5 cities beautifully recreated in video games
Roaming the digital streets of some of the world's great city centers has never been easy. Just try not to get eaten.
Later this month, fans of the "Assassin's Creed" video game franchise will flock to theaters to see a film adaptation of the same name play out on the silver screen. Helmed by Australian director Justin Kurzel and Arnon Milchan, a legendary Israeli producer who most recently received an Oscar nomination for "The Revenant," the movie is promising to recreate the thrills, character development and massive set pieces of the adventure game.
"It’s amazing to see how things have come on since I was last playing," Irish-German actor Michael Fassbender, who plays the lead role in "Assassin's," told Screenrant. "It’s extraordinary, I mean the detail. And I know what a lot of gamers really sort of are fanatical about this stuff is the detail, and the great sort of educational benefits of it, sort of the history elements of it."
In celebration of the digital urban worlds that the "Assassin's Creed" franchise helped to pioneer, we thought it would be fun to look at some of the other games that have followed in replicating cities around the globe.
Boston in 'Fallout 4'
For the fourth chapter in its post-apocalyptic franchise "Fallout," video game publisher Bethesda decided to transform the city of Boston and all its landmarks into a digital ruin. The game, which takes place 210 years after a nuclear war, has players take control of a character exploring the new world and building devices to survive it. All along the way, they're treated to a haunting score by Inon Zur, an Israeli composer best known for lending his audio talents to franchises like "Siberia," "Everquest" and "The Power Rangers" television series.
"'Fallout 4' is a more ‘realistic’ game, although it’s portraying a surrealistic situation or alternate reality," Zur told GameCrate. "Still, you really want the player to be connected to what’s going on, their personal experience needs to feel like they’re really living and breathing in this environment. That’s why the music is more based on organic sounds and not so much high fantasy."
"It's got good American history stuff, which is good for 'Fallout,' and Revolutionary War and all that," he told Digital Spy. "And then you have all the high-tech stuff that Boston is well known for, and I think those two things together are very 'Fallout.'"
Manhattan in 'Tom Clancy's The Division'
In "Tom Clancy's The Division," by French video game publisher Ubisoft, New York City has fallen victim to a pandemic that wipes out most of its citizens. Players are tasked with keeping the remaining survivors alive and preventing crime from overtaking the region. The main campaign's 18-hour-long story all takes place in midtown Manhattan, with the developers choosing to replicate the area in an extremely ambitious 1:1 scale. All the classic landmarks, from the Empire State Building to the Meat Packing District have been faithfully recreated.
“If you want to show a huge-scale catastrophe, then you look at New York,” French creative director Julian Gerighty told the Guardian. “It’s a city that’s moving all the time, it’s so dynamic. So when you show a screenshot or a photo with these iconic streets completely empty, that’s striking – you immediately know something’s wrong.”
Released in March of 2016, critics praised the game for its balanced action and graphically beautiful setting.
"One of the greatest things about 'The Division' is the way in which it presents the bleak, catastrophic setting in which you’ll find yourself," wrote critic Gareth Cartwright. "Its recreation of New York is satisfyingly faithful, but the skin of snow, debris and decay that the game layers on top of it is simply stunning. Every time I turned a corner or scanned a street in this New York I was constantly in awe of how real the devastation looks and feels."
Acre in 'Assassin's Creed'
Released in 2007, the first "Assassin's Creed" introduced players to an action-packed historical adventure within three 12th century cities – Jerusalem, Acre and Damascus. The digital recreation of Acre, a port city on the Mediterranean in Israel, was particularly impressive – with clock towers, streets, and other landmarks all meticulously laid out for players to scale and traverse.
"'Assassin’s Creed' is quite possibly the coolest game I’ve ever played," wrote one critic. "Not only is it satisfying to play, but it looks incredible and is easy to control. Each city is alive with activity, designed with care and attention to detail. 'Assassin’s Creed' may not be perfect, but it offers one of the best single player experiences you’ll play this year, and that’s saying a lot."
According to game designer Patrice Desilets, work on the first "Assassin's Creed" took more than four years of research, coding and development to bring to life. "We're all like, wow, it's so great ... but imagine in 20 years," he told IGN. "It'll be like almost being there. It'll be like a time machine."
Pittsburgh in 'The Last of Us'
Set in a post-apocalyptic future filled with zombies and the crumbling remains of modern society, "The Last Of Us" offers gamers a rare trifecta of strong writing, game design and survival horror thrills. Crafted by Israeli-American creative director Neil Druckmann and studio Naughty Dog, the title features players controlling two main characters through a number of digital recreated (and overgrown) cities – including Boston, Pittsburgh and Jackson, Wyoming.
"When we looked at the journey across the United States, there were different cities and towns that we wanted Joel and Elle to go through," Arne Meyer, community strategist for Naughty Dog, said in an interview. "We wanted to pick certain cities that worked. Pittsburgh happened to be one that some of the designers and artists had an affinity for. We thought it was visually interesting."
While not a 1:1 recreation like "Division's" Manhattan, the artists crafting Pittsburgh were quick to add several recognizable rivers, bridges, and other references to the city's local culture. As critic Brian Taylor wrote in Paste Magazine, "it's just enough of the right dots for someone familiar with the city to connect."
As for the future, Naughty Dog's talents at recreating the real world will receive another big test in the coming years. The studio recently announced a sequel, "The Last of Us: Part II," to be released in 2018 or 2019.
Paris in 'Assassin's Creed Unity'
From a graphical standpoint, no other game ushered in the current generation of gaming quite like "Assassin's Creed Unity." Set in Paris during the late 18th century, the game's designers poured over hundreds of centuries-old maps of the city to capture as much historical detail as possible. Eventually, they settled on accurately recreating at a 1:1 scale of dozens of streets and more than 40 landmarks, including the Louvre, the Pantheon, the Luxembourg palace, Versailles Palace and the Sorbonne.
Far and away the centerpiece of the title, and one every gamer flocked to immediately scale, was the gorgeous render of Notre Dame Cathedral along the Seine River. According to Canadian art designer Caroline Miousse, who spent two years digitally modeling the cathedral inside and out, the task went beyond simply copying illustrations and photographs of the iconic landmark.
"I can re-create every single little detail of Notre Dame, but I also want to talk to people who have been there so I can know what it’s supposed to feel like," she said in a blog post. "That’s a very important part of making sure I do it justice – getting players to feel the right emotions when they see it in the game."
Despite some of the bugs and plot issues that plagued "Unity's" overall score, critics were overwhelmingly blown away by its living, breathing recreation of 1790s Paris. Praised one review: "'Assassin’s Creed Unity' manages to not only deliver an astonishingly beautiful recreation of Paris, but an open world sandbox so dense and rich you feel like there isn’t enough time to see everything on offer."
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