The Most Stunning Recreations of Real Life Cities in Video Games

The Notre Dame cathedral in Assassin's Creed Unity | © Xbox
The Notre Dame cathedral in Assassin's Creed Unity | © Xbox
Photo of Peter Ward
Tech Editor13 September 2016

Video games can take us to amazing places, from alien worlds to dystopian futures. But familiar locations can also make some of the most interesting playgrounds. Here are five of the best examples of real world cities recreated for video games.

Tom Clancy’s The Division, Manhattan

Deadly viruses have spread throughout the world in endless movies and videogames, and Tom Clancy’s The Division is no different. This time the virus begins in Manhattan, and is transmitted via infected bank notes. The game concentrates specifically on midtown Manhattan, and recreates that area of the city on a 1-1 scale. That means by the time you’ve explored the whole open-world map on foot in the game, you could have, well, explored the whole of midtown Manhattan on foot in real life.

The Division was unveiled in 2013 and was well-hyped prior to its release. The game broke numerous records when it finally went on sale, becoming developer Ubisoft’s best-selling game.

In June, it was reported by Variety that Ubisoft is developing a movie based on the video game. Jake Gyllenhaal is rumored to be attached to star in the film.

Grand Central Station in Tom Clancy's The Division | © Xbox

LA Noire, LA

LA Noire was released way back in 2011, but the way the neo-noir detective game’s developers went about recreating 1940s LA is still pretty impressive today. Team Bondi, the team that worked on the game on behalf of developer Rockstar Games, used the photographs of Robert Spence, who in the 1920s flew a biplane over the city with a 46-pound camera.

Around 80 years after Spence’s flight, the images were used to recreate the buildings and traffic patterns of LA during the 1940s, the time period in which the game was set. The game sees the protagonist, a 1940’s detective, solving crimes in the city.

Assassins Creed Unity, Paris

Set during the French Revolution in Paris, Assassin’s Creed Unity received a fairly unfavorable reception when it was released in November 2014. But the game’s visual depiction of the French capital Paris was still praised. The Paris in the game is not laid out like the actual city of the time, but does include major landmarks dotted around the map. One of those was the Notre Dame cathedral, which level artist Caroline Miousse spent around two years modeling, according to an interview with The Verge.

The Ubisoft team used photos of the architecture of the Notre Dame to ensure that every single brick mirrored the original, and even asked historians to identify which paintings would have been hanging in the cathedral in 1789.

The team also recreated other major landmarks like the Bastille fortress. Some of them were changed for the sake of game play, but the in-game city certainly boasted the feel of Revolution-era Paris.

Assassin's Creed Unity | © Xbox

Watch Dogs, Chicago

Watch Dogs tells the story of a hacker hell-bent on revenge in a fictional version of Chicago. The development team, again Ubisoft, recreated several landmarks from the Windy City to bring a sense of realism to the game, which allowed players to wander freely around the map. Millennium Park, the Chicago River and the Willis Tower all make appearances in the game, which was released in 2014.

The development team even traveled to Chicago to record the voices of the background characters for the game, to ensure they got the local accent just right.

Ubisoft's Watch Dogs | │© Xbox

Fallout 4, Boston

Fallout 4 is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Boston in the year 2287. The game is played out across the city and some other areas of New England, and features landmarks such as the Trinity Church, Boston Public Library and Boston MIT. Each of these famous locations are all a little different in real life, however, owing to the nuclear devastation wreaked on them in the game’s plot.

Past titles in the Fallout series have been set in similarly semi-destroyed versions of Washington DC, Las Vegas and Southern California. The latest version of the game was released in 2015.

Fallout 4 City Vista | © Bethesda

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