What is the most important component in a videogame? Is it graphics? How about gameplay? Or even a cohesive story? Well all of those are valid answers, but to me its atmosphere and detail put into the world. Iíve played many games. Iíve played many very excellent games but if I run down a list of my favorite games, all of them have one thing in common; atmosphere and a world that I never wanted to leave.
Iíll be honest. I am such a sucker for a masterfully created world or environment that I sometimes overlook core problems to games. In my mind though, who cares? A game may have mediocre gameplay or a story that doesn't quite make sense but if it has a believable world and a great sense of atmosphere, Iím all in.
I love getting lost in another world. I love exploring environments and taking in the scenery. The best games allow you to explore and learn more about the world if you so choose. Instead of rambling more, Iíll just give you a list of games who I believe have the best atmosphere/worlds (in no particular order). I also realise that there are many other games out there with great worlds and whatnot, however; I haven't played every game.
Ah L.A. Noire. I love this game. I honestly may be one of the few as most people seem to have a lot of complaints about this game. The funny thing is that every single complaint or negative comment I've heard about L.A. Noire, I've agreed with to some extent. The game changer for me though has to be the masterful recreation of post WWII Los Angeles.
I canít tell you how many times I just walked down the streets, exploring back alleys and the small neighborhoods, listening in on the conversations NPCs were having about the war or economy and even just admiring the small details like store fronts and street signs. The original score paired with the licensed songs of the time made it that much better. I really felt like I was living in 1950ís Los Angeles.
The game took me about 25-30 hours to 100% but to this day I still fire it up from time to time and just walk/drive around and I still find new areas or small details that I never noticed before. Because of all this, no matter what problems the game may have in terms of gameplay or story, L.A. Noire will always be one of my favorite games; all because of its beautifully crafted world that I canít remove from my memory.
Red Dead Redemption
We are two games in and we have two Rockstar games. Red Dead is a rare game. I donít think there is such thing as a ďperfectĒ game but if I had to choose one game that came close, it would be this game. Of course, one of the things that makes that possible is the games wonderful interpretation of the early 1900ís in the wild west.
I honestly donít even know where to begin. This game has a lot of empty desert space yet; even those empty spaces have better atmosphere then most other games out there today. I canít tell you how many times I was walking out in those spaces only to be struck with fear of the unknown or intrigue of what stories those spaces had to tell. Trust me; those places do have some stories. This, coupled with the fact that all sorts of animals go about there business, makes the wilderness a great and terrifying place to roam.
The towns in the games†are also†beautifully done. Some are more busy then others but all feel like real, living places. The people move and react like real people and at any given time an old west shootout could break out. The subtle dialogue between the inhabitants of these cites are well done and can be quite funny or informative. Spend about 5 minutes in these towns and youíll want to actually be living there; if you can ignore the bank robberies and gunshots, although, I guess thatís no worse than present day Detroit. And donít get me started on the abandoned ghost towns. The air is filled with dread and intrigue. So great!
The music also lends a hand in solidifying the world as one of the best gaming worlds ever created. There are many reasons why you should play Red Dead Redemption, but for nothing else, this game world needs to be experienced by everyone.
Mass Effect (Series)
The Mass Effect series is by far my favorite gaming series to date. The universe that Bioware created is one of great wonder and excitement. You can freely move about the galaxy and learn about other planets, talk to the various other alien species to learn about their culture, grab a drink at the nearest bar, dance along to the space-y techno music or just sit still and admire the fantastic skyboxes. All of this makes it a universe you would love to live in.
The great thing about Mass Effect is that if you are every curious about something in the game, chances are, you can go and learn about it in game. This deepens not only the story but your drive to learn more about the universe and its inhabitants. I have spent many of hours just reading up about the planets, colonies, races, technology and religions that make up the Mass Effect universe. In many ways, itís why I love Star Wars. There are just so many stories that can be told even though the main story arch is over.
Even though I love all of them, I would say the first Mass Effect had a slightly better way of interpreting the universe as it made you seem so small in the grand scheme of things. The surfaces of the uncharted planets you could land on seemed to go on forever and the dialogue tree was more expansive which allowed more possibilities for interesting conversation. The Citadel was also much bigger, which goes along with making you feel like a tiny human in this giant galaxy.
Even though the main arch of the series is over, I still find myself reading the novels and comics because I want to learn more about this universe. This series could go on for a very long time, whether it be in videogame form or written form, and I hope it does. There are many stories to tell and because the universe they crafted is so massive, they can easily come up with new stories.
The †world in Bioshock is one of intrigue, wonder and death. Walking through the various environments that Rapture has to offer, I found myself stopping and marveling at the attention to detail. It seemed as though each environment you discovered, each room you stumbled upon and even each splicer you killed had their own story to tell. The game also had a great cast of unforgettable characters that only added to the mystery and wonder of Rapture.
The game also boosted a strong soundtrack that fit with the early 1900's theme. And just in case you weren't pulled into the world with all that, they threw in some audio logs that fully fleshed out the city, not only in it's current condition, but what it was like before everything went to hell. Rapture may be a beautiful city beneath the ocean, but it holds terribly dark secrets. Secrets you want to know.
This is a world that I wish could be erased from my memory just so I can go back and experience it again for the first time.
This is one world I would not want to live in but it absolutely nails the horror atmosphere. The things that Dead Space does so well is it makes you scared. I was terrified to even move two feet and forget about going around any corner. The ship was dark and the only sounds you heard was the sound of creatures moaning or walking in the distance. As you walk through the dreary hallways, you will see shadows moving around and at times, will expect an enemy to jump out at you around the next corner only for no enemy to be found. This build tension and stresses you out like no other. Then the game throws enemies at you when you least expect it.
You feel alone in Dead Space. Your aboard a terrifying ship that a drift in the middle of deep space. It's still one of the most stressful games I have ever played. The game builds the tension like no other. The first Dead Space did this the best while I found the other two games in the series lacked the same punch. Which is no surprise since the series is going more toward the action side of things. If you like horror games, or games with terrific atmosphere, it doesn't get much better than Dead Space. Just remember, in space, no one can hear you scream.
The Last of Us
I've had this article stewing in my head for a few weeks now but have put it off because I knew I would be playing The Last of Us in a short time. I'm glad I waited because The Last of Us has an incredible world and atmosphere. Dead Space for me, was the champion of making you stressed and terrified to move due to it's incredible atmosphere. It WAS the champion. Not anymore as The Last of Us undoubtedly takes the belt.
First off, The Last of Us has an incredibly detailed world. It's one of no hope, death and desperation. Humanity has been pushed to the brink. Whole cities have been abandoned and brought to there knees by a virus outbreak. Each building you enter, house you wonder through and flyer you read each have a story to tell. A story of a family being torn apart or how police were overrun with infected. Sure you can just play through the game and only notice the main plot (which is amazing) but I suggest taking the time to take in the little things. Survey your surroundings, gather the collectibles and interact with Ellie. You will get much more out of it and the world will pull you in.
I also suggest not to play The Last of Us in one sitting as it can be one of the more stressful and emotionally tiring games you'll ever play. The main story helps this but also each encounter. You face many human enemies through out the game. Way more than infected. This isn't a bad thing though as it makes each infected encounter more special, tense and stressful. You will enter dark rooms that you must stealth through or the infected will hear you. You don't want that as they can kill you easily. All you can hear at times are their moans or the clicking sound of the "clickers" and with no other sounds to clash with these, it makes it all the more terrifying.
The Last of Us is special in several ways but the world Naughty Dog created is one the most detailed ones around. The atmosphere is dripping with uncertainty and death. It's a nasty world out there, but one I don't want to leave.
So, what gaming worlds are your favorite? What games have the best atmosphere?