Atmospheric Games! Get Yer Atmospheric Games Here!
If there's one thing I think video games are great at, it's creating real spaces that players can inhabit. They do this in a lot of ways, first through interactivity, then through things like artificial intelligence and sound design. Pretty games are all well and good, but there's something much more interesting about game worlds that feel less sterile... more real. It's the difference between The Phantom Menace and The Empire Strikes back. One feels too clean, too artificial. The other feels genuine and solid.
Take the bridge in Half-Life 2, for instance. It is terrible. Or, rather, it should be terrible. In nine games out of ten, it absolutely would be terrible. In Half-Life 2, however, with the wind whipping around you, it feels like you're actually a guy, on a bridge, making his way across. Suddenly, your engagement with the game spikes through the roof.
STALKER's another game like this. Sometimes, playing the game is genuinely tiring. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to get to a campsite, much the way I feel in real life when I've been hiking all day and I finally get to sit down and stare into the fire for a while. Once again, it's those sounds that drive the world's immersion, from gunfights in the distance to the howl of monsters at night.
Thief uses its sound design and AI to make its world feel alive. People have conversations about bear fights. another, drunk (with, of course, empty bottles next to him), sings loudly. People snore and cough. They walk the halls, their feet tap-tap-tapping across the ground.
So! What games do you find to be incredibly atmospheric? What games feel like real places, rather than gaming constructs? Try to ignore how nice the worlds look--many game worlds look nice--and just think about the realness of the space.
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