Watch Dogs 2 is everything the disappointing original wasn't and everything fans hoped the series would be following its now-infamous debut trailer. It's also a lot more than that, taking the series' central hacking concept far enough to make Watch Dogs 2 one of the most unique open-world games in years.
The game focuses on a hacker group called DedSec, comprised of idealistic young dorks capable of causing a twenty-car pile-up with a few lines of code and a second-hand Blackberry. They wouldn't do that though, because they're not violent people – and that's the game's biggest problem.
DedSec is about taking on the establishment – lying politicians, billion-dollar cults, scumbag pharmaceutical reps – without sinking to their level. They use their wits to undermine, embarrass and destroy corrupt institutions, and not once do they talk about accomplishing this by firing bullets or blowing up an old lady's Prius.
The game's protagonist, Marcus Holloway, never strikes you as the kind of person who would gun down security guards just doing their jobs, or cause a local a gang to slaughter an innocent civilian he framed as a police informant. Players can make him that kind of person however, if they choose.
Those are exactly the kind of things Aiden Pearce – the detestable protagonist of the original Watch Dogs – would have happily done to accomplish his goals, and the fact the game encouraged this was partly why players didn't take to him.
There's an inherent, slight hypocrisy at the heart of Watch Dogs – players wield the system they're hoping to take down like a weapon – and any further hypocrisy from the characters it calls heroes undermines the game's message and purpose.
In taking on Chicago's mobs and human traffickers, Pearce slaughters more people than he hopes to save, and he never shows any remorse or awareness of his own homicidal tendencies.
Watch Dogs 2 and its characters suffer a similar fate if players choose to indulge its violent side, and are rewarded with a story and cutscenes that don't acknowledge the trail of bodies DedSec leaves behind it. The central drive for completing missions – to sway public opinion and court a legion of followers – is also undermined if each quirky side-mission completed ends with a half-dozen grieving families.
Should players choose not to kill however, they won't just be rewarded with a more morally-sound and logical story, but a better game too. The majority of Marcus's hacking abilities help players no matter the approach they want to take, but they're best suited to enabling thoughtful, cunning tactics – rather than outright onslaughts.
With Marcus's phone, players can turn electrical boxes into non-lethal traps, use machinery as distractions or to create platforms, call the police to arrest troublesome security guards, use CCTV cameras to survey the area and control drones that can distract, hack and scout. Entire compounds can be infiltrated and covertly rinsed for information without a neck snapped, a bullet fired or Marcus himself being in harm's way.
Certain missions give the player the means to plan for the arrival of enemies, giving them time to lay traps and set-up ambushes. Here players get to test their mastery of the game's systems. In one such instance, I was tasked with taking out three trucks.
I remotely positioned explosives near where one of the trucks was set to stop, then used a nearby electrical outlet to distract the driver as to remove him from the blast radius. To take out the second van, I lowered the bollards ahead of where it stopped so I could remotely hurtle it into the Pacific. The third... well the third didn't go to plan, leaving me to think on my toes as I led guards on a merry chase before driving the vehicle manually towards the same fate as its automotive kin.
There are many more possibilities, each ability coming together to create a hacking toolset that makes Watch Dogs 2, effectively, an open-world puzzle game, when coupled with its excellent, Rockstar-grade open world design.
Make full use of the game's arsenal of automatic, 3D-printed weaponry, and you'll be playing a perfectly functional open-world action game – another for the pile marked "Not Quite Grand Theft Auto". Swear off gaming's bloodlust and you'll be rewarded with an intelligently designed and rewarding open-world puzzle game.
Had Ubisoft ditched its immediate and very tempting lethal options, replacing its deadly weapons with non-lethal alternatives to supplement the game's basic taser, Watch Dogs 2 would have, been one of the boldest, bravest big budget games ever. Like its heroes, it would have stuck a middle finger up at the way we're told the world is meant to be.