E3 2016: San Fran is a Hacker’s Playground in Watch Dogs 2
After persistent rumors and a few leaks Watch Dogs 2 was finally revealed just before E3 2016, moving the franchise from the urban jungle of Chicago to the sunny skies of San Francisco. With a new locale comes a new main character in Marcus Holloway, a hacker working in collaboration with the Anonymous-esque group called DedSec from the first game. Both the new face and the new digs bring a lot of improvements to the previous game, as my hands-on demo at Ubisoft’s booth can attest.
The first thing that immediately becomes apparent is virtually everything in the environment can be accessed in some way. The names and pertinent information of non-playable characters walking through San Francisco will show up on my screen as I pass them, giving me the option to take some part of their identities as well. Cars can be hacked and programmed to drive on their own, allowing Marcus in my demo to cause some immediate ruckus by backing a sports car into a group of bystanders.
There’s plenty more mayhem that Marcus could unleash if I had more time to explore the open world, but there’s just not enough time in this demo. Watch Dogs 2’s version of San Francisco is massive, the skyline stretching as far as my camera view can see. I’m told that all of what I can see can be reached, including the Oakland area across the bay. Every inch of the city will be covered with missions, interactive elements, and more, so I could see a player devoting full days just learning the surroundings.
My actual mission takes me to the roof of a small enemy compound, tasking me with hacking a guarded computer. This is where Marcus’s toys come into play: first I deploy his flying drone, which I then pilot high above the rooftop while marking enemies located around the target. One soldier looks over the water from his rooftop perch without moving, meaning I could probably avoid him completely. Another paces in front of the door to the target, meaning he’ll be a bit more of a problem. Lastly there’s a new enemy to Watch Dogs --- an actual watch dog --- patrolling as well, so I’ll need to be careful that I don’t alert the one foe that barks.
Now that I’ve planned my attack, it’s time for action. I leave the unsuspecting enemy alone on the way up while readying my taser, which I then use on the dog as I sneak up on it. Finally there’s the pacing guard, a perfect opportunity to test the new “thunderball” melee weapon. This pool ball on a rope makes for a devastating weapon as I smack the guard around for a bit, finally subduing him and accessing the target.
A new point is marked on my map, and I’m told it’s time to join up with another player. Suddenly a second human player drives up to my position and moves to the passenger seat, highlighting the game’s drop-in/drop-out co-op multiplayer. Driving to the next target is smooth and loose, very much a positive change from the military tanks that were the original Watch Dogs’ vehicles. We zoom to out target in great time and my new buddy lines up against the wall, instructing me to do the same.
This base is a little bit bigger than the first one with a small army of guards and dogs, but it’s nothing the two of us can’t handle. I use my “hacker vision” (think Assassin’s Creed’s Eagle Vision but with a bunch of black and white code instead of blue haze) to mark multiple enemies and another security console that contains the info we need. My friend will be taking the lead on this one while I run recon with the drone and another new toy, a remote-control car that lets me spy on enemies a little less noticeably than the drone. That doesn’t mean I ignore the drone though, as it can drop stun grenades to clear my buddy’s path or hack explosive elements like the previous game for distraction. Once my counterpart hacks the module we both get credit for the mission, and we can either move on together or go our separate ways.
Watch Dogs 2 is ambitious, it’s massive, and it’s a open wonderland of things to do. The missions I got to play were standard fare with some neat hacking and recon abilities, but I would have preferred a more open demo that allowed me to see everything the game offers within its city limits. Luckily I won’t have to wait too long, as the next chapter of this hacker’s paradise will launch before the end of the year. I’m looking forward to visiting San Francisco again and hacking everything in sight, hopefully even the seals on the pier. Hackable seals, Ubisoft. Make it happen.
Watch Dogs 2 will be available Nov. 15 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.