NOTE: I'm aware that we're kinda past this topic now but I made a noob mistake and my original post never saw the light of day. I'm giving it a second chance.
When I play videogames, it is to escape from the everyday. I want to go somewhere fantastic. I want to go somewhere unusual and exciting and I want to believe it. There are so many amazing worlds that have been created that it was hard to choose something to go with. I could have easily talked about Mass Effect 2, The Neverhood, Bioshock, Mirror's Edge or Limbo, but I kept thinking about an old favourite that I replay every couple of years just to be reimmersed in it's world.
The Resident Evil remake for Gamecube still stands as one of the most atmospheric games I've ever played, and I'm an atmosphere-man! Every area was so believable and detailed. The lighting and ambient sound really gave each area its own brand of creepiness. Each place, whether it was a study, laboratory, woods, or one of those good old fashioned kitchens full of unidentified rotting meat and cockroaches, was totally believable beyond the scope of whatever you were doing in the game. The world in and around the mansion really 'existed', and as a result the game had a very rich (and eerie) sense of place.
Special mention goes to this place. I remember when I came to this area the first time I played the remake. A filthy, algae-ridden pool sitting there in the darkness. I've seen pools like this in real life in the middle of the day
and wondered what was under all that slime. God knows what's under there in Resident Evil town in the middle of the night. I think by this point in the game you've seen enough to really think anything could be lurking down there, at the very least theres going to be a few zombies that have fallen in and drowned (can they drown??). I also love how there's a mysterious third light source coming through the trees...
I think the ingredient that makes so much of this game beautiful is the lighting. Take the next image for example. You have multiple light sources that might not actually exist, or have been exagerated for the sake of this scene. The strange lighting, combined with the unusually bent trees creates a scene that is not realistic, but hyper-real, an exaggerated version of nature. The result is imagery that is familiar, but surreal and nightmarish.
But who cares about that, it looks awesome. This is probably my favourite area in the game. Walking from the mansion to the cabin you absolutely feel like you've just stepped out onto the edge of a cold, wet and vast forest. In contrast to the ordered architecture of the mansion, there are paths, partly eroded by the flow of water, plants and trees growing wild, and rickety fences leaning at angles. You hardly even see anything because it's so dark but you know that over that fence is a dark and dangerous forest, probably inhabited by a few stray zombies or worse. I wish I could jump that fence and wander off into the darkness!
The image below is another of my favourite views. Its great because in the foreground you have the stream trickling down the hill and little bits of light hitting some of the trees, and in the background, obscured by some of the branches, is the mansion. At this point you've already been in the mansion for a while, but who knows what's going on in there now that you're outside! All kinds of hijinx I'm sure! I find it quite creepy just looking at the windows of the mansion, some of them lit up from inside, and thinking about the possibility that there are zombies lurking inside those rooms.
To this day I don't think I've seen a game that has created such amazing backdrops to wander through. And in nearly all of the forest section, all you really do is wander through them. But, whether you're running from a zombie in the corridors of the mansion, or watching the trees swaying gently as you walk through the fog, the locations in this game absolutely affect you, as they are supposed to.
I think that's the indicator of a good location. Whether it affects you in some way or not. Of course, not all games require a sense of place and atmosphere to be successful, but it never hurts either! The Resident Evil remake will always hold a special place in my heart for creating a world that lived, and was terrifying as a result.