Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
Top 10 Cities in Gaming
There are very few things that can wow a player in games more than cities. While some are small in scope or just have a nice little intro video, others are full fledged masterworks. The joy of being able to traverse a large amount or the entire city in grand fashion is something that still gets to me this day. They are a testament to the talents of dev teams. Characters, monsters, and fancy menus are one thing but the design and work that goes into a city is a monstrous task. Let’s take a look at some of the best ones we’ve come across in games.
Game: Final Fantasy VIII
Why: We get to see a lot of the Garden from school rooms, ball rooms, manufactured forests with a T-Rex in it. Yeah, I’m not kidding. Don’t fight that thing. The Garden is only one of three in the world and it is where many of our main characters come from. When things get rough around the world, our characters come in conflict with another Garden that has been invaded and taken over by the game’s big baddie, a time traveling sorceress. We then get to do something that no other city lets us do: drive it around the freakin’ world. The two Gardens battle it out and we gain access to use it whenever we want from Fisherman’s Horizon (one of my favorite towns in gaming). It becomes pretty useful after we gain use of the airship later on but still, you can drive a whole city around. That is just cool. My main question about it would be: why is a city full of students and young people able to turn into a mobile fortress with a metric crap ton of weapons?
Game: Resident Evil series
Why: As we go from game to game and Raccoon City is featured in them, we see more and more of it. From Leon and Claire’s first adventure in Resident Evil 2, we do get to see a bunch of the city before it is effectively wiped off the map thanks to the government. This place is hell on Earth. I believe it takes the title from New Jersey pretty easily. Umbrella’s secret facilities under the city unleash the terrible nightmare that is zombies. It doesn’t take long for them to take over the city and convert most of the population. Umbrella doesn’t stop there, either. When they see the chaos in Raccoon City, they see an opportunity for one hell of an experiment. They send in an experimental soldier by the name of Nemesis to stop the highly trained S.T.A.R.S. officers from rescuing the rest of the populace and stopping the mayhem. Way to kick a city when it’s down, Umbrella. Tsk. Tsk.
Game: Final Fantasy VII
Why: Almost the entire first disc and another long encounter on the last make Midgar a huge focus in one of the most beloved games in history. Funny how so many people end up in this city from other places and then end up being party members. It is in this place that we meet our main characters, main enemy, supporting enemies, and a monster from another planet. So much happens here that you spend a good 3/4ths of the entire first disc here. When you leave, you feel a sigh of relief but don’t feel too happy because you’ll be back. You’re able to constantly come back to Midgar and check stuff out but when you’re forced back in a paramilitary fashion, things are much more fun than before. Still, the amount of time you spend in this melodramatic place starts to make you feel really bad for its citizens. Oh, and you know, being the reason why the government killed an entire sector of people just to get to you. That kinda stings.
Game: Mass Effect series
Why: This is another city that we gradually get to see more of as the trilogy goes on. With every entry in the Mass Effect series we get to see more of the Presidium and Zakera Ward, Embassy floor, and docking bays. The amount of interaction The Citadel goes up even as we don’t have much to do in it like Mass Effect 1 did. BioWare knew that people complained about the amount of time it took to get by The Citadel and that some players raked up more than 12 hours in there before finally moving on. However, the amount of things you can do with NPC’s and story progression goes up in 2 and 3. The Citadel is an ancient place that every cycle uses as a beacon of hope and central intelligence in the galaxy. The history and uses of The Citadel get weirder and weirder as the story goes on but one thing stays consistent throughout the entire series: The Citadel is one of the most important pieces of Mass Effect lore.
Game: Warcraft series
Why: The city has been in the series since Warcraft 1 but oh man, when you first step foot in it in World of Warcraft, oh wow. The music alone makes you feel the grandeur of Stormwind. The human capital is big and you can explore every corner of it, just be careful when swimming in the channels (some say there’s a giant ‘gator in the water!). There are a lot of places in the city that take focus. You have the Trade District that houses the commerce sector of Stormwind. SI-7’s headquarters are in Old City and even an advanced tram ride in the Dwarven District. If you were lucky enough to visit the city before Deathwing got pissed off in Cataclysm, you’d have seen a great park district where druids hung out and the kids frolicked. Stormwind is a magical place and home to some epic questlines including a raid boss who’s debut is seen in the throne room. Its remake in Cataclysm made it even more beautiful. The buildings and walkways really bring out its importance to the Alliance. A lot of detail went into the reimagining of Stormwind and it paid off.
Game: Bioshock 1&2
Why: The underwater dream of Andrew Ryan is made a reality as we get to explore the depths of the ocean in this amazing city. 2k Games spent a long time making Rapture the beaut it is. Every hallway and floor is filled with an amazing set of colors and detail. Looking out the windows you can even see various sea life and some of the city’s workers, the Big Daddy’s, repairing and fighting off escapees. Every section of Rapture holds a different theme but the overall prevalent aquatic look stays the focus. Ryan wanted to leave the problems of the surface and live in harmony but new problems arose that make Rapture a unique place. The bio-magics that the citizens have injected in themselves brings another a fantasy steampunk feeling which is rare in games of this scope. Even though Final Fantasy has a presence almost similar, nothing comes close to the crazy vision of Rapture.
Game: Just Cause 2
Why: The whole island is one big city. With sections of villages and run-down towns to populated centers and city-scapes. The number one best thing about Panau (and Just Cause 2, in itself) is that everything on the island can be destroyed. The game even gives you a Chaos rating to make you want to rush into town and blow crap up. The government and various factions take control of pieces of the island and you get to choose which ones gain the upper hand. As you take charge, more and more of your selected troops gain footholds in sectors which changes the mood of the island. There are tons of high rise and somewhat hidden places filled with awesome vehicles to steal and use. There’s also an island that is bordered with giant electric towers that shoot off tesla energy at incoming planes making venturing to this place highly dangerous. With so much to do and destroy on Panau, you really feel in the driver’s seat of how this island turns out in the end.
Game: Sim City series
Why: The only reason this doesn’t occupy the number one slot is because of its biggest strength: you create it. Yeah, it’s awesome that you get to take a patch of land and make a full blown city but it isn’t a pre-made masterful job done by devs in which we get to traverse. However, the prospect of creating your own city is breathtaking. With the new SimCity just recently announced, it looks like our city building will get a huge upgrade. Being able to set everything up from electricity, water, and waste disposal along with government style and landmarks is just too cool. You can even destroy the city in any way you want! If you play the game in its intended way, the randomness and reality of controlling a city really hits home. You could finish a new industrial center paid for by taxpayers when a tornado hits and takes it out. Did you finish paying off that loan? Oh no, the whole north grid is out! The crime rate in this city is too damn high! With everything that happens in SimCity, the feeling of completing your own metropolis is one of those things every gamer should experience.
Game: Fallout 3
Why: Washington D.C. is a city and our capital. Fallout 3 utterly destroyed it then gave us the means to travel through it. One of the best features in Fallout is the choices you have to make on the way towards a main goal. You can follow the main quest, pick up a ton of sides, or just do whatever the hell you want. Fallout 3 gives us the chance to explore the entire city as we look for our daddy. There is much to do in the Capital Wasteland. Easter eggs and hidden goodies are strung out through supermarkets, hotels, strip stores, subways, and business districts. Getting through it all may prove difficult as you find mutants, rebelling factions, raiders, and more out on the destroyed roads. There is some hope to all the destruction, though. You get to carve your path through it all by making big decisions to blow up towns, help the various factions, wage war against the government, and even set inside a giant battleship that was converted into a place to survive. The Capital Wasteland may not be the biggest map shown in a game but the amount of things to do and find as well as all the content added into it with the DLC, you’ll never take a step without something popping up on your map.
Game: Grand Theft Auto series
Why: The ultimate virtual city. With so many renditions of it throughout the years starting in the first GTA, going mobile in GTA Advance, and becoming a mecca of all video game locations in Grand Theft Auto IV. Holy. Crap. This reimagining of New York City is so grand in scale that it is breathtaking to look at. You can scan the map all you want but until you try and explore it, you don’t understand the scope of it all. Liberty City is truly a marvel of game development. There are things to do in nearly every inch of the city with a lot of New York’s landmarks being transitioned into virtual glory. Being able to take a girlfriend on a date to ride the Liberty Eye ferris wheel (Wonder Wheel) and go bowling with your cousin (when he isn’t annoying the crap out of you on missions) is too cool. Even when you’re finished with the main story, there are hundreds of things to do from car races, rampages, and so much more. You even get rewarded to killing those stupid annoying pigeons. If Rockstar is going to make something better then what they did with Liberty City in GTA IV, we’ll all be stunned.
With all the upgrades in technology that happen in next generation consoles, it is becoming hard to distinguish between real time and virtual. The GTA V teaser showed off what could a gargantuan city to play in. Even The Citadel looked better then before in Mass Effect 3. I wanted to list a couple of Honorable Mentions but this article is longer than I expected so I’ll say them here: Silvermoon City (Warcraft), San Andreas (GTA: San Andreas), City 17 (Half-Life 2), Castle Town (Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time), and Steelport (Saints Row 3). With so many great cities in gaming, it was tough to make my top 10. I can’t wait to see what devs can come up with in the upcoming generation. Things are only going to get better.