With last week’s excellent Metro 2033 giving a confidently conclusive lesson in how to create and maintain a provocative atmosphere of arresting dread, contemporary videogame developers are clearly realising that allegory and engagement are as important in the grand scheme of things as the gameplay itself. The first person genre is obviously better equipped to immerse players in an environment than any other, and the past few years have seen new benchmarks set in that playing field on a regular basis. Here are zavvi.com‘s top five most atmospheric first person videogames…

5. Thief: Deadly Shadows

Ion Storm’s Thief series is dark in content, theme and literal execution, and the use of lighting has arguably never been better utilised in a game. Stealthily skulking around in the darkness and avoiding stray beams of light had been done before and has been done since (notably in the likes of the Splinter Cell series) but in Deadly Shadows, the graphics are so starkly designed that you’ll never be in any doubt as to where the shadows end and the light begins. You won’t need a green indicator light to let you know when you’re hidden, and the experience is all the more gripping for it. Stir in some unsettling ambient music and a bizarre, fabricated Middle Age / Victorian England hybrid world that is strangely authentic, and you’ve got an incomparably original genre thriller that (still) really thrills.

4. Metro 2033

The fact that Metro 2033 began its life as a novel is trail-blazingly obvious at every turn. Most of the characters that you encounter are of the last generation to have lived in Russia before the nuclear apocalypse, and observing them as they scramble toward fascist ideologies or senselessly fight for scavenged valuables is all too plausible. Even the likably avuncular parade of partners that you saddle up with on your quest are never really to be trusted, and as you snake the land for ammunition, you’ll come across (among other things) rusty piles of used bullets and torched teddy bears, reminding you both of the vain demise of others in your situation, and a chilling reminder of the world that once was, now gone forever.

3. Half Life 2

Half Life 2 is a game defined almost entirely by its characters, and as with Metro 2033, the deflated and pessimistic masses who oppose you assist in painting a portrait of a dystopia that is so much more perceptible than many mega-budget movies of a similar ilk. The flip side is embodied by the people of the resistance and the likes of Alyx and Eli Vance, who along with Gordon Freeman form an oddly upbeat and functional family unit. Gordon’s interactions with those two characters in particular make the downtime between the action affecting and involving, but also unambiguously reminds you of exactly what it is that you’re fighting for.

2. Metroid Prime

Metroid Prime was acclaimed as much for what it didn’t do as for what it did. Famously touted by developer Retro Studios as a “first person adventure” rather than just a shooter, the game’s story (although skeletal and thankfully bereft of unnecessary bombast) has more in common with the horror genre than nuts-and-bolts science fiction. Answering a distress signal from a ship’s crew who were all in the process of being slaughtered by the subjects of a genetic modification experiment, Samus Arun spends nearly the entire game exploring the ghostly planet of Talon IV, and the lack of any friendly communication puts her (and you) in a position to save the world single-handedly, but far more overbearing than that is the feeling of being totally, utterly, perpetually alone.

1. Bioshock

What else? Bioshock’s land of Rapture is surely one of the most discussed and deconstructed creations of the century thus far (in any medium) and a large part of the acclaim was down to the manner in which the story was told. The scattered audio recordings (some of them chilling, some just plain amusing) rendered a non-existent time and place palpably real. The breadth of character in these clips (all brilliantly acted) eloquently told the tale of a troubling utopia at very different stages of its downfall, and this faultless grasp of storytelling craft would’ve elevated a mediocre game to heights that it didn’t deserve. Luckily for us, the core gameplay in Bioshock was more than equal to it.

Watch the trailer for winning FPS game (as voted for by zavvi.com) Bioshock…

Is there another game you think deserves a spot in the Top 5 Most Atmospheric First-Person Games? Share your thoughts…

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Team Zavvi

Team Zavvi


A collection of thoughts, opinions and news from the staff at Zavvi.