As a proof concept for a cyber-drama undertake Assassin’s Creed, filled with all-encompassing hacking abilities, the initial Watch Dogs really worked. Where it faltered was … just about everywhere else. The principle complaint being that its protagonist, Aiden Pearce, was a bland and unlikeable guy, someone that you never sympathised with despite his dark, guilt-ridden Max Payne-esque past. Indirectly in charge of the death of his niece and the comatose state of his sister, Aiden’s resolution was to venture out for revenge. A whole lot of folks had trouble getting up to speed with that.

In Watch Dogs 2, developer Ubisoft Montreal not merely takes the foundations of the initial to create a good, fun game around its core ideas, in addition, it births an excellent lead character, Marcus Holloway. He’s the most likeable Ubisoft lead since Ezio Auditore of Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations. This sequel also leaves the drab, rain-slicked streets of grey Chicago behind. In its place, we get yourself a glorious rendition of SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA and the encompassing Bay Area; the overpriced suburbs of Palo Alto and the warm city offshoots of Oakland – it’s all beautifully replicated in another of Ubisoft’s most colourful and vibrant open worlds.

The game’s greatest strength, however, is its writing. Ubisoft games have often lacked good scripts, regularly leading to cringe-inducing one-liners, but Watch Dogs 2 frequently offers occasions of heartwarming charm and sharp comedic satire. As the original didn’t have a funny bone in its tech-savvy body, its sequel works as a humorously playful adventure, thanks partly to Marcus’ cheeky cockiness, plus the varied personalities of his hacker mates, the group collectively referred to as DedSec. The organisation recruits our hero after he sneaks in to the offices of tech surveillance company, Blume, to erase his personal data. He discovers that the naughty corp is harvesting information from everyone in the town, which DedSec (think Anonymous but with sex appeal) naturally dislikes. The hacktivist group then commences targeting San Francisco’s most significant corporations for all types of cyber attacks and corporate espionage.

The game includes a beautifully rendered approximation of SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA, including tourist traps such as for example Fisherman’s Wharf. Photograph: Ubisoft
From there you’ll remove a couple of millionaires and mega-companies, almost all of evidently have a basis the truth is. There’s a Martin Shkreli-type pharma bad boy who DedSec rips off for millions, sending the amount of money to a medical research company. There’s an occult group referred to as New Dawn, a mysterious organisation that manipulates persons and takes their money, in a stark allegory to the Church of Scientology. You’ll expose a paedophile selling indecent images, and teach the odd petty thief a lesson or two. There’s a social media network called !NViTE and a Google allegory called Nudle – among the game’s missions sees you hijacking the Nudle Bus and carting most of its pretentious employees to work before you knuckle right down to stealing stuff. On top of that, the game’s primary antagonist is a bearded, top-knot-wearing idiot in a tracksuit who you bump into while he’s night jogging along the water’s edge, then catch him doing sun salutations in an area alone.

In Watch Dogs’ previous form, these commentaries would’ve been on the nose – its bland script not capable of making such inclusions feel just like any other thing more than checklist nods to modern culture. But Watch Dogs 2’s irreverence makes they and institutions fit well and meaningfully with the action. And with DedSec’s underground HQ located underneath a comic book store, filled with board games and 8-foot statues of fantasy characters, Watch Dogs 2’s dedication to geek culture is both intrinsic to its DNA and a self-aware joke. There’s a good whole mission where you break right into Ubisoft headquarters to leak a trailer of new game it’s focusing on. So meta.

WatchDogs 2’s Dedsec hacker group has an interesting selection of characters, bringing humanity to the action structure. Photograph: Ubisoft
Meanwhile, DedSec itself comprises of characters so whacky that they might be detestable if the script didn’t hold it together so well. There’s Sitara, the unnamed leader of the group, who forms the clan’s visual identity, while also being the most strong-willed. Then there’s Wrench, the group’s mechanic, who always wears an emoticon mask and studded leather jacket. Meanwhile Josh – hacker name: Hawt Sauce – is a super-smart autistic guy who creates a number of the game’s most charming moments, together with its funniest. These characters create a casino game that’s filled up with chatter. Even though you’re from a mission you’re in almost regular contact with each other, and it creates for a lively experience.

The game’s best missions are its most open, making use of your hacking talents – environmental manipulation being the key one – plus your two most readily useful tools; an RC hopper car that’s with the capacity of remote hacking and sneaking through vents, and a quadcopter drone, useful for scouting environments from above. Missions don’t feel as open-ended as Hitman, for instance. Neither do they have that game’s longevity – some may take a short while once you’re up to date together with your various technological tools – but they’re more dynamic than anything in previous Ubisoft games.

You’re also always available to switch it up and go in guns blazing, killing everyone you see so that you can break right into a secure facility or celeb home. However, this feels totally at odds with the game’s tone. It’s here that Watch Dogs 2 falters; in its early hours, stealth is completely the hardest way to play, thanks mostly to the game’s unpredictable AI, which flits between unfairly astute and completely stupid. You’re not given the option to cover up bodies that you incapacitate, this means you’re more often than not discovered, sending the AI right into a more alert state. It’s frustrating, and it signifies that the guns more often than not eventually turn out. When Marcus is such a reasoned, morally stable guy – a guy who never even acknowledges the death he can leave in his wake in post-mission cutscenes – it’s jarring.

This disconnect is prevalent in other areas of the game’s world. Experimenting with your hacking skills and upgrading them to access a lot more impressive powers – including the capability to force a complete shutdown of a facility’s security, or sending a whole block of traffic into disarray – is super fun, however the game’s civilian AI is always a lttle bit sporadic. They’ll call the cops you for just one crime, but completely ignore another. It’s also frustrating that, before you earn the opportunity to hack car alarms, nearly every vehicle you hijack or steal results in the cops being called. Grand Theft Auto, in comparison, has always known accurately how much freedom to provide the player before turning on heat.

Lead protagonist Marcus is such a witty, likeable character it usually is alienating when the overall game forces him into occasions of violence. Photograph: Ubisoft
Still, hacking right into a pursuer’s car while you’re racing along the freeway is excellent, forcing them to carefully turn sharply into oncoming traffic or making them brake hard so their squad mates rear-end them. It creates the all-too-frequent chases bearable, and it’s also at least a positive that the driving controls have already been improved because the three-legged-cow model, that your original game relied on.

The last little bit of the puzzle – multiplayer – is currently, finally working. Having been switched off at launch as a result of the major technical problems it had been leading to to all of those other game, Ubisoft has reactivated the choice. Overall, it works effectively, allowing seamless transition between your single-player campaign world and an online play space, wherein you will need to hack other players without having to be noticed, pursue other participants while a police chase ensues, and join PVP events that appear around San Francisco.

Throughout our experimentation on PS4, the mode continues to be triggering some noticeable slowdown in framerate, which can be an eye sore. It’s especially problematic when you’re wanting to manoeuvre through oncoming traffic while escaping another player (who has were able to spot you in a crowd as you hack him from across a suburban street).

However, generally, multiplayer lives up to the promise of an interconnected world; the one which ties in to the campaign’s cybersecurity obsession. Weirdly, one of the most enjoyable occasions will be the silly deaths as a result of other players – sometimes you might spend a tense minute silently trying to hack someone, limited to them to just whack you over the top with the ball-on-a-chain that Marcus uses as his go-to melee weapon. The resulting animation is similar to the ridiculous ragdoll effects from Grand Theft Auto V.

As in, say, Uncharted – the multiplayer can be an inessential extra instead of a simple element. Watch Dogs 2 offers its best occasions in single-player when you’re just wandering around the location manipulating traffic lights, blowing up junction boxes or stealing money from random passersby. You can hack into phones and see funny or inappropriate texts can be found in from complete strangers. Or simply muck around together with your remote-control toys together with your charming hacker mates.

It’s here that Ubisoft has made a clear jump from the initial Watch Dogs, siphoning off the dull protagonist, grey city and questionable moral compass that managed to get a significant dour experience. That’s not saying Watch Dogs 2 is free from eyebrow-raising moments. Some missions, such as for example when you hack into Sitara’s niece’s webcam stream to instruct her a lesson, seem to be misjudged. However, the detail in Watch Dogs 2’s world, the color in its characters and the sheer fun {you cou