an Uber driver in real life—especially when people start spilling out of pubs and clubs and puking on your upholstery—but it’s certainly fun pretending to be one in Watch Dogs 2.