This Canada Day, we wanted to find the best video games that feature Canada, so you can explore our homeland with video games that have adapted or reimagined the Great White North in digital form.
It’s no secret that Canada loves video games. In 2021, approximately 32 300 Canadians were employed full-time at video game companies, which contributed $5.5 billion to the nation’s GDP. Since the pandemic, the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) has found that more Canadians are engaging with gaming on different levels, either with their kids or for stress relief.
Yet despite the burgeoning presence of Canadian developers and studios, there isn’t exactly an abundance of video games set in Canada. Even with the broad scopes of our landscapes, histories, and peoples, too few games have dared to explore this deep well of inspiration.
That’s why, this Canada Day, we’re highlighting the best video games that have featured Canada so far—to celebrate these imaginative recreations of our diverse nation and in the hopes that this list will grow at the same rate the industry has grown here.
Admittedly, we’re starting this list with a game that treats Canada as a punching bag. Mass Effect 3 kicks off by making Vancouver ground zero for the Reaper invasion of Earth. After two games of warning the galaxy about the coming threat, Commander Shepard must resist the urge to say, “I told you so,” as they race through a tutorial-level rendition of the city.
Despite putting an identifiable Canadian city in the game just to destroy it, Mass Effect as a whole has earned a place on our list of the best video games set in Canada. In the series’ lore, Vancouver is the site of a Systems Alliance base, important enough to host the trial of Commander Shepard. We also finally get to fight alongside their mentor, beloved Space Dad Colonel Anderson, in their desperate flight across the rooftops. BioWare showed some love to their native land, utilizing the city’s spike in recognition following the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The Canadian love doesn’t stop there, however. Recurring party member Kaiden Alenko is a proud Canuck, as he brings up in occasional dialogue across the trilogy—like in the Citadel DLC, where he refers to beef, bacon, and beer as “the foods of my people.”
Though the series has never taken us on a dedicated deep dive into Canadian history, Assassin’s Creed earns a collective place amongst the best video games set in Canada for sneaking it in right under our noses. Like BioWare, Ubisoft put their love for Canada into their product, first in the background and then by setting a story directly in a famous Canadian city—and thereby qualifying for a spot amongst the best video games set in Canada.
The real-world frame narrative for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was set in an alternate version of Montréal circa 2013, specifically, where the Templar front organization Abstergo continued exploring the genetic memories of Desmond Miles after his death. It was a fun salute to the city where the majority of the franchise was developed without being too ostentatious about it. (We Canadians are typically a humble sort, after all, right?)
3) Until Dawn
Of course, there’s more to Canada than a few urban centers. Until Dawn not only puts players into the beautiful expanses of Alberta’s mountains (albeit on a fictionalized mountain grounded in the actual Canadian Rockies), it taps into the other kind of awe nature can inspire: fear and dread.
What makes Until Dawn rank so high on our list of the best video games to take place in Canada is the way it captures all the nostalgic vibes of getting away to a campsite or cottage with friends… and then, well, makes a slasher thriller out of them. It also does so without
Fittingly, as its physical release rolls out for current platforms this week in commemoration of its fifth anniversary, Celeste is second on our list of the best video games set in Canada.
Also set on a mountain—this time a fictional version of the real Celeste Mountain on Vancouver Island—this platformer started as a game jam project and went on to become one of the most highly renowned indie games the industry has seen. Its deceptively simple mechanics hide an emotionally rich and well-told tale about a young trans girl coming to terms with her self-doubt and anxiety.
As an impactful title made by a Canadian, set in Canada, with part of our beautiful provincial parks as a backdrop, Celeste is truly one of the best pieces of gaming media our country has produced yet.
1) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game
When it comes to video games (or even comics or movies) that take place in Canada, it’s hard to top the depiction of Toronto seen in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game for sheer fun. Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic series and the movie adaptation thereof, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World transforms the capital of Ontario into the streets of River City Ransom, connected by a Super Mario World-style overworld. The same love and reverence for the real-world setting permeates this digital extension of the franchise, making it the top choice for our list of the best video games set in Canada.
Like the source material and its big-screen adaptation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game pretty much nails the experience of growing up in a southwestern Ontario city as a millennial—in tone and scenery, at least, with pop culture references seeping into the subconscious. Like the rest of the franchise, Ubisoft’s side-scrolling brawler has one lens on the locally familiar and one lens on the fantastic, and for that, we name it the best video game set in Canada.
However, we remain hopeful that future annual iterations of this list might be able to draw upon a wider pool of titles. Thanks to the developers and creators that have helped put Canada on the gaming industry’s map and recreated aspects of this vast nation for the rest of the world to enjoy—and to our fellow Canadian readers, happy Canada Day!