Top 5: Memorable Real-Life Locations in Games

Although I’ve been enjoying The Talos Principle, I find that when I start playing puzzle games, I often need to to have another, less cerebral game going at the same time. Recently, I found the perfect such candidate in Marvel’s Spider-Man. I’m still finding my footing with this game, but its high-action pacing and web-slinging drama suggests that I’m in for a very good time. But, beyond all the comic book hero stuff, Marvel’s Spider-Man is providing a vacation in another way: through its setting. When the game first came out, I was mesmerized watching its gorgeous rendition of New York City unfold as Spider-Man soared between buildings, above skyscrapers, and through street after crowded street. Now that I’m finally playing the game for myself, there really is something magical in “being” the one and only Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Being familiar with NYC, even just a little, only helps heighten and inform that magic.

As we’re in a time where vacations are being put on hold, swinging through NYC got me thinking about some of my favorite real-world locations as depicted in video games. Setting video games in well-known locales is nothing new. But rendering them in full detail, complete with all the sights and sounds that make them recognizable and visceral, is still a relatively new thing, as far as video game history goes. With that, here are my top five most memorable real-world locations I’ve visited via modern video games.

Sleeping Dogs – Hong Kong

Image taken from Sleeping Dogs press kit (© United Front Games, Square Enix London Studios)

Playing Sleeping Dogs today is like writing a love letter to a city in turmoil. Wei Shen’s (the game’s title character) Hong Kong is brimming with life, history, and tragedy – it’s a masterpiece of claustrophobia and solitude. For as many places as I’ve visited through games, for as many times as I’ve been affected by seeing those places, usually in various states of decay, the sheer vibrancy of Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs was overwhelmingly awesome. The soul of the city was beautifully captured in Wei Shen’s own story, making the city seem even more alive, a character of the game itself.

Fallout 3 – Washington, DC

Image by Flickr user brava_76 (CC BY 2.0)

I’m enjoying my time in West Virginia in Fallout 76. I had a fine sorting through the remains of Boston in Fallout 4. Heck, I probably could have stayed in the deserts of the American West in Fallout: New Vegas forever! But wading into the crumbling and sordid visions of Washington, DC, in Fallout 3 felt like nothing less than an emotional roller-coaster. Having visited our nation’s capitol many times over the years, seeing the city in that state was as amazing as it was gut-wrenching. Bethesda’s version of post-apocalyptic DC is one I’ll never forget.

L. A. Noire – Los Angeles

Image by Flickr user Bholenath Valsan (CC BY 2.0)

I may have had my own gripes with the way Cole Phelps’ story played out in L. A. Noire, but that didn’t take away from the game’s amazing take on 1950s Los Angeles, California. From the juxtaposition between city and desert, the glitzy roadways to the downtrodden alleyways, the city felt alive and real. Granted, there are games that contain more visceral hot takes on the City of Angels (lookin’ at you, GTA V), but L. A Noire’s L. A. Captured the city’s past as much as its present – glamorous on the outside, but less so underneath. Very less so, in some cases.

Assassin’s Creed II – Tuscany and northern Italy

Image by Flickr user Reino Game (CC BY-SA 2.0)

How can I best sum up my time with Ezio Auditore da Firenze in 15th/16th century Italy? The words “architectural” and “gorgeous” come to mind. The game takes place primarily in Tuscany and its capital city, Florence, but it also reaches in to northern Italy with the inclusion of Venice and Forlì. The game captures perfectly rolling hills and sweeping valleys as much as it does Renaissance architecture. Surely some creative liberties are evident in its city maps that were perfected for the rooftop acrobatics of a modified assassin, but still, Assassin’s Creed II offers a perfectly packaged historic vacation to Italy.

The World Ends With You – Tokyo

Image taken from The World Ends with You press kit (© 2001 Square Enix, Jupiter Corporation)

Tokyo has been depicted in lots of games, but I’d argue that The World Ends With You brought the city to life in a unique way. In the game you play as a brooding, dead teenager named Neku who is alive in an alternative version of Tokyo (specifically, it’s shopping district, Shibuya) called the Underground where he can only interact with other dead denizens. However, as dead as Neku is, he can still shop and walk the lively streets of Tokyo. There are people everywhere, all dealing with their own problems. Punching up the reality factor is that the game does a great job of depicting a sense of loneliness in an crowded city. For all it’s game-iness, The World Ends with You mirrors reality quite well.

What are some of your favorite depictions of real-world locations in video games?

Lede image by Flickr user * J-P * (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


  1. DDOCentral says:

    Reblogged this on DDOCentral.


  2. renxkyoko says:

    I’m bad at puzzle games. My gamer brother is very good at this, but he doesn’t live with us anymore… so I don’t get any help anymore, ugh.


    1. cary says:

      Aw, that sucks. I find that I can’t play puzzle games for long stretches – my brain just gives up after awhile.


  3. simpleek says:

    Great list! I agree with The World Ends With You and Sleeping Dogs. I always found these games really great experiences, not just for the engaging stories, but how real and exciting it felt to be immersed in the cities they’re based on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Thanks! Those two games present such interesting examples of how to depict real cities in games, too. The Hong Kong of Sleeping Dogs is hyper-realistic, while TWEWY’s Tokyo is hyper-stylized. It doesn’t matter what the city in the game looks like, as long as the soul of that city is captured in a real way, it’ll feel like you’re there when playing!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Since it’s tough to travel right now, it’s great that gaming can provide for us “vacations,” of a sort. See here on Virtual Bastion where I recently chose five of the most memorable places I’ve visited through games!


  5. renxkyoko says:

    It’s embarassing that I misplaced my comment here ( I posted my comment on puzzle games here, lol ) *red-faced *

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      No worries – commenting confusion happens to the best of us! 😅


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