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What's Your Favorite City in Games?

'Atomic Blonde' transported me to 1989 Berlin this weekend, and it reminded me of one of my favorite cities in all of gaming.
Still from Atomic Blonde. Courtesy of Focus Features

Over the weekend, I snuck out to see Atomic Blonde, the new Charlize Theron-helmed, cold war spy thriller—which, by the way, I expected to be a lot more action heavy and a lot less contemplative. Not that I'm complaining!

The film sketches its setting in bold strokes: Theron and her peers pace, swagger, and sprint in threads ripped from early MTV music videos. The soundtrack itself is filled with the top-hits of new wave and post-punk, communicating not only that it is the 80s but that it is this specific 80s—not the 80s of Run DMC, or the 80s of Guns N' Roses, or even the 80s of more underground alternative acts like Romeo Void or Lush, but instead the canonized 80s of Depeche Mode and The Cure. And Nena, of course.


Those soundscapes are situated in East and West Berlin just before the wall falls in 1989. Atomic Blonde's West Berlin is drawn in neutral beige, drab office wear, and boxy sedans and its East pushes the utilitarian architecture of West Berlin all the way into grey formalism—and then fills it with hitmen in cheap suits and and the neon punks of the city's underground youth culture. Like the soundtrack, it's both a little cartoonish while also being rooted in a specific history.

Atomic Blonde offers a curated image of Berlin, one that argues that the real hero of Atomic Blonde it is Berlin itself (an argument that is further supported by a climactic monologue). This Berlin place where people love, explore, express themselves, and just generally find ways. In so far as any of the characters in Atomic Blonde are framed positively, it is in how and when they mirror the city that they kill in (and for).

Unsurprisingly, this characterization (of both Berlin and of the battling suits and punks inside of it) reminded me of Shadowrun: Dragonfall.

Harebrained Studios initial cyberpunk offering, Shadowrun Returns, was enjoyable, but because of its linearity (and lackluster writing), failed to evoke the scale or complexity of the urban sprawl it was supposed to take place in. But with Dragonfall (and its own version of "the free city of Berlin"), Harebrained built a city with heartbeat and history.

Based around a central hub marketplace where high-and-low come to meet, the city spins off in different directions. The city is divided down political, economic, and social lines, and these divisions intersect and interact in surprising ways. Better, its characters work to reflect those relations, and are more memorable for it: From Dietrich, the punk-musician-turned-mage whose nephew has joined a hate group, to Altug, the Turkish cafe owner and information broker who's presence is a reminder that even a futuristic setting should contend with our real history.

I've written before about my love of "living cities" in games, and despite being an isometric RPG that I can play on a tablet, Dragonfall did that for me the same way that Atomic Blonde did: Not with realism, but with focus and flare.

My question for you is: Which cities stand out in your minds as the greatest, most memorable ones in gaming? Are they open worlds or linear action sequences? What about cities in racing games like Project Gotham? Or do cities not do anything for you at all? Let me know over in today's open thread!