Arts & CultureVideo Games

Review: ‘Watch Dogs 2’ is a wild ride of memes, gadgets and rebellious youth

Who says that a hacker needs to be some basement dwelling neckbeard or insufferable know-it-all wizkid who speaks in incomprehensible technobabble? Today’s hackers dress in punk-style, do parkour, drive fast cars and have deep conversations about the latest memes and why Predator could defeat Alien.

More so, they’re not just trying to steal your mom’s credit card. Modern ‘hacktivists’ try to make a difference in the world with their techno-wizardry and otherwise help a disenfranchised generation stick it to the man. At least, that’s Watch Dogs 2’s take on things.

Watch Dogs 2 is an open-world third-person action-adventure game by Ubisoft that follows the exploits of Marcus Holloway, a 24-year-old hacker from Oakland, California who goes by the online alias Retr0. The game takes place in a fictional and scaled down version of San Francisco where every element of the city has been wired into a single unified operating system called CtOS 2.0. This means that if you can figure out how to exploit the system, you can hack almost anything — cell phones, ATMs, cars, streetlights and more.

After hacking into the CtOS database and clearing up an error that causes it to confuse him with a high-profile criminal, Marcus realizes he still is still viewed as a threat because he is a young, unemployed black man that owns a gun. From there he resolves to fight the crooked system and becomes the legman for DedSec, a hacktivist group bent on bringing down anyone who would abuse the new technology and information it collects.

It’s easy to compare Watch Dogs 2 to similar games like Grand Theft Auto, but doing so will undoubtedly hamper your enjoyment of the gameplay. The game’s various gadgets and hacking themed puzzles will generally make up for the game’s comparatively clunky cover-based shooting, forgettable driving and a bare bones stealth system.

(Courtesy of Ubisoft)

The game encourages you to use gadgets and your access to the CtOS 2.0 system to approach missions as puzzles to solve instead of set pieces to shoot your way through. During a mission, you’ll often have to solve a hacking pipe puzzle to connect nodes throughout the area, find the proper access codes or manually hack into certain hardware, while using your arsenal of quadcopter drones, RC jumpers and hackable elements of the environment to neutralize or soften up guards.

As the game progresses, you gain research points that improve your arsenal and gain skills that allow you to hack into more elements of the city. You can unlock abilities like calling in the police or local gang members to attack an enemy. If stealth and subtlety are not your thing, there’s a 3D printer that provides an entire arsenal of weapons at cost, with both lethal and nonlethal options.

Watch Dogs 2 also features a co-op system that is meant to integrate seamlessly into regular gameplay. You can actively search out co-op missions, but you will also experience semi-random encounters that contribute to the game’s progression. For example, while walking through a park after a mission, you might receive a message that someone is stealing your personal data.

(Courtesy of Ubisoft)

With a compelling cast of characters and a story that draws from current events and political issues, Watch Dogs 2 has a lot to offer those who fantasize about changing the system. From an out-there old school veteran hacker to a young autistic coding guru, you’re sure to find someone in the main cast of characters that will make a strong impression. Even the game’s villains are intriguing — the main antagonist is first seen plotting over a Bluetooth while doing yoga in sweatpants.

The game amounts to a pretty good open-world romp with plenty of toys and a detailed, though scaled down, interpretation of San Francisco. It does suffer from weak shooting and stealth mechanics when compared to the genre’s standards, but it provides enough unique features and an interesting enough story to keep players interested. Chances are you won’t feel like such a good guy after gunning down half a dozen security guards, but you’ll still get some satisfaction from exposing fake religions and embarrassing CEOs on live television.

Watch the trailer for Watch Dogs 2 here:

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Mathew Brock

Mathew Brock