I enjoyed Watch Dogs 2, but one of the things about it that rubbed me up the wrong way was how the game's plucky hacker crew could use deadly weapons to murder a bucketload of people.
For a game with such a silly tone, it always felt off to me that I could make DedSec's likeable Marcus Holloway shoot to kill. Killing cops and pedestrians and even the "bad guys" was, for me, at odds with the philosophy of the underground hacker group and its mission - to gain more followers on social media by humiliating corrupt companies and the morally bankrupt establishment.
Watch Dogs 2 had just two non-lethal weapons, the 2EZ Stun Gun and the Thunderball. Neither was particularly useful out in the field. So, in a bid to play Watch Dogs 2 the way I felt it should be played, I'd focus on completing missions through the use of the drone, camera hacking and the odd triggered stun explosion. Still, I always felt that Watch Dogs 2 could have done with a few more non-lethal weapons, because sometimes even the best laid plans go pear-shaped. Thankfully, that's what the game is getting with the latest DLC.
I had a chance to play around with Watch Dogs 2's new non-lethal weapons during a recent visit to Ubisoft's Guildford office, and can happily report that they're all good fun to mess about with and a great fit tone wise. In fact one in particular could spark a competitive meta game all of its own.
It's worth noting how the non-lethal weapons are dished out to players. The paintball rifle - my favourite - is a part of the free update pushed out to all Watch Dogs 2 players on 17th April. The other two new non-lethal weapons, the air shotgun and the taser sniper rifle, are locked behind the premium DLC No Compromise, which comes out 18th April on PlayStation 4 and on other platforms a month later.
The paintball gun is a lot of fun to use. If you're anything like me, the first thing you'll do with it is spray a wall. And... yes... draw a penis. Well why not? A rainbow-coloured penis on a wall in San Francisco. Seems fine to me.
That's a fun use for the thing in single-player, but it's in multiplayer that the paintball gun comes into its own. It's the perfect weapon for trolls. It doesn't do a lot of damage, which makes sense, but it does splat colourful blobs onto the camera of the player you're shooting at, which obscures their vision. When you're on the receiving end of paintball gun fire, it's incredibly annoying. When you're spraying someone with it, it's a laugh. This kind of trolling is exactly what I want from Watch Dogs 2 multiplayer. This is DedSec, after all.
I used the paintball rifle quite a lot while I played the new 2v2 multiplayer mode, called Showdown (also a part of the free update after a recent DLC plan re-jig). In fact most of the players I played with and against used it, which made for pretty hilariously ridiculous paintball carnage.
The thing is, I reckon the novelty of using the paintball rifle in Showdown, which is designed to offer experienced players an endgame challenge, will wear off pretty quickly as hardcore Watch Dogs 2 multiplayer fans revert back to the best few weapons in the game. You could say, then, that's it's useless for PvP, but then you'd be a heartless monster who doesn't like fun.
What I would have loved to have seen is a Showdown mode that forces players to use the non-lethal weapons, but that isn't possible given two of the new ones are locked behind No Compromise. Perhaps players will settle upon some kind of pre-game emote that signals a desire to play with paintball rifles only - and then switch to weapons that fire actual bullets on the sly, because this is Watch Dogs 2, of course.
Elsewhere, the air shotgun is worth a... shot. This weapon seems designed to push Watch Dogs 2's impressive physics system more than anything else. You can use it to blast NPCs all over the place, which is always fun, and even move cars. I can see a situation where you use the air shotgun almost exclusively in creative ways to complete missions, blasting objects into other objects to cause chaos. In competitive multiplayer it's useful in that you can blast your opponent to the floor. And yes, it's annoying to be on the receiving end of the thing.
And finally the taser sniper rifle. I found this to be the least useful and interesting of the new non-lethal weapons in Showdown (it's proper weak, too. You usually need to land a couple of hits before the enemy player drops). But I can see it being pretty useful in single-player, allowing for new ways to complete missions from a safe distance.
All in all, new non-lethal weapons in Watch Dogs 2 is very much a good thing. Are they enough to entice players back into the game? For a day or two, perhaps. It's Showdown that Ubisoft hopes will keep people logging into Ubisoft's virtual Bay Area day after day. Here's how it works.
Showdown is 2v2 competitive multiplayer that comes in three modes spread over 15 maps. Doomload is a King of the Hill-style match. Get close to the objective and you'll start downloading it. If an enemy is near the download is interrupted. If you're with a friend the download speed is faster. If there's only one enemy nearby and there are two of you on the hill, your team downloads it. So, it's more about being near the objective than it is trying to kill enemy players. It's pretty standard stuff and I had an okay time with it.
Erase/Protect the Servers is a twist on domination. There are three servers to attack or defend. As the servers are depleted it gets harder for the attackers and easier for the defenders because there are fewer points to defend. Again, pretty standard stuff.
The best Showdown mode, though, is Steal the HDD, which is a kind of race to a hard-drive that plays out over a bigger area. Vehicles are involved, so the potential for chaos is much greater. I wasn't feeling this mode too much until a dramatic conclusion to one game: I jumped in the back of a pickup truck that my teammate drove. The hard-drive was on top of a building, and our opponents were on their way to steal it and win the match. My teammate crashed the truck into the side of the building, flinging me forward and up onto the roof. I stole the hard-drive right from under the enemy team's nose. Brilliant!
Elsewhere, the free update makes Watch Dogs 2's throwaway racing online enabled. So you can race drones, motocross bikes and ekarts against other players for placement on a leaderboard. I'm not too fussed by this.
Some of the new outfits locked behind No Compromise are interesting though, and let you do a few new things with the game. There are new police, fireman and paramedic themed clothing sets to wear, and each grants a new ability via the emote wheel.
Unfortunately you can't arrest people as a policeman, but you can issue a warning to pedestrians. I spent quite a bit of time watching Watch Dogs 2's AI get into rapidly escalating scraps. Now you can put your foot down like the killjoy you are.
The paramedic can wake people up who are on unconscious. If you profile a person and perform the clap emote, it'll wake them up and they'll get up. That's how paramedics work in the real world, right? Clapping heals.
And the fireman riffs on the stereotypical attractive fireman, so sometimes people will swoon when you do a sexy dance at them. This is fine. This is San Francisco.
Each outfit has an associated vehicle that carries a DedSec theme (the ambulance has skulls on it, for example) and special sirens. These vehicles work the same as their standard counterparts - they just look and sound different.
For many, the real reason to return to Watch Dogs 2 is single-player story stuff. For whatever reason, it looks like the No Compromise DLC marks the final story DLC for the game, which is sure to disappoint fans. It doesn't feel like a particularly memorable send-off, either, although it is fun in a Watch Dogs 2 kind of way.
Moscow Gambit is a new DedSec operation you get from the in-game phone app. It lasts about an hour, and I got to play the first 20 minutes. You're tasked with humiliating a douchebag porn baron by spanking him and filming it. But to get to that point you have to work your way into his office - via a sex alien robot thing with tentacles. Marcus calls it Puppy. Yes, it sounds out there, but it's very Watch Dogs 2, and I chuckled throughout.
To me, this month's DLC drop and the No Compromise DLC feel like a precursor to the free update planned for June. This adds support for a four-player group to explore the city and play activities together (Watch Dogs 2 could have done with this feature at launch). Covering virtual San Franciso with paintball penises sounds like a right laugh, and even having played the April update and the No Compromise DLC, it's what I'm most looking forward to from Watch Dogs 2 right now.