Your Favourite Videogame Environment?

By Jim Rossignol on September 7th, 2011 at 10:33 am.


The past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about game environments that do something a bit different, or game environments that I really love spending time in because they are singular and unique (Hello, The Zone!).I wanted to ask you guys, too. So what game environments do you keep coming back to? Which ones took your breath away with their cleverness? What are the most interesting game environments, and why?

Speak!

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244 Comments »

  1. Matt says:

    Just Cause 2 – the most fun game world to simply play around in. Gorgeous, full of stuff to do, and ENORMOUS. Skydiving from 10’000 feet never gets old…

    • Gnoupi says:

      This. climbing the highest mountain and watching the view over Panau, it’s amazing.

      And skydiving from said mountain just after tops that.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      +1 for the cause. It is the best outdoor environment ever and why haven’t they sold us 10 DLC mission packs is beyond me. What a wasted potential.

      Just Cause 2 is the single one game that could milk my wallet endlessly and they didn’t.

    • jezcentral says:

      Oh yes, this. Some games are crying out for DLC, like Just Cause 2 (and my personal pick would be more Hitman: Blood Money missions), whilst other developers crowbar in stuff that just isn’t needed.

      Mind you, the DLC for JC2, e.g. pink tuk-tuks and painted parachutes, was a bit like this.

    • Evernight says:

      I will def upvote JC2. It never gets old and there is a great variety of environments to play around in – from desert to ski resort to oil rigs.

    • field_studies says:

      Watching my friend play it for the first time the other night, working through the first few minutes of the first scripted mission, and seeing, from way up high on the mountaintop, but distant lights of the main cities.

      Of course when I was playing that mission myself for the first time, I didn’t register that skyline as anything but backdrop. This time, knowing you can just parachute all the way there, filled me with… oh, I don’t know, a little something…

    • Bob says:

      If ever a game was made with me in mind it’s Just Cause 2. Not only has it large portions of mindless fun, try flying a plane over the mountains toward the sea as dawn is breaking…spectacular.

  2. JuJuCam says:

    For some reason I thought you were talking about favourite places to play games, and was about to go on a bit about how I miss the arcades of the 90′s because I didn’t feel comfortable inviting friends over to my house but we could hang out after school when we had a few bucks and play Time Crisis.

  3. godgoo says:

    OK so it’s not a PC game but I *have* to say Shadow of the Colossus, most memorable and emotive game world for me.

    For PC I really liked the environments in Tomb Raider 2, I was about 13 at the time and found it a very transportive experience.

    • godgoo says:

      I can’t believe I didn’t say Far Cry 2, no need to point out the game’s faults (though I *still* play it occasionally), you cannot deny that environment, the grass swaying in the wind as you prepare to snipe some dude across a valley…

    • godgoo says:

      Oh and Far Cry 2, for all it’s faults it’s hard to deny the environment.

    • McDan says:

      Oh yes, Shadow of the colossus for me as well. Still absolutely love that game and still play it. And of course Hilys in BG&E, that place is amazing. And New Austin in Red Dead Redemption, ah I can’t decide there’s too many. But I’d have them in that order of favouritism.

    • MattM says:

      I don’t think I have ever seen a more geographically impressive game than SotC. The rendering of the bits and pieces like trees, grass, rocks. etc was nothing special even for the ps2, but the over all landscape was just so varied, well designed, and impressive especially when you realize how much of it you can walk through rather than just being part of a skybox. I am trying to think of games that have accomplished something similar. Unreal (the original) comes to mind, but time (15 years or so) may be coloring my memories of that game.

    • Magnetude says:

      Yep, SoTC and Far Cry 2 are up there for sure. SoTC wins for having environments interesting enough to make me keep playing a game about fighting monsters which only had 16 monsters in it. That bridge, man. That bridge.

      And Far Cry 2 regularly calls me back for a point-to-point run across the map, firefights in burned out markets and dentists along the way.

      GTA4 is the best environment I’ve seen for just feeling alive. Even after hundreds of hours, it still tricks me into thinking that all those people are walking around for a reason, even though I know if I follow them they’ll just end up circling the block a few times before getting hit by a rogue bus.

    • godgoo says:

      good point on gta4, it’s one of those games that every time I fire it up I’m right there like walking into a painting or something.

    • Xerian says:

      I’d have to say Dead Island. Its got a bloody amazing atmosphere. I’ve tried a tad of it, and man o’ man, am lookin’ forward to friday.

  4. Sheng-ji says:

    COLOUR!!! Doesn’t have to be cartoony, but let’s have beautiful, awe inspiring landscapes! I remember the first moments of Unreal, that waterfall. The first Halo was an amazing place too, that arch in the sky, the interesting structures, just amazing.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Bastion, typically, even if it has its share of grim, is a good example.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Oh yeah, bastion is so nice, the music, the atmosphere, everything!

    • godgoo says:

      aaah, Bastion, perhaps too soon but gosh it’s lovely.

    • godgoo says:

      Also, the bastion OST is on Spotify. Which is nice (although I bought the OST edition).

    • Magnetude says:

      Fully agreed on Bastion. It hints at the environment more than it shows it, leaving your imagination to fill in the rest.

    • Urthman says:

      Favorite Colorful Environments:

      Prince of Persia 2008
      Trine
      Psychonauts
      Freedom Force
      Mirror’s Edge
      Giants
      World of Goo
      Mini Ninjas
      Bejewelled 3

    • jettpack says:

      oh yeah, bastion is beautiful. Jen Zee is a talented lady.

      Shogun 2 is STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL as well. That may be my favorite representation of japan anywhere

    • mwoody says:

      World of Warcraft’s Vash’jir – a trio of completely underwater zones – is unbelievably colorful. Moreso than anything I’ve ever seen in two decades of gaming.

  5. Valvarexart says:

    I really LOVE dark and murky forests. Forests where you can’t or barely can see the sky, and lot’s of bushes and low trees everywhere were you can take cover. They need to have a “closed” feeling, and the closer the dark trees are to each other the better!

    • brulleks says:

      I’m with you there – I was so disappointed with Oblivions forests, as I’d hoped they’d be denser and darker.

      The only game I can think of that achieves this is The Path – now that was one hell of an atmospheric environment.

      Also, I’m two hundred and twenty fifthing everyone who’s said Far Cry and Far Cry 2. Gorgeous.

      Other than that, as a couple of wildcards, I’d say Giants: Citizen Kabuto and Outcast (I have to add Outcast to pretty much every ‘best of’ list I compile but, again, it seems justified being here – the voxellated world was stunning at the time, and portrayed a good variety of landscapes from snow to swamp to desert).

  6. westyfield says:

    The Zone.
    BF2142′s future-cities (specifically Minsk, Belgrade and Cerbere). Neat architecture, guaranteed a fun time when there.

    • Balobam says:

      Yeah I’m gonna have to agree with you on that one, The Zone does a fantastic job of making you feel alone, like any slip up will result in death, whilst also showing you unique environments from area to area.

      Especially once you start getting to the factory areas, and inside the labs. Those damn places made me feel so claustrophobic, just hearing sounds and not knowing which tunnel they came from.

    • airtekh says:

      +1 for the Zone. Brrrrr.

    • bear912 says:

      STALKER has the single most atmospheric environment that I have ever encountered in a video game. The Zone is a character, a terrifying enemy and companion.

      Also important to me are the many beautiful environments in Half-Life 1, Half-Life 2, and Portal 2. Valve has some of the best mappers on earth. Likewise, Uncharted 2 (I haven’t seen any of Uncharted 1, really) presents some impressive and spectacular sets.

      Currently, I’m also enamored with the bleak, detailed, and powerful period-pieces that are Red Orchestra 2′s maps. Yum.

      And I shall stop there to avoid listing twenty more games whose environments I love. Gaming has produced some quite magnificent sets, to be certain.

  7. Jumwa says:

    Morrowind tops my list. The amount of time I’ve spent just investigating every little nook and cranny, and appreciating the world that was crafted. It was by no means perfect, but it’s kept me coming back for many years.

    Plus getting swanky new graphical update mods were always a good excuse to come back and see things again.

    Lord of the Rings Online also had a stunning world I enjoyed seeing with my partner. Rivendell was beautiful, my favourite I’d say. Strumming up our instruments near one of the myriad waterfalls springs to mind. It was all hidden beneath a MMOs annoying leveling system, but worth seeing none the less.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Oh, both these games were amazing – the little viewpoints you could find in Morrowind and the architecture and flaura an fauna – just sublime.

      LOTRO was so amazing to explore and really rewarded those who loved the books and films, a rare trick!

    • Jumwa says:

      I can’t remember the name now now (Farochel?), but there was also the icy fjord place up north that really captured my imagination for a while too. I raced through that solo one day while my partner was at work. My hunter was far too low a level for it, but I kept racing along, eager to get deeper and see more of it. I made it through the entire place in the end without dying–miraculously–and it was worth it just to glimpse the zone.

      There are other MMOs far more graphically intense than LotRO, but none that I can think of who captured so much style with what they had.

    • Xercies says:

      Yep love both of these games environments.

      Morrowind I just loved being lost in, so many different environments and places to explore. Such a weird little place.

      LOTRO is probably my favourite MMO because of its environment and how it weaves the quests and everything into it. Just loved exploring the land and going from The Shire to Rivendell was actually quite fun, there was so many secret places to find as well, the maps were truly huge. I miss that game.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Oh, the mad dash through the trollshaws hoping beyond all hope that the sun didn’t set because you wanted to get to Rivendell early! Is that game gone? I thought it went free to play.

    • Jumwa says:

      It’s still around and apparently doing better than ever as free-to-play. Though I haven’t played it much since then myself.

    • Xercies says:

      I don’t even like the thought of what they are doing with there F2P model to be honest. Aren’t they like breaking up the zones and making you pay for them for a certain amount of time? If thats true that goes against the philosophy of the game to me. plus to be honest I played it and well I got quite far into it and there wasn’t much really to do anymore, after awhile the game kind of does die out a little with not many good story quests to do and only raiding which is fun but just a little bit to much of a grind for me.

    • Jumwa says:

      If you don’t subscribe, you have to buy the quests for the zones (or grind out enough points to get them free). The zones themselves are all still there, accessible to you to explore and see, to fight enemies in and engage with people. You just wont be able to do the quests unless you pay for them, or earn enough points through grinding to unlock them that way.

      As well, if you’re the type of gamer that does the story quests then loses interest in MMOs, the free-to-play model LotRO uses is excellent for you. Buy the quests you want to do, finish them, done. No money wasted on monthly fees, no pressure to keep playing. You got what you paid for.

    • Durkonkell says:

      In terms of environments that keep me coming back, I suppose Morrowind is the prime contender for that. It’s such a strange place, but I’ve spent enough time there that it almost seems like some place I used to live.

      Also, Azeroth in World of Warcraft. It’s pretty massive, and if you’re into the lore there’s a lot to see and find. Cataclysm added the ability to fly around it all on your own mount and the devastatingly beautiful Vashjir. A lot of Northrend (previous expansion) is pretty spectacular too but my favourite game environment of all is probably Outland (previous previous expansion). The shattered remains of a planet hurtling through the Twisting Nether (like space but with more colours) – Nagrand’s floating islands, the eerie beauty of Terrokar Forest and Zangarmarsh and the thousand stabbing needles of the Blades Edge Mountains against a blood red sky.

      As regards LOTRO: I’ve never played it despite being a big fan of both the books and the films. I’ve been tempted to download it for a while, not at all for the gameplay but purely for the environments. Damn it, I want to see Rivendell! Curse you, Jumwa and you other people. I don’t have time right now! My back hurts! I’m too tired OH VERY WELL.

    • 200proof says:

      Morrowind for me as well. Oblivion didn’t even come close to being as diverse, I have spent weeks traveling just the original map, I havent even made it up to the addition in bloodmoon. Also, if I recall, there is a mod, TR I think, that is working on adding the whole province of morrowind, not just the island. I think it almost doubles the size of the original map.

      The Zone is a close second, but not so much in the later installments.

    • Jumwa says:

      Azeroth for me lost so much charm with Cataclysm. The new development team behind it just didn’t seem to have the flair of the old one. The new world seemed to orderly. It held no authentic feel.

      So even though Azeroth direly needed an update, I think they dropped the ball. The new world was stale before it hit the plate and it didn’t convey a truly post-apocalyptic feel over the old one either.

      Some of the new zones, like Vash’jir, had their moments. Twilight Highlands even had a moment for me when it made me think of Warcraft II. But over all eh. It felt like standard fair WoW-clone ripoff world, rather than the real deal.

  8. stahlwerk says:

    Meigs Field, in MS Flight Simulator 4′s 16-bit Chicago was a magical place at the time. Especially with the dynamic scenery that version added (boats, fuel trucks, other planes…). I got kinda sad when I heard it was demolished IRL a few years ago.

    Edit: for fear of terrorism, nonetheless!

  9. Angel Dust says:

    Both the town in Pathologic and the ..er.. void of The Void are two of the most striking and memorable game environments I’ve ever experienced. Zenozoik, from Zeno Clash, also grabs me in the same way, if a little less oppressively!

    Even though you don’t get to explore it, the clean, dystopian world of Mirror’s Edge is another I like to return to.

    • airtekh says:

      The city in Mirror’s Edge was beautiful, and it actually angers me that I wasn’t able to explore it.

    • lasikbear says:

      The Void had such good environments! I just wanted a no-enemies cheat so I could walk around everywhere without being hassled, painting my trees and listening to the music. The soundtrack really helped too, as well as the various colours talking to you.

  10. reticulate says:

    I loved Red Dead Redemption’s map. All sorts of different terrains, lots of animals to hunt (and to be hunted by, bloody Cougars) and a very palpable old-west vibe. Tall Trees was my absolute favourite, ninja bears notwithstanding.

    Not on the Pee-Cee, however, so I’m not sure if that counts.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Red Dead’s world is really incredible. Rockstar are great at creating worlds by being really smart with the incidental details. Loved the funny animated films you could watch at theatres, and the satirical newspapers and such.

    • reticulate says:

      I think I’ve said it in RPS comments before, but Rockstar are one of the undisputed masters of the mise-en-scène. The world is a story, in of itself.

      Also, the film about Women’s Suffrage cracked me up. Vintage Rockstar.

  11. Lavs says:

    Dead Island is looking to be very, very pretty if not particularly clever.

    I very much enjoyed Fables 1′s environment too. Every town/area had a distinct feel to it, I thought.

    Oh, and of course! The Void! That game’s environments were absolutely amazing even though I only ever saw a Let’s Play, and never really played it.

  12. CMaster says:

    I know in a lot of ways it’s dull, being an attempt at making something almost-real-world, but Black Mesa is pretty firmly stamped on my brain. I can remember most of it, have quite strong associations with pieces of musics and certain areas.

    The Zone is of course the easy, obvious choice. But that’s because there’s something about The Zone which has such a personality of its own – quite a good thing really, when all the actual human characters are pretty flat and just blend into the far more exciting background. SHoC was a pretty incredible piece of atmosphere work.

    Then my last one is going to be both left-field and the most common response. It’s the world of the MMO you spent the most time in. For me, that’s Neocron, the 2002 MMOFPSRPG (although I came to it in 2004). I’ll let someone else describe why. But Neocron city, and some big chunks of the wastes, are places that I know intimatley. And Neocron city is, while truly tiny for a city (you can run end-to-end in ten or fifteen minutes) a truly huge space in game terms. It is comprised of somewhere around 50 individual maps, most of which are very 3D (lots of walkways, tunnels, etc) and I believe over a million enterable apartments (of around 14 designs)

    • LionsPhil says:

      Another +1 to Black Mesa. They did the run-down-but-still-employs-janitors underfunded mix-of-generations-of-tech concrete lab thing brilliantly, especially given the crude tech. Most of it is excellent texturing.

      I also remember Neocron’s neon-green city, part of at least, despite only playing the beta and stabbing rats, so it must have done something right.

    • Magnetude says:

      Ah, Black Mesa was incredible. I mean, barring one or two mine-cart sequences and getting knocked out and carried once, all the progress you made was yours. You made your way from a secret lab deep underground to the outside of the mesa itself in the middle of the desert all on your own steam. It was really impressive how the game made you really feel that. The environments didn’t feel arbitrary, either – some games just give you a sequence of labs and sewers and outdoorsy bits with no real explanation of why they exist, but each area of Black Mesa gave you a greater understanding of the facility as a whole.

      I think that’s one of the hallmarks of a great game environment, one that gives you a real sense of place, the feeling that you know where you are, where you came from and how the two are connected. DXHR does that pretty well too I feel, a good sense of place.

    • CMaster says:

      I don’t know, I always felt that Black Mesa was impossible. I’ve got a pretty good sense of direction – less so in games, obviously but still. I knew at the time in BM that it was impossible, that some places overalpped themselves at that the surface was at a whole load of different heights. However the strength of Black Mesa was that it largely made sense. Everywhere that you went, you could see what it was for, why it would exist outside of Freeman’s flight. It’s fascinating to compare Half Life with Opposing Force in this sense, as Gearbox completely and utterly failed to grasp that idea, filling the game full of nonsense like underground fireball dodging, sewerage works with complex self-destruct mechanisms and highly-explosive concrete.

    • BarneyL says:

      I still remember some of the Neocron environments fondly, such as the populat city\tech haven hang outs. Also the hidden corners you’d either be lucky to find or weren’t supposed to be able to get in to.

      Hobbiton in LOTRO is another favourite MMO spot and gets the feeling of the area just right.

    • dartt says:

      I don’t think they cheated; here is a birds-eye view of the complex.

      http://theintrepid.blogspot.com/2010/06/birds-eye-view-of-half-lifes-black-mesa.html

  13. Renfield says:

    Morrowind – that is, Vvardenfell – was my instinctive first response.

    Others I can think of include San Andreas’ evocative miniaturisation of an American state to play in/with, New Vegas’ (and to some extent Fallout 3′s) frontier microcosms, and the environments of both V:tM games; although obviously they’re not game-derived. Also Rapture, standing out for making me feel genuine *relief* for leaving it.

    Edit: I see someone beat me to Morrowind as I was thinking/typing. In general, it would seem game environments with narratives tend to excite me the most.

    (The Zone, of course, being another good example.)

    Edit 2: Zenozoik! Of course, how I could forget that one?

  14. Patches the Hyena says:

    GTA San Andreas. So much fun! Also, GTA IV and Just Cause 2.

  15. Merus says:

    Hillys in Beyond Good and Evil is kind of an amazing place. I would totally move there if I could.

  16. captainfuzz says:

    Any environment with snow used well I find a remarkably beautiful and haunting experience. Some minecraft moments in the snow were awe-inspiring and I am greatly looking forward to Skyrim. That said, my favourite snow level was in Metroid Prime with a beautiful twinkly piano soundtrack.

    • Jumwa says:

      Likewise on Metroid Prime!

      That first moment when you blast your way through the ice tunnel and peer out upon the land always sticks with me.

    • Kefren says:

      Ditto. The Thing springs to mind – lots of snow and cold darkness, then shivery indoor locations.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Yep for Snow areas… Snow, not just ice. Snow that crunches as you walk through it knee-deep leaving trails behind you, while you’re wearing a big warm jacket and hood.

      The Thing, and Lost Planet are probably the ones that specifically come to mind.

  17. TheLordHimself says:

    I actually really enjoy futuristic environments or space/sci-fi worlds. I’m enjoying the feel of Deus Ex: HR, particularly the idea of the Chinese city with the second city above, shame you can’t go there though (unless you can and I haven’t got there yet). Other games that I enjoyed like this are Mass Effect and Freelancer. I really liked the world created in Freelancer, even though planets were only about 40km from their stars, one of my favourite games, just wish I could find the disk!

    • Tusque D'Ivoire says:

      not sure if it was on here or somewhere on PCG, but i read in an interview about DXHR that they had started to make Montréal and the upper chinese city into hubs as well, but it was taken from the game. Maybe someday, KOTOR style, we’ll have some kind of directors cut…

    • Spork says:

      Another vote for Freelancer; I loved the feel of different planets and systems from the rainy British bits to isolated pirate bases, just reading their names takes me back. Looks like my playthrough of DX:HR just got put on hold.

    • JFS says:

      Is Freelancer still available to download somewhere, I mean, legally? It had so much atmosphere.

  18. coffeetable says:

    Freespace 2. Obviously the physical environment itself wasn’t much (space is kinda empty after all), but I feel that the menus and briefings should be counted as part of it too.

    • daphne says:

      This, though not for the menus or briefings. The nebula missions constitute some of the most immersive, memorable gaming experiences of my life.

    • Magnetude says:

      Homeworld 2 as well. While you can’t say much for space as an environment (there’s just no atmosphere, hey) the sense of scale you got seeing the little fighters zipping around the huge motherships was awesome.

    • mejoff says:

      Oh Hells yeah, the first time the claws of one of those shival cruisers slices out of the mist right in front of you is still one of the scariest experiences available in gameing!

  19. LennyLeonardo says:

    Fallout, all the way. It had me at the huge meta-manual with the scientific rundown of the effects of a nuclear blast. Ah, fun times.

    Second place goes to Okami, the best game featuring an old man with an orange on his head.

    Edit: also, it’s not the best, but I think the world of Dead Space is really underrated. The half-gothic half-industrial sci-fi mix is similar to the Alien films, but it has its own unique character.

    • Lambchops says:

      Oh, Okami, it’s so super lovely. Gloriously deranged and great fun.

      I want to play it again now!

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Lambchops, you and I are now friends.

      I love Okami so much it hurts. If it was re-released on the PS3 in HD like Ico etc. I would buy it, and the stupid console, in an instant.

      More games based on real folklore please. Oh, and more games where you play as a wolf. And more games where you have to befriend rabbits.

      More Okami. Yes.

  20. scatterbrainless says:

    First, are we talking game worlds? Or levels/environments? For levels I don’t think I can get past being dropped onto a bombed-out Statue of Liberty, given a rocket launcher, then (rightly) being called a monster for using it on dozens of human beings in Deus Ex. That wrecked carcass of the statue towering over everything really set the thematic tone of the whole game.

    For worlds though I think by far the best would have to be the magic/clockpunk dark ages of the Thief series, with its strange factions, weird paganism and absolutely absent sense of joy or happiness. If cynical bleakness and gallows humour were a food, it would be every meal in Thief.

    Or Planescape Torment anyone? Arcanum? Fallout? In fact pretty much that whole CRPG golden age…

    • Renfield says:

      I suspect the question concerns interesting environments in the ‘interactive playfield’ sense, rather than campaign settings; although obviously the boundaries between them can be quite vague. If not, I absolutely agree about the IWD, BG, Planescape, Fallout, Arcanum et al. tradition of cRPGs, as well Relic’s Warhammer 40K oeuvre, plus Starcraft/Diablo/Warcraft up to WC3.

  21. jon_hill987 says:

    The Capital Wasteland in FO3.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Really? I honestly want to know what people see in Fallout 3′s world; I found it bland, boring and empty, with completely stupid/unbelievable factions that didn’t interact in any meaningful way.

    • sinister agent says:

      It’s stark, bleak, and kind of beautiful, and there’s tonnes to explore. The game had its faults, certainly, but the world was quite unique.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      As above.

      I didn’t care for the raiders and other factions, they would have been better making more settlements and a few small groups of people that wandered between them.

    • CMaster says:

      I guess the thing about FO3 is well, you have to not think about it. I did, so despite the breathtaking visuals, it did nothing for me.

      Why do I say that? In short because nothing in it makes sense. Fallout 3 is set two hundred years after the war – only 30 years less than the time between the founding of the US and today. Yet nobody seems to do anything. They scavenge a little from the ruins, often wearing pre-war clothes. You find lots of people who still act like it’s pre-war. You find dozens of buildings, including complete food stores, which nobody as been in since the war. I realise that FO’s “perpetual 50s” is a big part of the game, but it’s ridiculous. FO2 showed us a world being rebuilt on farming and trade. FO3 claims to be 200 years on, yet acts like it’s maybe 5 years after the nukes fell.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      Yeah, they should have taken a zero off that 200 years, it could have all still worked.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Yes, I guess that’s a lot of what bothered me – that and the boring “heroic good with no flaws” BoS splinter they had going. Should’ve used the Fallout: Tactics Brotherhood instead, as that one is expansionist/integrationist but also has flaws (racist towards anything not human).

    • Shuck says:

      @CMaster: FO3 was definitely a victim of series continuity. It almost felt as if the game was designed to take place soon after the war, but someone decided, late in development, to put it in continuity with the other games, which made huge chunks of the game not make any sense.

    • sinister agent says:

      Those are all very valid points, and I can see why they’d ruin the setting for many people. They do seem like silly problems to me, but for some reason they never seriously affected my enjoyment of the environment.

  22. Dominus says:

    Planescape: Torment

    Thief

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Two more excellent games – the maw in thief 2 with those eyeball plants and obviously the cradle in T3 – just amazing. I can’t remember specifics from Torment, but I do have very fond memories… To GOG!!

  23. Alexander Norris says:

    Shattered Horizon!

    I really wish they’d had a SP campaign set in that environment, or that someone would revisit it. It’s genuinely unique and really atmospheric.

    • Richie Shoemaker says:

      Oh good call. I’m with you on this one. When you shut down your suit and the sound fades out you can feel very vulnerable. I wish I didn’t have tinnitus as it would be even better.

    • frenz0rz says:

      Damnit people, this. This right here.

      Shattered Horizon remains one of the most atmospheric and visually/environmentally brilliant games I’ve ever played, but it was ultimately hampered by the fact that it was multiplayer only. I really did feel for the developers, especially when they spent a lot of time trying to inject new life into the game with free weapon/map updates and steam deal weekends, but ultimately the servers laid empty, and a truly innovative game went almost entirely unappreciated. I wish it had a singleplayer campaign.

  24. sinister agent says:

    Darklands. An early/mid (I forget) PC rpg thing set in medieval not-yet-Germany and the surrounded area. Based in history, mythology, and society of the region at that time, wonderfully realised. It still holds up well today, though it’s not perfect and there are a few minor interface oddnesses.

    Crackdown. Running, leaping, climbing over and occasionally throwing a car off all those buildings for hours on end. Great fun, colourful and full of life.

    GTA 4. I disliked the game, but the world was marvellous, brimming with detail and ambience.

    The Settlers. It was just so damned pleasant. I could still sit here and watch the little guys go about their work, and listen to the trees rustling and the waves lapping, and the wee fisherman cranking away with his rod, the farmer sprinkling his seeds, the et doing its cetera.

    Far Cry 2, though it would be made magnificent with some non-hostile, more NPC life to it, was beautiful and unique as a setting.

    Fallout 3′s world was beautiful in a bleak and sad way, and made for exploring.

    Just Cause 2 for sheer beauty, variety, and enormousness. I’d probably get my money’s worth out of it even if there were no combat at all, and the player just an unusually dedicated freelance demolition man.

    K240. Bit of an odd choice, but I loved the setting, and it may be because I was rather young, but it left a real impression on me, and I always felt like I really was a prospecter trying to find the ore and keep everything ticking over. A modern remake would make me very pleased.

  25. Anguy says:

    I love rooftops in games so: Mirrors Edge, Thief (there are at least a dozen FanMissions featuring great rooftop scenarios)
    I also love Hylis from BGE and the rough and dark fantasy world of Gothic.

  26. BooleanBob says:

    Playing through Brutal Legend for the first time – the environment is the stand-out star of the show. The characters seem a little thin, the dialogue is clunky and the comic timing all over the place – and that’s not to say anything of the game itself, where the greatest flaws are evident – but the heavy-metal-album art-covers sandbox world is just incredible.

    Just driving around in the Mako-esque killcar, tunes blaring, the anti-future-shock dystopia (Eddie couldn’t be more at home in his new surroundings) picked out in perfect shades of lurid purple and green, falling meteorites lighting up the skyline – fantastic stuff.

  27. Gnoupi says:

    Bulletstorm’s landscapes. Breathtaking views, even in the title screen

    Whether you like the game or not, it really did a lot to pull the unreal engine 3 from its grim, brown/grey uses.

    • Love Albatross says:

      Was going to say the same thing. It has some absolutely gorgeous environments, the buildings and aesthetics were futuristic and unique without being unrealistic. Really surprising for a linear shooter, I found it incredibly memorable.

    • Fedexdoom says:

      This!

      That moment when the giant spinning wheel of death comes at you, destroying anything in it’s path and ramping over mountains, while you are on the rail train running is spectacular.

      Another in a similar gameplay style was Vanquish. Though the environments consisted mostly of sci-fi hallways and cover filled rooms the scale and beauty was just -cough- out of this world.

  28. Abundant_Suede says:

    Bioshock. I know it’s hip to dump on that game for not being SS2 or for weaknesses it may have had as a shooter, but I still go back and play it just to immerse myself in that world again. I think it’s one of the freshest, and most compelling artistic achievements I’ve experienced in a game in a decade.

    • reticulate says:

      Rapture was a tremendous achievement in artistic design, whatever people’s thoughts are on the actual game.

    • airtekh says:

      Rapture’s very pretty alright.

      “No Gods or Kings. Only Man.”

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      It’s not only the cosmetic appeal, although that is considerable. It’s everything. The retro aesthetic in the submerged environment, the sound design and the little songs the vending machines play, the well rendered characters, and the strangely appealing but ghoulish little girls and their wonderfully designed companions, singing their whalesongs through the depths of Rapture. I used to follow behind Little Sisters just listening to their adorable exchanges with the Daddies.

      It’s everything. It’s not SS2, but it’s an artistic triumph across the board, and one of the most distinct, well conceived, and vividly realized game worlds I’ve played, among all the usual kitchen sink “fantasy for fantasy’s sake” video game fare.

      I’m really looking forward to Infinite, but I hope we haven’t seen the last of Rapture as well. I would so dearly love to play a real free roaming sandbox in that world. Hopefully without Vita-Chambers.

  29. aircool says:

    Probably some of the more impressive geological structures in minecraft. Lots of trees, bizarre water/lava falls and some really dark and spooky caverns. I think the Moonshade Highlands in Rift are pretty special, as are most placed in lotro (as someone mentioned earlier).

    Morrowind was one hell of a place to explore. I really miss the days of ‘fogging’ as it added to the ambience of the locations. You could be near a town, or some spooky, wonky ruins and you’d not know it. Guild Wars had some nice places too.

    Level 4 of the megadrive game ‘Alien 3′ was excellent. Great spooky graphics and a great soundtrack.

    Also, I hate any snow environment. Makes me feel cold.

    I could have tried giving some ‘clever’ answers, but I have pretty simple tastes.

  30. NieA7 says:

    For aesthetics Chrono Cross and ICO. Cross is beautiful far beyond its technical limitations, especially coupled with the music (as is Guild Wars to some degree, the first time I got to the Crystal Desert was a little bit breathtaking). ICO is ICO, it’s pretty much the only place in a game that’s really felt alive to me, which is a bit odd considering it’s abandoned and falling apart.

    Mechanically Minecraft’s landscapes are almost always fascinating, though that’s as much about what you can do with them as them themselves. Portal was a lovely area to explore in terms of expanding the narrative, and was well enough designed that the gameplay felt totally natural within it.

    • vivlo says:

      i am surprised no one spoke about Minecraft earlier :’( … because indeed despite all the hype about it and despite that this game is basically only about its environment, it’s this game in which i have watched the most fascinating sceneries, i think. And looking far at the horizon knowing that you can reach it easily is a great feeling too. Knowing you can go to any place you’re looking at is a pretty unique sensation that this game gives.
      to be perfectly honest i might lack videogame culture (haha) but when you talk me about environment in games, i immediately do think about Minecraft…

  31. Ernesto says:

    The sub sea landscapes of Archimedean Dynasty (known as Schleichfahrt in Germany) made quite an impression on me back in the days. I would love to see that realised with modern engines. I imagine big underwater cities with submarine traffic would be quite a sight.

  32. Mitchk says:

    I’ve just started playing The Witcher 2 after picking it up for £11 a few weeks back. Every environment I’ve played through so far I’ve loved. The forest outside of Flotsam is just epic on ultra settings, the ambient noises and light filtering through the canopies of the trees, it really feels like a living breathing environment. I’ve pretty much ignored the missions and just wandered around there for hours hugging trees etc.

  33. thepaleking says:

    Post-apocalyptic Tokyo, from SMT: Nocturne. There was just this absolute sense of hopeless ruination, knowing that you are one of the handful of (literally, not just in a tag-line sort of way) “humans” on the planet. The environments themselves didn’t have the minuscule details you find in a first person game like STALKER or Metro, but it had a broad stroked, abstract painting atmosphere that was completely otherworldly.

  34. trigger_rant says:

    Portal 2, had an absolutely brilliantly designed gaming environment, in my book. I love ruins, and Portal 2 did something I have never seen before. The Idea of a huge, run down, scientific laboratory build inside a large abandoned mine was a stroke of genius and totally hit my sweet spot.

  35. unitled says:

    Narrowing it down to one is tricky, but I’m going to have to go for… Wind Waker. For me, there are Few more relaxing experiences than gently drifting in the wind on the high sea, simply seeing what you can sea. Erm, see.

    I liked the environments in FO3 in general, but I’d like to make a special mention of the museum of technology. It captured the spirit of the game for me perfectly, exploring the rusty old ‘sample vault’ is one of my all time favorite video game experiences.

  36. Burning Man says:

    Assassin’s Creed’s cities. I asked myself if I considered them visually distinct in any way. I realized that they rarely venture beyond simple grey. But every character in those cities looks genuine, has distinct, specific animations, the architecture is true-to-life and fantastically done and you can run all over it.

    Would Live There 9/10

    • reticulate says:

      I’m annoyed at myself for not thinking of AssCreed.

      Specifically, I visited Italy recently and playing the game actually helped me various sights without needing the map every five minutes. Especially in Florence. Rome was a little different, especially in the area around Palatine Hill – the rest is so different nowadays it’s hard to compare.

    • Binho says:

      I know it’s very much a personal thing, but the environments for AssCreed2+Bro did not work for me, in terms of authenticity, renaissance-icity or Italy. They were very good looking though.

      The architecture and city layouts for the time period are often anachronistic at best, and plain innaccurate at worst. Rome especially. The Italian accents weren’t great either. They didn’t even have the local dialects right, especially in Venice. Like if someone used a Yorkshire accent for a Londoner.

      And the lighting and countryside felt just…off. I’m in Italy 2-3 months a year, and it just didn’t feel right to me.

    • Urthman says:

      Yes. I love booting up AC and just climbing around one of the cities for a while.

  37. Lambchops says:

    Adelpha from Outcast.

    Hiliys from Beyond Good and Evil

    Anywhere from Little Big Adventure 2.

    Psychonauts is a given.

    GTA III. Sure it’s more simplistic than its successors but I just felt I got to know GTA III’s city a lot better.

    Did I mention Outcast?

    • grnr says:

      with you on Adelpha – was just reading through all these comments thinking “why’s nobody mentioned Outcast yet”. Damn I loved that game…

    • Waltorious says:

      I have to agree about Adelpha from Outcast… not only is it gorgeous, but it feels so fully realized as a place. An excellent setting.

      My other picks have also already been mentioned by others… the City from the Thief games is excellent. The games would have been good just with their stealth gameplay but the sheer atmosphere of that strange, dark City is what made the series my favorite series ever.

      Psychonauts (of course) and Grim Fandango also had extremely imaginative and unique environments. Probably the games I’m most likely to try to show to non-gamers, for that reason.

      Anachronox has also been mentioned already, but I don’t think I’ll ever find places quite like those again.

      Finally, and this is a strange one, I was very impressed with how unique the locations felt in Might and Magic 1 (yes, the one from 1986). With extremely limited graphics and 16×16 grid maps it still managed to evoke forests, wizard’s lairs, dark caves, coastal areas, mountains and glaciers incredibly well. A fantastic example of how to generate atmosphere through game design alone (as opposed to visual design).

  38. Vexing Vision says:

    Anachronox. I love the shifting plates of the world.

    And Democratus is the most mind-boggling and cynic approach to democracy I ever had the pleasure to see.

  39. Aemony says:

    Trine. No question about it.

  40. airknots says:

    Loved Psychonaut’s environments, specially the colorful one with the running bull and the lung fish level. Also loved Grim Fandango’s environment.

  41. Lugg says:

    I really loved the environments of good old Unreal 2… there were some really imaginative alien worlds: The biomechanical alien environment, that was just creepy… or all the alien fauna. Or the 2nd level where you stalk through a dense forest at night. Damn cool! Not to mention you could actually walk around your own ship. That was pretty amazing, and is something I’d have liked to see more scifi games do.

    • LordEvilAlien says:

      Unreal 2 was beautiful…and there was a space goat wandering round your ship as well….

  42. Markenname says:

    The first thing that came to my mind was ‘Omikron – The Nomad Soul’… The first game that gave me the impression of somehow having a choice where to go and what to do in a video game. Plus: It has David Bowie in it.

    Also, when I first saw ‘Bioshock’ I was like… That’s the most beautiful setting I’ve ever seen.

  43. Taidan says:

    Azeroth, all of it. After quitting World of Warcraft (for good, this time) about nine months ago, I still had strong pangs to go back and play. After a little bit of introspection, I realized it was neither the people nor the game itself I missed. It was the place.

    Also, Upper Hengsha in Deus Ex 3, and Bekenstein in Mass Effect 2′s Kasumi DLC. They both had these sections where you were trapped in a relatively small areas, but had absolutely stunning views into a much larger (albeit out-of-reach) world.

  44. pakoito says:

    Nehrim’s world map

    /hipster

  45. Noumenon says:

    Obani Moon, Ratchet & Clank 3.

  46. Bozzley says:

    The world of World of Warcraft. Not the expansions, the original, 0 to 60 world. My girlfriend and I had not been playing long, both still enthralled by the starting Alliance environments, when a couple of mates offered to take us to somewhere new. The four of us running through the Barrens at night for the first time was amazing. Over the coming months we went everywhere and explored as much as we could (and ruthlessly exploited the little shop in Azshara that sold the schematic for diving helmets). One of the few times, weirdly enough, where I stopped looking at the game world as something to exploit and saw it as something to behold.

    • frenz0rz says:

      I couldn’t agree more.

      I played WoW when it first came out back in 2004, at the age of 14. To this day I have fond nostalgic memories of wandering the moonlit Barrens at night, bounding along on a wolf mount through the forests of Feralas, and staggering in awe through the trees of Ashenvale. The music was sublime, the environments dripping with beautiful atmosphere, and the experience of truly exploring another world in a state of childlike bliss is something that I’ve struggled to emulate for years, but have never recreated. Your first MMO really is something special.

      Also, when I was younger, I always used to listen to new albums and music playing WoW, and even now listening to this music conjures up some unique and comforting memories and visualisations. Die With Your Boots On by Iron Maiden, for example, conjures the aforementioned memories of storming through the forests of Feralas, leaping over fallen trees and rushing streams. Hotel California by the Eagles summons images of wandering the desolate Stonetalon Mountains on a Sunday afternoon without a care in the world.

      I find much comfort in knowing that, despite the sheer amount of people playing WoW to this day, such childhood memories are special, and are mine alone.

    • Carra says:

      I’ll add my vote to this game, surprised it didn’t come up earlier.

      WoW has a great and very varied world. Walking through the snow in Winterfell, the Barrens oasises, Stranglethorns jungle, Tanaris jungle,…

      It’s such a familiar world. I still have a good mental image of all these places: I can walk through Stranglethorn in my head and call up a few memories at each place. Winning the fishing contest, grouping up to fight the three captains, winning the arena, doing Zul Gurub or just walking around and taking a few screenshots.

  47. MikoSquiz says:

    At first I couldn’t decide which part of Psychonauts to pick, then it occurred to me that as much as those fantastic worlds appeal, the environments from Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, and even the Leisure Suit Larries take the cake. All lava lamps and 70s paint jobs and unattractive attractions.

    Worn, old lackluster, slightly drab kitsch makes me all emotional. My heart lives in a faded, fading seaside resort that’s forever out of season, as if trapped in amber.

  48. Igor Hardy says:

    Riven – a wonderful, huge world where every little detail connects with the rest.

    Thief: The Dark Project – The City in particular, but also the various sealed off areas – mines, catacombs etc.

    Azrael’s Tear – quite a bit like Thief, also filled with secrets, but with Knights of the Round Table lurking around, and dinosaurs

    Discworld – the many wonderfully crazy locations of Ankh-Morpork

    Secret of Monkey Island 2 – The whole three island filled with memorable places and characters

    Planescape: Torment – Again, The City (Sigil)

    The Dark Eye – bleak house of a tormented family and a few personal nightmares of puppet-like characters, every object in sight wakes disturbing thoughts and memories, probably the best recreations of Edgar Allan Poe’s worlds created so far

    Tex Murphy’s Neighborhood – set in the mutations plagued future, it’s a huge area that you get to know across three different games (so it quickly becomes your 2nd home), presented through a combination of 3D, FMV and Tex’s silly comments.

    Oh, and Neverhood and Machinarium

    • Noodlemonk says:

      The Neverhood!

      I was looking through the comments for someone mentioning the Neverhood. It is without a doubt my favourite environment.

      It presented the player with an odd feeling of being completely isolated in the middle of nowhere (literally). Space perhaps? Kind of, but we’re not sure. And the distinct sounds of what you tell yourself is the mixed sound of passing satellites, white noise and, well, subtle nothing, adds to this feeling immensely.

      A surrealistic, slightly scary, yet utterly wonderful place!

    • Doctor Apemind says:

      I’d have to go for Myst. I know Riven looked better, but never has there been a game that gave me such an eery and detached, but also beautifully free feeling. Touching the tiny moving images of distant written worlds and being transported there with that unforgettable WHOAWH sound, made my 15 year old heart skip a beat in excitement.

      Even though it was mostly static images, the Victorian, steampunkish, fairytale, lonely, haunting, serene and very detailed rooms where accompanied by brilliant music.

      Ah, the old days…

  49. LennyLeonardo says:

    City 17, anyone?

  50. RogB says:

    The castle in ICO. beautiful, eerie, peaceful..
    not just the graphics, the ambient sound and almost complete lack of music made it feel like a real place.