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If any of you heathens were unaware, it’s Earth Month which means that for one entire month, more people than usual are trying to stop our planet from overheating to death. To sidestep that bleak eventuality for just a moment, I want to address two misconceptions in gaming. The first is that we as gamers do not know how to touch grass. The second is that photorealism is a bad thing. How do all of these things link together I hear ye ask? Let me explain, dearest reader.
Photorealism certainly shouldn’t monopolise gaming by any means, but there’s much to appreciate in the stunning vistas it can create and whilst I highly recommend going out into the world to touch some real grass, thanks to handy dandy technology like PlayStation’s DualSense controller, we can now *feel* swathes of virtual grass. There are plenty of meaningful ways to support Earth Month and the fight against global warming but to offer you some inspiration, I’m here to take a look at eight video games that prove just how stunning good ol’ Earth is.
Take a stroll through Horizon Forbidden West's Shrine Walk and admire just how stunning photorealism can be.
As the most recently released game on this list, it’s no surprise that Horizon Forbidden West’s incredible new-gen graphics make for some stunning vistas. Beginning in the sun-drenched valley of The Daunt and stretching to the tropical oasis that is an overgrown San Francisco, Guerrilla Games’ latest title is full of breathtaking stop-and-pause moments. Whether it’s on the back of a Skywing or atop the head of a Tallneck, Aloy is certain to find the perfect viewing platform for you to take a breath and admire the view. When the force of a whirlwind knocks you off your feet or the DualSense allows you to feel the bracken brushing against you, it’s hard not to feel immersed in Horizon Forbidden West’s fully-realised interpretation of Earth.
Ghost of Tsushima walked so Horizon Forbidden West could run. Tsushima’s languorous meadows gave us gamers that very first ‘feel the grass’ moment. I don’t need to tell you that Japan is a country full of beautiful landscapes - it’s just a fact - but damn, Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima leaves you in awe regardless. Red, orange and yellow Japanese maples coat the island in a warm haze and whilst I’d hate to get caught up in Jin’s fight against the Mongols, I could happily spend a day strolling through Tsushima’s flower-filled fields.
Bluepoint Games’ Shadow of the Colossus features a series of landscapes quite unlike any others on this list. Carrying on the art style originated in the 2005 original, Shadow of the Colossus’ sweeping vistas evoke a sense of desolation, but there’s something quite serene in that. Long journeys atop Agro take you through mist-soaked valleys dominated by harsh rock and stone. It’s not the type of landscape you’d immediately wish to find yourself in but that’s partially the point. The occasional tree reminds you that whilst life can exist here, the sparsity of life is what defines and creates such a stunning location.
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End could easily double as a National Geographic documentary. Nathan Drake’s whistle stop tour across the globe takes us through the snow-topped Highlands of Scotland to the volcanic, red-sand plains of Madagascar before dropping us off in the dense jungle of the Indian Ocean’s Libertalia. As Nate’s treasure hunting adventures so often reveal, some things are best left untouched and that message extends beyond shiny trinkets. A Thief’s End’s environments are just as finite and valuable as the lost relics that can be found within them, so take note.
Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2 paints us a picture of the USA’s western and midwestern states, and a stunning picture at that. Set in 1899, Arthur Morgan inhabits a landscape that is as yet, predominantly untouched by humans. Tossing away the notion that outlaws can only exist in arid deserts, Morgan’s travels across the west’s lush green expanses provides a sense of serenity in what can otherwise be a brutal world. Flowers coat fields that later play host to blood-soaked stand offs. Nature itself boasts the ability to be brutal but perhaps that brutality is a trait that has been handed down by us.
Most of the games on this list highlight landscapes that existed long before us, but The Last of Us Part II has a different approach. Naughty Dog’s landmark title shows us what happens when the Earth fights back against mankind and for that reason, it might just make for my favourite vistas on this list. Seattle’s surrounding waters reclaim the roads. Vines thrive in their fight against concrete, turning rundown eyesores into green relics. Cities are great, but The Last of Us Part II gives you a gentle reminder that life inhabited the land before they did, and there’s something important to be said in that.
Earth is full of varied locales so it’s only fair that this list reflects that. Set in Egypt, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins highlights a different struggle. Instead of showcasing nature’s fight against mankind, it unveils nature’s fight against itself - and our dependence upon that. Just like the region’s vegetation, human settlements gather around the country’s rivers and oases in order to survive the desert's scorched conditions. From the heights of Egypt’s great pyramids, Bayek bears witness to the fact that our existence is wholly dependent on the existence of that which we’re so indifferent to destroying.
There’s a reason why people love to snap a photo of a sunrise or sunset - and it’s increasingly becoming the same way in virtual photography. There’s something serene about golden hour and Santa Monica Studios’ God of War elevates that serenity to new heights. Midgard’s snowy white landscape is an environment frequented by Gods and that feels apt. The epic peak of The Mountain reminds us that some places should remain out of reach of us mere mortals and whilst our Earth may not have been touched by Gods, there’s no denying that certain locations feel as if they could have been. So whether you decide to visit virtual recreations of Earth this month or immerse yourself in the wild wonders of the real thing, take care of it.
Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Rockstar Games, Sony Computer Entertainment
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