A game's setting can be just as important as the story, characters or even gameplay. For example, swapping the UK-inspired Galar region of Pokémon Sword and Shield with the desolate hellscape of Terminator: Resistance may seem like a novel idea, but roaming T-1000s won't improve your Pokémon experience. With that in mind, here are our top digital destination recommendations.
Liam | UK - Combat Flight Simulator
With Microsoft working on a new Flight Simulator, it seems appropriate to use this week’s topic as a platform to call for a return of a classic spin-off from the series: Combat Flight Simulator.
The first game, released in 1998 on PC, let you take to the skies of Europe during WW2 as a pilot of the British, U.S or German air forces. Whilst hopping into the cockpit of iconic fighter planes such as the Supermarine Spitfire or P51 Mustang was very cool, one of the best features from the original CFS were the real-life locations.
Most games I’d played up until that point all came with fictional settings, whether it was a fantasy kingdom or a far-flung system in deep space, so to be able to fly around a familiar one (namely South East England) and see towns I knew and often frequented – such as Biggin Hill – crop up in mission descriptions was a completely new and novel experience.
It was the first and only time (as far as I can remember) that a game’s setting has ever felt so grounded, which is pretty ironic considering the amount of time you spent up in the air.
If you look very closely, you can see Liam's house. We think.
Sam | Rapture - BioShock
I’m a big believer that setting(s) can absolutely make or break a game. Should that setting also be leveraged as an environmental storytelling tool, then generally players are in for a treat. Lots of rich in-game locations hold fonder memories for me than genuine holiday hotspots, largely because they’re intertwined with stories both manufactured and emergent.
Places like the Spencer Mansion (Resident Evil) and the kingdom of Lordran in Dark Souls are vast, yet simultaneously claustrophobic owing to how they gradually unfurl themselves. The best location to utilise this strategy for my money, however, is Rapture from BioShock.
Channelling spiritual predecessor System Shock - an early “immersive simulator” alongside the likes of Deus Ex and Thief, which together introduced more in-depth 3D settings to the gaming masses - BioShock perfectly marries its setting and narrative.
Buried at the bottom of the ocean to shield its resident creatives from government intervention, the opulent facade soon crumbles in conjunction with the “better” society calling it home. Not only is it metaphorically relevant, but the placement of assets and scrawlings on walls tell a supplementary tale to an already enthralling main narrative thrust.
Mirroring the concept in BioShock Infinite was novel, though the floating city of Columbia ultimately fell short by comparison. Much of the magic was gone, dispersing into the open air after being tightly contained in an underwater capsule.
Claustrophobic, yet oddly serene.
James | The Citadel - Mass Effect
Something about space has always captured my imagination. From endless weekends with the original Star Wars trilogy to learning the history of humanity's own exploration of the big black dark thing with shiny bits, it was a world filled with possibilities.
No game I've enjoyed has brought that to life so fully as the Mass Effect series, and a central location for Commander Shepard's journey is the Citadel. A huge, distinctly sci-fi superstructure, built by a long dead (or so you think) organisation, the space station spans hundreds of buildings and is home to thousands of beings.
It was the first time I got a sense of scale and other-worldly possibility, and the way different species all live together and interact, mostly peacefully, is a testament to a more compassionate future we can only aspire to.
While there were criminally inefficient lifts – designed to hide loading times on the Xbox 360's aging hardware – as you explored each level you could often see the station spanning miles off into the distance, and the great beyond past its huge petal-like array of spokes.
Better still, you can get anything you need right there, and wherever you pop into, you'll know it's Commander Shepard's favourite shop on the Citadel.
And this is Shepherd's favourite spot on the Citadel.
Share your favourite gaming location with us.