Why I Can’t Enjoy Watch Dogs 2

Watch Dogs 2 is an impressive technological achievement, a smooth, pretty, hack-tastic open world game that’s a great blend of GTA and stealth adventure. And I just uninstalled it because of game writer fails. I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore.

Watch Dogs 2

In some ways, I should be enjoying Watch Dogs 2 even more than in 2016 when it first launched. Ominous authoritarian moves by corporations and government? Yeah, that’s timely now. Social unrest and protests? Yep. Hackers on social media? Uh huh. Racism and inequality? Well, when haven’t we had those friendly companions?

But the fact is that the game writers and designers on Watch Dogs 2 made a few simple mistakes in scenario design that make the game difficult. It’s set in a peaceful San Francisco, and that’s a problem because the game makes it hard to succeed without piling up bodies. Sure, it’s a San Francisco that’s wired by a creepy security infrastructure that we know is corrupt, and there are gangs and militarized rent-a-cops sprinkled around, but I don’t feel justified in slaying these people.

In GTA, we play criminals so roaming around killing cops is par for the course. And I enjoyed GTA. So it’s not really that I object to killing virtual cops. It’s that it doesn’t fit this story, in which the player assumes the role of master hacker and social activist Marcus Holloway. As Polygon‘s Phillip Kollar wrote, the need for so much deadly force in Watch Dogs 2 is “a complete failure of imagination” that doesn’t fit the protagonists, who are generally laid-back nerds, not vicious vigilantes or criminals. It’s unrealistic to think Marcus would kill a dozen innocent policemen because they responded to a burglar alarm that he triggered, even if that alarm was triggered when he was exposing some extensive personal data breach at a sleazy tech giant.

IMHO, Watch Dogs 2 should’ve been modified in a few simple ways to resolve this incongruity:

  • the player should’ve been given a better assortment of non-lethal weapons, including a stungun or taser that knocked NPCs out for longer periods. The game doesn’t even provide a non-lethal sniper rifle. This is a design flaw too; the game wants badly to be a stealth game, so much that Marcus is very fragile in combat and has no options to buy armor or level up health. Why not match Marcus’ strengths with his weapons?
  • the peaceful scenario could’ve been made more dire, which appears to be what Ubisoft is doing with Watch Dogs: Legion. If San Francisco had been occupied by some totalitarian force, then deadly force would seem more justifiable, as well as thematically appropriate to the scenario.
  • the friendly NPCs needed to react to the player’s use (or non-use) of deadly force.

To be honest, I bought this game primarily because I read a review that claimed that the writing was funny. Truly funny games are few and far between. And Watch Dogs 2 is… amusing. They do a good job with the tech speak and the hacker feel, even if a lot of it feels heavily cribbed from Mr. Robot. Sadly, though, it lacks the humor and depth of the aforementioned Mr. Robot. Funny is a tough thing to measure, but Watch Dogs 2 only has a few sprinkled bits that make you momentarily consider smiling. It’s Hallmark Channel funny with Hallmark Channel characters, but it’s no Mr. Robot.

Thanks for a few momentary thrills, Watch Dogs 2. Good luck next time.


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