From the rain-soaked streets of Blade Runner and the snow-covered forests of The Long Dark, to the nuke-blasted ruins of Fallout and BioShock's fallen underwater metropolis, these are the most atmospheric games on PC.
The Long Dark
This brutal survival simulator is also capable of incredible beauty. When you trudge through the snow, you can almost feel the cold. And sheltering from a howling blizzard by a crackling fire is incredibly atmospheric.
This flawed, but ambitious, point-and-click adventure from Westwood brilliantly recreates the look and feel of Ridley Scott’s seminal cyberpunk sci-fi. The rain-soaked streets of 2019 Los Angeles are rich with atmosphere.
Despite the stylised, almost cartoon-like visuals, the Shoshone National Forest is one of the most atmospheric places to take a virtual hike on PC. It's both beautiful and eerily isolated, which the game plays to brilliantly.
Another vision of Los Angeles, this time in the late ‘40s. Rockstar’s obsessive attention to detail and Andrew Hale’s wonderful, evocative score are absolutely transporting. It’s like stepping onto the set of classic film noir Chinatown.
The Zone is one of the most atmospheric settings in games. It’s a grim post-apocalyptic wasteland in the shadow of the exploded Chernobyl nuclear reactor, with superb rain and storm effects that add to the desaturated bleakness.
The hard-edged 1970s technology and muted colours of Isolation’s Sevastopol space station echo the rich atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s original Alien film. The perfect setting for this tense, slow-burning horror masterpiece.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture
The sleepy village of Yaughton and the surrounding valley might look like a perfect slice of rural English life, but something very creepy has happened here, and this sense of unease pervades every idyllic scene.
Not enough games are set on bleak, barren Hebridean islands. This narrative-’em-up from The Chinese Room perfectly captures the grey, wind-battered feel of the Scottish isles, using it to weave a dark, enigmatic story.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
All of the Assassin’s Creed games are atmospheric, but it’s Black Flag that really gave me the feeling of being somewhere else. Ubisoft’s Caribbean is a gorgeous setting, especially when those tropical storms kick up.
This psychological sci-fi horror from the creator of Amnesia features some incredibly detailed, moody underwater environments. The lighting is especially impressive, drenching the place in a rich atmosphere.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The vast open-world in The Witcher 3 is full of amazing places, from the golden fields of Velen to the freezing islands of Skellige. It's one of those settings you can get totally lost in, and the sunsets are incredible.
BioShock’s city under the sea is a powerful setting. Art deco skyscrapers looming through murky green water has become an iconic image in PC gaming. Columbia was great, but it never matched the original’s atmosphere.
Everywhere you go in Lordran, you get a rich feeling of history. It’s a place steeped in mythology, but a mythology that’s long since faded away. It’s like picking through the ruins of some ancient, long lost civilisation.
Trading and combat are fun, but sometimes it's worth just taking your ship and going sightseeing. Frontier's recreation of the Milky Way is filled with wondrous sights, and the stirring music only adds to the atmosphere.
Similar to the STALKER games, DayZ’s Chernarus is an evocatively bleak post-Soviet wasteland. It can be beautiful in the sunshine, but mostly it’s grey, dark, sodden with rain, and tinged with despair. Like London.
We’re used to seeing nuclear devastation up close and personal in video games, but DEFCON shows the other side: the eerie silence of the war room as world leaders quietly orchestrate the total destruction of the planet.
And this is the aftermath. Fallout 3 brought the original game’s desolate, bomb-battered wasteland to 3D for the first time, and it’s a remarkably atmospheric place to explore. Well, until the giant ants start coming at you.
Improved lighting effects make night battles in Arma 3 incredibly atmospheric. But even by day the sun-baked Greek islands of Altis and Stratis are beautiful places to explore. Bohemia’s environment design is top tier.
It’s testament to the skill of Fullbright’s environment artists that this pretty ordinary house is so atmospheric. The flickering TV in the lounge warning of the storm currently raging outside is a great scene-setting detail.
No one expected Valve to set their Half-Life sequel in a dystopian Eastern European city. City 17 reflects its downtrodden citizens, with abandoned streets, dilapidated Soviet apartments, and fading Cyrillic signage.
Hotline Miami’s woozy, dreamlike, neon-soaked atmosphere is as big a part of its appeal as its rapid-fire ultraviolence. The pounding synth-heavy soundtrack only adds to the power of its ‘80s-flavoured video nasty vibes.
Kentucky Route Zero
A curious, abstract adventure game that owes a debt to the similarly eerie, stylish films of David Lynch. It’s far from a great point-and-clicker, but the oddball story and atmosphere-steeped visuals make up for it.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The snowy mountains, icy wastes, and bubbling hot springs of Skyrim are still a pleasure to explore, especially at sunset. Bethesda still need to work on their character models, but their world-building is among the best.
Everything in Portal 2 is sickeningly well-designed, including the Aperture facility itself. Traveling through the different ‘ages’, you feel like you’re unlocking some ancient time capsule that was never meant to be disturbed.
Exploring the shadowy depths of the zee is a recent example of great ambience and scene-setting in a game. The vivid text is where the real heart of the story lies, but the green-tinged artwork is evocative tool.
Take On Mars
If you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to be alone on a planet, Take On Mars is probably the closest you’ll get. Trundling across the barren red planet with your rover, you really feel like you’re on another world.