Whether you’re an adult gamer or a younger gamer, we all have video games that we have immersed ourselves into to the point that we feel like citizens of their virtual world. Though the years may pass, returning to those games feels like returning home. Their universes frozen in time, their inhabitants going about their unchanged lives, and their stories waiting to be retold whenever we wish to return.
From my first console, the Atari 2600 Jr., to gaming on the PC with my VR headset, I’ve traversed more than a few virtual landscapes in my time. Throughout my adventures with a controller in hand, a few game worlds have stuck with me above all others.
These are the game worlds that feel like returning home whenever I play them. They are not necessarily the best game worlds in history, nor the best games, but the game worlds that have stuck with me long after seeing the credits roll.
1. Grand Theft Auto 3
GTA 3 marked the first 3D entry in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and was the first blockbuster “next-gen” title that I picked up on the PlayStation 2.
Liberty City was a mind-blowing location when released. It was the first time that I’d experienced an open world on such a large scale (and it felt huge at the time). It featured a living, breathing city with pedestrians going about their daily business, cars commuting to unknown locations, and police doing their patrols.
If games had kept records of the number of hours they were played for back then, it wouldn’t make pretty reading. I dread to think how many hours of my life I poured into GTA 3. Seeing as it and Smackdown: Just Bring It were the only games I owned for the PS2 for 10 months, I had no excuse not to scour every inch of the map as I immersed myself into Rockstar’s creation.
Salvatore’s Mansion was my favourite location in GTA 3. I used to roleplay as being one of his henchmen – even after he’d been killed off (spoilers are allowed after a few decades, right?). I’d jump in a Sentinel playing classical music and roll around the city pretending to collect protection money from businesses before returning back to the mansion overlooking the ocean.
Subsequent GTA games have added much larger, more detailed maps and only further enhanced the experience given to those who play them, but none of their maps have been as deeply ingrained in me as GTA 3’s Liberty City.
2. Mass Effect
Though Sonic is my favourite video game character and the star of my first favourite game, Mass Effect is my number one video game of all time.
Mass Effect’s ambitious plot, gorgeous locations and memorable characters will always stick with me. I have replayed it 3 times and each time I return, I get the feeling that I have come home, particularly when visiting the Citadel and when on board the SSV Normandy.
As a huge fan of sci-fi and futuristic settings, the gleaming heart of the Citadel, the Presidium, was my favourite location in the game. As the home to the Citadel Council government offices and embassies, the Presidium was clearly the space for the most elite and powerful individuals. The pristine aesthetic felt like an ideal futuristic setting to me.
The Normandy, on the other hand, felt more like a house with my family and friends inside. The Command Deck, Quarters and Engineering and Storage each have their own designated NPCs, such as Joker at the controls, and spending time with each of them never gets old.
Okay, so, hear me out on this one. Bioshock’s Rapture is clearly not a place that anyone would ever describe as homely, but having poured hundreds of hours into the submerged city over the course of a handful of playthroughs, I know those claustrophic quarters like the back of my hand.
I love picturing Rapture in its prime as a utopia, long before the plasmids hit the fan. The art deco design throughout makes it a truly unique location and one that I’d have loved to have spent time in before everything went wrong. Every time I take the Bathysphere down and the cityscape reveals itself, it feels like returning to a place I grew up in.
4. Pokemon Blue and Red
I have never invested myself into any video game franchise as much as I have Pokemon. I knew nothing of the franchise when I bought Pokemon Blue at my local Blockbusters on the basis that the cover looked cool.
I threw myself into Pokemon Blue so heavily that I quite literally knew every corner of the map. I revisited the villages, towns, cities, caves and adjoining routes hundreds of times. Every so often I load a ROM onto my phone just to go through the opening stages one more time. Those three buildings in Pallet Town feel as real to me as any other location from my childhood. It’s on my bucket list to pick up Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu just to experience it all in 3D.