Why Chicago Is the Ultimate City for Watch Dogs

The easy answer is right there: Chicago is one of the most surveilled cities in the United States. But, believe it or not, that wasn’t the primary reason Chicago was picked as the setting for Watch Dogs. Instead, this quintessential American city was selected because of its distinct vibe and intriguing sense of mystery – a unique urban feeling that fit well with the themes being explored in the game, according to senior producer Dominic Guay.

Watch Dogs

“It’s a beautiful city,” Guay says, referring to the stunning architecture and the rich diversity of Chicago. “There’s a river flowing through downtown. It’s also a city that’s been involved in a lot of crises. There’s a history of crime and corruption. There was the Great Fire and the city was basically rebuilt on top of itself.”

For Kevin Shortt, lead story designer, Chicago’s ability to survive and thrive in the face of adversity was key. “We love Chicago because it’s got such great history,” Shortt says. “They had the Great Fire. They had the ganglands crimes and troubles of prohibition. It always undergoes these issues and conflicts and it always steps up.” That urban vibrancy extends to the residents themselves, according to Shortt. “The people there have got a unique vibe and energy about them,” he says.

Watch Dogs

But Chicago isn’t just a city of history. It’s a city that always looks forward. “It’s got a big history of technology,” says animation director Colin Graham. “They had the World Fair there. They reversed the flow of the river so they wouldn’t have to drink their own sewage. I mean that’s not an un-technical feat!” And, of course, it’s a hyper-connected city. “You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but there’re a lot of gameplay opportunities with the way the infrastructure is very visible from the surface,” Graham says. “When we were looking at cities, we could easily see hackable gameplay elements on buildings that would fit our game. It really works well.”

Land, Water, Air

Which leads us to the big question: What does Chicago offer in terms of Watch Dogs’ gameplay? Aside from all the hacking opportunities, that is…

“It’s a great city for a game,” Shortt says. “You’ve got the fantastic bridges and roads. You’ve got the Millennium Park. There are all sorts of areas you can roam around that make for great gameplay.”

Watch Dogs

Chicago is also one of the most vertical cities in America, which plays a prominent role in the gameplay. “You can’t fly planes or anything like that,” Guay smiles. “That’s not really relevant to what we’re trying to do with Watch Dogs.” That said, the team was definitely inspired by Assassin’s Creed when it came to vertical gameplay. “If the player sees that he can climb somewhere, we want him to be able to do that,” Guay says. “He can go pretty high if he wants. As long as the player can figure out how to go higher, the technology can support that.”

“You saw me go on top of the roof to hack into that building,” Graham says, referring to a recent preview showing. “There’s always a vertical component like that. You can kind of do parkour and free-run, and you can get on top of some of the roofs. You’re not going to be doing rooftop chases, but you can hack the L train and ride it around. You can train surf!”

Verticality isn’t just about reaching for the sky, though. Chicago is also a very dense city, with vast undercity. “Chicago was built on top of itself and there’s actually this second layer to the city where all the trucks are going by and distributing stuff, and the shops are being filled from the lower side,” Guay says. “There is actually commerce, like bars, that you can access from the undercity. That’s something we’re playing on as well – going from the city above to the city below.”

Watch Dogs

Chicago is also famous for its river that bisects the city. Crossing the river are plenty of hackable bridges, and along the river is another peek at the vast undercity. The river is also navigable – but that’s not the only body of water that comes into play in Watch Dogs. “You can access the river and the [Lake Michigan] lakefront, and we have a whole system of boats that works with the dynamic simulation for the water and the wind,” Graham says. “It’s actually quite dramatic on the water when it rains at night.”

Diversity and Disparity

Chicago is also a city of contrast. The wealthiest areas stand in stark contrast to the bordering blue-collar working-class neighborhoods, with the poorest areas providing an even greater contrast. “You have those neighborhoods that inspired the Wards, which are very poor and they have about 30 times the crime rate of the richest neighborhoods,” Guay says. “Those extremes are very interesting and we want to play off that. We want to distinguish those areas both visually and with the people on the streets. Once you start profiling people you see their income levels are quite different and their occupations are very different. So it’s more than just the graphics. The information flow in those areas is going to be very different.”

Watch Dogs

That mix of tough inner city toughness and uptown refinement is partly what defines Watch Dogs’ Aiden Pearce as well. “This is a raw game,” Graham says. “It can be brutal and it can be intelligent. For Aiden it’s always the balance between being smart and being violent. Stupid people resort to violence because it’s all they really understand. Smart people realize they can think their way through a situation. Really smart people who are willing to cross that line understand it’s a balance between violence and intelligence, and sometimes in a desperate situation you have to be extremely violent to get what you need. That’s the kind of guy Aiden is. He gets results. He’s a survivor and he has a mission and a lot of good reasons to behave the way he does. It’s a pretty tough story, actually.”

Watch Dogs

Of course, we can’t forget that Chicago is also one of the most surveilled cities in the States. “There are over ten thousand cameras, all networked together, managed from a central point, and they can use those cameras to track people around the city,” Guay says. “They can read what’s on a piece of paper just by zooming in. So that’s an interesting context to inspire us in Watch Dogs.” But that’s not all that Chicago has to offer. It’s a unique but profoundly American city, with bountiful gameplay potential, all of which will be tapped to bring Watch Dogs to life.

Watch Dogs


Release date — May 27, 2014
Developer — Ubisoft Montreal
Players will assume the role of Aiden Pearce, a new type of vigilante who, with the help of his smartphone, will use his ability to hack into Chicago’s central operating system (ctOS) and control almost every element of the city. Aiden will be able to tap into the city’s omnipresent security cameras, download personal information to locate a target, control systems such as traffic lights or public transportation to stop a chase, and more. The city of Chicago is now the ultimate weapon.

ESRB Rating: MATURE with Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
The Author

Gary Steinman has won numerous editorial awards, but you probably don’t care about that. He also ran multiple industry leading publications and websites including PlayStation: The Official Magazine, GamesRadar.com, PC Gamer and Newtype USA – but that’s all in the past. The real truth about Gary? He loves cats, he takes too many selfies on Facebook (according to one co-worker, at least), and he occasionally crochets. And now he’s helping share stories about Ubisoft’s amazing games and their incredible creators in his role overseeing the UbiBlog and other select Ubisoft social channels. Follow him on Twitter: @GarySteinman

sinister gates
sinister gates 5pts

people who back out of ctos mobile challenges mid to end way should really throw thier smartphones or tablets in the trash and leave!!

Stan 5pts

I wonder if this game will include the suburbs of Chicago like Joliet, Naperville, and Aurora?

max 5pts


Purpose 5pts

I know why Chicago was chosen! Because LA and NY were taken by rockstar and Detroit already been used in DXHR.

Aiden 5pts

I just wanna see if my moms jewelry store is in the game since she works close to Lake Michigan, it would be so awesome to rob her store virtually lol.

Kamil 5pts

I just really hope they have the North West side (Ohare) - if not then just Wrigley. I hope this game sparks other studios to make games in Chicago. L.A. Noire set in Chicago with Capone.

CrzySheeit 5pts

I'm curious as to what neighborhoods will be accessible in the game map. The Loop is obviously one of them. Can we safely assume we can roam around River North since we're going over the bridge? South Loop? West Town? Gold Cost? Viag Tri?

Parapraxis 5pts

Hi Gary, some sites are putting out information that I am not sure is correct.


Is the Xbox One version going to be more dynamic than the PS4 version?

As far as I can tell, Dominic was using it as an example of the new consoles compared to current gen (PS3/360).

Thanks, looking forward to playing this game, it looks fantastic.

Rob 5pts

I wonder how the day/night cycle will be.

Robby 5pts

This game looks and sounds amazing! Cannot wait to play it, With the random "Crime Generator" and seamless multiplayer that adds up to endless playability.

Nathan 5pts

As a Chicagoan, I'm stoked to see my home replicated so well. It's fascinating! Though the bridges aren't "hackable" in real-life. Raising and lowering them is a very manual process. There's no remote operation.

Captainassdildo 5pts

I think if I bought this game I would just drive around and try to kill pedestrians

cyruz 5pts

I thought they were going for density (regarding possible activities) instead of size. That's what I remember from the interviews.

Jeremie 5pts

I have one question. Can I enter Wrigley Field and take batting practice?

Player1 5pts

For me the size of the city does not matter but rather the architecture and content within the city. I would love to explore a city with a large diversity of interiors and interactions with each one, but I do know that would propel costs, so while i'm not expecting, I am hopeful for a vibrant and unique experience.

DM 5pts

I was wondering how big Watch Dogs' version of Chicago will be? GTA V is supposed to be as big as GTA IV, GTA San Andreas and Red Dead Redemption combined! It's going to be a great year for open world game fans!

Keishawn 5pts

I'm right with you. I hope that the game is detailed enough so that i can easily reconize all the places I've been from the city within

Brandon Biggerstaff
Brandon Biggerstaff 5pts

I would probably mess around a lot after I beat the storyline, cuz I want to keep the storyline part of the game as normal as possible, and then do all the crazy shenanigans like GTA V or Red Dead or anything else for that matter

Justin 5pts

What I hope is to see the ivy wall and see the players and maybe the locker room. But not to see there glory if you know what I mean.

Arijit 5pts

I would like to ask how big will the city of Chicago going to be?

And I would like to ask whether the O'Hare International Airport is included even though we cannot fly planes?

Will we have the liberty to do mission when we want to( like in Assassin's Creed and Grand Theft Auto Games)?