Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Bernband [official site] has my favourite alien city in a video game. Stuff the Citadel, Bernband is where I want to go. Wandering its streets, corridors, and passageways at night you might see bands play in bars, visit nightclubs, stumble into school classes, wonder what high-tech devices even do, and find folks discreetly pissing in corners. It's the best experience I've had of wandering in a strange city, and I will keep talking about it until everyone has visited.
We declared Bernband The Bestest Best Being Pleasantly Lost Of 2014 and I've since shown it at an event in a room with a cute diorama, but still, I haven't said this enough: play Bernband. It's free too!
Waking in an alien city, we wander through the night, pushing through crowds and interesting scenes. One minute you're in a bar with a band blasting in a corner, then you'll be in a greenhouse with tweeting birds, or on the metro station, or in a school, or a gallery, or watching a trumpet recital, or in a quiet back alley with a bar, or... it's full of little scenes bustling and quiet. It's a joy to explore. You can't communicate with anyone, but sometimes they'll yap at you - perhaps they're greetings or warnings, and I know one person is very irate that you're listening in on their phone conversation.
It's the sparseness and suggestiveness that makes it come alive. Bernband has big blocky 3D graphics lots of bright neon lights calling out from the darkness. In the distance, you make out dozens of backlit skyscrapers like the ones you explore, far off in the darkness. One tunnel has a constant stream of hovercars blowing through. Its crowds of people may be blocky sprites, but there are a whole lot of them.
In contrast, Mass Effect's Citadel is meant to be a bustling metropolis but is half-deserted and populated by the same handful of people because it wants to be realistic (I do really like the few shadowy sprite characters ME3, in particular, has to fill out numbers). Bernband's city is alive. It's a place - one I'm so happy to be lost in. There's one quiet back-alley bar I'd love to return to more if only I could remember the way.