Resident Evil 2 and 3
Many would probably say the mansion setting from the first game is far superior to the overrun streets of Raccoon City, but I always believed that the contemporary settings of the second and third games made them scarier. I’ve never been in a mansion before, but I have traveled to a big city, and I could easily imagine what Leon, Claire, and Jill are going through when trying to find a way out of the zombie-filled streets of poor Raccoon City. Capcom also uses subtle audio clues to really heighten the tension. If you go outside, you hear moaning in the background from some zombie that’s nearby. You may never see them, but you know they are there. It isn’t just a police station that you need to worry about, but an entire city, so the setting spans an area much further than you can see. The series would soon go to places I really didn’t care about, like the island in Code: Veronica, but I will always remember Raccoon City.
Remedy’s bullet time opus made me want to turn the heat up to 100 degrees. In Max Payne, a huge snow storm is blanketing NYC. Every time you go outside, you see a thick snowfall covering everything. It also helped that every time you listen to the radio or TV in the game, they warn you of how bad the storm is getting. Also, the use of sound really helps to create a believable setting, just like it did in Resident Evil. You constantly hear a deep wind while outside and cop sirens in the distance are absorbed by the snowfall. You also hear conversations from bums talking about the end of the world. To this day, I’m still blown away by the harsh and bleak setting that Max Payne created.
Planescape is a D&D realm where the normal rules don’t apply, so to cite the cliché – it’s where a beholder can be a bartender! Black Isle could have easily gone over the top designing the locations in this game because really whatever they did could have justifiably fit into the Planescape universe (well, the D&D nerds may have objected). Instead, they gave us Sigil, the city of doors. Through these dirty streets walk peasants, thieves, merchants and demons. Standard settings like sewers filled with monsters complemented the stranger areas, like a pregnant alley that “gave birth.” Sigil isn’t only home to some exotic sightseeing, though, the city hosts seven separate fleshed out factions for the player to interact with (five of which he could join). And like other Black Isle/Bioware RPGs, the streets are crawling with named NPCs who had their own stories, goals and motivations.
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