The first Watch Dogs had some ambition, but the game didn't live up to its original promise of hacking everything. It was a fun open-world title, but hacking was limited and Aiden Pierce failed as a sympathetic protagonist. There was clear room for improvement.
Watch Dogs 2 takes the open-world hacking series to a whole new locale: The San Francisco Bay Area. It also places you in the shoes of Marcus Holloway, a member of the hacking collective DedSec. Marcus is a rebel, using is PC and parkour skills to bring down corrupt politicians and corporations. Outside of the narrative shell, Watch Dogs 2 is clearly Ubisoft listening to complaints regarding the first title and making improvements.
I was able to sit down with the game for 20 minutes yesterday and what I found was a game that attempts to expand the series' horizons. Right from the beginning, Marcus has more hacking potential than Aiden did. A soft onscreen cursor let me know which target I was hacking and a quick hack was only a button press away on the Dual Shock 4's L1 bumper. Holding down L1 offers multiple hacking options, each of which is mapped to the face buttons. Everything you can hack has these expanded options.
Take hacking vehicles. Prior to E3, Ubisoft revealed that you can now hack cars and drive them remotely. Tapping L1 gives the car a bit of gas and turns it to the right, which can help you in a getaway situation. Holding down L1 gives you four options: drive straight, drive left, drive right, and reverse. It's not freeform driving, but you can chain these various moves together. Hacking vehicles meant to be used quickly to set up attacks or to distract the local guards.
Your hacking abilities aren't infinite, with each specific hack drawing energy from a meter. That energy will recharge slowly on its own, but you can speed up the process by hacking the phones of random people. Drawing money from their accounts and peeking into their lives is still an option, but you can also heat up the phone in their pocket or emit a loud screech to draw your target's attention away from you.
A new Net View acts as Detective Vision for Watch Dogs 2. Through a haze of static and white noise, you can see hackable targets, enemies, and further points of interest out in the world. Each are color-coded for your convenience: Blue is hacking targets, red is for hostiles, and investigating orange targets gives you new missions to undertake.
Marcus can also hack targets remotely this time around. He has two different drones at his fingertips. Tapping left on D-pad calls your RC Jumper, a small rolling robot that can open doors, hack computers, and distract enemies. Tapping right brings up the quadcopter drone, which can fly high above to scope out the situation. From either drone's viewpoint, there are hacks are your disposal.
In my demo, I infiltrated a gang hideout to steal two USB thumb drives held by different targets. From outside, I did a quick recon with my quadcopter, marking targets and getting a lay of the land. Then I switched to my RC Jumper, hopping over the fence and making my way upstairs, careful not to have my little drone been seen. I hacked an electrical box to explode if anyone who came close. Then I taunted my first target with the RC Jumper, luring him onto my hacked mine. Target number one, taken care of!
For the second target, my coop developer partner attached a proximity bomb to my drone, which I then flew directly into the room with my intended victim. It blew up, taking that guy out and alerting the rest of his friends. It also killed my drone, sadly. The developer walking me through the demo said both drones will return after a short period of time if destroyed. Ubisoft is still working out how long that time will be though.
You'll note I said "coop developer partner" in the preceding paragraph. That's because my demo also showed off the game's new drop-in, drop-out coop play. As you're wandering around the digital Bay Area fighting the power, you'll run into other players who are doing the same. From their point of view, each player sees themselves as Marcus, while they appear as a random DedSec member for someone else. You can still let your colors fly though: There's a number of clothing shops in the game and your outfit translates over, even if your face is changing.
I do think the series' tone needs a bit work. Watch Dogs 2 takes itself less seriously than the first title, but there are still moments of dour seriousness. I think the game would probably benefit from leaning into the punk leanings of DedSec and taking things over-the-top. As it stands, it's hard to reconcile Marcus' anger of being accused of a crime he didn't commit and the general mayhem and criminality that you can get up to in-game.
Watch Dogs may have fallen short of its full potential, but Watch Dogs 2 looks to correct some of those mistakes. Hacking is a core mechanic of the series, but here that mechanic has a bit more depth to it, given the additional hacking targets and expanded hack choices. More options means more ways to get into trouble, which means more fun. Ubisoft has the potential to knock this one out of the park. Hopefully, it can pull off the same jump in greatness that happened between Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed 2.