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‘Watch Dogs 2’ Review – California Dreaming

Stories of second chances are everywhere in modern society. You’ll see it in Marcus, the star of Watch Dogs 2, a young hacker falsely accused of crimes, trying to clear his name. This sequel is also Watch Dogs second chance as a franchise. Though the first game sold well, the overly serious open-world adventure felt like a flash in the pan. Watch Dogs 2 gives the series a necessary dose of personality and color. Even if the hacking magic can get repetitive, this realistic recreation of San Francisco, CA is a vibrant playground for a campaign that’s invigoratingly current.

Over The Rainbow

You play as Marcus, the newest member of the Bay Area's DedSec hacktivist collective. There's little mention of the events in the first game, so it's a bit of a soft reboot of fighting heartless corporations one op at a time. That means you'll be going around San Francisco stealing cars, fighting security guards, breaking into servers, all in the name of the capital T Truth.

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Watch Dogs 2 has a markedly lighter tone than the last game. Marcus is backed up by a crew of young, idealistic hackers, and his initial objectives are much more enjoyable than the dour Watch Dogs. Even when dealing with more serious themes like defending a transgender politician from hatemongers, there's much more humanity on display.

It's refreshingly unconventional for a high budget game to feel as contemporary as this...

Some of Watch Dogs 2's best moments come from using real world headlines as its launching pad. Anyone paying attention to the news will recognize the references to prominent politicians, pharmaceutical executives, and Google buses throughout. Watch Dogs 2 also covers the very real danger of the tech companies of San Francisco pushing out longtime residents. It's refreshingly unconventional for a high budget game to feel as contemporary as this does. Not only that, it roots the compelling action in a more real world than most.

That complex reality extends to Marcus himself. So few games of this scale have an African-American lead, and Watch Dogs 2 doesn't ignore racial issues within the tech world or society in general. Seeing how Marcus navigates the alternative cultures of the city and its hackers add intrigue to the usual "go here and grab that" missions types.

Silicon Valley Blues

For all its social commentary, Watch Dogs 2's gameplay is pretty straight forward. Like in most open-world games, you take on increasingly challenging jobs that often have you driving around the city and tangling with guards. In the main campaign, many objectives amount to "steal this thing from a restricted area."

Beyond the lovely Bay Area setting, what differentiates the action from most of the competition is the flexibility. You could bust into that building guns blazing, shooting everything until you reach a server you're supposed to hack. Alternatively, you can remotely stun a guard, then distract the other with a fake phone call. Or just fly in your mini-drone and hack your way through most doors from the air.

...it's commendable that the missions are so open to different gameplay styles...

That flexibility comes from Watch Dogs 2's very liberal definition of hacking. Yes, Marcus will be seen sitting at a computer to open backdoor viruses. He'll also point his phone at a car and make it drive without someone in it. Or explode a grenade in someone's pocket. Hacking is Magic in this game, which allows for some creative moments of combat if you just let go the unreality of it all.

You can tell Watch Dogs 2 doesn't want to make players kill if they don't want to -- though nonlethal paths are usually more difficult. Regardless of your approach, it's commendable that the missions are so open to different gameplay styles and choices.

The Social Network

When you aren't on the core mission of fighting an aggro Mark Zuckerberg, Watch Dogs 2 gets more creative. You've got side missions that include ride sharing apps and making street art. There's even some great sections that challenge you to get creative with setting up traps for a group of bad guys that'll soon arrive. It's a good mix of extras to go alongside the lengthy campaign.

Speaking of inventive, Watch Dogs 2 also does its best to shake up multiplayer. It's always on, meaning you could start-up a two-on-two cops and robbers fight within moments. You'll be on your way to the next mission when you get an alert saying you could play some deadly hide-and-seek session instead.

It's a nice, low impact way of taking Watch Dogs 2 online without making a dedicated section of the menu. The multiplayer is also entirely optional if you want your tour of San Francisco uninterrupted, though you're better off keeping it on. It's more fun to hack together than alone.

Should You Play Watch Dogs 2?

If you enjoyed the first game:

Then you'll love this massive upgrade. Better city, better toys, better characters. The colorful, funnier storytelling is a real upgrade to go alongside the current-gen graphics.

The colorful, funnier storytelling is a real upgrade to go alongside the current-gen graphics...

If you're bored with open-world games:

This one is worth diving into. Watch Dogs 2 has many exciting additions to the genre, even if it also falls into the old ruts. The mission types can get repetitive, but there're lots of options at your disposal. Not to mention its realistic take on San Francisco sets it apart from the rest.

If you love the Bay Area:

Then you'll admire this gorgeous tribute to a beautiful city. It keeps Watch Dogs 2 rooted in reality just as much as its reflecting today's headlines in the missions.

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Featuring new abilities and a contemporary feel of the big city, Watch Dogs 2 elevates the big budget franchise. That personality sustains it even when the objectives get routine, thanks to interesting characters and smart approaches to the action. Leet enough for a rental.


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Henry Gilbert
Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is Senior Games Editor at Fandom. He's worked in the gaming press since 2008, writing for sites as diverse as GamesRadar, IGN, and Paste Magazine. He's also been known to record a podcast or two with Laser Time. Follow him on Twitter @henereyg.

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