Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft's latest open world adventure, annoys the hell out of me. I can't stand the characters, the dialogue is cheesy and the hacker culture the game portrays is 20 years too late. I mean, hacking was cool in 1996 when Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie were trolling each other in high school. Now, 20 years later, I listen to DedSec characters Marcus, "Wrench", Sitara and Josh chat about hacking the planet in the basement of a board game shop in San Francisco and I can't help but think of that "How do you do, fellow kids?" meme. For me, Watch Dogs 2 is an eye-rolling hot take of a video game. It tries too hard to be cool.
But! I'm finding the fun, just not in ways I imagine most other players are. I've ditched the main missions because I couldn't care less about the story, and I've ditched my hacker headquarters because I can't stand the guy with the stupid LED eyes. I've gone rogue. I'm a lone wolf and I'm using my hacker skills to, well, mess about in the city.
And what a city! Ubisoft Montreal's San Francisco is a wonder, a huge area packed with incredible detail. I've been to San Fran a few times, once for a fortnight on honeymoon, and so it's been a thrill to drive around, sightseeing, rekindling warm memories with my wife.
I ignore the mini-map and its many icons. I don't care about picking up research points or hacking into cameras. I just want to cruise the streets of San Francisco, drive along the beach as the sun comes up, or speed toward downtown, towering skyscrapers lighting up the night sky. I've milled about Fisherman's Wharf, sat cross-legged on Pier 39 and even visited Alcatraz. I know it's all smoke and mirrors, but everything about Watch Dogs 2's San Francisco feels legit.
Then I accidentally run over someone and they're dead. Whoops! A bystander, so shocked by the hit and run, calls the police. This is where Watch Dogs 2 gets annoying again. The cops are on me and I must escape the pursuit. I understand why this anti-evil mechanic is in the game. Like in GTA, Watch Dogs 2 must have some kind of moral compass. It must know right from wrong, even if the player does not. But whenever I hear a cop scream into a megaphone: PULL OVER!, I sigh in frustration.
Watch Dogs 2 makes me long for a tourism mode. This would disable the police and missions and turn off all that crap on the map, and just let me do my own thing. If I accidentally clip someone on a bike and, whoops! They're dead! Well, never mind. Carry on regardless. They'll respawn in a few minutes.
While cruising the city I came up with a mini-game of my own. I love the Burnout games (come on EA, hurry along with another please). One of the best things about them is how you're encouraged to drive on the wrong side of the road, narrowly missing oncoming vehicles for extra boost and points.
Well, I've spent a couple of hours speeding across the Golden Gate Bridge on the wrong side of the road, trying to get as close to oncoming traffic as possible without crashing. It's tricky. In Watch Dogs 2, the faster the car, the harder it is to handle. I've challenged myself to get from one side of the bridge to the other without even scratching my ride. I haven't managed it yet. But I'll get there.
On foot, I've found myself digging into the NPCs. Marcus is able to use his mobile phone to instantly see personal information about people, such as their name, their interests, their job and, most interesting, their salary. Watch Dogs 2 tells me people in San Francisco are rich.
Take for example, Vyvyan Hart. He's a customer service rep who earns over $75,000 a year. Not bad. Vyvyan is seeking funding for a startup because of course he is.
Jui Kong arrived on a one way ticket, but has ended up an administrative manager earning just shy of $85,000. That's the American Dream, right there.
Here's a freelance writer who earns $57,000. How unrealistic!
I even bumped into some dude who, apparently, was attending a wedding, but he was actually smashing up a random car with a baseball bat. He's a previz artist on $65,000.
At first I baulked at the salaries of Watch Dogs 2's San Franciscans, but perhaps these wages are on the money. San Francisco has some of the highest rent prices in the world. And so, no, the NPCs milling about are not particularly rich. They're just getting by.
Some people, though, deserve to be hacked. After I upgraded Marcus' abilities so that he highlights rich NPCs, I became obsessed with wiring money from their account to his. I've been doing that a lot, especially to people like this guy, who fancies himself an amateur mixologist.
I feel a bit like a hipster Robin Hood, except I'm in San Francisco not Sherwood Forest, and there's no real way for me to give the money to the poor. There's a DLC idea for you, Ubisoft. You can have that one for free.
The last thing I'm going to do with the money I'm making in Watch Dogs 2 is head back to hacker headquarters to buy a 3D-printed gun (sigh). So, I've spent a lot of time shopping for cool new threads. Like everything else in San Francisco, clothes cost an arm and a leg. I'm not rich enough to bulk buy fancy jackets or designer glasses, but I've picked up the odd pair of trendy shorts and even splashed over $700 on a hat.
One of the most impressive things about Watch Dogs 2 is its fashion sense. My wife, who works in TopShop and TopMan, has praised the clothing on sale in the game. That's actually quite nice, she says. Much better than the clothes characters wear in the other games you play. Marcus may be an infuriating hipster hacker, but he sure looks good doing it.
Money, then. The way I'm playing Watch Dogs 2 (as some sort of designer shopaholic), I need a lot of it. Luckily, there's an incredibly productive way to earn money, and, coincidentally, it's also where I've had the most fun in the game: working as an Uber driver.
Now, it's not called Uber in the game, of course. But for all intent and purposes it's the same thing. You download the wonderfully-named Driver: San Francisco (underrated game) app and from there you can pick up clients. Working as an Uber driver is a breezy way to play the game, you earn a hell of a lot of cash (between $2800 and $9600 a ride) and some of the pickups are actually interesting. I've helped a robotics expert find his runaway robot (a Short Circuit reference), been ambushed by gang members, helped a reporter chase down a story and got involved with a daredevil and her growing YouTube channel. You end up picking up repeat customers and you soon realise what you're actually doing is taking part in multi-stage side stories. They're pretty cool!
There's even a progression mechanic fuelling your Uber work. As you complete jobs, you earn experience points and level up your Driver: SF rank, which appeals to the Destiny fanatic in me. To what end, I'm not sure. I don't even care. All I know is I'm having a lot of fun role-playing as an Uber driver in a virtual San Francisco, earning money to buy ever nicer clothes I wear while I admire pretend Coit Tower. Brill.
So, yeah. Ostensibly, I hate Watch Dogs 2. But really, I'm having a lot of fun with it. I'm just having a different kind of fun.