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Finding Ubisoft's Chicago: Brandon Docks in "Watch Dogs"

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The Town Billy Sunday Couldn't Shut Down, but DedSec Probably Could

Chicago is a town ripe with history of social disorder, crime, and triumph in the shadow of devastation. An unstoppable beast filled to its eye lids with atmosphere and diversity, but also with a dark history of homicide and corruption. Whether you're a pessimist or an optimist there's something for everybody in the Windy City.

For me Chicago was, and still is, a much needed breath of fresh air I don't mind breathing in every chance I get. So of course making multiple visits in order to find the inspiration behind Ubisoft's team of developers was not a hassle.

I know not everyone liked the 2014 video game Watch Dogs, for whatever reason. Maybe it wasn't GTA enough, or they didn't like how their house wasn't put into the game street-for-street, or how you earn "bad guy points" for killing cops (like Red Dead Redemption). Who knows? In my case, I rented it from a Redbox after seeing The Equalizer back in 2015. I guess it hit the right cord with me because of my love for vigilante tales. On top of that, Chicago, my favorite city, isn't really represented in a free roam environment very often.

Even though I am unfortunately not a native of Chicago, I can still spot little nuances that seem to remind me of places I’ve been to. Sure, the game isn’t perfect, but I still come back to it, having given it more of a chance than most gamers seemed to.

This series is not to critique Ubisoft's job at making games, but to find the inspiration behind why they designed the game world the way that they did.

Other Regions of Chicago Covered

Locations Not Covered in This Series

For my research, I focused mainly on the Hotspots in the game (the little checkmarks that are easier to see in Online Free Roam). I mean I had to start somewhere, but through my multiple playthroughs, there are other little things I noticed that I might not catch right away or never took a picture of.

  • Pawnee is not an immediate focus: Google the distance between Chicago and Pawnee. It’s a two-hour drive! A couple of people I have talked to say the locations are faithful to the town, and I take that on good authority.
  • If it’s not a mob murder I’m not going there right away (or probably ever): Yeah I hear your collective “awww man!” I know that sounds hypocritical, and there’s no glamour in death, but in my opinion, the mob history is more interesting. Therefore Sausage Vat and Lipstick guy are not going to be visited at this time . . . or ever . . . since Chicago has a tendency to bury its bad history under new construction projects. And no that's not a mob reference but I can see why you would think that . . .
  • Some places are too out of the way: Pawnee isn’t the only place out of the way. Other locations like the Botanical Gardens are practically in other cities, while others are only accessible as authorized persons. Although these places are not a top priority, I will make an effort to visit them when I can (as of my fifth trip in June, 2017, that hasn't been the case yet).

"Brandon Docks"

(A) "Windy City Shipyards"/Chicago Port Authority

I, unfortunately, had to get a Google Maps picture of this. The main building is behind a toll road and is only accessible as an authorized dock employee. The fact that it’s the furthest South had nothing to do with my decision of not going there. Ok, it might have had a little bit to do with it. It's literally right near the Illinois/Indiana state border. Come to think of it Aiden Pierce would probably be more useful in Gary Indiana as far as crime-fighting goes . . .

(B) “Lakeshore Water Refinery”/Jardine Water Purification Plant

Jardine Water Refinery is actually located near The Loop, far north from the location that is depicted in Watch Dogs. In real life, it is just across the water from Navy Pier. There are three water pump cribs off the coast which pump water from Lake Michigan to the taps of residents in Chicago. I know it's not ultra-interesting, but if you would like to learn more about it click the link right below the screenshots.

It is a shame that that one "news" story I read about the culinary chef opening a restaurant on one of the water pump cribs was a hoax. Then again I probably wouldn't have been able to afford that place anyway. I was able to spot this hotspot, by accident, while playing tourist at the top of Willis/Sears Tower in July 2015.

(If you would like to know more about how Chicago's water treatment works, just Google "Chicago Water Pump Cribs." I'm not being lazy; I’m just not allowed to post a link to outside websites, so happy researching!

(C) "Sienna Brick Factory”/Colonial Brick Factory

Considering its location, I’ll bet a dime to a dollar that this is the factory it’s based on. The courtyard also has a similar layout. In the Hotspot Info-card, it's mentioned that a horror movie was filmed at the location. After a lot of research, I discovered that the 2005 remake of Amityville Horror was filmed in Chicago, specifically the interiors in a factory.

That factory, however, is located in Buffalo Grove Illinois, pretty damn far north from not only the neighborhood of Bridgeport but Chicago in general. I also called the Chicago Film Commission, but there's no info on a movie being filmed at the Colonial Brick Factory. Not to say someone couldn't have made one-off the book, but I'm going to have to consider this a double reference like a lot of the hotspots in this game appear to be.

(D) The Four Deuces

What once was a thriving gangster club is now an automotive service garage for BMW’s . . . Still classy I guess. It also looks similar to the in-game location. However, the surrounding area is more of a neighborhood than an industrial park-like in the game. What's amazing about this part of Chicago is that a few blocks away, at Bridgeport, there are multiple warehouses. Most of which have been re-purposed into housing or offices by this point. Got to love that housing boom (no that's sarcasm I actually don't.)

I was able to get a picture of this during my big December 2015 trip. You know the one where I dedicated it to working on this article and less to drinking plentiful amounts of alcohol in Chinatown. During my March 2019 trip (which was going to be dedicated to the same but I discovered Chicagoans don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day on a Sunday) I got a better angle of this building.

(E) Cermak Bridge

It looks like what the developers did here was turn the neighboring train bridge into a street bridge. It even has the same grey color, whereas the real Cermak Bridge is an old rusty brown, in a double bascule lift drawbridge design. Not a vertical lift bridge like the one depicted in the game. No, I'm not a bridge nerd, but it does help to have a little knowledge of them in a town like Chicago.

The immediate area is indeed industrial. In real life, there's a seafood joint, Laurence’s, which has great food. It's got a nice design, old-school (but not filthy interior) and the food is affordable. I finally got to check that place out on my June 2017 trip. There's also another point of interest I'd like to do more research on. Some old warehouse that looks abandoned. (And according to local folklore, it's apparently haunted too.) This particular warehouse has been the filming location of several TV shows. Particularly scenes that require pyrotechnics effect of some sort. This makes sense since there isn’t much traffic around here.

(F and G) The Yacht Club/Burnham Park Yacht Club

Ok, so I might be stretching it here. Chicago has several “Yacht Clubs” throughout the city (on the lakeside of course). The most likely being either the Carefree Boat Club or Canal Street Marina, and I also make this assumption since “Brandon Docks” is supposed to be South Chicago (including the “fly over” South where a lot of industry lies.) It could also be semi based on the Chicago Yacht Works due to the storage of the boats.

Anyway, in my, albeit not favorite, May 2016 trip I ended up going to the Burnham Park Yacht Club. It was both close and considered prominent in the area. I’m nowhere near rich enough to afford such a boat so I really don’t care for this comparison part of the article. It should be worth noting that you need to go through Grant Park/Museum Campus to get here. At the time they were just beginning the construction of the "Star Wars Museum" which ended up being built in Los Angeles. That's not really a spoiler alert since I'm talking 2016 here.

During my, much more awesome, November 2016 trip I took pictures of the "Carefree Boat Club" which is located much further South (once again "Brandon Docks" is more appropriate to the region). It was also a much more welcoming area, unlike Burnham. Unlike the folks that go to “Yacht Clubs,” I’m not really afraid of exploring The Avenues.

© 2019 Eric Seidel