Ever since Yu Suzuki's Shenmue sent gamers on a mission to find sailors at the docks, race forklift trucks, and dishing out beatdowns to punks and bad guys in the realistic setting of Yokosuka, Japan, gaming worlds changed forever. The Dreamcast showed the world what could happen if you set a video game inside of the real world.
Two years later Grand Theft Auto 3 widened the scope, with its rendition of New York City (Liberty City) on the PlayStation 2. Since these titles were released, video games have evolved enough to provide gamers with a true means of escapism. Resultantly, allowing us to explore and travel to famous locations from the comfort of our sofas. It has gifted players with, not just the ability to be someone else capable of physical feats that wouldn't otherwise be possible, but the ability to see the world in news ways. External factors including finances, time, or mobility can make traveling to Rome, Tibet, or New York impossible, but in games: anything is possible.
As technology has improved over the year, so have developers' ability to creatively and accurately transport the player to almost pinpoint recreations of cities and lands. Here are fifteen gaming worlds that show us the true meaning of escapism in the medium we love.
15 The Last Of Us - Salt Lake City
The Last Of Us is an action-adventure survival horror game developed by Naughty Dog, the same developers who were responsible for the Uncharted series. The horror title is considered one of the most significant games of the seventh generation of consoles and is critically acclaimed for its deep narrative, that managed to convey realistic relationships between the characters on an emotional level.
In The Last Of Us, Salt Lake City was the last city Joel and Ellie visited on their way to see the revolutionary militia group The Fireflies. The city provided the backdrop for one the most memorable scenes in the game in terms of its story and emotional impact.
Although The Last Of Us didn't provide a point for point realistic rendition of Salt Lake City, there were still several of the city's landmarks on display — like the Salt Lake Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as shown above.
14 Far Cry 4 - Nepal
Far Cry 4 is an open-world action adventure game that uses a first-person perspective for its stealth and shooter mechanics. The game's setting and certain aspects were loosely based on the Nepalese Civil War.
Far Cry 4 was praised for its plot, memorable villain, surprisingly deep RPG elements and most importantly its incredible world setting.
The fictional Himalayan setting of Kyrat was a faithful recreation of Nepal and its lands that contain sprawling mountains, water systems, and architecturally accurate villages specific to the Nepalese people.
It's very obvious that the developers went to great lengths to accurately capture the Nepalese setting, with varied lands and terrain for gamers to explore.
13 Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Rome
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was the second installment of the Ezio trilogy and is considered one of the best games in the long-running series. Like the rest of the series, this massive open-world game is played in a third-person perspective.
The title is set in 16th Century Rome, and you are freely able to explore every historical landmark the city has become synonymous with, such as the Pantheon and the Roman Colosseum.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood's exploration of its ruins provides so many memorable moments in the game, enough so that its Roman setting becomes a character of its own. Brotherhood's Rome is so packed and full of things to do that you can't fail to lose yourself in its world.
12 Sleeping Dogs - Hong Kong
Sleeping Dogs was the spiritual successor to the True Crime series and put you in the shoes of an undercover cop struggling with his morals as he caught between his friendships with people involved in the criminal underworld and his duties as a police officer.
The fantastic combat system and martial arts theatrics aside, Sleeping Dogs plays very similarly to your standard open world crime game like the Grand Theft Auto series. Nevertheless, it was the Hong Kong theme that set it apart from other games of this type usually set in a typical American or European environment.
Although the game wasn't geographically accurate to Hong Kong, it did manage to capture the atmosphere and neon lights associated with the region. The crowded city streets and authentic feel and still great visuals help make the game come to life.
11 Infamous: Second Son - Seattle
Sucker Punch's Infamous: Second Son is open-world superhero action game that puts the player in the shoes of its central protagonist Delsin Rowe. Delsin is known as a Conduit (like a mutant from the X-Men) who is capable of permanently absorbing the powers of any Conduit he touches.
The powers that Delsin possesses perfectly allows the player to explore and speed around a beautiful recreation of Seattle. You can even climb to the top of the Seattle Space Needle and jump off the top. No other medium has the ability to allow its subject the complete freedom to achieve impossible feats like this and survive.
The attention to detail in Seattle's recreation was so intricate that the developers actually auditioned real-life residents of the city and 3D-scanned them into the game. InFamous: Second Son was once the game to show friends what the PlayStation 4 is capable of, and remains one of the most stunning games on the system to date.
10 Gray Matter - Oxford
Gray Matter is a point and click adventure game in a similar to the likes of the Broken Sword and Gabriel Knight series. The game puts you in the shoes of a street performer and magician Samantha Everett, who uncovers a mysterious plot involving the paranormal and a series of bizarre events in Oxford University.
Although exploration is limited by the genre, the game managed to bring an almost fairytale-like feel the areas in Oxford and contained many real-life landmarks like Saint Martin's Tower in Carfax.
The city was lovingly rendered with an almost hand-painted quality not seen in many modern games. As in real-life, the 12th-century architecture contrasts well with the very modern world and lifestyle of the city.
9 Fallout 4 - Boston
Fallout 4 is a post-apocalyptic open-world action role-playing game that puts you in the shoes of the sole survivor of Vault 111. The survivor emerges 210 years to the day of an event known as the 'Great War.' The event wiped out the majority of known human civilizations across the world. As a result, giving birth to treacherous and unforgiving wastelands across the United States, such as the game's setting of Boston.
Boston's recreation in Fallout 4 provides and eerie and unsettling site, twisting everything we know about the city's familiar sights and landmarks —like Salem Witch Museum and Bunker Hill— and creating something that matches its post-apocalyptic theme.
Despite the level of destruction, the player will see when exploring the land, there's something quite beautiful about it all, as the games city definitely takes center stage over everything else — a sort of destroyed beauty, if you will.
8 Persona 5 - Yongen-Jaya And Sangen-Jaya
Persona 5 is a Japanese role-playing game and a spin-off series that is set in the same universe as the Shin Megami Tensai series. The Persona games are renowned for their deep storytelling and mature approach to teenage school life, while mixing in supernatural elements of the occult.
Persona 5 takes place in Yongen-Jaya which is based on the real-life Sangen-Jaya. Although the representation isn't an exact like-for-like replica, many of the game's locations are definitely recreated lovingly with a lot of attention to the finer details.
The similarities of Yongen-Jaya train station matches up almost exactly with its real-life counterpart, as well as the real-life cafes in the district. All of which help bring a level of authenticity to the Japanese setting of the game - which helps set it apart from the usual fantasy themes often found in RPGs.
7 The Division - New York
The Division is an online open-world shooter, with deep role-playing game elements. The game's setting is a near-future New York that is dealing with the aftermath of a smallpox pandemic.
The player's role is to help rebuild operations in New York, and protect the citizens from the criminal element that has arisen to take advantage of the remaining survivors of the outbreak, in the absence of a government body.
The Division's 1:1 scale recreation of New York is one of the most beautiful city replica's you'll find this generation. Whether you're playing the game on a PC or on a console, the level of detail in this game offers a degree of authenticity and visuals that other games open or otherwise, can only dream of.
6 Metro 2033
Metro 2033 is an atmospheric video game based on the novel of the same name. Its setting is in the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Moscow. The game mechanics are basically a first-person shooter mixed with survival-horror elements.
The game uses a lot of authentic and real sights that are unique to Kreshchatyk and Paveletskaya of the Kiev and Moscow stations. Adding more depth and layers to a setting that's very rarely used as a video gaming backdrop.
You can pick up the remastered versions of the game coupled together with its sequel Metro: Last Light as part of the Metro: Redux edition.
5 Mafia 3 - New Bordeaux And New Orleans
Mafia 3 is an open-world crime sim, and action-adventure set in the late 1960. The game is set in New Bordeaux — a fictional recreation of New Orleans. Resultantly, the setting manages to hold a distinct look and feel that is synonymous with New Orleans' atmospheric streets and buildings.
Mafia 3 successfully tells a mature tale that handles —and highlights— sensitive race issues better than many other AAA games. Despite the year it is set in, it holds a lot of relevance in today's climate.
Just like its real-life counterpart New Beadeaux has many districts featuring a mix of ethnicities, such as Haitian, French, Irish, African and American cultures. Mafia 3 holds the best and most distinctive representation of New Orleans, and is considered by many to be the true star of the game.
4 Watch Dogs 2 - San Francisco
No one can accuse the developers at Ubisoft of not being able to create some of the best and life-like open worlds in gaming. Watch Dogs 2 is the fourth Ubisoft title on this list, and it stands as a testament to their skills. Only the likes of Rockstar, CD Projekt Red, and Guerrilla Games have been able to match them in the open world sub-genre.
The attention to detail in Watch Dogs 2's version of San Francisco is astounding (just take a look at the Ferry Building above). The developers apparently flew designers, artists, and audio engineers to the city at least eight times to capture 40,000 pictures, and 200 hours of video footage to recreate even some of the smaller details, like real-life cafe's and bars and their locations are included in the game too.
Watch Dogs 2 also has a smaller version of Oakland and Silicon Valley, that has its own version of the Google campus in Mountain View — in the game, it's called the Nudle Campus.
3 Final Fantasy XV Altissia and Venice
Final Fantasy XV was the first truly open-world game in the series, adapting a lot of what Western role-playing games have been for years, while still remaining a distinctly Japanese game.
While Final Fantasy XV's locations take inspiration from many locations around the world, the most distinct and obvious is Altissia's recreation of Venice. Landmarks like the Cathedral of Altissia hold a striking resemblance with the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice.
The architecture and buildings of Altissia are very similar to what is seen in Venice, with the biggest differences being that Venice is a very horizontal city and Altissia is multi-layered with many different levels.
Square-Enix apparently consulted with their Italian team in order to capture the city's distinct feel and atmosphere.
2 Yakuza - Kamurocho and Kabukichō
The Yakuza games are role-playing action adventure games that incorporate a lot of elements previously seen in the Shenmue series but with even more brutal combat like that seen in scrolling beat em ups like SEGA's Streets Of Rage.
The Yakuza games offer one of the most authentic and true Japanese experiences you're ever likely to find in a gaming series. The fictional setting Kamurocho is based on the real-life location of Kabukichō, and contains many familiar sights and sounds of its real-life counterpart.
The well known 24-hour shopping outlet Don Quijote (featured in the above image) is also featured the Yakuza games, and is part of the red-light district. Each district in the Yakuza games is densely packed with activities and side quests to help immerse you into its world beyond the story.
1 Dark Souls - Anor Londo And Il Duomo, Milan
The Dark/Demon's Souls series are very deep action role-playing games, the games are known for their difficulty and very dark fantasy themes. The series features a variety of monsters, demons, dragons, and fantastical settings to explore.
The Souls games have always been praised for their distinct art style and design, but what sets them apart from other fantasy games is they have a certain amount of believability to them.
So it shouldn't be too surprising when you find that at least some of the locations in the games have been inspired by real-life locations. The game's director Hidetaki Miyazaki admitted that Anor Londo was heavily inspired by the Il Duomo cathedral in Milan. It isn't just the game's exterior that shared similarities, but Anor Londo's interior is also very similar to the one found the Italian Cathedral.
Exploring Anor Londo in Dark Souls is just one of the many reasons to immerse yourself in one of the most rewarding games ever made.