Watch Dogs 2 represents a shift in tone for Ubisoft’s open-world tech-thriller series. It’s a new city - the San Francisco Bay area - and a fresh protagonist, Marcus Holloway, who’s a hacker with a wider range of... pretty much everything when compared to Watch Dogs’ Aiden Pearce. He has a more varied music taste, his pockets hold more gadgets, exhibits a wider range of emotions, and he even has the imagination to buy more than one style of jacket.
See if you can get through our list of the best FPS games without murdering anyone.
“For us, Aiden was a man who had suffered a loss, suffered many losses and it at some point traumatised him,” Watch Dogs 2 producer Dominic Guay tells me during a preview event. “Marcus is an optimistic man. He needs people. He sees good things in people, he’s young, he’s funny, he’s charming. That sense of humour kind of comes from the location also.
“We need to balance player agency with the coherence of the narrative. For us, our statement on this is: Marcus has a personality and there are certain things he would and wouldn’t do, so if we’re going to force some things they’re going to be always in character. So there are no cinematics or big moments in the game where Marcus shoots someone or kills someone, because that wouldn’t be Marcus.”
Unlike Aiden, Marcus doesn’t seem like the kind of dude who would just grab a woman by the throat mid-conversation, so it makes sense for his combat style to reflect that. That’s why Marcus has a range of non-lethal options. In fact, the opening mission sees you armed only with a taser and his melee weapon - some kind of scary yo-yo that’s great for battering folk in the face.
With that in mind, I decided to play through the preview build without doing a murder. Here is my story…
The game begins with Marcus infiltrating CTOS, a security company that keeps tabs on people: their misdemeanours, internet activity and more all stored on a cluster of servers. Marcus wants to wipe the data they have on him, so he needs to slip through a well-secured, high-tech fortress. Standing on a ledge overlooking the car park, I spot a security guard, so I drop down and use a white company van for cover, drawing him close and performing a corner takedown, strangling him until he’s limp. Jesus, Marcus, I thought you were nice.
Inside, I’m making my way up to the top level of the server rooms and it’s filled with guards. I’m spotted strangling one of them, so I pull out my taser and drop him. It’s too late, as the alarm has been raised and they’re all coming for me. Luckily I manage to escape in the confusion, making my way to the top floor. The sentries are all scanning a few floors down, so I do what I came here to do.
Getting out is a bit messy, but I make it to the exit and nobody died, hopefully. There’s definitely some Batman-style denial as you throttle another security guard with your chain-link murder yo-yo, but at least Marcus doesn’t have arm blades, bat-shaped throwing knives and, you know, an actual tank.
The next day, Marcus wakes up in his pants at a random woman’s house, so I steal a car and head for a clothes store for bikers. I leave the store dressed like something out of Sons of Anarchy and I steal a bike. Why wouldn’t I? Marcus might not kill, but he’s not above robbing people, transferring money from their banks as he passes in the street. That guy totally deserved it though, as my profiler tells me he… volunteers at an animal shelter. Oh well.
There’s also the one woman who attacks me as I’m walking through the park. I don’t even feel bad tasering her, to be honest. It was accidentally driving over her head afterwards that made me a little sad.
That’s the thing about playing Watch Dogs 2 non-violently: accidents happen. Like that time I set a security guard’s grenade off in his pocket, or the other time when I exploded a generator surrounded by gang members, or that other time when I accidentally tipped a gang off about an ‘informant’, but the guy’s only mistake was calling me an asshole when I bumped into him on the street. All genuine mistakes.
Watch Dogs 2 allows you to 3D print weapons, but it feels like the game really wants you to play non-lethally. Whether you’re jumping between security cameras and manipulating a building’s electronics to draw people away, or putting them down with a shock, most of the game’s abilities result in your enemies unconscious on the floor with little ‘z’s floating from their sleeping bonce.
Obviously there’s a trade-off. If you knock enemies out with electronics, they can be woken up, but if you kill them they can’t. Melee attacks also make enemies act as if they’re dead, but when I asked one of the developers they assured me they were just sleeping. So melee and murder are your safest bets, but the latter is loud and that means you’ll end up in a gunfight. If you end up in a gunfight, you’ll probably die. Watch Dogs 2 is very unforgiving when it comes to open-combat - especially if you’re trying to fight back with a taser.
There are plenty of ways to circumvent combat though. You can use your jumper - a tiny RC gadget that can hack electronics and disrupt enemies with high-pitched insults - or a drone to plan your moves. Hacking is also expanded, so you can create proximity triggers on electronics, placing traps for your enemies. Perhaps you’ll bypass a bunch of security by hacking a maintenance elevator and driving it up to a wall, elevating yourself straight to the second floor.
Playing non-lethally feels like the right way to play Watch Dogs 2, then, thanks to a general shift in tone and expansion of the protagonist’s abilities. And, crucially, it still feels satisfying to Batman your way through a mission. Just try not to wallow on the collateral damage too much. Batman doesn’t.