In Watch Dogs 2 on the PlayStation 4, an unwanted ghost of San Francisco’s past has resurfaced after fifty years. A killer is staging the bodies of his victims all over Oakland like the infamous Zodiac Killer of the Sixties, and he’s taunting the police and news outlets with coded messages. Will you succeed in decrypting the messages and hunting down the copycat? You play the game as Marcus Holloway, a brilliant young hacker living in the birthplace of the tech revolution, the San Francisco Bay Area. Team up with Dedsec, a notorious group of hackers, and expose the hidden dangers of ctOS 2.0.
Watch Dogs 2 is an open world action-adventure video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. This title is the sequel to the original Watch Dogs, it was released worldwide for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the PC in November 2016.
The first Watch Dogs was, to put it bluntly, a thoroughly mediocre game. The good ideas it had around persistent multiplayer and hacking were buried deep below layers of mediocrity with an entirely unlikable protagonist, boring and clunky mechanics, and relatively little to do in its vast open world. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Assassin's Creed, a game that didn't manage to realize its potential until the release of its vastly improved sequel.
Much like Assassin's Creed 2, Watch Dogs 2 is everything that the first game should have been. It ditches the dour nature of the original game for lighthearted humor. It replaces Aiden Pierce, one of the game industry's most thoroughly unlikable protagonists with Marcus Holloway, a guy that the game makes easy to identify with in the first 5 minutes. In fact, every person in the core group of characters is relatable and enjoyable in their own way. The game really takes the first hour or so of gameplay as an opportunity to look you in the eyes and tell you that this is not at all the original Watch Dogs, and it's so much better for having done that.
Unlike a lot of other open world games, where you only talk to the other characters when you go to do a story mission, you are always talking to your friends in Watch Dogs 2, always in group calls and communicating constantly. The game is very chatty, which means there's hardly ever the dull moments that often come with open world games when you're out in the world just grinding out collectibles and taking care of other tedious, but necessary chores to help progress the story along.
The problem is that the story here can't really decide what it wants to be. Often, it's right in line with the characters, a sort of silly fun little romp through the world of hacking, taking down targets in goofy ways. Other times, the game veers into more serious territory that it doesn't feel all that comfortable in, things that don't come off as silly or fun, and it just feels forced. It comes off like someone deciding they needed to keep a few scraps of ideas from the first game and shove them into this one, despite the overall tone of the rest of the game.
That same weirdness also applies to how the game handles guns. There is a stun gun that you're given at the star, and that's great, it really fits in with the rest of the game's tone, but as you go on you'll start getting real pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles. It really just does not fit with the rest of the game's happy-go-lucky aesthetic. I didn't really think guns worked very well in the world of the first Watch Dogs, and they're even worse here.
But the parts that shined in the original game also shine here, and they often shine brighter. The biggest highlight of Watch Dogs was the ability to hack cameras, panels, road blocks, whatever you wanted. Not only is that ability back, but it has also been vastly expanded. Not only can you hack more things throughout the world, but you can hack them in more varied ways. You can, for example, set a trap on a junction box then set it off to attract a nearby guard to it, knocking them out with a jolt of electricity when they come too close to it. The hacking mechanics are by far the best part of this game, and they allow for really inventive solutions to the same tired combat scenarios you've seen a million times in dozens of different games over the years.
Ultimately, the biggest problem that Watch Dogs 2 has is that it doesn't manage to fully commit to any one thing. It wants to be the freewheeling fun loving adventure with a bunch of hacker friends out to change the world, but it also occasionally wants to be deadly serious about something. It wants you to inventively use your hacking abilities to take down enemies in a nonlethal way, along with a billiard ball on a rope and a stun gun, but the game also gives you assault rifles that you can use to shoot people in the face.
Watch Dogs 2 is so much better than its predecessor, and it absolutely represents the game that the first one should have been, but it still has a long way to go to perfection. It has so many contrasting ideas that so often clash with one another, and it comes off like a game that had a huge group of people pulling it every direction, but it manages to still be thoroughly enjoyable, and for the most part, a whole lot of fun throughout.