With the whole world on lockdown, all visits to historical wonders, cultural sites, and exciting cities are pretty much on hold for the moment – or are they? While you might not be able to actually do much physical traveling during quarantine, there is a way that you can discover some of the world’s most remarkable culture from the comfort of your couch. How? By exploring real-world locations in video games! So limber up your thumbs and equip that drink-holder hat – corona lockdown is about to get pwned!
Videogames have always been a good source of escapism from the real world. But in times when all everyone wants to do is go outside and explore the real world, they offer an unlikely source of solace now too. Recent years have seen giant leaps of immersion and graphical detail in the medium. So much so, that these days you can get a legitimate fix of wanderlust from the gorgeously rendered real-world locations in today’s video games.
It’s a pretty cool way to prime yourself for the inevitable travel and sightseeing binge that we’ll all be on when restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, here are some of the best video games with real-world locations and cultural wonders that you can explore right now
Explore Antiquity in Assassin’s Creed
Right off the bat, it’s probably worth acknowledging that there’s one game series that stands out in terms of digitally rendering the look and feel of the ancient world, and giving the player entire cities to run around and explore. Assassin’s Creed is not without its flaws, but when it comes to exploring ancient cultural treasures, few do it better.
This epic time-hopping saga sees you step into the boots of a nimble, ninja-like assassin, who likes to parkour over rooftops and dispatch foes with a nifty little wrist blade. Other hobbies include jumping from the top of world-famous monuments into conveniently placed haystacks with an impressive degree of accuracy and undeniable suave.
Florence in the machine
The real star of the Assassin’s Creed games are not the swashbuckling heroes or convoluted time-traveling plot lines, but the immersive, meticulously detailed historical locations that you can run, leap, and shank your way around with happy abandon.
Want to climb to the top of il Duomo in Florence, or wander into the Tuscan countryside, and row a gondola through Venetian canals? Assassin’s Creed 2 can make that all happen. Set in a stunningly realized version of Renaissance-era Italy, this is the game for anyone who’s ever dreamed of befriending Leonardo da Vinci, fist-fighting an evil pope, and being a patron of the arts back in the Renaissance.
Picking up at the exact (confusing-as-hell) point that Assassin’s Creed 2 leaves off, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood takes the adventure to the Eternal City. Meaning you can now free-run around the Roman Forum, parachute through the open roof of the Pantheon, and scuttle up the outside of the Colosseum, and it’s as fun as it sounds.
As with Florence and Venice before it, the level of detail in each and every monument in Rome is astonishingly realized, and visiting these cultural sites will be even more spectacular after you’ve performed death-defying leaps and acts of valor in and around them.
The Assassin’s Creed series has since traveled all over the world, taking you to Constantinople, the feverish streets of Paris during the French revolution, and the smoggy bustle of Victorian London. It’s also been to Ancient Egypt, and more recently Ancient Greece, in the critically acclaimed Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, where you can hop around the Acropolis – back when it was a lot less crumbly.
The best part is you can pick up a lot of these games on the cheap these days, and like the many monuments and ancient cultural sites depicted within them, they stand up just as well today. Sorry, Acropolis.
Hunt for Cultural Treasures in Uncharted
Another globetrotting game series that lets you explore the ancient world is Uncharted. These games favor a more linear-level design over the expansive, open worlds of Assassin’s Creed. They’re also set in the present day, so you’ll be exploring real-world locations as they look now, rather than how they looked back in their glory days.
Most of the first Uncharted game is set in the Amazon rainforest, which, it turns out, is littered with ancient temples and ruins, who knew? The game series travels all over the world, from the mountains of Tibet and the deserts of Syria, to the dense jungles of Borneo. There’s even an entire mission set in a faithful recreation of Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace Museum, with plenty of puzzles to solve and waves of hapless henchmen to mow down along the way.
Not designing a sprawling open-world game meant that the developers at Naughty Dog (of Crash Bandicoot fame) were able to focus on putting even more detail into the huge temples, ancient ruins, deserts, mountains, and jungles of Uncharted – and it shows. These are some of the best-looking console games out there, with gorgeous set pieces that are as cinematic as any summer blockbuster movie.
Feel Old by Playing Tomb Raider
If jumping around ancient temple ruins and Raiding Tombs sounds awfully familiar, that’s because Lara Croft has been doing it since 1996. But the gun-toting face of Lucozade has come a long way since the blocky days of her original outing, which (brace yourself) is now older than Space Invaders was when the first Tomb Raider game was released.
It’s a cool throwback to see her scramble around the grainy, pixelated versions of Angkor Wat or St. Paul’s Cathedral that the PS1 could just about render. But, for a proper dose of scenic sightseeing to offset those lockdown blues, her latest work is where you want to invest your time.
Now, you might be thinking that given the decades worth of Tomb Raider games, the newest installment would see a geriatric Lara Croft shuffle around on a walking frame. But the world will have to wait for Tomb Raider: Rise of the Hip Replacement, as the latest crop of games go back in time to tell Lara’s origin story. So she remains the spry, dead-eyed survivalist we know and love.
From frenzied firefights in the harsh wilderness of Siberia to taking an invigorating dunk in the warm, turquoise waters of a Mexican Cenote, Lara’s wild years as chronicled in Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider are a blast to play through – until you can take a swim in those Cenotes yourself.
Swing around New York City in Spider-Man
There are only so many tombs you can raid and so much wilderness you can hobble across while being shot at before you start to miss the comforts of city living. Also, how many times you can fall to your demise before you wish you had some kind of… wall-crawling, web-slinging superpowers? Well, if your spidey sense is tingling for a Big Apple city break in a red-and-blue spandex jumpsuit, we have some very good news for you.
If you gave Assassin’s Creed performance-enhancing drugs and a skin-tight leotard, you’d get 2018’s Spider-Man. This game lets you swing around a meticulously detailed map of Manhattan as everyone’s favorite friendly-neighborhood hero. Like in the comics and movies, you’ll engage in all manner of acrobatic combat with bad guys and supervillains. You’ll zip around a huge, open sandbox with your webs, while fighting crime 10 goons at a time, unlocking new abilities and gadgets, plus spidey suits along the way.
You can really take parkour to new levels in Spider-Man, as you cartwheel through stairwells and the construction works of Manhattan’s highrises. Gracefully pirouette as you change directions to pursue a gang of terrified criminals from above. With great power comes great responsibility to lasso a fire hydrant out of the ground in mid-air, swing it around your head, and slap it across the cranium of a fleeing thug. Who says video games aren’t art?
Every skyscraper and building in the city is run-uppable and jump-offable, and this game is the best way to gaze across the New York skyline from the top of world-famous landmarks like the Empire State Building, or One World Observatory until they’re open for business again.
Grand Theft Awesome
Speaking of crime, it’d be a crime not to mention some of the best games with real-world locations out there: crime games! Without condoning or going into some of the more sinister activities you can get up to in many of these games, they are among some of the most detailed and impressive renderings of real-world locations in video games. And you don’t have to live a life of crime in these games, you can also play the tourist, drive around minding your own business, and simply soak in the sights.
Of course, the godfather of these sandbox-style hijack-em-ups is the Grand theft Auto (GTA) series. The latest in this controversial series sees you roam around a fictional version of LA, and is extremely fun to explore – even in upstanding-citizen mode. The names of landmarks and neighborhoods might be slightly different from their real-world counterparts, but Rockstar Games did an incredible job of capturing the soul of Los Angeles in this gigantic alternative version of the city.
GTA has become so popular that it has spawned a litany of copycat games that let you run, gun, and drive around open-world cities, with many of them being based on real-life locations. It’s a formula that works and has pretty much become a subgenre of gaming in its own right. Even pigeons are getting in on the action.
Want to explore the zany neon streets of Tokyo? Pick yourself up a copy of Yakuza 0. Hoping to cruise down Lake Shore Drive in a faithful recreation of the Windy City? Roam around Chicago in Watch Dogs. New Orleans gets the open-world game treatment in Mafia 3 while Sleeping Dogs takes you into the criminal underworld of Hong Kong. The list goes on and on.