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7 Wonders of the Videogame World

If there’s one thing that videogames do well – perhaps more so than any form of digital entertainment around – it’s immersion. The ability to suck in an individual not just through giving them complete control over their actions, but more pertinently, through the surroundings and awe-inspiring sights developers painstakingly carve and sculpt. It’s debatable that this sense of captivation has only progressed, with more talented designers getting more out of increasingly powerful consoles. And as gamers, we find ourselves witnessing sights more worthy of being put onto a postcard than anything you’d find in the “real world”. So with that in mind, here are just seven places in the videogame world you wouldn’t decline taking a tourist guided visit to.

Rapture (BioShock)

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From the moment you step inside the rusted pod and start to descend into the abyss, you know that something terrifying, yet equally spectacular is about to happen. But nothing can prepare players for one of the most dazzling introductions to a game in recent memory. Players are thrown head first into the mad dystopian city, born out of the head of megalomaniac creator, Andrew Ryan (of who you become familiar with from the get-go). The brief Universal Studios-esque expedition through Rapture is just the tip of the iceberg, however, and if you weren’t left uneasy from the trip, then watching on helplessly as a slicer tries to claw its way into your pod before disappearing in a fit of ghoulish screams – will.

And Rapture never stops being brilliant either. It’s an intricately designed masterpiece that reinforces such a sensation of fear, isolation and paranoia, that it’s nearly impossible to imagine that a place jam-packed with so much terror could have once housed whole families and the world’s most exceptional intellectuals. A damning example of how man’s lust for power and greatness can result in something so depressing, yet so magnificent

The Temple (Shadow of the Colossus)

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The centrepiece of a desolate, eerily silent stretch of land – the temple looms ominously from the very first minute and is the final setting for the game’s breathtaking finale. Even after every adrenaline pumped battle against the colossi, players would find themselves immediately returned to the temple in a bruised and battered heap, ready for more of the same. It’s height and size makes it an undoubtedly impressive creation, and one that manages to typify everything about Shadow of the Colossus. Actually climbing the temple with your bare hands became an entire game in itself; posing a greater challenge and seemingly more unwilling to cooperate than any of the colossi.

And debate raged on for months on various forums after its release as to what exactly was up there in that open space above that was just agonisingly out of reach. Maybe there was another colossus up there scratching its backside. Maybe it was little Ico and Yorda, and getting up there would cause some kind of time paradox. Or maybe there was nothing up there and the designers had to enforce a ceiling-limit at some point. Probably the latter.

The Citadel (Half Life 2)

Arguably – gravity gun aside – the distinguishing feature from one of the most well known and beloved videogames ever made. Its gloomy, shadowy presence upon your arrival to City 17 underpins the oppression in which players find themselves. Seemingly stretching into the sky for an eternity, it can be (if you want to look at it beyond the surface), a visual representation of just what an uphill struggle the Half Life 2 story is for Mr. Freeman and co.

So it seems almost fitting, poetic even, that the game’s climax takes place inside this very structure – and for me especially, it’s the first image I get when someone utters the words “Half” and “Life” in a sentence.

Kamiki Village (Okami)

Kamiki Village is your first real safe house in a videogame that fully encourages exploration to uncharted territories. If you’re like me, the game will have already taken complete control over your eyes prior, as you scamper and dash between areas painted with the utmost care and attention. But it’s your first arrival into Kamiki Village: your first sign of bustling life, that sticks more so than any other point in the game.

It’s a secure little protective bubble from the harsh realities of the story that lays ahead. There’s always a cool brush of wind in the air and it’s nice seeing its inhabitants go about their business; managing their crops or hanging up the washing, of which players are only too happy to help with.

There’s also something touching about revisiting this small speck of a place many, many hours later for the fireworks display that’s all a result of the good you have done elsewhere. Besides, going back isn’t a chore – it’s always a pleasure taking a visit to the village where every cloud has a cel-shaded lining.

Hyrule Field (The Legend of Zelda)

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It may just be a field, but you try telling that to the millions of Zelda fans that have traversed its plains over the decades – and even to the more objective of us out there, it certainly deserves its position as one of the most iconic locations in any videogame. Hyrule Field is ubiquitous with almost every single Zelda in one way or another; who will ever forget taking Epona over the fence of Lon Long Ranch and out into the wild open for the first time in Ocarina of Time? A coming of age moment for a young Link and also for a gamer growing increasingly with the adventure.

Design wise, it’s also incredibly important for linking everything together and acting as the go-between areas. With time, you learn to memorise which beaten path leads where, and you’ll know what places in Hyrule Field are a no-go when you’re down to your last heart. It’s become a staple of the series and one I’m sure many fans will want to see make a return for the next Zelda game. Hell, even for less enthusiastic aficionados such as myself, it’d feel almost wrong to never take a stroll through the field ever again.

The Agency Tower (Crackdown)

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We all think it straight away. Don’t even pretend you don’t know what I’m on about. No matter how much freedom we as a player get in the Crackdown world, it just wouldn’t be complete without scaling the Agency Tower at least once. As if our inner eight year old has spotted a giant tree and won’t stop screaming until it has been conquered. And when you can jump upwards of 20ft in the air – you pretty much don’t have a choice really.

Getting up there however, can be devilishly hard, but then again, what would be the fun of getting to the very top via an escalator? Rest assured, the repeated mistimed jumps and overshot run-ups become but a distant memory when you finally pull yourself up onto the very top, glancing down at the ants below.

And if there isn’t a magic escalator to bring you up, then they’re sure as hell isn’t a cart ready to take you back down. No, the only way down is doing what you do best (besides throwing cars), and preferably doing it headfirst. But it’s ok, because there’s a small area of water to land safely in. Obviously.

The Castle (Ico)

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Your prison for the admittedly short time spent playing Ico, but a prison that leaves a lasting impression on most that experience a game with an almost Citizen Kane-esque aura of respect surrounding it from the professional critics. A poignant adventure or a pretentious, boring slog – it’s totally irrelevant. What is incontestable is the enormity and impressiveness of Ico’s one grand level. That castle – housing that Queen, and more importantly… her.

What makes it so memorable is the believability in its design and the sense of cohesion when pressing on from the next puzzle and desperate scrap with the shadow creatures, to the next. When you look into the distance, you’re not just seeing some place that simply looks pretty from far away, or just a shrewdly placed invisible wall like something out of The Truman Show. You’ll constantly find yourself thinking, “Hey, look over that way. I was there not long ago”.

And as already touched upon: the castle is a prison. From the doors cruelly slamming shut when on the brink of escape, or the bridge collapsing, pretty much putting you back to square one minus the only thing keeping you emotionally invested to the game. Leaving this horrible place at times seems like a morale sapping impossibility – which makes gazing on as young Ico and Yorda sit by the beach sharing a watermelon at the end, all the more beautiful.

You may not agree entirely with the choices above, but I suppose that’s the joy of being involved in a hobby where subjective preference is all that matters. I’m sure there are many other places in many other games you’ve experienced that have had similar impacts as the ones above, and perhaps it’s time you gave them another visit – for old time’s sake.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2007.

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