The Best Real Cities in Video Games

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Tamriel, The Citadel, and Dunwall might be incredibly detailed and well-crafted cities, but they are all works of fiction, places created in minds of designers.  This week, Infamous: Second Son drops its pretend locals of Empire City and New Marais, in favor of a very-real Seattle.  While it is an interesting choice from the team at Sucker Punch, they are not the first to attempt faithful recreations of real metropolises.  Here are some of the best real-world cities in video games.


Chicago — Resistance 2


As a current resident of The Windy City, I’ll point out how overlooked Chicago tends to be.  The city could be easily dismissed as a lesser-New York, an insult hinted at in the name, “The Second City”.  That being said, Chicago has an architecture and culture very much all its own.  We might get to spend more time in Chicago with the upcoming Watch Dogs, but until then the best representation of this iconic metropolis is in the first-person shooter Resistance 2.  There’s not much that stands out about the rote shooter, but the series has faithfully captured real-world settings from Manchester to New York.  While all of its locales are well crafted, its intricate reconstruction of Chicago is the best, proving there is more to the city than many think.


Boston–The Last of Us


While The Last of Us does not have a specific city it is set in, a large amount of time is spent – first escaping, then traversing – the lock-downed and ruined city of Boston.  While visiting the city for PAX East, I was able to draw a direct comparison between the digital version, overrun with greenery and clickers, and the real-life version where my hotel was located.  It is obviously not a 1:1 comparison, but the truth is in the details of Naughty Dog’s slavish work.  In fact, the designer of the transit map threaten to sue Naughty Dog for copying his design.  When people are threatening to sue, you’re doing something right.


Kathmandu — Uncharted 2: Among Thieves


While we’re on the topic of Naughty Dog, the developer pulled off another fantastic city replication while trotting their beloved hero, Nathan Drake, around the globe. Kathmandu, Nepal might not be the first location when you think of real-life video game cities, but Naughty Dog gave it a love-letter treatment nonetheless.  With crowded streets and street vendors, the city is crafted to demonstrate its colorfulness, even when it is turned into a warzone by a power-crazed dictator.  Uncharted has offered the rare opportunity to globetrot to plenty of exotic locales, Kathmandu is just one of many impressive replications one can point to as an example of Naughty Dog’s fine work.


Tokyo — Tokyo Jungle


Studio Japan has been making strange and interesting games on Sony platforms for years, consistently delivering refreshing material.  One of these bizarre, yet wonderful, concepts features a world where man has abandoned their pets and left the Earth.  Players assume control of the remaining animals and must attempt to survive the urban wasteland left for them.  There are many imaginings of Tokyo in video games, both futuristic and present, but Tokyo Jungle comes at the idea from a unique perspective, truly standing out.


Los Angeles — L.A. Noire


The City of Angels has always leant itself to open-world settings with its heavy reliance on driving, tumultuous history, and gorgeous California landscape.  While L.A. Noire isn’t set in present day Los Angeles, it explores the city’s seedy history during the Golden Age of Hollywood.  In the 1950’s, Los Angeles was the lightning rod of the American Dream, embodying the idea of America’s suburban expansion.  L.A. Noire digs deep into many of the ideals that formed L.A. and turned it into the city we know today.


Dubai — Spec Ops: The Line


Developed by Yager Games, Spec Ops: The Line gave new depth to video game stories and subverted many of the hero tropes found in modern military shooters.  While Spec Ops offered a compelling narrative, filled with horrific realizations, the game also explored a desert paradise gone-wrong.  Set in the iconic city of Dubai during a catastrophic sandstorm, players are forced to battle through this desert city, home to the largest building in the world.  Dubai is not a popular destination in video games, so to see Spec Ops set itself in this famous locale  is a refreshing change of pace.


Max Payne — New York


New York has seen many video games reconstruct its towering buildings and countless streets. While many games have faithfully created digital New Yorks, few have managed to embody the gritty spirit of shadowy New York crime like Max Payne.  Max Payne isn’t simply a love letter to the city, it is an homage to the hardboiled crime stories that came to be associated with the Big Apple’s image.  As Payne fights wave after wave of mobsters and kills his way to vengeance, New York serves as the perfect backdrop for the story.  From the city-stopping snowstorm to shootouts in the iconic subway, May Payne embodies the very spirit of the City that Never Sleeps.


Hong Kong –Sleeping Dogs


Originally a game set in the True Crime universe, Sleeping Dogs was bought by Square Enix and turned into a new property in the publisher’s expansive roster.  With open-world crime games set in metropolises like New York and Los Angeles time after time, it was refreshing to have the game be a foreign affair filled with authentic flavor from a culture all its own.  The game populates its digital Hong Kong with plenty of homages to the city’s unique aspects.  While Hong Kong may not have been on the top of your vacation list prior to Sleeping Dogs, the game will definitely increase your interest in the city.


Constantinople — Assassin’s Creed: Revelations


Now titled Istanbul, the setting of the final chapter in Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio trilogy is a unique and fascinating ancient metropolis.  The city is filled with color and a vibrant culture that stands out from previous Assassin’s Creed games.  SItuated directly between the influence of eastern and western cultures, Constantinople stands as a magical melting pot of nationalities and global influence.  Revelations may not stand out as a triumph in the Assassin’s Creed series, but it’s faithful recreation of this wonderful city is an impressive triumph.


Washington DC — Fallout 3


Fallout 3 ruined Washington DC for me.  While the United States capitol is home to many stories, you can hardly see the city’s memorials and famous structures without recalling their decrepit state in Bethesda’s apocalyptic classic.  The Wasteland of the eastern United States is not only unique to the Fallout series, but is completely unique to video games.  Bethesda has recreated deep and engaging worlds before, but have usually pulled from their own fantasy lore.  To see the team recreate a real location so faithfully only makes their ability to craft worlds all the more impressive.

What are some of your favorite real-world video game locales?  Let us know your favorites, and what you felt we have left off the list!


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  1. Youre from chicago but dont know its called the second city because a fire burnt down the first one? It has nothing to do with new york. Shame on you.