The Best Winter Landscapes in Video Games

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Since it doesn’t appear likely that my (and C&G’s) home city of Toronto, Ontario will receive much of any snow this holiday season — and because I apparently no longer play anything but Skyrim — I’ve been thinking a great deal about winter

Luckily, video games offer a great escape into virtual worlds where we can experience the magic of winter year-round. So let’s take a look at some of the best winter landscapes in video games that truly capture the essence of the season.

Metal Gear Solid – The Iconic Snowy Setting

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Shadow Moses, the Alaskan setting of Metal Gear Solid, is one of videogames’ most iconic locations that could easily have existed as yet another bland, multi-corridor facility if not for one distinctive feature: the ice and snow. Solid Snake’s anti-terrorist mission was framed by blowing snow, howling wolves and little puffs of PlayStation One-era polygon condensation when the protagonist breathed.

The cold setting even inspired novel gameplay elements: let Snake run around without a shirt on for too long and he’ll get the sniffles; leave footprints in the snow and guards will follow them to your hiding place. Each of the little touches helped to make Metal Gear Solid one of the most wintery games to date.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – Surviving the Himalayas

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Nathan Drake’s a pretty hardy guy, but the powdery drifts and intense cold of Uncharted 2’s Himalayan mountain peaks made players fear for his life in a manner far more intense than any train-top gunfight or pursuing guncopter. Developers Naughty Dog pushed the PlayStation 3 hardware to render some of the most realistic snow portrayed in any videogame.

Like Metal Gear Solid, the fine details sell the sense of freezing temperatures — just in much higher resolution here. When Drake escapes from a dangling train, he convincingly trudges through deep snow banks, marking a beleaguered trail behind him before collapsing. The ice in his hair and the blood in his cheeks help to convince the audience that a digital Himalayan adventure could be just as cold and treacherous as the real thing.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – A Winter Wonderland

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There’s something about wandering a snowy forest underneath a starry night sky, the looming threat of bears, frost trolls, and wolves ever present, that reinforces what winter is all about: staying warm and cozy inside and away from nature. Skyrim’s mountainous expanses, glacial wastes and pine-strewn valleys perfectly represent the elemental wonder of the season. As beautiful as it all is — and as much adventure as the foreboding landscape promises — it also makes me thankful to live in a modern world where such wonders can be experienced vicariously.

More Winter Adventures Await

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Of course, many, many games have also done winter justice — the three above stand out as some of my favourite examples. Those wanting more icy gameplay should consider navigating Max Payne’s snowy New York City streets or running from building to building to avoid death by exposure in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 this holiday season. Just because the real weather won’t cooperate for many of us this year, it doesn’t mean we can’t get festive by exploring constructed worlds in place of our own.

It also doesn’t hurt that every one of the games mentioned above is excellent and well worth spending some of our hard-earned vacation hours with. And on that note, I’ll see you in 2012. Happy holidays everyone!

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