Watch Dogs 2 Review: A hack above

Watch Dogs 2 is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Unlike its 2014 predecessor set in Chicago, San Francisco’s turn at being the stage of open world hacking shenanigans is anything but a silly romp, and it’s great for that.

Thankfully, there’s more to this game than simply being in on the whole joke. You play as Marcus Holloway, a hacker persecuted by the Government and is out for getting back at whoever sullied his name in the first place. At the start of the game, you help him break into a security firm and apparently delete all of his public records before he joins up with DeadSec, a plucky and over the top hacking group composed by at first glance, the most annoying characters on the face of the planet: an angsty raver girl, an emoji mask jokester and a quiet tech expert. Surprisingly, though, as Watch Dogs 2 progresses, this merry band turns out to be anything but annoying as they do their best to get DeadSec’s name on the San Francisco populace’s mind.

The whole point to Watch Dogs 2 is growing the popularity of your hacker group throughout the San Francisco area by gaining followers, who according to the game’s fiction are willing to lend their phones’ bandwidth so you can boost your hacking network. As that net grows, more missions become available, ranging from the tried and true open world game variety such as races, chases and tailing targets to more involved and more story-centric break-ins in that involve more hands-on hacking.

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Watch Dogs 2 presents hacking in quite a unique way. Throughout the game you’re given a limited number of rechargeable points with which you can, at the touch of a couple of buttons, tap into security cameras, lights, fuse boxes, cars, doors and even people’s phones. These hacks play a part during missions in special ways, such as when you’re stealthily making your way through a guarded facility and have to take out an enemy standing in your way by luring them to a fuse box and zap them. When it comes to directly hacking computers in these missions, there are a few ways in which it can happen. One is more known to anyone who’s played a shooter with waves in the past few years, locking you in a certain location as a progress bar goes up, while the other has you switching connection pathways in a sort of “pipe panic” minigame in order to activate all security nodes.

None of these mechanics is particularly difficult or annoying, and even if they happen to be in your experience, they can be fully upgraded during the game by using earned research points in order to make them faster and even easier. The same goes with all items that Marcus has access to and can build in DeadSec’s 3D printer, which include guns and the two RC toys he can use to go into more dangerous locations: a small ground-based rover and a drone, both of with can be equipped and made even more useful by the aforementioned points. And while these remote controlled tools never quite last as long as you wish they’d last, both in range and in toughness (they go down quite easily once detected and can’t go too far away from where Marcus is guiding them from), they’re extremely fun to use and can be placed back on the field after a quick recharge.

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If you’re willing to accept the game’s seemingly crazy technology norm which is in many ways quite close to reality, you’ll also have to accept that you won’t be playing a game that’s quite as polished as say, Grand Theft Auto V. Controlling Marcus feels slightly loose and imprecise, and the shooting isn’t fun at all to partake in, especially if you stick to using taser guns, whose range is just laughably short. The stealth is as limited as Assassin’s Creed with less of its traversal flexibility, meaning that once you’re spotted, you don’t have a lot of options outside of fending off attackers at the vertical level you’re in. Weirdly enough, the few bits in which you can leap off obstructions is directly pulled from Assassin’s Creed, so it begs the question why not go all the way, allowing Marcus to scale structures. The whole game is extremely off the wall already, why not go the whole way? Freaking Assassin’s Creed Syndicate even had grappling hooks! Why can’t Marcus’ weird yo-yo not do the same?

In any case, as the setting for such a technology driven game that’s so full of humor and selective disregard for realism, San Francisco plays it off brilliantly in Watch Dogs 2. Whether it’s its app crazy people walking around town, each with their own little crazy life facts you can hack into or the colorful vibe the city seems to be in at any point during the day, Ubisoft went the extra mile in designing it as close to reality as possible. The whole city looks gorgeous, especially with the PC version’s bay fog option turned on. Local San Franciscans might be able to tell apart some geographical differences, sure, but for someone’s who’s been there a couple of times, I think its portrayal is dead on.

All in all, Watch Dogs 2 is exactly what it sets out to be, an entertaining romp that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Its tone, for as intentionally comical as it is, hardly got on my nerves, something that even Rockstar’s darling hasn’t managed to pull off, an interesting development for a game coming from the studio that’s usually quite behind on that front. If you’re looking for something to play and not have to think a whole lot, there you go.

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