The sound, the pace, the look, and the mood of a gaming moment combine to form an environment – or an atmosphere. I’m huge on atmosphere. It’s an extremely important factor in deciding what I think of a game, and my favorites have tended to be the ones with my favorite atmospheres. So, here are examples of my favorite atmospheres I’ve ever experienced. I did my best to rank this list in order of how much I like them, and are displayed in countdown.
15. Half-Life 2’s road
At one point in the story, Gordon takes a buggy down a dilapidated, old, paved road along a ridge, to get to a prison. Along that vacant road, you’ll find little vacant houses which you can stop to explore if you want. The world is very quiet in this part… thus any appearance of the zombie-like creatures is very unsettling. There is one house in particular – right on a cliff – that feels especially captivating… and the horrid moaning of the creature inside is an unfriendly gift for an unwelcomed explorer.
14. SWAT 4’s Children of Tarrone tenement
You have to lead a team of officers into the apartment building taken over (and sadistically decorated) by a cult group that torture and kill children. It’s freaking scary because so many of the set pieces and room designs help add to that nightmarish horrible feeling. I have that feeling every time I go in there.
13. Mass Effect’s Virmire
I love this one because the mood is very dramatic since the team is on a dire mission racing against time, and it’s very pretty since the sunny tropics fuse with a lightning storm in the distance as seen from the planet’s beaches. It’s one of my favorite looking levels ever.
12. Indigo Prophecy’s snowy streets
Throughout the game, there is a snow threat that gradually increases. More and more snow piles up in the lead’s city, and eventually gets apocalyptic. In one scene, Lucas walks through the streets next to cars that have been pile upon so high, that they are barely recognizable. A force of nature that inevitably destructive and not knowing how or why it’s happening combined with the arridity and quietness the snow encourages, makes the city in this condition rather eerie.
11. Silent Hill 3’s underpass
This is a sewer-like short section where monsters make their presence known more often than attack. Plus, there are frequently disturbing or scary sounds that make us wonder what is out there, and what this place is capable of.
10. Silent Hill 2’s prison
Once you jump down into the prison, it’s only down from there, literally. James just keeps going down – jumping into holes, going down stairs – down, never up. That is scary. Psychologically scary. And the fact that no real place would ever be designed that way, just further pushes you into this feeling of Silent Hill where nothing is how it should be and you never know what to expect. Plus, the prison is home to some of the most subtley scary moments of the series.
9. Silent Hill 2’s water damaged hotel
After Jame’s subconscious subsides and reveals that the hotel he was previously walking around in was actually quite damaged – instead of the well-groomed and classy image that he imagined it to be – it’s a pretty creepy realization. The walls look like they are melting. There is an overall grayness. It’s quiet. It seems to mimic the distaste James has for himself at that point. It’s eerie, mysterious, and meaningful to the story all at the same time.
8. Silent Hill 4’s water prison
This is an oddball idea for a map. It is very weird in the way it lets you see certain things, and holds other things from you. It is designed in an inefficient way, so you go around in giant circles to get places. And the creatures you encounter there are mind-boggling – just freakin weird. On top of that, the prison seems to be out in the middle of the ocean.. or in the middle of the sky. Like, what the hell? What is this place?
7. Uncharted 3’s boat yard
This graveyard for boats is visually stunning and also adopts a lonley quality. The design is exciting and the mystery of the story at that point – like how did I get here? and where is here? and how am I going to get out? really helps the environment play into your care for the character.
6. Hitman Contracts’ bath hotel
This whole map is super eerie to me, I don’t know why exactly. It’s a hotel with many halls. It seems to have a sinister air. There is a pool where the target goes for a swim and it’s very quiet in there… There’s a hall where a crime scene took place with curtains that are blowing slowly from the open window.,. I saw a ghost there once, and I had no idea why it was there. I didn’t expect it at all, so I was very freaked out. I just remember this mission being freaky – not entirely explainable.
5. Silent Hill: Origins’ Motel
The reason I like the motel is highly due to the score in this section. The map – in terms of rooms, doors, and gates – is one of the more enjoyable maps to explore. There is a huge sense of mystery here – and monsters lurking in the fog. And that piece of score contrasts the scariness in a way only Silent Hill would think to do.
4. Metal Gear Solid 4’s Shadow Moses
Snake arrives at this totally abandoned derelict facility guarded only by remnant robot guards. He arrives in the middle of a snow storm and must infiltrate the facility while fending off the abusive weather. Once inside, there are memories that haunt Snake and flashbacks of dialogue echo in the empty halls… You might find that I have a taste for that kind of stuff. I guess snow tends to make things abandoned, and abandoned areas I tend to like.
3. Silent Hill 4’s Return to Apartment World
The walls are red and move like there’s worms on them. The redness and bluriness, Henry’s sedated and oblivious expression, and the beautiful piece of score called “Resting Comfortably” playing in the background, all equate to an ironic and blissfully ethereal atmosphere.
2. Mass Effect’s Noveria
Noveria is a snow and ice planet the player goes to in order to find and capture a fugitive. During the visit, there is a dangerous storm bearing down on the facilities. As soon as the crew lands, the feeling in docking area is cold, and sterile, with a hint of depressed. The interactions in the facility are rather quiet, and there’s always the sound of the falling snow and wind on the giant windows. The place just feels lonely. Once the team heads out to a further area, they find it’s been abandoned and there is a mystery of what happened there. Each time I play through Mass Effect’s story, I look forward to Noveria, because it’s a calming experience, even in the midst of small-scale gun fights.
1. Mass Effect’s Ilos
The team arrives here to hunt down the villain, and discover something amazing – the remnants of an alien species long gone. Previously this home of the Protheans, this sector has become overrun with jungle-esque plantation. It has overgrown everything, and sounds of alien forrest animals echo in the distance. Once the team reaches Vigil – the archive of knowlege from the Protheans – the atmosphere reaches a heart-warming, and wonderfully ethereal beauty.
Whelp, that’s it for now. Might add more at a later time.
If any readers have any at all thoughts on the subject, I encourage you to comment.