Top 10 most atmospheric games ever
A rundown of games that evoke strong moods and tones, even when you’re not even doing anything much.
Here’s the ten games I consider the most atmospheric of all time. Now, being my opinion it is better and more correct than yours, but it is still just my opinion, so there’s no need to get too upset if you’re most favouritest, most atmosphericest game isn’t in this list.
And without further ado…
This Amiga cult classic was developed by DMA Design, now known as Rockstar North, the studio that would of course go on to create the GTA series. It’s an absolutely awesome real-time, pseudo-3D, first-person, squad-based action-RPG. It’s crude by today’s standards, but the gloomy visuals and pulsating ambient sound effects made for a truly lip-biting, heart-stopping experience back in 1993.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an absorbing, atmospheric one, and no mistake. Sure, it copies ideas from Blade Runner at every turn, but it really works, so I’m not complaining. It’s all about stylish presentation, attention to detail and an almost ambient approach to storytelling.
This came out the same year as Hired Guns and, from a technical standpoint at least, made it look incredibly crude. Using groundbreaking 3D graphics, Doom immersed you in a complex, dangerous world of violence and hordes of hellish enemies. The music might have been a bit silly, but the sound effects, visual style and clever level design made Doom an intense, deeply engaging adventure.
Left 4 Dead 2
Apart from Valve’s usual high standards of detail, characterisation and storytelling, the thing that really gives the Left 4 Dead games their atmosphere is their unpredictability. You simply do not know when you might next find yourself suddenly and desperately fighting for your life, and you really don’t know whether or not you’re going to survive.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
I’ve never been more scared by a game than I was by the original Condemned. I love how it started as a CSI-style detective adventure and slowly but surely got darker and weirder as it went on. It became too action-orientated during its last few stages, but up until that point a truly threatening, unsettling atmosphere had reigned supreme.
Half-Life 2 does pretty much everything better than pretty much any other game, and that applies to atmosphere too. The oppressive tone that pervades through the whole game is fantastic, but then there are those memorable locations that, thanks to Valve’s awe-inspiring eye for detail, have an atmosphere all their own. The zombie ghost town of Ravenholm, the vast processing chambers of Nova Prospekt and that long series of pitch black tunnels and parking garages in Episode 1. I just watched a YouTube video of that section on YouTube and I’m shaking…
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow
It’s hard to create a fantasy world that’s actually believable, especially in a game, but hitherto unproven developer Mercury Steam did exactly that in Castlevania. The team’s aim was to generate a sorrowful, melancholy atmosphere and they managed it perfectly thanks to a decent script, a brilliant soundtrack, quality voice-acting and some of the very best art direction ever seen in a game.
Rapture is a unique, implausible yet somehow very believable world that has an uncanny knack of drawing you in and not letting go. Again, it’s all in the details. The environments haven’t just been designed to be decorative, they’ve been designed to tell stories. Just by wandering around you learn so much about the city’s glorious past and about its devastating recent history.
Fallout 3 is so atmospheric that if you’re not careful you can wind up getting pretty depressed just from playing it. The humour is so bleak and so dark that its often barely detectable, and the sense of waste, desolation and hopelessness is acutely powerful. There are harsh lessons about human nature to be learned in among all the ultra-violent RPG fun.
UFO: Enemy Unknown (a.k.a. X-COM)
The lead up to the reboot of this classic series has got me obsessing over it again and I can honestly say that, despite how dated it is on a technical level, it is still the single most atmospheric game I have ever played. The ingenious use of randomly determined events and parameters, along with the game’s uncompromising commitment to its own unforgiving rules makes for a ridiculously tense mood. Get it from Steam – it’s cheap and brilliant.