Login | Signup

Watch Dogs Would Have Been Better In London, Not Chicago

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Features
Tags:
Ubisoft, Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs Would Have Been Better In London, Not Chicago

I dearly wish that Ubisoft had set Watch Dogs in London.

My blatant British patriotism notwithstanding, the decision to locate Watch Dogs' sandbox shenanigans in Chicago irked me when I first heard about it in 2012, and my time with the finished product has made my mind firmly up. Though The Windy City provides a fair few highlights and a few interesting opportunities, I can't help but feel that a different setting -- London or any number of European cities -- might have made a lot more sense on a thematic and gameplay level.

Though I'm seriously enjoying Watch Dogs in preparation for our full review (Pro Tip: don't play it like GTA, play it like Swordfish by way of Blues Brothers), a change in locale might have made for a better game... or at least a superior sequel. Allow me to explain.

Watch Dogs Would Have Been Better In London, Not Chicago

Let's start slow with a facile point: surveillance. The UK has more CCTV cameras per head than almost any other society, most of which are centred around London's streets and tube network that bristles with over a million electronic eyes. Every step you take is monitored, practically every corner is covered, yet the police continually comes under fire for not being able to use the technology effectively. As a commentary on runaway surveillance culture, Watch Dogs would have been a great fit for the city, not least due to the expanded gameplay opportunities so many cameras would afford Aiden on a minute-by-minute basis.

We also need to talk personality. I've never been to Chicago (unless you count watching Blues Brothers several dozen times) and I'm sure that it's a lovely place to visit, but Watch Dogs' version of it lacks the exciting architecture that draws us to so many sandbox games. It's pretty yet nondescript. The L-Train is iconic, but it's no St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Shard or Gherkin. London's streets are a wonderful jumble of ancient, Elizabethan, Victorian, 60s and hyper-modern buildings, all of which would have provided any number of memorable landmarks and interesting things to look at.

Watch Dogs Would Have Been Better In London, Not Chicago

Okay, yes, I freely admit that I'm romanticizing like a mad rose-tinted fool! Like any city, London has more than its fair share of drab, depressing and seamy streets - not to mention the concrete monstrosities from the fifties and sixties. But we're talking about videogames here. Heightening reality is what they do.

Speaking of reality, I must also concede that driving would be an utter nightmare. Chicago's wide multi-levelled roads are a far cry from London's grim warren of insane one-way systems, Boris Bikes and traffic jams. I also wouldn't be able to re-enact my favourite car chases from Blues Brothers... okay, so at the very least The Windy City pulls it back there. I hate Illinois Nazis.

Watch Dogs Would Have Been Better In London, Not Chicago

You can pretty much recreate this scene in its entirety... all the time. Score one for Chicago!

But all that was just the warmup before the biggest point in London's favour: gun control.

For the benefit of overseas readers, the UK enforces incredibly strict restrictions on firearms. It's a criminal offence for private citizens to own a gun with very rare and specific exceptions, meaning that firearms are usually only found in the hands of armed police (even then, only specific branches such as SCO19 and the Diplomatic Protection Group) or hardened criminals. And shotgun-toting farmers, but that's besides the point. As such, London might be a fairly hopeless setting for a conventional shooter, but it's a fantastic place to set a game about hacking.

A game, dare I say, like Watch Dogs - which offers an awesome range of hacking abilities (well, 'holding X abilities,' same difference). A limited supply of reliable guns and ammunition would have forced us to use hacking, stealth and distraction even more creatively to complete our objectives, something Watch Dogs already does well. Meanwhile getting hold of rare black market, reactivated or even military firearms would have provided exciting new missions in their own right, and given us optional quests that make sense in canon. Not just driving a car from A to B in a ridiculous time limit for... reasons.

Watch Dogs Would Have Been Better In London, Not Chicago

I reckon he'd probably be up for a cameo.

But guns are so common in Chicago that you'll end up with a grenade launcher in less than an hour. Sure, you can leap between cameras like a digital ghost, distract guards or detonate their explosives and sneak past them ninja-style... but when you've got a grenade launcher, it's easier to just launch a grenade. Or use one of the several dozen guns you can freely pick up or buy at a moment's notice. Rather than being a powerful yet deadly game-changer, guns are just far too common for Watch Dogs' own good - and arguably Ubisoft Montreal gave us too much choice rather than letting an imaginative setting do the hard work for them.

At the risk of ruining a perfectly good opinion piece with real journalism -- shock horror! -- I actually posed this question to Watch Dogs designer Danny Belanger last year. Why not London or any city with gun control?

"The real reason is because [guns] exist in the world, you know, the world we live in today", he replied. "In the US, it's a reality. They're weapons, they're just tools that players can use to solve problems. We thought about that, to be honest, [having] no guns. But when cops arrive and they drop a weapon when you take them down, some players will say “I want to pick up the gun.” It feels wrong for us to not allow something like that to happen; it's just a natural thing.

That being said, in action-adventure games, shooting is a fun part of it; a good part of it. So we didn't want to lose that aspect. It just made a lot more sense to have it."

Watch Dogs Would Have Been Better In London, Not Chicago

And yet the finished product is actually worse off for how prolific they are. It doesn't make sense given that "hacking is our weapon" -- and even though I'm having a lot of fun blasting away my foes, every shot I fire robs Watch Dogs of just a little more of its unique personality and beckons more GTA comparisons. Roll on Watch Dogs 2: Crewkerne Rising.

Oh, hang on, what about Tokyo? That crazy city is on the cutting edge of technology, has a totally wild personality and packs even more authoritarian gun control laws than we do!

Bugger. No time for a re-write now - I've got a review to crack on with.

Add a comment14 comments
Breadster  May. 30, 2014 at 15:17

I agree, London would have been a great place to set it. The only downside would be the driving as you point out.

Zeipher  May. 30, 2014 at 15:56

I don't know what's happened to me... but I'm bored of this game already. Only a few hours in, and I just don't really care, and I feel like it's so buggy.

One example:

I'm trying to stop a convoy. I start off on foot in the middle of a park, and quickly turn and run for 20 seconds to a car. Get in the car, reach a point in the convoy where I think I can stop them. Jump out, raise some blockades, hack into a camera, travel down an alley way and wait for them to come. A few seconds later, they appear. I blow up a panel on the floor, taking out one of the cars, and set my sights on the next. Suddenly, reinforcements have swept in behind me and are shooting me. How do they know I'm causing this??? I die, and reload...

I appearing in a park... needing to run 20 seconds to get into a car. Drive to the same point as before. This time blocking the route with my car. I suddenly see an exclamation triangle appearing on my screen all the way over at the convoy, 500 metres away. Then someone says "We have a hijacked car here!" Suddenly reinforcements appear and shoot at me. I die...

And repeat.

I'm stuck on a level now wearing orange. Really boring. Giving myself a break from it for a bit until it gets patched.

I used to love games, but there's nothing out there for me at the moment. I'm going to give Mario Kart a go this evening. Please don't let me down!!!

Jellex  May. 30, 2014 at 16:33

This has to be one of the best written and most cohesive arguments I seen written for this game. At first I was apprehensive, but by the time I got the bottom, I was completely with you. I'm going to send this to a number of different people who work at Ubisoft, because that's just how smart, logical and sensical this article was.

Myers0  May. 30, 2014 at 16:47

Not only would Watch Dogs have worked in London, it would have made way more sense in London. Particularly all the technologically based idea. And for that matter and critique or social commentary they had would be ten times more appropriate. Also about guns. Creative writing could show guns in London for different reasons. (gangs, corruption, private holder etc. . .) Driving would need to get creative and could be fun as far as I'm concerned.

Almost everything about this game is screaming to be set in Europe and London in particular seems like a great place to start.

Strongly suggest you text or message Ubisoft and let them know.

Himmite  May. 30, 2014 at 16:50

Could not agree more. Not sure how Ubisoft didn't see this actually, now that you have laid it out.

Jumpeigy  May. 30, 2014 at 16:53

Any Watch Dogs sequels should almost certainly take place in Europe. It just makes more sense for what they are going for, just like have hood rats makes more sense setting it in NY or LA

Termination  May. 30, 2014 at 17:00

I'm from Chicago and I will tell you now Johnathan, you are 100% correct. I can tell you that the depiction of Chicago as this technological hub is pretty far off from reality. Yes sure there are certain areas of the city more technological than others but for the most part, Chicago like many American cities has far less modern technology utilized. Like LA or NY, Chicago is grimey and has a lot of trash, diverse racial issues and just older and less refined technologically, none of which really seemed to be reflected in this title. (this is fine, just don't expect it to reflect realty)

As far as I can tell Chicago would have been a good place to cover some of these issues but it seemed Watch Dogs was most interested in the technological side to it. There is nothing wrong with this at all, but as you pointed out, it would have had a much bigger and more grounded impact had it been set in UK.

Someone should let Ubisoft know how big of an opportunity they missed here.

Hopefully the sequel will be set there.

Gaffering  May. 30, 2014 at 17:08

Objectively its really pretty difficult for anyone to try to claim you are wrong about this.

I believe the only reason they ended up using the US was because they needed a way to get the player to have guns.

Yet, if one is smart enough there are ways of writing this into fiction (see the movie: Welcome to the Punch) a great example of this at work.

Ubisoft should absolutely set any sequels for Watch Dogs should be set somewhere in Europe.

yousuckdix  May. 30, 2014 at 18:54

sorry that you think giving up means you are bored. you actually just suck at the game. if you think the jail level was hard, wait until the later missions. but here's a tip, if it seems impossible, you are most likely doing it the hard way when there is actually an easier way that you just have to figure out.

Zeipher  May. 30, 2014 at 19:40

sorry that you think giving up means you are bored. you actually just suck at the game. if you think the jail level was hard, wait until the later missions. but here's a tip, if it seems impossible, you are most likely doing it the hard way when there is actually an easier way that you just have to figure out.


What a lovely person you are. Stick around!

I can usually tell when I'm bored. Generally it happens when I stop having fun... which makes me stop playing. If you think playing when you're not having fun makes you some kind of hero, you actually just suck at life.

In all seriousness... I'm finding it hard to understand why me getting stuck on a glitch means I suck at the game. There's no reason why they should know it's me, let alone call in reinforcements when I'm half a kilometre away, especially when I haven't done anything to them yet.

In fairness, I am not great at the controls. I've recently been playing Arkham Origins and GTA. In those, A means move fast. In this, R is run. So many times when an enemy attacks, I instinctively press A to run away, and my guy suddenly moves into cover... out in the open. THAT is my fault, but honestly, be a nicer person. You'll have more friends.

Last edited by Zeipher, May. 30, 2014 at 19:49
Pilman  May. 31, 2014 at 01:33

I disagree with chicago being a bad location, had it been done right, I think chicago is a great location. I also however would love to see London considering how many cameras there are throughout the city and have no issue with a European location, but to simply claim chicago as being just the same as any other us city is not the case. Chicago is unique compared to la and New York, the entire city was almost completely destroyed and rebuilt and is a technological hub, it was where the first skyscraper really shined and has a history of violence from al Capone to the modern day gangs.

Chicago has a cameras everywhere, there are documentaries about it and the police have boxes if someone fires a shot that the police will dispatch to that area. Chicago has incredible architecture, large immigrant communities and believe it or not, there are very strict gun laws in the city of chicago, but the criminals don't care about the laws so they get them illegally.

You talk about history, there was a lot of history of gothic architecture, old Catholic Churches, the Bahai temple in the suburbs, etc. the issue is that a lot of this couldn't be included in the game due to copyright and artistic licenses. The city is a heck of a lot different in person compared to the game though the game did manage to capture a chicago feel to it. I felt a lot was lacking even in areas like navy pier which have amazing attractions or the chicago theatre, north shore drive, the south side like Pilsen, etc. there's so much more that could have been added that wasn't.

Also other cities other than Europe would work too like São Paulo which has death cams, or even bogota, colombia, I remember when I was there, there were cameras every where and military personel and there is a lot of technological advance there.

Last edited by Pilman, May. 31, 2014 at 01:34
JohnMerced32  May. 31, 2014 at 14:24

Dude your review was well written I give you that but being a Chicago resident for the past 36yrs I have 2 disagree with you! Ubisoft didnt do a good job of showing Chicago we have more beautiful things to look at then London trust me Chicago is the most beautiful city in the world trust me! Giving are gang violence and teen killing I felt they are showing the teens of Chicago another way then just shooting every day. Besides London is like a kiddy town no violence what so ever!

Zeipher  Jun. 1, 2014 at 12:51

Dude your review was well written I give you that but being a Chicago resident for the past 36yrs I have 2 disagree with you! Ubisoft didnt do a good job of showing Chicago we have more beautiful things to look at then London trust me Chicago is the most beautiful city in the world trust me! Giving are gang violence and teen killing I felt they are showing the teens of Chicago another way then just shooting every day. Besides London is like a kiddy town no violence what so ever!


You're over 36??? I have no idea what you mean by kiddy town. In the UK, Chicago is only known for pizza. It is beautiful, but no way is it the most beautiful city in the world... trust me.

X10  Jun. 2, 2014 at 14:37

LoL Zeiphir!

Email Address:

You don't need an account to comment. Just enter your email address. We'll keep it private.