Imagine a world where everything is online, where everyone is connected to everything. Now imagine if corrupt corporations were using your private data for their own ends. Welcome to the world of Watch Dogs 2.
Despite having such grim premise, Watch Dogs 2 is an enthusiastic game. One could liken it to having a friendly pit bull – there is an underlying propensity for viciousness, but yet greets you with a lick on the face and a wagging tail.
You play as Marcus, a young skilled hacker in San Francisco who has a problem with authority. Marcus is recruited into DedSec, a pastiche of real world hacker collective Anonymous… if it were ran by edgy graffiti artists and who have a problem with major tech companies like Facebook and Google; companies who they see as betraying public trust by using their users’ data for devious ends. From there, you get an open world saga that has Marcus going around San Francisco participating in cyber espionage and other shenanigans.
Many of Watch Dogs 2’s missions require Marcus to sneak into a location in search for someone’s data, and you can approach missions in three different ways – First, the time honored tradition of going in guns blazing. The second, sneak around, stealing passcodes from guards and using various environmental hazards to deal with enemies. The third and probably best way to play the game, is to sit comfortably outside the hazard areas and send in Marcus’ aerial drone and Remote Controlled car.
The drone helpers massively open up the game allowing you to scout the area and complete the mission without any hostile encounters. This open-ended approach keeps the game fresh and lets you use any combination of strategies to to complete the game.
San Francisco is also wonderfully recreated in the game. A friend who’s lived and worked there for 2 years spent the better part of a day driving around revisiting old haunts. The bars, landmarks, NPCs who photobomb Marcus as he takes a selfie, the conversations that the NPCs have, make moving around the large open world enjoyable.
Having satires of Google (Nudle), Facebook (!NVITE), Knight Rider (Cyberdriver), Shazam (Songseek) to name a few help make it much more believable while dodging copyrights. Without spoiling too much the story, the script tells a story that is hyper-relevant, yet at the same time instantly dated; the game tries so hard to be hip and trendy that it is sometimes cringe worthy, but the likability of Marcus and the rest of the DedSec members feel genuine and helps overcome script’s shortcomings.
While everything sounds good so far, there are some gripes I have with the game. Firstly, there is some dissonance in tone of which the story is told and the way the game might be played; Marcus is jovial, kind and relatable. It just feels wrong to play him as a psychopath and it doesn’t seem like Marcus, or the rest of DedSec for the matter, would go around on a murder spree for any reason at all, even though they could.
Secondly, the checkpoint system is dodgy and punishing. It might put you back at the beginning of a long sequence and that’s just annoying. Next, there is some input lag and sometimes it takes the proper camera angles to trigger events. And the swimming in this game is terrible – the quick swim is almost the same speed as the normal swim, and you can’t dive. That is just lazy programming for a game of this scope.
Lastly, you could say that Watch Dogs 2 tries too hard to be edgy, but as I stated before, the characters help overcome this minor gripe.
While these issues frustrate, Watch Dogs 2 remains an enjoyable experience. The open ended approach to completing missions caters differing styles and there are lots of attractions in the open world, be it taking pictures of landmarks, collectibles, drone races and such.
The drones help give a different spin on the usual open world game in addition to the gimmick of hacking. The characters are likable and charismatic, the narrative is strong and the San Francisco recreation is simply stunning.
Take the time to explore San Francisco and enjoy the sights and sounds, take selfies and hack all the corrupt corporations. Intelligent and charming, you’ll be surprised how refreshing Watch Dogs 2 can be.