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Our favorite game settings

If a game has a good setting, you don’t forget it. You may even end up referring to it as if it were a real place – “I wonder what the weather’s like in Midgar this time of year…” However, setting hasn’t really been a prevalent factor in our games until the modern consoles, both due to a loosening of size constrictions and the advent of 3D graphics. Most NES and SNES games had little setting to speak of outside the instruction manual. But developers have been getting better at creating alternate realities, showing us worlds that we swear are real. With more than enough amazing settings in games today, videolamer decided to list some of our favorite examples.

This list does not factor in level design. That topic is easily complex enough to warrant its own list. This is a list of well-crafted universes, ones that are so perfectly developed that you wish you could travel to them, again and again.

Half-Life 2
Valve really knows how to create a good setting. In City 17, you come to see the results of a war with an alien entity known as the Combine. They soon corral the last remaining humans in urban cities, where they resemble the ghettos of Eastern Europe in WWII. Civil protection units would capture and detain anyone for anything. Sections of town were completely barren. At the center of it is the Citadel, a towering skyscraper that held the source of the invasion. No matter how far you go from the city, you still see the Citadel over the horizon. Each area in the game looks like it would if it were actually invaded. The streets are filled with rusted-out cars, buildings are torn up from their foundations, and the outlying suburbs are completely empty. You truly feel as if the world is on the brink of destruction. Good thing you are Gordon Freeman.


Shadow of the Colossus
Although this game pales in comparisons to GTA: San Andreas’ amazing size and scale, SotC tries something a little different. In this mysterious land, there are no other entities to be found. You have only the hero, Argo, and the Colossi. Sure, there are lizards and the hawks, but there is not one person or other enemy to be found. This was intentional, as to show the player that this land was cursed and forbidden from being tread upon. It also looks as if the land is just coming back to life, recovering from some huge environmental tragedy that took place. There is very little plant life in the area, with desert taking up most of the land. Most of the structures are either in a derelict state or destroyed completely. You find yourself asking how this land came to be, and why it’s in such a sad state of disrepair. And making the player care enough to wonder is a mark of a great setting.


Final Fantasy X/X-2
Setting doesn’t always have to include physical surroundings, but instead can be memorable because of its inhabitants and cultures. In Spira, there is an established religion, Yevon, with a hierarchical structure of priests running it. The game gives 1000 years of back history, starting when Sin first appeared in Zanarkand to punish the people for their sins. Then there is also racial bigotry with the Al Bhed and their constant use of machina. Enemies even have a back story – they were souls of humans who turned angry when they died. You even see the souls or “pyreflies” rising towards the Far Plane (Spira’s form of Heaven) when you kill them. There is so much going on in this game that, in many ways, it resembles our own way of life. I think Spira was so developed the first time around that many people demanded to see what happened to it after they left it. Fans would see their demands met with X-2.

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Alex Trabia
Alex Trabia
17 years ago

I’m gonna add one to this list:  Alpha Centauri, from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.  If you have not played this game, you should definitely try your best to do so.

16 years ago