Here at Irish Tech News, we recognise that video games are serious business. In a few short years, the industry has evolved from an obscure past-time reserved for the few and become a very real part of popular culture. New releases get the red-carpet treatment and routinely outperform Hollywood blockbusters in the financial stakes.
One of the genres making the biggest waves is the “open world game”. These fictions are based on real places in the world (or made up ones, as in the case of a fantasy game like The Witcher). Within these worlds, the player is given an overarching story to follow and a set of tasks, but at all times they can go off the beaten track and explore wonderfully detailed cities and rural environments.
Here are four games that use the real-world as a grounding influence.
Grand Theft Auto V
It might be set in a city dubbed “Los Santos”, but for all intents and purposes, Grand Theft Auto V is a tour of Los Angeles.
In this madcap world, the sights are faithfully recreated. The “Vinewood” sign sits above the city. “Vespucci Beach” plays host to skateboarders and weight lifters. And turbulent neighbourhoods like Mission Row and Davis (Skid Row and Compton) give rise to gangsterism.
The beauty of the game is you can explore these worlds up close, by taking control of three different characters during the story.
One of these characters, Franklin, lives in a part of Los Angeles rarely visited upon tourists, where urban decay erodes the image that LA is the stuff of dreams.
Another, Michael, has all of life’s luxuries on a plate. Yet even money and a home in Rockford Hills (Beverly Hills) can’t give him contentment. In a sense, Grand Theft Auto V is not just a clever tour of an urban city and its surrounds, but a meditation on life and what makes us happy.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance
The kingdom of Bohemia may not be the first place you’d think to set a medieval game. But Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic, has a rich and fertile history, and this history is mined in Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
The game is based on a real-life conflict between Wenceslas and his half-brother Sigismund. Rival factions give rise to bloodshed, and you’re in the shoes of a humble blacksmith, intent on avenging the death of your parents.
The game goes to great lengths to give you a taste of what life would have been like in 1403. Groschen passes hands, bartering is part and parcel of life, armour is cumbersome, battles slow and tense, and wildlife roams freely. Religion is sacred, life is gritty, and at all times, bereft of modern comforts.
Red Dead Redemption 2
New Hanover, Ambarino, Lemoyne, New Austin, West Elizabeth – in Red Dead Redemption 2, all five districts come together to form an enormous, cohesive, irresistible whole.
The game borrows from real-life locations, creating something that feels authentically American and even at times, historic.
In Lemoyne’s biggest town, Saint Denis, there are the paved streets, vendors, and thick smokestacks of an early New Orleans. Even road names are written on sidewalks, as in the real New Orleans. The neighbouring bayous reinforce the idea that the south-eastern US state has been a grounding influence.
Then there’s New Hanover, which makes numerous nods to heartlands states like Colorado and the Dakotas (north and south). The name “New Hanover” could be a nod to the large German immigrant population that settled in this part of the country, while Cumberland Forest stands in for parts of the Rocky Mountains.
The Rockies are used elsewhere, such as in the snow-capped peaks of Ambarino, home to some of the harshest and coldest terrain in the game.
Finally, New Austin borrows from the deserts of New Mexico and Nevada, while West Elizabeth is a hodgepodge of influences.
Taking this approach frees Rockstar from the realities of a real map and lets them position the geography of the world in line with their story beats. Consequently, Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like a real place – yet never has to conform to the restraints of a real map.
Watch Dogs 2
While games like Grand Theft Auto V obscure where they’re set, Watch Dogs 2 comes out and says it. Welcome to San Francisco. The pint-sized version, at least.
This is not a 1:1 recreation of the real city, but a clever truncation of the real place. Recognisable landmarks are everywhere you look, and the geography means you can zoom from hippie heaven Haight Ashbury to the iconic Dragon’s Gate in a few minutes flat.
That begs an interesting question. With so many games set in America, what about other parts of the world that don’t get any love? Well, step up Unexplored, a campaign created by Currys PC World designed to specifically look at cities ripe for videogame treatment. From Cape Town to Sydney and even Birmingham, explore ten exciting destinations in the link above.