Warning: This article contains spoilers.
There are a lot of elements that go into making a good video game; game-play, characters, story, acting, design, it all adds up. Luckily there are so many aspects that unlike film or television not all of these elements have to be up to standard for a game to turn out great. In fact we’ve been surviving on rubbishy plots most of our gaming lives, have you played a Call Of Duty campaign? One facet of gaming that can sometimes get the back seat is the world, no one ever really notices how great it can be unless it really stands out and it’s completely forgivable for studios to set a game in our boring old world. That’s why today I’ve decided to single out some of the greatest worlds made for video games, focusing more on action/adventure and less on RPG because as we all know, RPG games understand the importance of creating an impressive environment and lore.
The Last Of Us
There isn’t much I can say about The Last Of Us that hasn’t already been said; it is one of the most highly revered games of all time, and deservingly so, it’s practically perfect. Still, since I am making a list about the best video game worlds, in the words of Camille Yarbrough, “The Last Of Us, I have to praise you like I should”. Naughty Dog clearly spent a lot of time theorising and planning what the world would be like once nature reclaimed its former glory. There have been a lot of different versions of this world throughout zombie storytelling history (because no matter what Naughty Dog says, they are zombies) but none do it justice like The Last Of Us. Every plant has an unkempt beauty to it that is menacing and majestic at the same time and scattered throughout this urban wilderness are heartbreaking clues to the hundreds of stories untold. As a player, you are given just enough of the puzzle pieces to put them together as you stumble through your own storyline. Not to forget the animals, some wild, others escaped from the zoo and improvising a life in their new habitat. Then there’s the infected, who either keep to their own dark corners or get reabsorbed into the environment with everything else. Naughty Dog has said that they tried to treat the world like another character, with its own original stories to tell which is exactly how you feel when you play the game. It is the perfect backdrop to a story that I feel is the Citizen Kane of gaming.
While researching Tolkien one day I came upon this comparison; “While J.K. Rowling told the story of her characters and built a world around them, Tolkien created a world and then told the stories he found there” and I think the same can be said for Ken Levine and the team at Irrational. When you play a Bioshock game(excluding Bioshock 2), you get the feeling that you aren’t playing a game about the central characters but the entire world. The stories of Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite aren’t the stories of Jack or Booker but more Rapture and Columbia. Every part of the city’s history has been mapped out and each of the citizens that inhabit that town have a story to tell.
It’s one thing to create a world that is as unique and fascinating as Rapture but then to follow that up with a second is very impressive. Especially when the connection between the two worlds is so fascinating, they are not simply two cities inhabiting the same world, rather, there is a much deeper reasoning to their relationship.
When people think of Portal, two things are often mentioned straight away, the unique gameplay and the hilarious writing. While these are definitely strong aspects of the game, I feel that the Aperture facility never gets enough respect. On the surface – or at the centre to be more precise – Aperture seems like your run of the mill average scientific research laboratory but when the layers are pulled back on the seemingly mundane facility, it’s a very different story; it is a story of corruption, dangerous machines and horrendous cake lies. There are clues scattered throughout the games and the more you uncover the gladder you are that this is just a game.
Aperture is made even more interesting in the second game when Chell is put to sleep for a long time. In the first Portal, the labs were abandoned for some very creepy reasons and GLaDOS was allowed to run amok but it was still made clear that the game was set around current times (2010). In Portal 2, Chell wakes up many years in the future and it is unknown whether humans even exist anymore which gives the game an even eerier feel. Not only that, it makes the ending even more interesting, did Chell find anyone? We can only pray that Valve is planning on a third installment to possibly find out.
Back in 2010, while Chell was portalling for her life Darksiders had only just been released. It never quite became as popular as I thought it deserved, sure it sold a few million but I was expecting that the series was to be the next big thing like Assassins Creed or God Of War and Vigil clearly did too. A lot of time was spent developing the world and its lore and Vigil even set themselves up for three more games. Alas it was not to be and they only barely made Darksiders 2. As for Darksiders 3; that’s up in the air and we have to wait to see what Nordic Games has planned.
Nevertheless, the world Vigil created is amazing, humans only get in the way and its not long before they are all wiped out to make room for the big kids. Building off various themes from the Bible, Vigil managed to put a unique spin on the angels and demons mythology and made sure their world incorporated as much as they could. I don’t quite understand why they changed two of the horsemen of the apocalypse from Famine and Pestilence to Strife and Fury but I’ll let that slide considering the beautiful art style these games have. As for the RPG elements of the second one, those I can’t forgive they were a pointless additions but hey, the world’s still incredible.
If you haven’t noticed already, most of the games in this list are fairly modern and there’s a reason for that, aside from the fact that I’ve played more modern games. Technology, as it advances, there are more tools at the fingertips of game developers to build their world. Better graphics, better rendering techniques, better everything and if you have the right tools you can get more done. Older games didn’t always have these tools and they generally spent more time on the gameplay than the story or the world. That’s where Oddworld stands out.
It’s all in the name when it comes to Oddworld, everything in this world is ever so odd but in a good kind of way. It’s an alien planet with alien species but when it comes down to it, very Earth like problems. Oddworld is a great black mirror to hold up to society and the gritty feel of the environments and the terrifying beasts only add to that. Oddworld Inhabitants clearly put a lot of work into the world, so much so that they named their studio after it. Hopefully one day they can get back to making original games like this and adding a bit more odd to our world.
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