Video games are bloody great. We’re all in agreement there, right? You can (pretty much) do anything. Be anyone. Go anywhere. And how liberating is that last point during the enforced lockdown of this wretched coronavirus era?
Yes, you might be sick of the sight of your own walls. You might have had enough of your irritating kid brother a mere day after the schools shut. And a journey to Spar for essentials may well seem like the most exciting trip you’ll ever make again. But with video games – well, the world’s your oyster.
We picked out the 10 best trips you can have, without leaving the house, via the brilliance of video games.
San Francisco – Watch Dogs 2
You buy a video game, you boot the thing up, then you realise that said game has nothing at all to do with observing canines and is instead about hacking and swotty computer stuff. Disappointed? Not when the locale is as interesting to explore as Ubisoft’s 2016 open world reconstruction of San Francisco – tech central of the Western world. Alcatraz is here, as are the cable cars. And Pier 39 even has its iconic sea lions.
Word has it that Ubisoft are working on a third Watch Dogs game entitled Legion, due for release in 2021, and it’s going to be set in London.
Edinburgh – Forza Horizon 4
A quick blast around the pedestrian-free, dry stone-lined roads of Forza Horizon 4’s condensed and yet surprisingly accurate depiction of Edinburgh – as well as the prettiest bits of rural England – is eerily reminiscent of the ghost towns created by this era of lockdown Britain. But at least it means you get to have a look around Edinburgh castle from the comfort of your own couch. Every cloud, eh?
Playground Games’ newest title in the Forza series lets you burn rubber around said castle too, something very much frowned upon by the current owners, the National Trust. Oh, and if you win enough races – be sure to make full use of the game’s massive garage of 670 licensed vehicles – you can buy the place too.
New Orleans – Mafia III
By its own admission, developer Hanger 13 didn’t replicate New Orleans ‘brick by brick’ for its 2016 crime hit, no pun intended. New Orleans wasn’t even the name that the Notova, California based studio chose for the bustling open world game. No, main protagonist Lincoln Clay sets out to build his criminal empire in a city called New Bordeaux. Barring its name, however, this setting is New Orleans both in look and feel.
Canal Street is here, as is the French Quarter. Neon lights the skies, and you can almost smell the Creole cuisine wafting gently through the air. Sure, it’s got a few steeped streets whereas actual New Orleans is relatively flat – but that’s because car chases aren’t fun when your wheels never leave the ground. Beyond that, Mafia III is the closest you can get to The Big Easy without leaving your couch. Just watch out for any horses’ heads in your bed…
Kefalonia – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Generally speaking we’ve avoided featuring historical locations in this list. We wanted actual depictions of places that exist now – otherwise the Assassin’s Creed series could have made up half of this list. And yet, we couldn’t resist including the Greek island of Kefalonia, a highlight of the 2018’s superb series reinvention, within a game that depicted a landscape so beautiful that anyone who’s ever played it would happily put up with an evening of throwing plates at the floor and dancing erratically.
Belgrade – Half-Life 2
Thought headcrabs messed your head up? Wait until you get a load of this. Though the setting for Valve’s ultra-iconic FPS is never definitively named, the game’s substantial fanbase has long clamoured for an answer to where the 2004 release is set. Some have theorised, based on details such as architecture and the city’s signage (even the appearance of retro Russian car brands like Volga), that City 17 is based upon Latvia. Or Bulgaria. Or Lithuania. Definitely an eastern European city.
The strongest claim is probably for Bulgaria, the home country of Half-Life 2 Art Director Viktor Antonov, but what we can confirm is The Overwatch Nexus building is based on the House Of The National Assembly of the Republic Of Serbia in Belgrade. Ah, Belgrade, such a beautiful city in any season – especially if you don’t mind sightseeing with aliens.
Ko Tapu Island – Tomb Raider: Underworld
There’s plenty of places Lara Croft has visited during her globetrotting adventures that we’d take a hard pass on replicating – coming face to face with a T-Rex in an underground cave system isn’t exactly what we were looking for in a weekend break.
Jan Mayen Island in 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld, however – Thailand’s real-world Ko Tapu Island in all but name – is the sort of tropical paradise that will definitely be getting a good review on TripAdvisor, should we ever be lucky enough to visit. Often referred to colloquially as ‘James Bond Island’, the 66ft composite of limestone, shells and coral was formally featured in 007’s 1974 outing The Man With The Golden Gun.
Seattle – inFAMOUS Second Son
There now hasn’t been a new inFAMOUS game since 2014, and, with studio Sucker Punch currently mired in the development of their insanely ambitious looking samurai epic Ghost Of Tsushima, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting one soon. Which is a shame. At its best – which inFAMOUS Second Son certainly was – the open world superhero romp was a masterclass in chaotic fun.
What other game allows you to climb to the summit of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle or brawl though the waterfronts of Pike Place Market? Sucker Punch HQ, we should say, is based near Seattle, and during its development, employees would often head into town and record the ambiance of the activity in the city. That birdsong you hear? It’s almost certainly a tweet from a bird that is actually local to Seattle.
Himalayas – Far Cry 4
The game calls its playing area Kyrat, and we’d hazard a guess that actual modern-day Nepal – the birthplace of the Buddha – doesn’t feature the constant unloading of machine guns and rampaging elephants. And yet, like actual Tibet, Nepal and the Himalayas, there is wonder present in Ubisoft’s 2014 FPS that is quite unlike anywhere else in games.
May we suggest seeing the map’s stunning, toothpaste-white snowy mountains from the comfort of your gyrocopter? Just keep an ear out for the beeps, then the subsequent stalling. It’s a helluva way down.
Los Angeles – Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar’s games are full of real-world locations, only condensed and given alternative names. True fact: this writer was once able to successfully navigate New York’s Coney Island from steps taken digitally on Firefly Island in 2008’s GTA IV. However, the franchise’s crowning glory remains Los Angeles/Los Santos, from 2013’s GTA V.
Sure, it remains a counterfeiter’s vision of La La Land – Hollywood has become ‘Vinewood’, sign and all; Venice is now ‘Vespucci’ – but the smoggy orange texture that smears the cities sky remains intoxicating even viewed through a monitor. And the stuff you can see and do – without spending half-a-day stuck on the freeway – is thrilling.
Of course, Rockstar had already tried its hand at Los Angeles two years earlier, with 2011’s LA Noire. If you’ve ever wanted to visit LA’s fabulous, iconic theatres, in all their ’40s/’50s pomp and glory, then stepping into LA Noire’s time-bending slipstream is much recommended.
Tokyo – Persona 5
It’s often said that Japan is the one place on earth that generally feels like travelling to another planet. Atlus’ 2016 RPG – believed by some to be the greatest RPG of all time – is set in the Japanese capital. It provides a compelling argument for the aforementioned statement.
Everywhere you look there is colour and sound. And everywhere there is otherworldly weirdness. The Persona series has a love of its native country at its very core, and yet this is the first time a game in the series has been set in a real Japanese city. 2006’s Persona 3 was set in the fictional Iwatodai. 2008’s Personal 4, Inaba. Here, real-life districts Akihabara, Shinjuku and Shibuya all feature. Other than visiting yourself and eating so much sushi you explode and die, Persona 5 provides the next best thing.