There’s a character in Watch Dogs 2 who has an LCD screen over his face displaying different emoticon eyes to fit the mood. ~_^ Yeah, it is sort of awful but then the game’s so brash with its take on hacking culture - apparently powered by chai tea soy lattes and art school pixel graffiti - that it all works beautifully.
As the new hero, Marcus is an unlikely fit for Watch Dog’s previously dour, grumpy-trench coat stylings, with his skinny jeans and jacket sleeves pushed up. He looks like a student. A skinny streak of a kid with his MacBook Air stuffed into a tiny shoulder bag (when he’s not sat cross-legged tapping away at its keyboard to bring down tha man with it).
It’s actually this that makes everything so much more interesting in Watch Dogs 2 - this sort of character is usually the side kick, not the hero. The cover hugging, free-running action might look familiar but it’s actually hugely refreshing to see an Urban Outfitters model pulling it all off for a change instead of an angry jawline on legs
It’s a change that seems to have infiltrated the rest of the game. Simply standing around in this Watch Dogs 2’s interpretation of San Fran is more fun than the previous installment’s Chicago. The city is colourful and lively in a way that makes it much more inviting to explore, while adding an almost Saturday morning cartoon level of innocence to the action.
Marcus can be (extremely) violent but somehow it feels tonally wrong. The atmosphere actually encourages more creative solutions like hacking distractions or stealthy but brutally efficient takedowns, to full on gun action. Both are possible but somehow the trigger happy option here doesn’t feel right because of who he is.
Take, for example, a mission where Markus has to infiltrate a penthouse to retrieve information being deleted by a corrupt politician. There is shooting but it mainly involves a taser. Instead, he’s ducking between cover, hacking cameras to gather info and using a tiny two-wheeled RC to buzz unseen past guards and steal data. If it was a grizzled spy, or muscled hero it would just be the usual neck snapping and rote shooting. Here it’s daft and enjoyable, ending up with a display car hacked and revved through a window.
“[Watch Dog 1’s] Aidan fit our version of Chicago and we wanted to tell that noir story that fitted well with a rainy North Eastern city” explains senior producer Dominic Guay. “You go for west coast San Francisco Bay? [The] free spirit and sunny fun kind of comes with it. So we built our character out of that setting. A positive side to him was something we wanted”.
For a game about hitting people with a billiard ball on a string (Marcus’ signature weapon) there is a lot of that ‘sunny fun’ and it’s probably Watch Dog 2’s best feature. While this offers a vastly refined and improved version of the previous games hacking and combat, the brightness and irreverence adds a freshness to it all.