E3 2016 – Watch Dogs 2 makes hacking feel meaningful, and it’s a richer experience for it

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The first Watch Dogs is not an excellent game. It was an interesting one, introducing us to the not so fictional world of Aiden Pearce and his uncanny ability to bring internet connected society to its knees. Aside from Aiden possessing the personality of a sponge, Watch Dogs never lived up to its billing. Hacking was underused to the point where the game felt more like a mindless shooter, never challenging the sort of cranial intellect that it desperately wanted us to believe its protagonist contained.

Watch Dogs 2, however, is taking that sort of criticism to heart, and through its more fun, more silly tone actually presents a world where interconnected vigilantism as actually as compelling as it sounds.

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Getting a feel for an open-world as dense as Watch Dogs 2 is difficult, but my 30 minute (heavily) guided demo did a lot to establish just how ambitiously Ubisoft is pushing boundaries with this sequel. San Francisco isn’t just gorgeous, it’s massive – being split up into four large distinct districts. Icons like Silicon Valley and the Golden Gate Bridge have been meticulously recreated – or at least I was told by those who have actually visited one of the most recognisable cities in the world.

Knowing the layout of San Francisco isn’t important though, and it made my brief time with the newer, younger protagonist, Marcus, all the more easy. Marcus is a member of Dedsec, the now transformed hacker group that embodies a lot of what anyone would recognise as traditional hacker culture. Marcus lives and breathes this through characterisation as well, from his trendy but still unique clothing, down to the edgy and sharp art painted across his smartphone.

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Marcus though is a lot more capable with an overly powerful smartphone and laptop, and it’s here where Watch Dogs 2 instantly grabbed my attention. For all the complaints of the first title forgetting itself too quickly, Watch Dogs 2 seems to be making up for it with a robust and well explored version of its aggressive hacking. No more was it restricted to simple on/off functionality. Using nothing more than line of sight, I was able to remote control cars, forklifts, traffic signals and civilian phones with finesse and precision.

It’s not just a simple button tap anymore either. Watch Dogs 2 wants to make you feel like you’re in control, and a new interface for these hacking abilities does just that. Holding down L1 brought up a contextual menu for each of my dubious deeds, offering up to a maximum of four options with regards to the object I was attempting to control. With a nearby car, this meant accelerating it forwards of backwards, or outright leading the police off a wild goose chase with a series of sharp, remotely controlled swerves and turns.

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This level of hacking control only amplified the closer I got to the objects I was taking control of, and opened up some interesting opportunities in my first small side quest. I steered Marcus towards a nearby pier, where a group of armed guards had taken up shop around a small building. Inside was a file I needed off a computer, and it presented me with numerous ways to approach getting it. Guns blazing is always (and still is) an option, but Watch Dogs 2 implores you to think beyond simple violence. And think I did.

Using the new (and rather useful) remote drone, I surveyed the area heavily from safety before approaching. While remaining outside of the restricted zone, I made use of a second remote controlled device, this time a smaller ground-based drone, to sneak around guards to a power box controlling the lock on the door I needed to access. There’s physicality to hacking here, with the drone needing to actually press buttons in some cases before anything happens. It lends itself to a far more believable scenario – even if that breaks more than often in other circumstances.

Moving forward, the door to my objective was now unlocked, but at least three stories above my current position. A nearby scissor lift allowed me to easily lift myself up with a little hacking, and gave a great vantage point for taking out the two patrolling guards. I used the more extended abilities to rig one of the air conditioner vents on the roof to detonate on proximity, while using another to distract the second guard using his smartphone. That made him an easy target for my non-lethal Taser, leaving the path to my objective danger free.

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These were just some of the small ways in which hacking and non-lethal approaches worked in Watch Dogs 2, which were only extended when a second player dropped in for co-op. Taking on a more heavily fortified block of buildings, my new partner and I used a combination of drones and explosives to complete the objectives without actually entering the compound. Using his airborne drone, I threw sticky mines on to it and rigged them to blow on proximity, allowing him to simply fly it through the window to our objective and clear the room fast an efficiently.

That left us with little else to do in terms of actually getting the intel we needed, but I felt that a more hands-on approach was required for no real reason. Thankfully gunplay has received a little improvement too, with shooting feeling tighter and more impactful this time around. Combined with the mobility that brings to the table, Marcus becomes a nightmare for enemies to deal with at the best of times. And he was simply a delight to guide around.

Watch Dogs 2 certainly left a much better impression on me than the reveal trailer and conference gameplay, and its many improvements directly in the facets of the first game that faltered give me a lot of hope for the soon to release sequel. But it needs to make sure that these experiences aren’t spread too thin over its playtime, which we’ll only really be able to determine come this November.

Last Updated: June 17, 2016

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff's a bastard.

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