Welcome back to the PCG Q&A. Every week, we ask our panel of PC Gamer writers a question about PC gaming. This week: what's your favourite game world or setting? We also welcome your answers in the comments.
Shaun Prescott: Sevastapol Station in Alien: Isolation
At the risk of sounding masochistic, Sevastopol Station in Alien: Isolation is the space that springs immediately to mind. The most appealing part of that game (in stark contrast with the least appealing part: the alien) was the coldness of its environment, and how eerily it channeled the moods of both the films and others, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also appealed to my love of hard science fiction: the clinical, whitewashed futurism of imagined space outposts, the inherent weirdness of a life spent in the stars. Several games have attempted this in the past and at least one since, but none have prompted me to stand in a control room for minutes at a time, silently marveling at the colour palette and wondering what it's meant to mean. Equally, few have made me feel as lonely and isolated like this game has. I think this game may have scarred me.
I felt a similar sensation among the stars in Elite Dangerous. And I’d hoped to feel something similar in Prey, but that game felt too contemporary, with its imagined former citizens arranging Dungeon and Dragons sessions and chatting lightheartedly in emails. Sevastopol Station feels like it belongs to a wrong, parallel future, one that we imagined in the ‘80s, and you can see Creative Assembly channeling that in the VHS grain of their menu screens. I’ll occasionally boot this game up just to relish that mood, only to shut it down in a hurry once something wants to kill me.
Jody Macgregor: the City in the Thief trilogy
I like that the setting of the original Thief games was only ever called "the City". I like that there's no exposition at the start so you discover things like the fact it has electricity by stumbling across humming streetlamps and power generators. I like that you almost always see it at night ('Break From Cragscleft Prison' takes place during the day, but you're outside the bounds of the City during that level). I like the Tudor houses and the washing lines strung between them and the sounds of people having fun that seep out tavern windows like the flickering light. I like that the City changes, that it moves into the Metal Age and becomes more high-tech without ending up with lame steampunk affectations like goggles on top hats. I like that there's an entire district walled off to keep the living dead in and a haunted madhouse that doubled as an orphanage and yet people still live near those places because what are you going to do, move to the country? Of course not. The City is great. I'd live there.
Philippa Warr: Proteus
The island changes every time, but the feel of the world is constantly wonderful. I boot that game up sometimes to take a kind of desk-holiday from whatever is stressing me out. I can chase after rabbits or watch for owls. There are rain showers which pass overhead and blossom floating from trees. There are the grave stones and the little cabin and the ruins. Small crab-creatures pepper the shore line. There are mushrooms in the welcoming fug of autumn and a crystalline chill in the winter. I know the elements of the world by heart, but I'll always be taken by surprise by some new configuration or by something I've forgotten popping into view. Proteus, for me, is a mixture of comfort and delight—a little digital sanctuary sprinkled with blue chickens.
Jarred Walton: Wasteland
Every since I was old enough to read, I've had this strange fascination with nuclear weapons. So when Wasteland came out on my Commodore-64 in 1988, you can imagine how pleased I was. And the game didn't disappoint. Guns, robots, radioactive mutants, religious crazies, and more made it one of the formative experiences of my youth. The later Fallout games were a great spiritual successor, followed by an official sequel with Wasteland 2 several years ago. Not surprisingly, I backed that, as well as the more recent Fig campaign for Wasteland 3.
What is it that draws me to the wastes? I blame my love of the outdoors—there's nothing better than a campout in the mountains, roasting food over a fire and hanging out with friends. The wilderness survival instinct in me enjoys exploring the radioactive ruins of our modern world, and without any of the nasty bug bites, blisters, or death that I might have to deal with in the real world. If there's ever a real apocalypse—and I somehow manage to survive—you can expect to find me roaming the countryside, wearing a badge and trying to bring back some semblance of law and order. I've had a few decades of virtual practice now, so I'm ready.
Andy Chalk: Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl
I remember the first time I decided to stay out late in Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. I'd gained some familiarity with the Zone, and what I thought was a halfway-decent gun, so as the sky started to darken I didn't make my usual beeline back to camp. To my horror, I discovered that unlike most games, where nighttime simply means a different color palette in the sky, Stalker's evenings were dark. Really dark. Long story short, I made for a fire I saw in the distance, got jumped by a two-headed Carthaginian war elephant that breathed fire (although in hindsight, I'm pretty sure it was just a pseudodog), screamed like it was my first time on a roller coaster, and through it all, somehow, did not die. It was nothing but stupid luck and three half-drunk bozos around a campfire that kept me alive that night.
But it was also the moment that I first came to appreciate something else that was different about Stalker. The Zone doesn't care. It's not there to fuel and funnel your superhero fantasies about saving the world; it just is. If you forget that, it'll happily kick your ass and not even tell you why. There's something about that uncaring, unscaling indifference to the very fact of your existence that I adore. Sure, you'll eventually end up a tough guy, with big guns and great armor. But there are lots of other tough guys roaming around out there too, and they'll stick it to you without blinking if you give them half a chance. How do you not love that?
Austin Wood: Fallout 4
I get why everyone is kind of down on Fallout 4. The main story is a wash and it's a far weaker role-playing platform than Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 3, but it also nails Fallout's uniquely flavored apocalypse. It's overflowing with what are, to me, the two definitive Fallout characteristics: found shelters and '80s sci-fi.
From Diamond City's settlers to the Brotherhood of Steel's zeppelin to that pirate ship full of robots, the people of the Wasteland are more like hermit crabs than refugees. They hole up in whatever they happen upon and gradually build it up, so you wind up with these unorthodox, flavorful settlements and structures that feel handcrafted and genuinely lived-in. They might be surrounded by sprawling, generic shacks, but there's always something unique at their core that dictates how they sprawl. Which dovetails with my second point: Fallout 4 isn't just any future, it's the future envisioned by '80s scientists and filmmakers, all lasers and robot assistants and nukes beyond the dreams of avarice. It's this absurd, distinctive mix of the Jetsons, the Matrix and Mad Max, but it works because of the flexibility of the nuclear MacGuffin and because humanity is the through-line.
Samuel Roberts: Liberty City in GTA 4
Clearly, GTA 5's Los Santos is the king of open world environments. I'm just saying this so you don't think I'm being a contrarian, because technically it's a way more impressive open world than the ageing Liberty City. And yet, the heart says GTA 4's open world is more evocative. Its golden skies and densely packed streets feel eerily close to real life, but it feels a little bit magical, too—like someone's half-remembered living in New York a decade ago, and captured the life of the place, if not exactly what it was like. It's still my favourite Rockstar environment. Well, while Red Dead Redemption isn't on PC, anyway.
But what about your choices? Let us know below.