The Hacker’s Paradise

San Francisco is a vibrant place, filled with amazing artwork, culture and tradition. Travel to Lombard Street and experience vertigo on the road, or travel to the Museum of Fine Arts to be wowed by gorgeous gardens and architecture. Or, if you’re looking to see the more flamboyant side of the city, the famous Dangling Legs at the Piedmont Boutique are another kind of landmark. In the midst of all of this is a hacker den belonging to an activist group called DedSec and Watch Dogs 2’s protagonist, Marcus, known electronically as Retr0.

Now, considering that the Watch Dogs franchise is about technology and hacktivism, which has grown in popularity over the last decade or so, there are fewer places more perfect for a setting than the technology hub of the United States of America: Silicon Valley. Google (renamed in the game), Ubisoft (the game’s publisher) and Blume (the game’s antagonist) all have offices within the game, immediately throwing the player into this tech-dominated world.

Pros:

Ubisoft has made it a habit of making games over the past few years with control schemes that are intuitive and easy to learn, and the controls in Watch Dogs 2 are no different. Simply put, every action the player needs to perform in order to create a reaction in-game makes perfect sense. In a perfect world, this kind of UX would be commonplace and maybe even standard, but that’s, unfortunately, not what some other developers like to do. With that in mind, Ubisoft plays it close to the chest and leaves the innovation to the in-game material.

In the actual game, there are a plethora of references to real-world happenings and the game gives you the opportunity to explore them. For instance, there is a church called New Dawn, which is a direct reflection of the real-world Church of Scientology. The parallels between the two are multifold: celebrity members, a for-profit business and daunting levels of security, to name a few. The purpose of these kinds of in-game missions is easy to understand: Make the story as relatable to the lives of the players as possible. Let’s face it: People love to fantasize about an idealized life and make up far-fetched scenarios. So, imagine if you put those in a game and let people play through their fantasies. Wouldn’t that be mind-blowingly awesome?!

The main storyline revolves around Blume, a security company that runs ctOS, a city-wide crime monitoring system. In the game, DedSec is hellbent on disrupting and halting Blume and its program, which unfairly categorizes innocent citizens as potential suspects (something that Marcus has suffered from at the start of the game). This storyline, like many secondary ones throughout the game, reflects real-world concerns about over-sharing and possible government surveillance of everyday life. It also brings to mind the TV show Black Mirror or the civilian categorization system reportedly in place in China. Once again, Watch Dogs 2 succeeds in bringing a contemporary concern, among the most pressing in our society today, into the game and allows players to take down the threat.

However, Watch Dogs 2 also succeeds outside of the main storyline. As we all know, the Bay Area is not only made of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. There’s also Marin, a suburban community on the opposite end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course, the grittier Oakland, which is across the Bay Bridge. One of the distinctive parts of the game is that it includes the entire Bay Area and, in doing so, creates four distinct and diverse locales within the same game. For example, one mission involves infiltrating a drug den in Oakland, a far cry from the upscale world of San Francisco, where the player infiltrates a TV studio. With the juxtaposition of these two missions, the game distinguishes two completely different worlds within the same finite game universe.

However, what’s also fun is the ability to simply waste time and drive around and go sightseeing, a la Grand Theft Auto 5. The game developers did a terrific job of including every Bay Area tourist attraction in the game and make each one fully explorable (a full-on rescue mission even takes place inside Alcatraz!). The controls are intuitive, so the driving mechanics won’t feel like a chore. Which is a good thing, considering that people play video games to relax.

Cons:

There are, of course, a few drawbacks to this game. First, some of the enemies simply aren’t that believable. For instance, one enemy is the leader of a rival hacker group. He is so over-the-top that his whole shtick is simply too much. Another major and critical drawback is that hacking, one of the main parts of the game, isn’t fully explained by the game. Instead, the game forces the player to figure it out on their own and assumes that they already played the first chapter in the series. Hacking in Watch Dogs 2 is fairly easy to piece together, but it should still be explained.

Conclusion and Final Verdict:

Watch Dogs 2 succeeds in making me want to explore the theme of social activism, unusual for a medium not normally associated with thought-provoking cultural commentary. I can’t wait for the third chapter of the series. 9/10

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