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    dkirschner's Watch Dogs 2 (PC)

    [November 30, 2022 07:51:41 PM]
    This is GTA with hacking. Overall, I enjoyed it, found it a breath of fresh air in open world games. Although the GTA formula is nothing new, the hacking kept me engaged; actually, I became more engaged over time as I unlocked new abilities and wrapped my head around the hacking puzzles. This was a freebie on Epic. I never would have bought it, but am glad that I played it (though it subjectively felt like forever, took me all semester, yet told me in the end I clocked only 29 hours).

    By far my favorite aspect of the game was the setting. San Francisco is beautifully depicted. The game starts you—a Black character named Marcus—by the ocean, a pride flag waving in the breeze. Immediately, representation matters. There is a city councilwoman who is trans. The Watch Dogs version of The Church of Scientology attempts to blackmail her by releasing her gender reassignment surgery photos. There is also a hacker in a rival organization named Lenni, who is a masculine-presenting woman. I don’t recall references to her sexuality, but apparently it used to list that she “appears to be a lesbian” on a fan wiki I’m looking at ( There are strings of comments with people asking that “appears to be a lesbian” be removed since the author is assuming sexuality from gender presentation, and of course counter comments that are as ignorant as one could imagine. The city is full of what makes San Francisco cool, and the developers take a firm stance on the side of diversity and inclusion. Case in point: the corrupt politician in the game is obviously a reference to Donald Trump. His name instead is Truss. He wants to “Make the Bay Area Stronger!” And, humorously, he tries to rig the election, the very hill Trump chose to die on four years after the game’s release.

    One of the game’s (optional) activities is to find local landmarks through an app (like TripAdvisor) and take selfies in front of them. Posting selfies on Watch Dog’s social media app nets followers, which gets you research points to spend on ability upgrades and cosmetic items. I didn’t care about the cosmetic items, had more research points than I knew what to do with by the end of the game, but boy did I love exploring San Francisco’s unique locations. I spent a good chunk of my playtime finding them, and I just remember that I missed one! Argh! It was some people playing as zombies in a graveyard at night; I never returned after dark. You can photograph obvious ones like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and that really steep road, various murals, sculptures, and other artwork, well-known street performers and restaurants, and so on. I think that if the game’s location was not so cool, I would not have kept playing, because the gameplay took time to grow on me and I wasn’t enamored with the main characters (Marcus was pretty cool, but they descended in coolness from there [note: my opinion would be different if I was a 15-year-old boy]).

    I said that the gameplay took time to grow on me. That’s partly because it doesn’t differentiate itself much from GTA in the beginning. You can 3d print a gun, hijack a car, and cause general mayhem within minutes. Your first hacking tools are basic: open doors, hack cameras, hack people’s phones. The latter activity is humorous for a while, until you realize how little sense it makes. By hacking people’s phones—and you can do this to any NPC—you see their mood, job, income, and a random fact. Like, “David Kirschner 😊. Sociology Professor. Salary: $60,000. Eats old food instead of throwing it away.” You can also transfer money from their bank account, listen in on their calls, and read their texts. Interesting for a while, then repetitive. The professions and salaries make me laugh sometimes. I think I did see a sociology professor, but the salary was like $150,000. Wishful thinking. Delivery drivers will make $200,000, while a tech CEO will make $30,000. It seems random. The random facts are all “dirty little secrets” like “likes to wear women’s underwear” or “picks her nose when no one is looking.”

    Hacking presents more opportunities for annoying people instead of just killing them GTA style, and over time the puzzles open up. Some of the “annoy people” type missions are pretty funny though. For example, there is a side mission where you hack an ATM and mess with customers: eat their card, donate their money to charity, etc. The people get so mad. Main missions are more serious, and as I came to enjoy the gadgets I had access to (a remote-controlled car and a drone) and learned how to solve the hacking and platforming puzzles, they became easier. Puzzles generally involve (a) using gadgets to (b) get to a high or otherwise unreachable place to (c) bypass security locks. As evidence of the moment of my mastery here, I completed a series of “tagging” missions, which culminated in figuring out how to scale the highest place in the game, the Golden Gate Bridge. Getting to high places often involves finding the machinery to get you there: forklifts, cranes, and the like, which you can hack to transport you from rooftop to rooftop, for example.

    The hacking puzzles themselves are neat. They are a bit difficult to explain. Imagine looking at a wall, and on the wall you see a network of cables with various switches. There is a “power source,” and you route the power through the cables, rotating the switches in the correct way to unlock more switches, and eventually channel the power to open a door or whatever is the object of the puzzle. That’s one of the basic puzzles, like some cables in a wall. Now, imagine later puzzles: cables crisscrossing up the side of an entire building; cables going up walls and across ceilings through several rooms in a server farm; multiple of these rooms, connected by satellites, spanning the globe!

    You can do other things with your hacking skills too, and you’ll need to, because despite the option to attempt playing this game like GTA, that path will lead to frustration and (character) death. While driving, you can disrupt the power grid, change red lights, make other cars swerve, and blow up manhole covers. All this is mildly effective at deterring the police, and I mainly used these tricks to cause chaos for fun. Although, you’ll rarely be driving long distances unless you want to. There is a generous fast-travel system that’ll get you within a few blocks of most anywhere on the map.

    As far as going on the offensive on foot, you’ll make use of disrupting people’s phones so they can’t call for back-up, you’ll turn their phones into remote bombs, zap them with electric shocks, and my favorite, put a hit on people and call in the local gangs to take them out. This latter tactic is hilarious, AND for some inexplicable reason, gang members can get through any locked door, so it’s instrumental for bypassing security! You just follow them in, then watch them murder your enemies. As long as you don’t shoot at anyone, they’ll leave you alone, and you can take a leisurely stroll through the high-security building, to the third floor, into the CEO’s office, hack his computer, or whatever you are doing, and no one is the wiser. Need to leave the area afterward? Just call in another hit and leave amid the chaos. No problem.

    This latter phenomenon is an example of Watch Dogs 2 being GTA-lite. It’s GTA with hacking, yes, but it’s also a GTA that doesn’t do anything else as well as GTA. The AI has quirks. Enemies quit searching the area for you, for example, even if you are obviously still nearby; they aren’t thorough. The gang members getting an open invitation to enter buildings is weird. Enemies will go into high alert after you shoot someone with your stun gun, hidden behind cover, while they won’t bat an eye when you turn an enemy’s phone into a remote explosive or otherwise cause environmental damage. In my last play session, I began in the middle of a highway (I guess I stopped in the road before turning off the game last time). A motorcycle approached. A car stopped behind it. I was causing a traffic jam in one lane. The woman on the motorcycle got off and hurled insults at me. Cars swerved around us. Another car got caught in the jam. The woman decided to run down the interstate herself. Another person got out of a jammed car, yelled at me, and ran down the interstate the other way, causing another pileup before eventually getting struck and dying. I could see her corpse in the distance in the slow lane. This was all really funny, and I let the havoc unfold for about 10 minutes. My girlfriend was sitting next to me, and we both became invested in the drama.

    I suppose that’s a draw of these kinds of games. They aren’t supposed to be hyper-realistic. The systems aren’t supposed to be perfect. The imperfections create a lot of the humor, the playfulness, and the stories that emerge from gameplay. I think that’s why I kept playing, because even though the characters were kind of annoying, the clear Anonymous vibes from hacker group DedSec were cheesy, and it was way too “cool” for a non-teen like me, it was always fun. What more can you ask for?
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    dkirschner's Watch Dogs 2 (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Sunday 21 August, 2022

    GameLog closed on: Sunday 27 November, 2022

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Really interesting so far! Open world like GTA but hacking things. ----------- Fun and playful.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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