Watch Dogs 2’s approach to its open world is different from what you might expect in most games. Instead of just handing you your quests, it tasks you with finding them through exploration and then tracking them through your phone’s DedSec app. The anomalies that lead to missions are represented by orange blooms that you can see when in Nethack mode – a sort of hacker vision that throws the world into shadow and reveals hackable points of interest and electronic signals – and it’s the pursuit of one of these that has led Marcus Holloway to Coit Tower, one of San Francisco’s most recognizable landmarks.
Before I can investigate, though, I need to get a sense for how Marcus’ approach to hacking works. There’s always a faint white line that extends from Marcus to the hackable devices around him, showing what he’s focused on at any given time. Turning to a parked car, I find out that tapping L1 on a PS4 controller lets me quick-hack it to plow forward. Holding down the button opens a wheel menu, giving me the option to accelerate, reverse, or turn the car left or right by holding down the corresponding face buttons. Causing a little (potentially lethal) mischief is fun, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Zeroing in on an orange bloom at the foot of Coit Tower lets me eavesdrop on a man’s texts as he tells a friend about how his phone always acts strangely around Coit. This, Marcus guesses, is because there’s a stingray nearby – a device that steals data from mobile phones.Sure enough, there’s another orange bloom high up on the tower. Deploying Marcus’ flying drone gives me a panoramic view of Watch Dogs 2’s San Francisco as I float up to investigate, with other key landmarks – including the Bay Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, Sutro Tower, and the Bay Bridge – clearly visible in the distance.
Hacking the stingray shows that the signal’s coming from a warehouse on a nearby pier, so I hop into a sporty red coupe and start tearing down Telegraph Hill at maximum speed. The difference here from the first Watch Dogs is instantly noticeable, and the location seems hand-picked to show this; the route down from Coit Tower is a twisty one, and I’m able to stick to the road easily , popping the handbrake for drifts and hairpin turns.
Along the way, I’m instructed to pull over and duck inside a Plainstock clothing store, where I get to try out Marcus’ clothing customization options. Nothing but the snazziest hacker styles will do, so I deck him out in a preppy-looking sweater and collared shirt, cargo shorts, and a pair of pink Alligator sandals (you can probably guess at their real-world equivalent’s name). Feeling peppy in my monstrous new duds, I approach the warehouse on foot and get a feel for the parkour controls. Holding down R2 puts Marcus into parkour mode, which sounds a little like Assassin’s Creed, but in practice feels very different. It’s not a sprint (that’s a separate button), and in fact it doesn’t have any noticeable effect on Marcus’ movement until I reach an obstacle, at which point he fluidly vaults over or climbs on top of it, even kicking off a nearby wall for height as I get close enough to climb a parked van.
Getting into the warehouse requires a different kind of dexterity, though. Taking cover near its entrance, I hijack a security camera feed and see a guard accompanied by a dangerous-looking dog. I can also see a red line leading from a locked door on the roof – my destination – and a panel on the side of the building. I could distract them by messing with the guard’s phone and overloading the dog’s shock collar, briefly knocking it out – but that won’t be necessary. Instead, I just wheel out Marcus’ little jumping drone, pilot it to the door without the guards noticing, and use its extending arm to unlock the door above.
Hijacking a conveniently placed scissor lift to get up to the roof, I spot another guard patrolling behind a fence. I decide to get a little more vicious here, and hack a rooftop generator, giving it a proximity trigger and setting it to blow if anyone gets too close. Sure enough, the guard wanders into its trigger radius and is summarily blasted over the railings.
As a couple of civilian workers gape in horror, I sneak past and spot another still-unaware guard. Creeping up behind, I get him in a choke hold and silently wrestle him to the ground. I then creep through the formerly locked door, find the box the stingray is transmitting to, and plant a virus to disrupt the operation. This triggers an alarm, but not one I can’t flee from, and after a quick line of parkour moves across the roof, I’m back on the street and in the clear.
Or am I? At that moment, an individual with a purple name floating above his head strolls into view. This is how other players will appear throughout Watch Dogs 2’s open world: organically and unexpectedly. Since we’re both members of DedSec, I hold a button to ask if he wants to join me; he agrees, and I open up the DedSec app to start up a co-op mission that will take us across the bay and into Oakland. That’s a bit of a drive, however, so I find a fast-travel point on the map – which happens to be a pawn shop – and teleport over.
Where before I was up against security guards, this time our enemies aren’t messing around. They’re two captains of a gang known as the 580, surrounded by other armed gangsters as they meet to exchange a couple of crucial hard drives. I have three options for approaching them – Aggressor (guns blazing), Ghost (perfect stealth), or Trickster (drones and hacking). I go for the third option. While my new friend takes up overwatch with a flying drone, I deploy my wheeled buddy and slip in through a hole in the wall outside the compound where the 580s are meeting.
At first, it all goes off without a hitch. I can hack anything through the drone, and set proximity traps for patrolling guards before luring them in by allowing the drone to be seen. I then set another trap for the gang leaders, use the drone to unlock their meeting room, and wait for them to investigate.
The explosion is gratifyingly huge and appears to take out both leaders, but one gets back up and sees the drone. One shot later, and my perspective has shifted back to Marcus. With the gang members now on high alert, I pull out Marcus’ taser and charge in, taking down just one guard before I’m face to face with the captain I was sent to ambush. Managing to get the first shot off, I send him sprawling, snag his hard drive before he can get back up, and then retrieve the drive from the captain I took out earlier. From there, I vault back over the wall, grab a nearby van, and – after waiting for my companion to rejoin me – peel out into the street. We’ve taken out enough of the gang members that they’re not really chasing us, and after clearing the blue pursuit zone, the mission is a success.
Watch Dogs 2 will be released on Xbox One, PS4, and PC on November 15. For more on Marcus and DedSec’s crusade against ctOS, check out our previous coverage: