The hacking tools in Watch_Dogs 2 have made it one of my favourite open worlds to explore and goof around in. I’m not one to mess with civilians in open world games, but it was hard to resist hacking a car to make it uncontrollably speed forward and cause a traffic jam.
Furthermore, collecting money bags and research points (read: skill points) encouraged me to think out of the box to access seemingly out of reach areas. Can’t use the game’s fun parkour traversal to get to the top of a building? Why not hack a forklift, pick up a pallet and make your own ladder.
My enjoyment of the hacking tools increased when I unlocked better skills that allowed me to hack every car in the area, or call the police or a gang on an unsuspecting civilian and watch as they tried to protest their innocence. Diabolical, yes, but also highly amusing.
Guiding this gameplay is a narrative about the potential exploitation of our data by big tech companies such as Facebook, [insert your social media platform of choice], and Google (called !NViTE and Nudle in Watch_Dogs 2’s depiction of San Francisco and Silicon Valley). The hypothetical results of entrusting corrupt companies with our data are scary, especially when the approach is grounded in reality. Like this report that Facebook could change the emotions of its users by altering what shows up in their news feed.
We trust corporations with our data because they promise to keep it to themselves, but Watch_Dogs 2 explores scenarios where our data is manipulated and sold at will and not just to create personal advertising. One particularly relevant mission involves the social media company !NViTE altering people’s social media feed to influence them to vote for political candidate.
Unfortunately, that message starts to wear thin as the lengthy story progresses and it becomes excessive. Big data in the wrong hands is bad news, I got that after the first ten hours, yet it was still the only message being stressed towards the game’s conclusion at the 24 hour mark.
With that said, Watch_Dogs 2’s protagonist, Marcus Holloway, and the supporting cast of hacktivist group Dedsec made the story an entertaining ride. It was great to see the group grow together throughout the course of the story, and the writing made me care about their plight. The dialogue between the quirky characters was engaging, and felt genuine. However, the decision to write out one of the characters mid-way through the story felt out of place given the overall tone of the narrative. It felt like the writers were trying to tick off an open-world game checklist.
Where Watch_Dogs 2 shines is in the variety of tools available to players when taking on a mission. Most of the main story threads follow a similar structure: gather information on a person or organisation who is doing shifty things with people’s data, and then head to a location to extract evidence to share with the public.
Often, this will include infiltrating a well-guarded area. Non-lethal and lethal options are available, but taking a stealth approach is by far more enjoyable because Marcus cannot take many shots before he’s dead. It also feels more suited to Marcus’s character. The cut scenes don’t portray him as a violent killer, so to give him such a large arsenal feels out of place.
There are always multiple ways to complete the same mission objective, and each scenario encouraged me to experiment with the tools I had available. You can use a two wheeled RC jumper drone and a flying quadcopter drone to scout the area, hack guards for door passwords or trigger environmental traps. Or, you can pull out your stun gun or electro-shock grenades to put any guard you see to sleep.
When you unlock more skills, mass hacks allow you to plunge a room into darkness, or hack every guards’ mobile phone to distract them while you sneak by. In some cases, you can use your tools to complete an objective without ever having to by-pass the guards.
One of my most memorable moments came later in the game inside a space ship manufacturing facility. I had to access a computer on the other side of the factory and it was filled with guards. Rather than silently working my way through the guards, I hacked a massive crane-like machine that was carrying a freight container, and rode it above all of the guards until I reached my objective. I felt resourceful, like I had somehow cheated the system, but in reality Watch_Dogs 2 gave me the tools to make it possible.
Gameplay, however, is not without its issues. In particular, the AI alert mechanic feels unfair at times. When you are spotted, guards start calling for reinforcements unless you can stop them in time. However, usually it’s not the guard that sees you who calls for reinforcements, but a guard around a corner. Until you unlock the mass disruption hack, accidentally getting spotted turns into a fire fight that will most likely mean death.
To break up the main mission structure, there are ample side quests that offer different activities such as kart racing, messing with people’s ATM transfers, or hacking a CEO’s bank account to deposit money into leukaemia research after his company raised the price of the drug. I’d recommend doing a few of these early on in order to earn enough followers (read: experience points) to unlock new skills.
If we see Watch_Dogs as an idea, Watch_Dogs 2 is the realisation of that concept. The hacking has been expanded, bringing more tools and choices to each mission. The protagonist Marcus Holloway is a much more likeable character, despite the game’s narrative suffering from a weak antagonist and a plot that loses momentum towards the end. And the traversal mechanics and more colourful visual palette make San Francisco a much more enjoyable world to explore than its predecessor’s Chicago. If you’re looking for a fun urban open-world game, consider Watch_Dogs 2.
Nathan is the founder of Think First Entertainment. You can find him on Twitter @Nathan_M96.