Over the last few years, video games have evolved exponentially. They’ve become more beautiful and complex, and so have the settings that the games take place in. We’ve rounded up some of the most impressive open world cities in gaming. These recreations are so realistic you’ll almost be able to smell the trash, see the smog, and feel the rumbling of a city train underfoot.
All of these titles are available on current Gen, so make sure to give them a shot if you haven’t, especially with Black Friday just around the corner! Here are our picks for the top five open world cities in gaming.
1. Grand Theft Auto V: San Andreas
You simply cannot mention sandbox cities without saying those three little words, Grand Theft Auto. Rockstar Games has set the standard for realistic cities time and time again. Quite frankly, we could make an entire list about their games, but their latest entry in the GTA series stands on its own. San Andreas has been featured in games before, but in GTA V we see an unparalleled amount of realism and detail. Rockstar’s hilarious and colorful rendition of Los Angeles is full of life and adventure just waiting to be experienced. The game’s incredibly well-planned map and recognizable landmarks make it easy to navigate. San Andreas’ varied landscape, featuring a vibrant urban center, the suburbs, mountains and even rural areas, leads to hours of exploration and experimentation.
2. Watch_Dogs: Chicago
One city seldom seen in games is Chicago. Luckily, Ubisoft changed this with Watch_Dogs. A cautionary tale about technology and privacy, this adventure took players all over the Windy City. The fresh look at a place that hasn’t been too popular in games felt new at a time when games had been temporarily stagnant. The ability to hack the world around you turned a sprawling metropolis into a veritable playground. While the game’s graphics caused controversy in the gaming community after a supposed downgrade post-release, it still looked beautiful on PCs that could handle ultra settings.
3. Infamous Second Son: Seattle
Developer SuckerPunch delivered a fresh and unique setting in Infamous Second Son. This super-powered adventure brought players to a city rarely explored in games, Seattle. While other sandbox cities on this list may be larger, none of them match Second Son‘s beauty. As a PS4 launch title, this game already has a few years on it, but its visuals stand up to any new release 2016 can offer. There’s just something about its picturesque vistas, the subtle glow of neon on a rainy evening, the rustling of leaves as a train rushes past the player. I felt at home in a city I’ve never seen in real life. The game’s subtle detail lent itself to a real sense of authenticity, making it a pleasure to play in.
4. The Division: New York City
As a native New Yorker, shutting off the minimap was the first thing I did upon booting up The Division. I wanted to see just how well I could navigate this recreation of my hometown. I was floored by the game’s accuracy, down to personal landmarks that I’ve visited hundreds of times in real life. A post-apocalyptic New York buried under snow was familiar, yet also just alien enough to keep the player on edge. The game’s NPCs interacted with the player in realistic ways and could be seen interacting with each other in interesting ways. Children in shelters would play games to distract themselves from the chaos and survivors could be heard murmuring in their bunks at night, swapping dreadful tales and offering each other comfort. The ability to loot and scavenge some buildings for supplies also made this world feel actually lived in.
5. Watch_Dogs 2: San Francisco
No, no it’s not deja vu, you did see Watch_Dogs already on this list. But due to this sequel’s current popularity, we just had to mention Watch_Dogs 2. In this action-packed sequel, players will explore sunny San Francisco, the Mecca of tech. Greedy and corrupt corporations are selling civilians private information to the highest bidder and DedSec, a group of hacktivists, is out to stop them. San Francisco is already a unique and interesting city and Ubisoft manages to capture all that and more. By addressing some of the shortcomings of their last WD title, they’ve managed to create a living city, so full of life and surprises players will be taken aback by something new with every play session. The game itself encourages players to visit the myriad landmarks spread around SF and even to take snapshots. I found myself laughing as NPCs would notice me taking photos and take the opportunity to photobomb.