Here’s my routine. I cruise around the streets of San Francisco, checking my ScoutX app every so often to make sure I’m not missing a neat selfie opportunity with the city’s best attractions. I’ll hear a song on the car radio, or from the boombox that hip guy has over on the next street. I’ll pull out my phone and SongSneak (Watch Dogs 2’s version of Shazam) it. I have to make sure I’m up to date with the hottest beats of 2016, you know? After that, I’ll make some money. Whether through hacking the bank accounts of the rich, or acting as a personal chauffeur to the citizens of the great San Fran, it doesn’t matter. I need the money to buy new clothes, to look fashionable.
Here at Twinfinite, most of us are enjoying Watch Dogs 2 a whole lot more than we did the first game. The most persuasive argument for this newfound enjoyment discusses the likability of new protagonist Marcus Holloway. The original Watch Dogs was a decent enough game, but it was too serious, too grumpy; protagonist Aiden Pearce was a Batman rip off with terrible fashion sense. And with Watch Dogs 2? The open world is more inviting, and the story is funnier overall.
However, I suspect the real reason for our enjoyment runs deeper than that. I think we like this game more because it’s a game for millennials.
While Aiden was on a bloodthirsty quest to get revenge for his dead niece, Marcus and his friends are just a bunch of kids hanging out at the park, trying to bring the ‘big man’ down. They talk about their favorite movie stars, quote lines from cheesy sci-fi action films, and they’re terribly juvenile in every sense of the word. And yet, as cringey and irksome as some of the dialogue can get, there’s no denying just how funny and relatable this game can be.
There are a couple of early missions that have Marcus spying on teenagers in their homes. One mission involves us hacking the webcam in a teenage girl’s room, watching as she performs a spirited dance routine for her stream viewers. She’s dancing to a pop song, and we get to mess with her by turning out the lights and switching the track to a hardcore screamo number. The other mission has us spying on a boy who takes pleasure in screaming obscenities at other people while playing an online game. And how do we ‘punish’ this internet troll/keyboard warrior for making online death threats and spewing insults at strangers’ parents? We SWAT him, of course. I should mention that Marcus proceeds to stream these two incidents to the hundreds of thousands of followers DedSec has amassed over the course of the game.
In the real world, SWATing has very serious consequences, and it’s not something anyone should do, ever. But in Watch Dogs 2, as much as we hate to admit it, there’s a crazy kind of satisfaction that comes with shutting down the people we don’t like by humiliating them over the internet. After all, this is the 21st century. We don’t deal with our enemies and competitors by shooting them with guns. We expose their true nature to the public and shame them over social media. And Watch Dogs 2 understands this.
It’s also incredibly fitting that Ubisoft has opted to replace ‘experience points’ – very traditional video game terminology – with ‘followers.’ The more outlandish you are with your hacks and cyber intrusions, the more public attention you gain, and thus, the more followers you get on DedSec’s social media accounts. When you have a massive enough social following, you can influence just about anything in the world.
At its core, Watch Dogs 2 is really just about a small group of millennial hackers trying to leave their mark on the world by taking down the big corporate baddies. The walls of DedSec’s headquarters are splattered with neon graffiti, full of anti-government shtick, and drawings of middle fingers. You’ve got a guy named Wrench, who wears an emoji mask that changes ‘expressions’ to reflect his moods and feelings. You’ve got Marcus, who sits cross-legged outside heavily guarded facilities as he sends his quadcopter drone in to scout the area and hack laptops.
There’s a message in this game somewhere – it’s something about protecting your privacy from the government, making sure your free will is still your own. But the real joy of Watch Dogs 2 lies in driving across the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset in your obnoxious, douchey-looking muscle car that has DedSec graffiti sprayed all over it. The game is at its best when Marcus’ (or the player’s, rather) voyeuristic tendencies kick in, and you obsessively read the text messages of the city’s NPCs, and listen in on their private phone calls. There is real fun to be had by visiting Pier 39, taking a selfie with the sea lions, and reading enthusiastic photo comments left by your friends who are just as obsessive as you are when it comes to catching up with social media feeds.
Watch Dogs 2 has a charming villain, and its story missions are some of the most entertaining I’ve ever come across in an open world game. But the real draw comes from the game essentially letting us play as the hip, confident, and tech-savvy millennial kid we all like to think we are. Now, we just need Taylor Swift’s latest album playing over the radio waves, and the true millennial video game experience will be complete.