Watch Dogs (stylized as WATCH_DOGS) is a 2014 action-adventure game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. Set in a fictionalized version of Chicago, the plot follows hacker Aiden Pearce's search for revenge after the killing of his niece. The game is played from a third-person perspective, and the world is navigated on foot or by vehicle. An online multiplayer mode allows up to eight players to engage in cooperative and competitive gameplay.
Development of the game began in 2009, and continued for over five years. Duties were shared by many of Ubisoft's studios worldwide, with more than a thousand people involved. The developers visited Chicago to conduct field research on the setting, and used regional language for authenticity. Hacking features were created in consultation with the cyber-security company Kaspersky Lab, and the in-game control system was based on SCADA. The score was composed by Brian Reitzell, who infused it with krautrock.
Following its announcement in June 2012, Watch Dogs was widely anticipated. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Wii U in 2014. The game received generally favorable reviews; praise was directed at the gameplay, mission and open world design, combat system, hacking elements and mission variety, while criticism was expressed concerning technical issues, the discrepancy in graphical quality between marketing and the real game, plot, and protagonist. Watch Dogs was a commercial success, breaking the record for the biggest first-day sales of a Ubisoft game and becoming the biggest launch of a new intellectual property in the United Kingdom at the time. The game has shipped over 10 million copies; its sequel, Watch Dogs 2, was released in November 2016. A third game, Watch Dogs: Legion, is in development, and is planned to be released in October 2020.
Watch Dogs is an action-adventure game, played from a third-person view. The player controls hacker Aiden Pearce, who uses his smartphone to control trains and traffic lights, infiltrate security systems, jam cellphones, access pedestrians' private information, and empty their bank accounts. System hacking involves the solving of puzzles. The game is set in a fictionalized version of Chicago ("Windy City"), an open world environment which permits free-roaming. It has a day-night cycle and dynamic weather system, which changes the behavior of non-player characters (NPCs). For melee combat, Pearce has an extensible truncheon; other combat uses handguns, shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers. There is a slow motion option for gunplay, and the player can use proximity IEDs, grenades, and electronic lures. Lethal and non-lethal mission approaches can be enacted.
Pearce can scale vertical surfaces, hack forklifts and aerial work platforms to reach places otherwise unreachable, and can crouch behind walls to hide from enemies. The player has an array of vehicles with which to navigate the setting, including motorcycles, muscle cars, off-road vehicles, SUVs, luxury vehicles, sports cars, and speedboats. The car radio is customizable, with about fifty songs. If the player steals a car, its driver can summon the police; if the player has a good reputation, the driver may acquiesce. A good reputation may be gained by detecting (and stopping) crimes, and a bad reputation results from committing crimes. The skill tree is upgraded with points earned from hacking, combat, driving, and crafted items. Money can be used to purchase guns, outfits, and vehicles. There are several minigames, ranging from killing aliens to controlling a large, robotic spider. QR codes and audio logs are included as collectibles; ctOS towers unlock map icons and side missions. Multiplayer mode can host up to seven other free-roaming players, with whom the player may complete hacking contracts and engage in races. The player can also be hacked by others, who will perceive the target as an NPC (leaving the target to find the perpetrator). In-game invasions can be disabled, but this will reset the multiplayer skill rank to zero. Free-roaming with multiple players and decryption mode, where two teams of four are tasked with acquiring and holding data, were excluded from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.
In October 2012, hacker Aiden Pearce and his mentor and partner, Damien Brenks, conduct an electronic bank heist at the high-end Merlaut Hotel in Chicago and trigger a silent alarm set by another hacker. Brenks tries to find the hacker, giving himself and Pearce away. Fearing for his family, Pearce drives them to safety in the guise of a surprise trip to the country. On the way, hitman Maurice Vega fires a gunshot which crashes the car; Pearce's niece Lena lapses into a coma and dies. 11 months later, Pearce tracks down Vega at a baseball stadium in the Parker Square district of Chicago. After a fruitless interrogation about Vega's contractor, he leaves Vega in the hands of his partner, fixer Jordi Chin. While investigating, Brenks approaches Pearce with a request to find the other hacker from the Merlaut job. Pearce refuses, and Brenks retaliates by kidnapping his younger sister, which forces Pearce to comply with Brenks' demands. With the help of Clara Lille, a member of the hacking syndicate DedSec, Pearce tracks down the second hacker—gang leader and Army veteran Delford 'Iraq' Wade—and obtains a data sample from Wade's servers. He and Lille discover that Wade has information on almost every citizen of Chicago, protecting his gang from the authorities.
When they come across encrypted data beyond Lille's ability she tells Pearce to find Raymond 'T-Bone' Kenney, whose hacking caused the Northeast blackout of 2003 which led to the implementation of the ctOS operating system. After meeting Pearce and completing several tasks for him, Kenney agrees to help decrypt the data. Pearce assaults Wade's compound, and downloads its server data. Wade confronts him, but Pearce kills him and leaves the compound. Another hacker, JB "Defalt" Markowicz, infiltrates their system, steals the information and deletes it from their servers. Markowicz leaves a recording that discloses Lille's involvement in locating Pearce and Brenks during the Merlaut job, which resulted in the death of Pearce's niece. Pearce angrily tells Lille to leave. When the authorities later confront Brenks about the loss of the server data, he tells them Pearce's identity. Pearce and Kenney find and take down Markowicz, retrieving the data.
Pearce discovers where his sister is being held, frees her, and they drive to nearby Pawnee for safety. Kenney finds the contractor who ordered the hit on Pearce that ended up killing Lena: Dermot "Lucky" Quinn, the Irish Mob boss who owns the Merlaut Hotel. Pearce confronts Quinn, shutting off his pacemaker by hacking it. The dying Quinn says that he ordered the hit because he thought Pearce was searching for secret video footage of Mayor Donovan Rushmore (with whom Quinn is associated), who accidentally murdered his secretary when she threatened to expose his dealings with Quinn. After Quinn dies, Pearce races to Lille (who is ambushed and gunned down by Brenks' men). Pearce uploads the video of Mayor Rushmore, driving him to commit suicide. He tries to find Brenks, who has unlocked ctOS (giving him access to the city). Pearce infects ctOS with a virus that shuts down the system, causing a citywide blackout. He thus reaches Brenks, who is hiding in a lighthouse. Chin arrives, claiming to be on Brenks' payroll, but Pearce injures him and kills his former mentor. Chin calls Pearce one last time to tell him where Vega is kept; Pearce heads there, and decides his fate.
A year after the main events of Watch Dogs, in 2014, Kenney decides to leave Chicago after performing what he thought was his last hacking job: removing more data about him from the Blume servers and planting a fake trail to lead Blume away from him. However, he later learns that this isn't the case as he receives a call from former colleague Tobias Frewer, asking for help after he had been kidnapped by Fixers and stuffed in the trunk of their vehicle. After rescuing Frewer, Kenney realizes that if the Fixers knew where to find Frewer, they would eventually find him. He decides to get the Fixers off of his and Frewer's scents completely.
Kenney learns that Markowicz is the one behind the Fixers who have been looking for him. After learning where he is, Kenney manages to sneak inside the building and find mannequins representing the people who had died during the blackout he had caused eleven years ago. He later comes across an empty room with TV screens playing news footage of what had happened in 2003, causing an angry Kenney to smash the screens in, all while screaming that he had no intention of anyone dying during the blackout. Suddenly, a hanging mannequin with a Defalt mask comes falling from the ceiling as Kenney realizes that Markowicz's brother was one of the people who had died in the blackout, and that for Markowicz this whole thing was on a much more personal scale. Kenney manages to escape the building after killing the Fixers who were sent to kill him.
With Frewer's help, Kenney finds out where Markowicz is hiding, making his way there along with Frewer. Once inside, Kenney is stuck in a room and faced with not only Markowicz but also the other people whose loved ones were killed by the blackout. The room is then filled with gas; Markowicz's last attempt to kill Kenney. Luckily for Kenney, Frewer has his phone on him, which Kenney hacks in order to reroute the ventilation in the room he is in and the room Markowicz is in, killing Markowicz in the process. Managing to survive, Kenney decides to stay in Chicago, once Frewer agrees to help him in his fight against Blume, also hoping to recruit Pearce into their group.
Beginning in 2009 with ten people and expanding to over a thousand, Watch Dogs was developed over five years (from prototype to finished game) on a budget of about $68 million. Before its announcement in 2012, the game had the working title of Nexus. The initial sales pitch was the notion that one could control an entire city with the push of a button.
Watch Dogs runs on the game engine Disrupt, which developer Ubisoft Montreal created for it (although it was originally intended for another game in the Driver franchise). According to producer Dominic Guay, Disrupt has three pillars: simulation of the environment and its contents, how the environment can be affected, and the connectivity of a seamless online experience. Director Jonathan Morin said that the PlayStation 4 technology allowed for better wind and water simulations and artificial intelligence.
Regional colloquialisms specific to Chicago were added to give the game authenticity. The developer traveled to the city several times for field research, photos, recording audio, meeting people, and interviewing the Chicago Police Department to gain insight. Landmarks were designed to only resemble their real-life counterparts, because their artistic rights would have tripled the budget. Fictionalizing Chicago allowed them to fit several district themes on one map. The city was chosen as the setting for its contradictory nature, with great wealth and abject poverty. Morin said that after it was chosen, Chicago became the most-surveilled city in America.
The developers noted that character movements in games like Assassin's Creed were the same in every situation, and attempted to rectify this in Watch Dogs to contextualize protagonist Aiden Pearce. The in-game control system ctOS was based on the SCADA system, and the story was inspired by the cyber-attack by the computer worm Stuxnet on SCADA. The developers consulted the cyber-security company Kaspersky Lab (which discovered the Stuxnet worm) about the hacking features to increase their authenticity. To create hacking factions in the game (like DedSec), the developer was influenced by the hacktivist group Anonymous, state-sponsored hackers, and tales of corporate espionage.
Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row were studied to develop complex controls, so the core hacking mechanic was reduced to a single button. When the game was delayed, ideas long set aside (like the hacking of a headset) could be implemented. The score, by Brian Reitzell, was released on vinyl and CD by Invada Records in partnership with Ubisoft Music on July 28, 2014. Reitzell began composing by reading the script, concluding that krautrock would suit Watch Dogs. The game was released to manufacturing in May 2014.
Ubisoft announced Watch Dogs at its June 4, 2012 E3 press conference, confirming it for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. A QR code that appeared in the first gameplay demonstration as viral marketing led to a website called DotConnexion, which contained information about the in-game world. PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U were announced in early 2013 as additional platforms for Watch Dogs, which was scheduled for release later that year. Originally set to be released that November, the developer delayed it until early 2014 to "not compromise on quality". The final release date was set for May 27, 2014, before its release for the Wii U on November 18 in North America, November 20 in Australia and New Zealand, and November 21 in Europe. A free mobile app was released for iOS and Android devices, with Watch Dogs players connecting with console or PC users for two racing modes.
Four collector's editions were available, and the GameStop pre-order version contained a poster by Alex Ross. An eBook, //n/Dark Clouds by John Shirley as a continuation of Watch Dogs, was released in conjunction with the game. Watch Dogs was marketed with a live-action sequence directed by Devin Graham and a three-part documentary series by Motherboard, Phreaked Out. After promotional material was sent to Australian media as a safe containing the game and a voicemail explaining the delivery, the Sydney offices of Nine.com.au (unaware of the voicemail) called a bomb disposal unit when the safe beeped; Ubisoft apologized to the staff. Downloadable content (Bad Blood, with playable character Raymond Kenney) was released in September 2014.
Watch Dogs' reveal at E3 2012 generated favorable reception from critics. According to leaked marketing material, it received over eighty E3 awards and nominations and G4tv called it a "truly next-gen adventure". At E3 2013, the game received over fifty awards and nominations. The following year, Ubisoft was accused of graphical downgrading after a NeoGAF forum post compared its 2012 visuals to 2014 video footage.
According to Ubisoft researcher Thomas Geffroyd, studies and quantitative analysis indicated that about sixty percent of gamers changed their view of technology after playing Watch Dogs. Chris Carter of Destructoid liked the virtual rendition of Chicago and the detail of non-player characters, concluding that the gameplay was fun. His favorite feature was the extra content, like collectibles and minigames. Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead found the car-handling "slick and intuitive" and called the visuals "dazzling". In Game Informer, Jeff Marchiafava wrote that the hacking added meaning to the combat, the shooting mechanic "make[s] full-scale firefights enjoyable", and praised the stealth approach. He found that the variety of gameplay and environments in the campaign missions provided an "entertaining" experience. Kevin VanOrd of GameSpot thought the game's primary strength was in combat and was grateful for the hacking component's contribution. VanOrd said that the story only flourished when it left behind the "revenge-story cliches", and he felt more attached to supporting characters than to Aiden Pearce. He praised the game's open world, particularly its extra content.
At GamesRadar, Andy Hartup said he enjoyed the set pieces and individual missions: "You'll enjoy Watch Dogs' narrative in piecemeal, rather than as a whole". He praised the setting's details (which he thought revealed "the city's true beauty"), and called the combat and hacking "satisfying". Dan Stapleton of IGN praised the game's visuals and the open world's "intricately detailed" map. He also enjoyed the combat: "The cover-based gunplay feels good". PC Gamer's Christopher Livingston called the hacking the game's most positive feature; although he liked the stealth, his favorite approach to battle was gunplay. For Polygon, Arthur Gies praised the combat's gunplay feature and wrote that it was "aided by a good, functional third-person cover system, which helps with more than just shooting — it also allows for effective stealth". Steven Burns of VideoGamer.com called the game "undoubtedly enjoyable, but it won't linger long in the memory".
Carter was dissatisfied with the story, citing "lifeless" characters and calling the plot's events "fairly predictable and cliched"; the graphics were thought inferior to the game's marketing footage. Whitehead criticized the hacking for resorting to "tired old PipeMania-style" puzzles and saw the story and main character as the game's weakest aspects, saying that the script avoided the moral dilemmas offered by its set-up. Marchiafava agreed with Carter that the graphics were less impressive than they were in early videos, criticizing poor character design and the story for not living up to its gameplay. Like Whitehead, VanOrd said that the predicament surrounding technology "rarely reaches any conclusions or digs very deeply". Hartup criticized the main character, calling him "a bit of a dullard", and faulted the story for its reliance on "unimaginative stereotypes". Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb criticized the story and characters for a lack of organization, which he said made it difficult to care about the game. Stapleton disliked the main character's lack of personality, and found the supporting cast more interesting. Livingston saw little to like in the story, and also preferred another character to Pearce. Gies wrote, "After a promising (albeit well-trod) start, Watch Dogs' plot struggles to remain coherent", and likened the characters to caricatures. Tom Watson wrote in New Statesman that the game "has so many complex side missions and obligatory tasks that it becomes dull; it’s humourlessly derivative of the open world of Grand Theft Auto V".
Watch Dogs was Ubisoft's most pre-ordered new intellectual property (IP), their second-highest pre-ordered title, the most pre-ordered game of the year (more than 800,000 copies), and the most pre-ordered game for the eighth generation of video game consoles. The company's executives predicted over 6.3 million copies in overall sales.
The day it was released, Watch Dogs sold the most copies of any Ubisoft title in a 24-hour period. It was the bestselling new IP ever in the United Kingdom in its first week (beating Assassin's Creed III's record by more than 17 percent), and was the seventeenth-largest game launch of all time in the UK. Most sales were for PlayStation 4, whose hardware sales increased by 94 percent because of Watch Dogs. After the first week, four million copies of the game had been sold. Watch Dogs sold 63,000 copies of the PlayStation 4 version and 31,000 for PlayStation 3 in its Japanese debut. By July 2014, the game had sold over eight million copies. It was the biggest video-game launch of the year in Britain until Destiny was released in September, and the third-bestselling game during the second week of that month. Nine million copies had been shipped worldwide in October, two-thirds of which were for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. According to Ubisoft's sales figures, Watch Dogs had sold ten million copies by the fiscal quarter ending December 31, 2014.
|2012||30th Golden Joystick Awards||One to Watch||Nominated|||
|2013||31st Golden Joystick Awards||Most Wanted||Nominated|||
|VGX 2013||Most Anticipated Game||Nominated|||
|2014||32nd Golden Joystick Awards||Best Original Game||Nominated|||
|Best Gaming Moment (being invaded)||Nominated|
|Game of the Year||Nominated|
|Studio of the Year (Ubisoft Montreal)||Won|
|NAVGTR Awards||Lighting/Texturing (Jean-Philippe Leroux)||Nominated|||
|Performance in a Drama, Supporting (Aaron Douglas as Jordi Chin)||Nominated|
|Game, Original Adventure (Jonathan Morin)||Nominated|
|Control Design, 3D||Nominated|
Adaptation and sequels
In June 2013, Variety reported that Ubisoft Motion Pictures was planning a film adaptation. That August, Sony Pictures Entertainment and New Regency were announced to be partnering with Ubisoft Motion Pictures on the project. Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese were later commissioned to write the film. A sequel, Watch Dogs 2, was released in November 2016. A sequel to Watch Dogs 2, Watch Dogs: Legion, was teased by Ubisoft on Twitter ahead of its E3 2019 announcement. An animated series is also in development.
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