Watch Dogs 2 is more concerned about making you laugh than making a statement

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Watch Dogs 2 is more concerned about making you laugh than making a statement

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When Watch Dogs made its debut in 2014, the series kicked off with a fascinating premise: a huge Grand Theft Auto-style open world to explore, coupled with gameplay that turned you into a vigilante hacker. But the final game didn’t live up to that concept. Instead, it was angry and repetitive, with a frustratingly bland story starring a completely forgettable lead. Hacking didn’t end up making it very distinct.

Set in a world similar to our own, Watch Dogs 2 casts you as a young hacker named Marcus Holloway. He and his DedSec hacker group attempt to expose truths by breaching the security of large corporations and government administrations – all with a powerful smart phone that grants godlike control over San Francisco’s citizens and infrastructure. Brimming with opportunities to mess with machines on a large scale, the freedom of Watch Dogs 2’s open world is alluring and fun, with some improvements over its predecessor, but has missteps in other critical areas.

Chicago’s grey, gritty suburbia was the perfect backdrop for Watch Dog’s equally grey Aiden Pearce. While the 2014 open world shooter promised much, Pearce’s grimly robotic performance and unflinching lack of remorse sat at odds with its socially-aware story sewn to expose the perils of consenting to those user agreements most of us never read. While the world-building was meticulous, in the end Watch Dog’s innovative ideas were regrettably lost in a sea of its own banality.

The game is technically a sequel, but it largely stands on its own. There are a few references to the original, and at least one important Watch Dogs character makes an appearance, but you don’t need to have played the original to understand what’s going on. Watch Dogs 2 kicks things off very fast: before you even know what’s going on, or who Marcus is, you’re breaking into a heavily protected building to hack some servers to erase his criminal record, which has been falsified by an unscrupulous tech mogul.

Watch Dogs 2 is more concerned about making you laugh than making a statement, but some of its jokes are more cringe-worthy than clever, such as one character wearing a digital emoji mask. Its off-the-wall humor is outlandish, such as stealing a talking car from a famous film and flashily riding it across town to make headlines. As the game progresses, it tackles heavier topics, such as being investigated by the FBI and exposing how a social media giant helped rig an election, but Watch Dogs 2 never loses its ridiculous tone. It shines best when it satirizes real-world events, such as a mission that is an obvious spin on the Martin Shkreli controversy or when you infiltrate a Google-like company.

And what about multiplayer? You’d expect a game that leans so heavily on teamwork to deliver meaningful collaborative missions, and regrettably, the game just falls short here. Does that mean it’s crap to play? No, not at all. But it does mean the meticulous teamwork built so convincingly in the single-player story is all but abandoned here.

Watch Dogs 2 also introduces a number of seemingly small and cosmetic features that add up to make a much better game. You can use drones to scope out locations, and the smartphone you carry can do everything from summon cars Uber-style to snap selfies to create playlists of Run the Jewels and Bob Marley songs. There are also multiple fun, yet completely useless interactions; you can pet any dog you see on the street, or walk into a pub or cafe and have a drink.

Watch Dogs 2 addresses many of the issues of the first game, putting hacking at the forefront, but its narrative struggles to stay engaging. Although the cast is unlikeable, the parodies and its ability to not take itself seriously brings charm. The stellar hacking mechanics can make your actions, such as taking control of a satellite in outer space, feel grandiose and unstoppable in entertaining ways.

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