Here at Kiwi.com, we’re interested in all aspects of travel. We realise some people don’t just travel for a holiday, but for a more specific purpose. In this series, we’re going to look at one topic or idea, and suggest destinations for you based on that. This week, we’re looking at…
Video Game Destinations
Video games have slowly become accepted as art. They can be beautiful, powerful, emotional; they can tell a story and ask the player to make genuine moral choices. Some dress this up in a different way to others, and there’s no denying that.
Just like films, some will court controversy – and the publicity that goes with that – by appealing to humanity’s basest layers to attempt to sell units (who remembers Fugitive Hunter, or the utterly dreadful Crime Life: Gang Wars, for example?)
The Grand Theft Auto series is the most famous example of this. It has sold millions upon millions of copies throughout the series, despite the characterisation being awful, the accents and dialogue corny and the female characters either non-existent or utterly one-dimensional.
However, the series does throw you into fabulously, meticulously detailed representations of some of America’s great cities (no matter how thinly-veiled their disguises might be). It’s this freedom that is one of the great appeals of the series.
As machines get more powerful, development teams can play with bigger maps and give players greater freedom to wander about. This means that designers don’t have to invent a mythical place that’s small enough to be workable; they can take a real-life location and painstakingly recreate it, changing elements to fit storytelling needs.
So, here we take a look at a list of destinations that have either been used in, or have inspired, ten video games. Why not go and check them out in real life?
Boston, USA (Fallout 4)
To be honest, it could have been any of Washington D.C., Las Vegas or Boston, the three cities that have featured in Bethesda’s RPG series since it became all first-person. Downtown D.C., with the Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Building all in hulking ruin is one of gaming’s most memorable sights.
New Vegas is not as memorable, although traipsing through the surrounding small towns and out to the Hoover Dam is pretty cool.
For me, though, Boston in 2287 just about takes it. Fallout 4 is set ten years after the catastrophe of 3, and although dangerous, seems more civilized (read: less uncivilized). In fact, one of the missions involves following Boston’s Freedom Trail walking route.
If you visit Boston yourself, it’s one of the first things you should do. It’s a route marked out in red, starting, or ending, at either Bunker Hill or Boston Common. It takes you past sites of historical importance such as Paul Revere’s house, Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church and the USS Constitution.
Known in the game as Diamond City, Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, is another Boston icon. If you’re there in baseball season, a game at the atmospheric, slightly rickety ball park is one of the most quintessentially American things you could do.
Hong Kong (Sleeping Dogs)
Originally conceived as the less-than-brilliantly-named True Crime: Hong Kong, this action-adventure game takes places across the four districts of Hong Kong Island. When it was released, players praised the game’s depiction of Hong Kong for feeling “alive and well-populated”, as well as the sheer scale of it.
Indeed, Hong Kong can be an overwhelming place to go. With more skyscrapers than any other city in the world and a population density of around 16,400 people per square kilometre, it often feels claustrophobic and exhausting.
Perversely though, it’s why those who love it, love it. It never sleeps, is an eye-popping array of neon and shiny things, and things tend to move at a hundred miles an hour.
Rome, Italy (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood)
Setting the game in the 16th century meant that developers Ubisoft could model Rome’s iconic structures on the remains that still stand today; after all, by the time in which the game takes place, the Palatine Hill was already in ruins, and locals were quarrying the Colosseum for building material.
Today, Rome is still glorious. For some reason, it doesn’t seem (to me, at least) to be suffering the rampant overcrowding that has caused residents of Barcelona and Venice – among others – to take almost militant action against tourists.
The sights are dotted around the city, so there’s no centralised crush (although you may well have to queue if you’re planning on going to St. Peter’s).
Of course, you’ll never get a view of the city from on high like Ezio does, but the whole place feels like you’re walking around a living museum.
Belgrade, Serbia (Half Life 2)
City 17, the setting for Half Life 2, is supposed to be somewhere in Eastern Europe, and contains architectural styles common to that part of the world. The most striking similarity is the Overwatch Nexus, which closely resembles the Serbian parliament building, although there are nods to other cities as well.
The station into which you first arrive in the game was modelled on Budapest’s Nyugati pályaudvar (Western station), and the river running through City 17 is called the Daugava, the name of a real river that runs through Riga, the Latvian capital.
Belgrade has spent a great deal of its history being knocked about, one way or the other, and some buildings damaged by bombing during the Kosovo War in 1999 have been left in their damaged state as memorials. It’s not necessarily the most beautiful city you’ll ever visit, but it has a gritty charm.
Locals don’t want it to be defined by its past, and so young, hip coffee shops and bars are springing up all over the place. Get some greenery by walking up to the park on Banovo Brdo hill, or explore the castle and citadel at Kalemegdan before a wander along the banks of the Sava river below.
Prague, Czech Republic (Forza Motorsport)
If racing cars through the streets of Prague’s Old Town were ever allowed, I’d love to see it! The course created by Turn 10 Studios is, usefully, a decent guide to a walk through the city.
Starting and finishing near the Old Town Square, you cross Mánesův most before either following the circuit north towards the park on Letná, or head up into the gardens, churches and palaces of Malostranská.
Either way, to continue tracing the circuit you’ll eventually need to wend your way towards Karlův most and battle the throngs of tourists that Turn 10 helpfully removed.
Going under the tower on the bridge’s eastern bank, you’ll pass the Klementinum on your left and keep heading in that direction to find yourself back on the Old Town Square. Of course, you’ll want to see the famous Astronomical Clock and tick another tourist box, but then it’s time to get out of the centre and explore some of Prague’s lesser-visited districts.
Try heading to Žižkov or Vršovice for some dive bars and a much more local (and far cheaper!) welcome than you’ll get in the city centre. Not that there’s anything wrong with the historic centre, but there’s more of Prague to discover!
San Francisco, USA (Driver)
The hills of San Francisco were perfect for a game whose driving model was the powerful-yet-softly-sprung cars of the 1970s. This classic PlayStation title cast you as a getaway driver, with nods to all the back alley escape roads and piles of cardboard boxes present in many 70s films.
San Francisco as a destination needs little introduction. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and Lombard Street are all classic destinations. But why not see them with a twist?
The Bugster Experience has a fleet of restored Volkswagen Beetle convertibles that are available to rent for periods of 3-4 hours; each comes with a GPS system pre-programmed with 40 amazing SF sights, so you don’t need to worry about missing anything. What could give you more of a swinging 60s vibe than cruising around Haight Ashbury in the ultimate hippy symbol?
Or if you want more of a muscle car to recreate the game, Vinty will rent you such rumbling, bouncy monsters as a 1968 Buick LeSabre for $350 a day, a ‘65 Cadillac Coupe de Ville for $500 a day, or even a 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air for $200… an hour.
Moscow, Russia (Metro: Last Light)
Moscow’s Metro network is vast. Some of it is beautiful. Some of it is ugly. Some of it is on the surface, while some of it is deep, deep inside the earth.
The deepest stations were supposed to be used as nuclear bomb shelters, and this is also the premise of the game Metro, in which you play as a survivor of a nuclear war forced to maintain an existence in the tunnels and stations of the system.
This actually makes sense if you’ve ever been to Moscow. Some stations are linked underground, meaning you can walk from one to another without once seeing the surface (Biblioteka Imeni Lenina, Aleksandrovsky Sad, Arbatskaya and Borovitskaya are all linked under an area taking up three whole blocks at street level).
You could pay to be taken around the most ornate and palatial stations in the city – and there are plenty of companies willing to take your money – but there are also a selection of self-guided tours available if you just go to the trouble of printing a couple of documents and maps off the internet. It’ll be well worth your time, and all it costs is the price of one Metro ticket.
Paris, France (Broken Sword)
Broken Sword, now celebrated as a classic point-and-click adventure game title, puts you in the role of the hapless George Stobbart, an American tourist who witnesses an attack on a cafe while on holiday in Paris.
Teaming up with reporter Nicole Collard, they’re soon plunged into a mystery involving the Knights Templar, a man dressed as a clown, and a memorable encounter with a goat – a puzzle so difficult, it has entered the video game history as The Infamous Goat.
The Knights Templar was chosen before it became a fashionable basis for fiction (blame Dan Brown for that), and also because it meant that the game could be set among the churches and monuments of Paris.
The Enclos du Temple, a vast city-within-a-city covering 1.5 square kilometres, was built by the Templars and was once the richest and most powerful area of Paris. Over the centuries its fortunes declined along with the Order, and the last remnant of it was pulled down in 1853.
However, a visit to the Temple quarter of Paris will yield streets named for the various parts of the Order, as well as commemorative plaques in places.
After being considered a bit dead in the 90s, the area of Temple is now considered one of the most picturesque in the city, and includes the Paris’s oldest covered market, opened in 1612 and still selling wine, cheese, bread and fish.
Seattle, USA (inFAMOUS Second Son)
Delsin Rowe leaves the Akomish Native American reservation in Salmon Bay, Washington and travels to a fictionalised version of Seattle.
The team behind the game said that the combination of Seattle not being used in games very often, the famously changeable weather in the region, and the city’s mix of old and new buildings would make for an interesting and atmospheric setting. They weren’t wrong.
Even though the layout of the city isn’t exactly as in real life, stylised versions of some of its most famous landmarks – the Space Needle and Pioneer Square among them – appear.
If you’re not indoors (due to rain) with a cup of coffee (which Seattle is famous for), then this part of Washington state is a very outdoorsy place. Rent a canoe at the Waterfront Activities Centre at the University of Washington, see the skyline of the city from the Water Taxi, or go on a ghost-hunting tour from Pioneer Square!
Dundee, Scotland (Grand Theft Auto)
Our final selection is a bit of a cop-out. Rockstar Games were originally based in Dundee and, although they now call Edinburgh home, their Grand Theft Auto games are full of nods to Scotland.
The two central characters (who subsequently fall out) in GTA IV are named Vlad and Roman, a reference to the dispute between Hearts FC owner Vladimir Romanov and their Czech centre-forward Roman Bednař. The Saltire (the Scottish flag) pops up in numerous places, and there’s also an auto repair shop in GTA V called Saul Tires.
Glasgow gets a few mentions in the game’s police database and, all the way back in GTA 2, the cheat code BUCKFAST would make all the citizens of the city more aggressive.
If you fancy a trip to Scotland anyway, Edinburgh is very picturesque, with large, stone buildings and bracing walks. Glasgow you can read about here, or you could visit the Highlands to hike, climb or ski.
Whatever you choose, remember to pack your warmest clothes; one joke about Scotland is that it’s almost always cold and raining – and that joke isn’t a joke!