A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Watch Dogs 2 is an open-world hacker adventure with the potential for extreme violence. Players can brutally kill criminals, private security guards, police officers, and innocent civilians using a broad range of weapons or by running over them with cars. But players can also elect never to shoot a gun and to engage in activities no more forceful than stunning enemies to sneak past them. Players will encounter plenty of strong language, male and female nudity (though no sex), and drug and alcohol use. The adult-oriented narrative also touches on difficult social issues including racism, transgenderism, and systemic repression.
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What's it about?
Players become San Franciscan hacker Marcus Holloway in WATCH DOGS 2, a near-future open-world adventure that imagines the Bay Area has come under the control of an all-encompassing central operating system called ctOS 2.0. This high-tech infrastructure is connected to everything from cameras to traffic lights and collects personal data on citizens that nefarious companies purchase and use for personal gain, doing things like rigging elections and gaming the insurance industry. Disillusioned (Marcus was once racially profiled by the system), he hooks up with a group of "hacktivists" known as DedSec, and together they work to expose the misdeeds of some of San Francisco's biggest tech firms. Most of their missions involve infiltrating secure facilities, which can be done violently -- using guns and explosives -- or stealthily, by employing drones and a range of powerful hacker abilities to distract guards and gain access to locked rooms. It's up to the player to choose how to play and whether to engage in combat or remain peaceful; the entire game can be completed without ever aiming or shooting a gun. Beyond the main missions, players can freely explore San Francisco and the surrounding area, engaging in a wide range of side activities that include dirt bike races, driving for an Uber-like taxi service, and spraying DedSec graffiti on billboards.
Is it any good?
It's refreshing to not be forced into acts of violence in an M-rated open-world action game. Unlike most adult-oriented open-world adventures, which tend to turn characters who are normal and likable in story sequences into rampaging killers once they hit the streets to take on missions, Watch Dogs 2 gives players freedom of choice to maintain a character who acts more or less as one would hope someone in his position would. Or not. It's admittedly a lot easier to just shoot your way through earlier missions rather than try to be stealthy. But once players unlock some of Marcus' more powerful hacker abilities -- like taking remote control of pursuing vehicles, using aerial- and ground-based drones to surveil secured areas, or even hacking people's ctOS profiles to make it seem as though they're wanted by the police, creating a distraction -- it becomes a lot more enjoyable to try to complete missions without causing a ruckus.
The biggest obstacle to enjoying Watch Dogs 2 is simply having the patience to keep playing until it gets really fun. The DedSec hackers are a funny and likable bunch, but the intrigue they're embroiled in takes a good five or six hours to really pick up. And while Marcus can hack phones and cameras right from the start, you'll need to wait for some time before he can begin doing some of the cool hacker stuff mentioned above. This makes early missions a bit uncreative and perhaps harder than they need to be if you try to play them without killing anyone. Stick with it, though, and Watch Dogs 2 eventually proves itself one of the more innovative and memorable open-world action games to come along in years.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in media. Watch Dogs 2 provides options for players to be as violent or as nonviolent as they like while carrying out most missions; did you feel as though you were better rewarded or more satisfied if you played one way or the other?
Talk about how minorities are represented in games. Why do you think so few big-budget games feature people of color as protagonists? Is Watch Dogs 2's hero defined more by the color of his skin or his actions?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: UbiSoft
- Release date: November 15, 2016
- Genre: Third-Person Shooter
- Topics: Adventures, Misfits and Underdogs
- ESRB rating: M for Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs
- Last updated: February 11, 2021
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.