Every video gamer at one time or another, be they casual or hardcore, has had the fantasy of being inside the game world they’re playing – whether they’re in the middle of a high speed chase on the streets of San Andreas or fending off a pirate boarding party on the high seas of the Caribbean. The more immersive the game world, the more we gamers start to feel like we’re living that fantasy. The best of these immersive game worlds pull us in and never let go and we spend countless hours admiring the scenery exploring. Here is our list of the Best Virtual Worlds in the Gaming Universe:
San Andreas – GTA Series
Not just a level or even a city, San Andreas is an entire fictional State – a hybrid of California and Nevada set in the 90’s and complete with three major cities based on Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas scattered across five counties plus numerous towns and villages in between all connected by country roads and highways along with air travel and train systems – this world is HUGE. There are analog versions of the Hoover Dam, Area 51, Mount Diablo, and Hollywood to name a few.
All of this is very well done and seems totally natural – skyscrapers give way to suburbs and ultimately rural areas – towns and isolated enclaves fly by as you zoom around the desert southwest landscape by highway and rail listening to a killer 90’s soundtrack and countless 90’s pop culture references. It’s thoroughly engaging and all totally beautiful but all of that totally belies the violence your character unleashes on the landscape. I used to think Vice City was huge and could spend hours just driving around town but San Andreas is a staggering four times larger.
Rapture – BioShock 1 & 2
Rapture is a vast art deco underwater city built by the Ayn Rand-inspired Andrew Ryan, and was intended to be a Utopian paradise – free from religion and the interference of government. Rapture was to be a place where anybody could become a success through hard work – and a bit of genetic engineering. That dream turned dark and deadly when the genetic manipulations resulted in half the population becoming murderous psychopaths, and by the time of the events in BioShock, Rapture had become a vast ruin, and a reminder of how our brightest dreams can turn into our darkest nightmares.
Tamriel – Elder Scrolls Series
Bethesda wasn’t satisfied with crafting a level or a landscape, a city or even a state – they went ahead and crafted a vast and varied continent made up of snowy mountains, dark dungeons, gleaming capital cities, and rundown rural villages, all populated with inhabitants going about their daily lives. It’s all quite immersive and thoroughly beautiful. Perhaps even more impressive than all that, however, is the rich history of all these locations -whether in the various books and tomes you find scattered around the world or from the spoken words of the various lords, knights, paupers, and servants within it, the lore of Tamriel stretches for centuries. Combine that rich history with the massive geography and you have an immersive environment so beautifully detailed and rich that it could literally take a lifetime to fully explore.
The Caribbean – Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag
The Oceanside world of Black Flag is nothing short of remarkable – a virtual rendition of the West Indies composed of a huge variety of expanding colonies, deadly jungles, and Mayan ruins. The beautiful cities of Havana and Nassau contain a remarkable wealth of details such as gorgeous stonework cathedrals and ramshackle taverns. You can hear the seabirds calling and I swear I can smell the salt air. There’s a lot to see and do in these waters such as exploring remote islands searching for treasure, underwater shipwrecks waiting to be plundered, and vast stretches of sparkling blue Caribbean waters that are every bit as deadly as they are beautiful.
Paris – Assassin’s Creed: Unity
Paris scarred by the civil unrest of the French revolution is a site to behold and experience and the level of detail that’s gone into this time period’s version of the city of Paris is thoroughly amazing. As the storyline progresses, the city begins to crumble right before your eyes as the city streets becoming mutinous and dangerous as citizens begin burning effigies and waving flags, while loyalists and revolutionaries battle over the future of France. It’s only when you begin to explore the city’s’ many districts do you realize the sheer size of this place and it’s huge number of citizens wandering its streets.
Vice City takes place in a distant 1986, embodying the excess and glamor that comprised that decade’s popular culture. The unbelievable 80’s soundtrack and hilarious DJ commentary along with period cars and neon clothing really hit this one out of the park – this is as immersive as anyone who grew up in the 80’s could hope for. This analog of Miami is rife with 80’s pop culture references from movies like Scarface and TV shows like… you guessed it, Miami Vice. This is a city that truly feels alive and pulls you into the steamy underbelly of the cocaine-fueled mob culture Miami was struggling with back then.
American West – Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption proves that the old American West and Mexico are as gritty and wonderfully rich a setting as one could hope for. You’re totally free to explore the many cities and towns as well as the open Wild West as a former outlaw. Historical context plays an important role, as this game takes places in the West on the cusp of modernization with automobiles and machine guns replacing horses and pistols – the wild landscape is becoming more civilized. This has to be one of the most gorgeous desert landscapes in video game history. While many deserts are portrayed as bleak, sandy wastelands – the landscape of Red Dead Redemption never feels dead—it’s totally awash in wildlife and people and random encounters make the world feel truly alive.