Having played through Hitman 3 recently and continuing to play through it and the previous locations that 1 and 2 had to offer, with generally every game I play, I ask myself what makes the locations given so interesting and what makes me want to play them over and over again? The Hitman trilogy heavily relies on variation, you’re rewarded for playing differently and through those rewards you’re offered more ways to play. Exploration is key to get the most out of the game.
That is the case for Hitman however. I find it hard to put into words or even know what makes a game world really stick for me. A game doesn’t have to be open world for it to be interesting or even feel *real*. Not every game has had to offer me exp like the Hitman trilogy to give me the incentive to explore, not every game has had to offer me openness for me to have a sense of reality and place. I will do my best to give insight into what my favourite game worlds are and delve into why they are, it’ll most likely be messy and word spaghetti but I’ll hopefully not do that.
As I’ve already talked about a bit with the Hitman trilogy is that it focuses on exploring those environments that are given to you. You are rewarded for that exploration and experimentation, the games only get better the more you understand the locations you go to. The patterns of your targets, the placement of items, it all plays into a true understanding of where you are. It’s somewhat like becoming familiar with the place you live, I guess it really does depend where you live, for example where I live it’s easy to see the same people again and again. When I’d work I would start to see the same person walking the same path as me and would then go their own way eventually, I never really noticed it at first but the more it happened the more it set in and I’d come to expect who I might see on my walk to work. When I would get the bus to uni a year or so ago I would know who would get on at a bus stop and where they’d get off. Since I had never better to do with my time on the bus, my brain would fill in the pieces to give that journey some more structure and less unpredictability. Hitman feels the same way, whilst that unpredictability creates really interesting moments when first playing and still not fully understanding placements and target movements, starting to understand them plays into that sense of familiarity and grounded me into their world through that approach.
On top of that, Hitman 3 is a game that references our world by mentioning the pandemic, therefore implying Hitman 3 is actually set in our world and not some alternate version of it. Spoling some locations here, so if you wanted to go in blind I’d recommend just skipping this part. The location that the pandemic is specifically mentioned is in Dubai where you’re placed in the largest building currently in the world. There are groups of rich people not distancing and not adhering to the rules to keep others safe. Living in their own bubble whilst the rest of the world suffers because of them. In Berlin you go to a club where you’d mistake it for an alternate world since everyone is gathered up, unmasked. That small piece of dialogue that grounds Hitman 3 all the more makes you look at each location in the light of how you’d look at the real world when you see people refusing to wear masks and making life worse for others, the spite, the anger and distress caused by them.
Hitman makes exploration a curiosity on top of that reward for doing it, going to Sapienza and looking around the little street shops, the butchers, the hairdressers, the cafe. It reminds me of seeing all the shops in the tight paths when I would visit Italy when I was younger, the curiosity of what was around a corner. It all plays such a big part into why I love the spaces Hitman lets you explore.
One of the best parts of the Yakuza series is Kamurocho and Sotenbori, the cities that’ll show up throughout the series. They are always a part of it, you’ll see it from 1988 all the way to 2019. Through that time you’ll see it grow, change and you’ll be taken on that journey. It’s a digital home that you start to understand, where at first you’ll be lost and will need the mini-map to help navigate around the small walkways. You’ll most likely won’t end up the more of the series you play as you’ll know you just the same you’ll know where you live (if it’s small enough to understand).
Every time I started a new title in the series or Judgment my immediate reaction is to explore when allowed to see what’s changed. It’s like being away and coming back to somewhere you know so well, you know exactly what is where and can recognise any change, big or small. You become so familiar with Kamurocho and Sotenbori the more you play each game. You can play Yakuza 6 and go to the spot where you met that rip-off Michael Jackson in Yakuza 0, where you saved that little puppy in Kiwami 1. Where Majima pretends to be a zombie. Those memories take that journey with you, whilst the cities change a lot you can always go to a spot and remind yourself of some shenanigans Kiryu, Majima, Seajima and Akiyama got into.
The cities are just as important in so many instances as they feel like a place where you can take solace, especially now, it feels so nice to just be able to walk down a narrow walkway filled with people and travel somewhere that might not exist for you right now. I love Kamurocho for those reasons, it feels like a second place I can walk in, albeit in a different way, it’s full of character. It makes me laugh, it makes me want to explore.
The reason why I’ve just said VR games instead of any specific games that can be played in VR is that they generally have the same feel and presence from game to game and I’d just be repeating myself. The games I’ve played in VR so far, such as Half Life: Alyx, Phasmophobia, Budget Cuts, No Man’s Sky, Tetris Effect and others all place you into their worlds through VR. Whilst most of them are first person games so you get an extreme feeling of presence compared to a game like Rez: Infinite, you are still placed into that world one way or another where you feel their thrills. Some of these games might have a stronger sense of presence than others since some of those games don’t have the same level of interactivity which can break that immersion for you. Half Life: Alyx is probably the strongest game when it comes to that, you can use your gun to open a locker door slowly, to knock over objects that might be in the way of a valuable one (1). Tip over a bucket and see everything fall out the way you’d expect. Budget Cuts would come just after for me and whilst the point of Phasmophobia isn’t to look inside every draw, it still does a good job of making you feel a part of that world.
Even just the ability to look up in Phasmophobia to see the ceiling and get that feeling of scale you might not get when playing without VR can make a big difference. It grounds you in them. In Budget Cuts I’d curl into a ball so I could fit under a desk to hide from the robot that wanted to kill me. In Phasmophobia I’d hold my breath out of fear that ghosts might hear me speak and hunt me down. Those add up to the experience and can make being in those spaces so much more enjoyable.
It’s Minecraft, you know why people like the world it creates.
There’s a feeling of warmth as you’re out in the sun, chopping down a tree and using that to create a house. Hearing the rain pouring down outside, getting that feeling of safety you might get when you’re inside whilst it’s raining hard. The thrill of exploring and imagining what you might find on your adventure in a world with so many possibilities. Minecraft is a game that capitalises on imagination and warmth, the game can generally be whatever you want. You want to be an adventurer, create stories that you can tell others. Be a farmer, take the game at your own pace and create something unique to you.
Being in that world with someone else or multiple people you know makes that experience all the much more enjoyable. Build with the people you like most, create those stories with them. Minecraft’s world is generally a joy to be in however you play the game, the game makes you feel warm when it’s warm, cold when it’s cold and warm all over again when you give yourself shelter. You can just listen to music you love whilst playing and it can still add so much to it.
I want to finish off with one (1) of my favourite games ever and that’s the Outer Wilds. The first thing that truly pulled me into the world was that it was unrestricted. You want to open the hatch of your ship and float in the nothingness of space? Go ahead, but good luck getting back to your ship. Jump into a geyser? Sure thing, but don’t expect to live long after. It’s a game that lets you test the limits of the world and learn your own way as that’s generally what’s at the heart of the Outer Wilds.
I can’t recall a game that gave me this sense of freedom to just see how far I can get away with something, probably Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Outer Wilds is a lot of exploring based on your own curiosity and that drives the world to become one (1) that I loved so much. Wanting to know what was inside that cave, what would happen if I jumped into that black hole, can I reach that station that’s orbiting just above the sun? It’s such an interesting world that’s filled with so much and everytime you learn something it makes that world so much deeper that it’s hard to feel like you’ve experienced all it has to offer.
One (1) of the most interesting things about that space you’re put into is that the game doesn’t pause for you. Something doesn’t happen as soon as you show up, you will miss so much in your time playing and that’s the beauty. Where there was once a planet with civilization, there is now nothing as it was sucked into the black hole. If you don’t get to it quick enough you will miss that history and world-building. Those pieces add so much, it guides you to play differently each time you’re brought back and test yourself against the clock of 22 minutes. It’s a grueling world.
But in that grueling world that has that calm, sit by a fire, listen to your friend play the banjo as you roast a marshmallow and feel the worlds around you move in real time. The warmth is an otherwise cold world that is so cold to you. The absolute best part of the Outer Wilds.
Actually being able to talk about some of my favourite game worlds and what makes them so good for me has helped me understand why I like those worlds so much. They all offer me a resemblance of the real one (1) and can offer me experiences I can’t or haven’t had yet. They can make me experience the joy of being close to my friends in a time where I can’t be close to them. They make me feel warm and calm me down in times where I find it hard to feel calm. To me, that’s the best thing a game world can give me.