Five For Friday: Scenic Views in Video Games

This week’s Five For Friday: virtual vistas, unspoiled plains and views to explore from the comfort of your own home.

Five For Friday geek culture views

I read an interesting article on the Guardian this week – a strong reaction to some British business type’s claim that all games are made by spotty nerds, lack “artistic flair” and won’t do the UK industry any favours. His generally being hugely mistaken aside, that middle bit for was an especially incorrect assumption. There are plenty of video games out there which pack all kinds of artistic flair – from iconic soundtracks to character and story developments that wouldn’t look out of place in one of those HBO dramas that the kids seem to love so much these days.

Nowhere in gaming is true art more immediately appreciated than the graphics, and while the best visuals are derived from moments of action and interaction, in some games there’s nothing like climbing up to the top of a hill and admiring the view. This week’s games chosen in Five For Friday possess just those moments; open-world games set on planets near and far which, even during the heat of the action, may cause you just to stop, tilt up on your controller and just…wooooah.

Fallout 3 – Outside Vault 101

Okay, so we’ll start with a location that doesn’t exactly inspire a visit to the travel agents any time soon. But once your character’s made their escape from the relatively safer confines of Vault 101 at the start of the game, the view that awaits them outside is very impactful in its own right.

fallout 3 vault 101

Look at that. Spooky, isn’t it? It’s just the beginning of a potentially horrifying adventure. Man I can’t wait for Fallout 4.

 

Mass Effect 2 – Ilium

The Mass Effect trilogy has more than its fair share of stunning vistas, especially when engaging in space combat. But one of the highlights for me comes from the second game when you visit Ilium to see what Liara’s up to. When you first enter the spaceport Nos Astra and start making your way through the market, the view out into the city is just amazing.

mass effect 2 ilium view

It’s one of the most striking sci-fi game views I think I’ve ever seen, just stunning, and it gives me a real thrill to imagine it happening somewhere out there.

 

Mirror’s Edge – the city skyline

In what’s already a fantastic game, the views were what really grabbed me the most in Mirror’s Edge, just the rush of getting out onto the rooftop and seeing this gorgeous blueness before you.

mirror's edge review

At the time, all games were about running through murky environs with your fellow soldiers or gang members to perpetrate whatever ‘gritty realism’ was involved in the story, but this rush of stunning colours was the perfect antidote. Hopefully the recently-announced follow up will be just as refreshing!

 

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture – just about everywhere

This game was name-checked in that Guardian article as a token of that British artistic flair, and after finishing it myself earlier this week, I’ve got to agree – there’s so much of this interactive mystery that I just had to stop and stare at. The trails of light, the sound design and most of all, that beautiful Shropshire countryside – particularly at night, but showing a glimpse of that might just be a bit of a spoiler.

everybodys gone to the rapture

from PS Blog

For the purposes of this list, the best thing about Rapture is that I can’t even pick out one single view to call – most of the exterior is simply stunning to look at, and the interiors so well-detailed that estate agents should hire developers The Chinese Room to furnish their virtual show homes in future.

 

Minecraft – your own creation

To finish off, there’s nothing more creatively impressive than building your very own virtual view for the neighbours to get jealous of – and in the gaming phenomenon that is Minecraft this can very easily be done. But it, and games in general, can do so much more.

minecraft church

St Ben’s

The writer of that Guardian piece mentioned earlier, Keith Stuart, has written before of the benefits of Minecraft allowing his autistic son to have some much-needed order and control over what must be a very trying day-to-day life by playing god with these blessed bricks. It’s a very touching article and yet more evidence that not only does gaming deserve its artistic attributes but it can do so much more to help people, as evidenced by the fine work that the likes of Special Effect perform every day.

Been a while since I did one of these, hasn’t it! Don’t worry, I’ll soon forget again.

Holiday Reading – Quick Reviews (1)

I have returned, and with nowhere near the amount of tan I wanted. I stuck my face out from under the big umbrella plenty over the past two weeks but nope, my shoulders went red and that’s about it.

Browning issues aside, I did manage to get through plenty of reading material during our stay in Gran Canaria thanks mainly to the sweet e-reader my good lady gave me for my birthday. Although strictly a paperback kind of guy, I can definitely appreciate the new tech as it will save me both physical room in my bag and extra money on not buying properly bound books. Comics though, forget about it, I’m not missing out on the smell of ink for anyone. Speaking of which, they’ll be the first two quick reviews I’m gonna give in this post of what I read during my spring holidays.

Note: this wasn't actually taken on holiday.

Note: this wasn’t actually taken on holiday.

Mass Effect: Evolution

The second in the series of Mass Effect comics from Dark Horse, Evolution fills in just a couple of the gaps of the Illusive Man; wayward protector of humanity and a bit of a rebel in his day. This story takes the path from one of his final missions as a mercenary to his seat of power in front of loads of computer screens giving out that he’s our last hope against the rising alien threat.

Although it’d have been dismissed as non-canon by Disney right about now if they were getting ready to make a Mass Effect Part VII movie, I do kind of like what the writers of these comic series have done to paint in some broad strokes about the Illusive Man – but that’s the thing really; half the fun of the stories of in-game characters is leaving you to imagine what went before, and without Shepard there really isn’t much you can feel involved in as the universe plays out without your direct involvement as the protagonist. I’m not hugely into the art either and the dialogue’s a bit clunky but it’s a great bit of peripheral vision for the already epic story of the game trilogy.

The Invincible Iron Man: My Monsters

This series has quickly leapt above my other occasional trade paperback buys to the front of the collecting queue; I love everything about Matt Fraction’s writing and Salvador Larroca’s art in this run of Iron Man comics, but sadly this particular volume bucked the flow a bit.

As it’s inclusive of issue #500 of the Iron Man series and an annual (which is weird since the directly preceding issue was #33, bloody renumbering) it strays from the ongoing narrative to tell some one-off stories which go into the overall mythology without being strictly necessary reading – and this is disappointing because it means they get to run what’s basically a What If? story set in the future…which I happened to think was a bit rubbish, plus a long story about The Mandarin being a dickhead which doesn’t directly affect the life of Tony Stark or the world he is tasked with saving. I am still psyched to get back into the run proper with volume eight though so it’s all good.

More to come this week!

A Tune For Tuesday: Vigil

I got on the Mass Effect train very late on, and as such am only now completing the trilogy (for the second time) with a playthrough of the third game. When my Shepard stands in the War Room, above the mechanical hum of starship engines and other general techy stuff, you can just barely pick this out:

This gorgeous piece of music. An article on Kotaku explains it so much better than I could, but for me this is just another beautiful piece of the puzzle that is Mass Effect. I mean, sure, it’s a fairly mindless shooter during the gameplay – not a genre I’m very keen on in the age of Bros of Duty – but the story surrounding it is just some of the most brilliant stuff ever committed to disc. It’s so sweeping and epic that only beautiful music like this could have come from it.

What’s your favourite track from the Mass Effect trilogy?

Mass Effect: Foundation comic book released next week

Thanks to Dark Horse Comics and the writer of two of its trilogy of console games, next week sees the launch of a new comic book series set in the Mass Effect universe.

MEF

The trilogy concluded – most unsatisfyingly for some – in the third game, released in March last year. One year later, the announcement was made that, following a successful series of mini-comics, the new tales of the ME universe would be told in a 12-part monthly series, written by Mac Walters – story lead on the third game and writer of the second. Issue one is released on July 24.

I could go on for a full week’s worth of blog posts about my feelings toward the trilogy, but there’s nothing which hasn’t already been said. From the solid shooter gameplay to the horrible Mako missions, right through the brilliant voice work, my strong love of Mass Effect lies solely within its story and characters; their subtleties and actions, and how the story of a handful of characters has the power to change the whole fictional universe.

So when I heard about the new series being put out by Dark Horse Comics announced in March, I did a little squee to realise that we’ll be getting a year’s worth of new Mass Effect action.

Mass Effect: Foundation follows the story of a mysterious female agent who has spent time on a “violent mining colony on Themis”. Rather than inventing brand new material for the universe, the comic’s title Foundation implies that we’ll be hearing of tales gone before, mentioned in passing elsewhere, a view confirmed by Mac Walters.

Although obviously somewhat lacking in Shepherditude (yeah, it’s a word…as of right now anyway) for fear of abandoning the players who so strongly placed their own impressions on the character, the scope to tell the stories of other key characters (such as Joker, who had his own comic released for this year’s FCBD) is, according to Walters, the chance to see these characters in their own right, rather than through the eyes of Commander Shepherd.

For what it’s worth, the artwork looks fantastic – combining the bleakness of the galaxy’s threatened future with some stunning sequences including what appears to be a knife fight between the mysterious female lead and an ex-colleague.

So on the eve of the release of the first in a 12-part series of Foundation, will you be picking up the latest addition to Mass Effect canon?