5) Throat of the World (Skyrim)
Making the climb to the top of the enormous mountain at the centre of Skyrim’s world is a lesson in experiencing grandeur and scale in games. While you can walk the seven thousand steps from the ground to the peak easily in one sitting, it nonetheless takes long enough that you get a real sense of the size of this place. The path is fraught with threats, from wolves and Ice Wraiths to fully grown Frost Trolls, and the journey is broken up by ten etched tablets scattered along the trail, which tell the ancient story of High Hrothgar, the monastery at the top of the mountain.
There is such a feeling of grandeur to the journey that you really do feel rewarded when you reach the peak and look out at the landscape below. And knowing that you can travel to any of those areas you see below lends an even greater sense of scale that permeates everything that Skyrim professes to be.
4) Wonderland (American McGee’s Alice)
It’s a daunting task for any graphic or game designer to tackle the sprawling, surreal and fiercely popular world of Wonderland, as told in Lewis Carroll’s much-loved children’s story. But American McGee’s haunting rendition, despite deviating from the canon by turning Wonderland into a horrifying, monstrous place of threat and deformity, more than matched the expectations of the novel’s fans. The people over at Rogue Entertainment created such a stunningly creative and beautifully macabre Wonderland, taking traits and areas from the original Wonderland and twisting them to suit the game’s unique brand of psychological horror.
Everything is distorted and chaotic, from the bizarre, unsettling landscape of Wonderland Woods to the sinister chessboard aesthetic of the Pale Realm. The aesthetic of the game is utterly amazing, perfectly matching the surreal characters, the incredibly haunting music and the themes of insanity and maturity entwined in the plot of the story.
3) Home (This War of Mine)
This War of Mine is an exercise in reminding its players of the true horror and brutality of war. It’s a game that at times made me feel about as powerless as I’ve ever felt playing a game. It’s not about heroes, because chances are if we were in a war in real life, you wouldn’t be a hero, you’d just be another civilian, desperately scavenging for food, fuel and medicine to stay alive for another day. In This War of Mine, your characters’ home is a place of great investment. Your survival and happiness depend upon upgrading and developing your little war-torn hovel into a place where you might be able to find a few hours’ solace from the terrors of wartime.
The amount of time you spend exploring your house, adding beds and workstations and fires, restocking your food and medicine cabinets, cooking your meals – you learn – out of necessity – to love this place and treasure it as the one place the war can’t touch. But the game never lets you forget what’s happening outside. Whether by listening to news reports on the radio or hearing distant gunfire or artillery that light the sky like lightning, the relative solace your home provides in This War of Mine serves only to highlight the perils of war occurring elsewhere to people just like those under your care.
2) Cloudbank (Transistor)
Transistor is one of those rare games that immediately captures the imagination through almost every track available to the medium – music and sound design; voice acting; level design; plot and narrative structure. Possibly the most striking of the game’s aspects, however, is its hand-drawn graphic style, which helps land the sprawling city of Cloudbank a definite place on this list. Cloudbank is a feast for the eyes, and a surprisingly layered and complex location to find in a game. It is as expansive as it is vibrant, as varying as it is stunning.
As you guide Red and the Transistor through the city, the setting reflects not only the story, but the deeper, more philosophical aspects of the game. This beautiful postmodern cyberpunk metropolis is slowly stripped of its cultural identity throughout the story by the robotic Process, swapping its former vibrancy and sprawling experimental style for a minimalist palette of greys and whites, and simple geometric shapes. Cloudbank is a character as integral to Transistor’s story as Red or the Transistor itself.
1) The Normandy (Mass Effect Series)
The amount of time you spend in the Mass Effect games depends entirely on what kind of gamer you are. Race through the campaign at top speed and you can complete the series in twenty hours or so. Stay for the huge array of side-quests, achievements and lore available in every campaign and that time may extend to perhaps eighty hours or more. That’s a lot of time you get to spend on The Normandy, Commander Shepard’s personal ship. Bioware took great care to create a fully developed ship that served not just as a base or a reprieve from the action but as a home for the player and their crew.
This is particularly evident in Mass Effect 2, where a great amount of emphasis was placed upon slowly assembling a team of gifted individuals from across the galaxy. All came to The Normandy from different cultures, with different histories and stories to tell, but it was remarkable to see how each character would lay claim to a different part of the ship, settling in as perfectly as if they had always belonged there. A huge amount of time throughout the trilogy is spent traversing the ship, talking to various crew-members and seeing what they had to say after each mission – and we learn to love and know the ship as any captain should.
Games and Tech Columnist
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Next week, Ollie takes us on our tour of the top five most challenging games.bookmark me