When BioShock: Infinite was announced I became increasingly guilty that I had never finished the first BioShock. So last week I went back and finished it. And when I did, I came to a realization. A realization that along with graphics and gameplay, environment is one of the most important things about a game. Not only does it keep the player excited about the game, it sets the mood and tone of the game. But instead of droning on on the importance of environment, I will give you three examples of how environment is important in the game.
1. USG Ishimura (Dead Space)
When Issac Clarke first arrives on the derelict, Necromorph infested planet cracker, the USG Ishimura, he is met with a stunningly eerie sight. A darkly lit place with pools of blood and garbage across the floor. You hear metal shifting in the pressurized ship and above you chains rattle, suggesting you are not alone in this room. This immediately sets the mood for this excellent sci-fi survival horror game. As the game chugs along you realize that only half the scares come from the actual Necromorph's. The other half comes from the ship itself. Dark corridors and blood stained walls set a creepy atmosphere. Creaking metal and rolling air tanks create an almost unbearable sense of paranoia which causes a scream when the Necromorph finally pops out. The environment sets up the big scare by creating a series of little scares to heighten tension. This is an example of an environment lending itself to the experience and enhancing the game by helping create an environment which helps to make the experience of the video game more enjoyable.
2. Rapture (BioShock)
Rapture is not a simple environment. It is a character within itself. It's walls hold many mysteries. What makes Rapture truly great is not it's creepy rooms, blood stained walls of flooded corridors. But instead what it stands for. Rapture is a metaphor. It is a metaphor for the danger of pure philosophy. It is a warning that pure philosophy will always fail when implemented in real life. The art deco and Greek symbols and names represent Ayn Rand's dream of a Objectivist utopia and the blood and dark rooms represent how that dream is doomed to fail. By creating an environment which in itself offers political commentary, helps elevate the game the environment is in, to a work of art.
3. Empire Bay (Mafia II)
Empire Bay is not great simply because of it's pure graphical beauty. It's great because of it's shocking realism. Empire Bay is completely real. Take the neighborhood diversity for examples. You get slum areas like Little Italy and Sand Island, and then the beautiful neighborhood's of Greenfield and West Side. This diversity along with realistic AI, great graphics and detail it helps the experience. By the seeing the slum areas where your character grew up, you see their motivations for joining the Mafia. By giving us this wonderful environment for the story to play out in, Mafia II helps to create a gritty realistic mob tale that the environment complements. The environment helps to make the game a realistic and satisfying experience.