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.

Mirror’s Edge: Blue Sky Gaming

When I first found the archive of retro gaming fandom that was UK:RESISTANCE, I remember being very taken with their campaign to put the Blue Sky back into video games:

“We want to play in a HAPPY PRETEND LAND, not a shit version of an American slum full of mixed-race gangsters wearing licensed sportswear!”

A pretty strong message, aimed solely at the developers who were trending towards having all their games as dark thematically as they were graphically. Even taken at face value, I found myself wishing for more classic Mario/Sonic, and less Call of Duty.

It’s good to see that at least one game got the message – again, in terms of look if not the feel.

mirror's edge review

When I first played Mirror’s Edge, the first thing that struck me about the visuals was just how…blue the sky was, and how everything I ran past/jumped over/slid under was so sleek and brightly lit. Simply gorgeous. A game this brightly designed will have stuck out like a sore thumb on the shelf next to Gears of War 2, Fallout 3 and GTA IV, but I’m hoping that those who took a chance on this game (if not because it’s the only one I’ve mentioned so far which wasn’t a sodding sequel) enjoyed it as much as I did.

Set in a nightmarish future whose citizens live in fear of a Big Brother-type surveillance society, you play Faith, one of a handful of skilled couriers known as Runners, who use their parkour skills to evade detection as they carry messages between bands of resistance. As you complete your tutorial mission by delivering a package to a fellow Runner, you head straight into the plot: a murder mystery/conspiracy involving friends, family and your trusted allies, the people who are striving to smash the system.

The story is rather exciting stuff if a little basic, it’s got some great characterisation but the plot development feels a bit underdone. Then there’s the slightly cartoonish cutscenes which are said to have divided opinion, they’re very well made but for me are a bit jarring against the gameplay sections.

But that’s only because the gameplay is so brilliant. I mean, running away from armed guards and everything can be very cool when the suspenseful music starts up (oh, and THAT music), and a lot of the puzzles are fiendishly fun, but that’s all stuff which other games have done, and some of them have done it better I must admit.

mirror's edge review

No, it’s when you kick open a fire escape and head to the rooftop just to see all this…blue right in front of you. And then ambient music begins to play, and you take a minute to look above and see this beautiful sky and realise that everything is up there and out there and then as you start to run, it’s just you and your wits against gravity, getting from A to B through sheer self-control and trying not to panic when you’re hanging off a ledge or getting the rush of realism when you start to fall in what feels like slow motion, god it’s glorious!

Part of the appeal of the UK:R Blue Sky campaign is making you feel something again when you’re playing a game, whether it’s a nostalgic pang for the games of old or just that sensation of serenity. With Mirror’s Edge I feel like I got both, and it’s a beautiful thing.