A game's carefully-chosen setting affects the overall mood and tone of adventure you choose to put your time into. Think about how different Skyirm’s Solitude feels to Witcher 3’s Novigrad, or how the worlds of GTA Vice City or San Andreas feel completely different in story and tone to that of GTA IV, with Liberty city just missing out a spot on our list of the worst cities in video games. A living, breathing environment, like a city, is what immediately sets one game apart from another in the same genre.
A well designed city level can also help to push negative emotions and ensure feelings of desperation, fear and dread ooze from the game's very core. Some pull these awful places to live off so well, you would swear that you lived there yourself for a time.
And while some of the worst cities on this list started off as vibrant places that ultimately fell into a state of decay, others were rotten or unsafe from the beginning - a bit like Manchester. Sometimes what lurks on the outskirts of the city can make it just as bad as what lies within, so it's only right that we rank the top ten worst cities in video games for a bit of fun.
10. Rivet City - Fallout 3
Some places to live are born out of a necessity, rather than a preference. In a nuclear wasteland, somewhere safe(ish) indoors to lay your head is better than outside where mutated abominations could flay off your skin faster than you can say ‘War never changes’. Fallout 3’s Rivet City is a perfect example of this.
It may be a rusted, tetanus-filled, metal hellhole, but to the 50 or so people that call it home, it sure beats whatever’s outside the door. But if we look a little bit closer, Rivet City may be the worst location to live in Fallout 3.
Sure, the 12” of steel hull would give you a sense of security, but when it comes to locations, Rivet City is one of the worst possible. Barely down the road is the Jefferson Memorial and an absolutely huge battalion of super mutants and, due to the river, there is a constant threat of mirelurks and the Brotherhood of Steel walking in at any time and demanding the ship’s power supply.
Megaton might have a giant, unexploded nuclear bomb, but at least it’s in somewhat of a safer area for survival.
But I guess even Rivet City would be better than Andale.
9. Midgar - Final Fantasy 7
Now you know a city is bad if it is described as a ‘Rotting Pizza’, and that description perfectly sums up Final Fantasy 7’s Midgar. A two-tiered metropolis where the wealthy and influential live on a plate above, literally overshadowing the downtrodden folks below, it’s one world for the lucky few, and a whole other for its lower-class denizens.
The slums below is a wretched hive of scum and villainy born out of necessity. There’s little natural light besides a beam casting through the broken roof of an old church, the air is thick and stale and, beyond monsters attacking or killing the innocent, there’s the looming threat of rubble dropping from the plate above.
And to keep its people from rising up, there’s a constant military presence patrolling the dank streets, while the seedier sectors are run by corrupt officials or debauched gangsters like Don Corneo with their fingers in all the right pies.
Above all of this however, is the sheer power and control the Shinra corporation holds over not just the people in the undercity slums, but the equally hard-working supporters of the regime above. This show of power is demonstrated in both the original PSX title and Final Fantasy 7 Remake. The pillar holding up the upper plate over Sector 7 is detonated and destroyed, killing over 50,000 of the unlucky souls who lived both on it and in its shadow.
Yeah Midgar would suck to live in, go to Kalm or the Chocobo Farm instead.
8. City 17 - Half Life 2
Some cities in games you know are going to be bad from the second you enter them; whether due to a foreboding atmosphere, imposing alien architecture, or the vast presence of armed soldiers. Half Life 2’s City 17 has all of the aforementioned issues. From the moment Gordon Freeman rolls into City 17 and is accosted and detained by troops for failing a security check, you know your time here is not going to be a pleasant one.
Luckily for Mr Freeman, the arresting officer is an undercover Barney Calhoun, who leads our hero to some semblance of safety. Throughout Half Life 2, you witness the control the Combine forces have over the populace. From stopping reproduction with the Suppression Field to converting people into Stalkers - horrific zombie-like abominations that support the Combine’s Citadel - the limitless cruelty of the reigning empire is on full show throughout.
The only saving grace as a location is that it’s a hell of a lot better than Ravenholm. Remember kids, we don’t go to Ravenholm.
7. Night City - Cyberpunk 2077
You might think a city enjoying the height of modern technology would be the perfect utopia to settle down and bring up a family. However, the fact so many people have cybernetic enhancements means nobody's data (or lives) are safe in this one and means Night City definitely deserves a spot on the top 10 worst cities in video games.
In Cyberpunk 2077, players can pretty much instantly access the personal information of almost anyone in the city. Simply walking around Night City exposes one to the absolute worst its dystopian setting has to offer including, but certainly not limited to, a whole array of different gangs constantly fighting for control of its many neighbourhoods.
Night City has plenty of security, with NCPD, Arasaka, and Militech being the mainstays, but their presence does nothing to snuff out the rising levels of crime. In fact, an aggressive response generally serves to make things much, much worse. Collateral damage is a way of life here.
Mass cybernetics and the obsessions that come with these mechanical and digital enhancements simply makes matters worse, especially for the unenhanced individuals that remain, who are at an understandable disadvantage against the altered. With the answer for many being to simply upgrade themselves more, affording the latest and greatest sends many down a slippery slope that pulls in others like a vacuum.
6. Raccoon City - Resident Evil 2 / 3
Some cities look pretty good on the surface, but the closer you look, the worse things get. Raccoon City from the Resident Evil series is a perfect example of this. And the writing was on the wall long before its iconic zombie outbreak.
On the surface, Raccoon City looks like a quaint Midwestern US city full of parks, restaurants, and historical buildings. But dig into its financials, essential services, and political landscape, and the ugly truth of Raccoon City soon comes to light and proves it is one of the worst cities in gaming.
For one, there’s the extreme corruption of the Mayor, Michael Warren, who basically sold the town out to the Umbrella corporation for monetary gain. Secondly, you have to question any city that has a unique specialist police squad within its own police force.
Also, the complete disregard of environmental safety, with the aforementioned Umbrella corporation dumping untold amounts of biological waste into the city's sewer system - which leads onto my final point - would have set off all sorts of alarm bells in the public had they known.
Not that they’d have been able to imagine the horrors Umbrella’s secretive experiments would unleash - A full-scale viral outbreak that turns the entire population into mindless, flesh-eating zombies. Now that will put a downer on any city-dwellers Sunday run.
5. New York - Prototype 2
Now this entry could just be about New York City: boom, done, let’s clock off and go to the pub for a pint. But no; this is specifically about New York from Radical Entertainment’s Prototype 2, a place so downright awful to live in that it makes the actual Big Apple seem like the Hollywood Hills or the Cotswolds.
Since the events of the first game, the virus has decimated most of NYC, putting it under the rule of the nefarious Blackwatch corporation, putting it in a perfect position to begin secretly experimenting on a large number of its citizens. On top of this, Alex Mercer has taken over a section of the city and plans to infect the entire world with this virus. So let's get the worst city to live in checklist out:
1. Awful city to begin with - Check!
2. Viral outbreak - Check!
3. Tyrannical overlords - Check!
4. Evil superpowered villain - Check!
4. Yharnam - Bloodborne
The city of Yharnam is a very bad place. You don’t need to look far to figure that out. If it was on Trip Advisor, the review would read as zero stars. “Unfriendly locals, confusing city layout, and got attacked by an unholy nightmare beast… then got the plague.”
Honestly, Yharnam could possibly be the worst city to live in any game, film, or TV show. With the amount of things trying to kill you being higher than Snoop Dog on a regular Tuesday and the average lifespan of an outsider being less than that of candy floss in the rain, there are few redeeming qualities here beyond its hauntingly beautiful architecture, which honestly has some of the greatest looking buildings in gaming. Yharnam definitely proves it deserves the number 4 spot in the worst cities in video games.
Just don’t increase your insight, whatever you do. There are some things you just don’t need to see in life. Ignorance is bliss and all that. Still, it’s probably better than Blighttown.
3. Rapture - Bioshock
Now we’re into the top 3, so you know things are going to be a whole heap of awfulness. Our number three spot had the potential to be one of the greatest cities to live in: but it’s not, and ended up as one of the worst cities in gaming.
Somewhere hidden away from the rest of the world, featuring some of the greatest minds the world had ever seen, is Rapture from Bioshock 1. What could have been a pillar of absolute greatness, nestled under the north Atlantic ocean, is instead a case study of how to quickly turn a possible harmonious utopia turned into a bleak, dystopian nightmare.
With Rapture’s downfall being directly linked to ADAM, a chemical compound that has the ability to rewrite a person's genetic material to the point of granting literal superpowers, the cost and allure of keeping these powers alive tore the community of Rapture apart.
And if an inescapable underwater drug den wasn’t enough to steer you away, a certain plastic surgeon promises to make any visit a particularly violent affair. I’ll spare the gruesome details here, but just know you’ll never look at a magazine cover the same way again.
2. Stilwater - Saints Row 2
It was a very close call between Stilwater and the number 1 entry on our list for the worst video game city to live in. The Saints Row 2 city missed out the top spot by the tiniest margins, but it’s stilll one of the most dreadful places to live in any game and absolutely deserving of a high spot on this list of the lowest lows.
Stilwater has had the pleasure of being the center of a full-on city-wide gang war on two separate occasions. With seven completely separate street gangs vying for power in Stilwater over the space of just two years, it’s not a place you’re likely to feel safe investing your time, energy, money, and life into.
And then there’s Ultor; one of the most evil corporations to ever grace the digital screen and rich enough to completely bankroll a full private army. Plotting to promote gang wars to drive down real estate prices to buy up all the land for peanuts and then redevelop it, it’s something straight out of a comic-book, and a great role-play prompt for your next game of Monopoly.
There is also the little point of it being the home city of one Johnny Gat. A man so absolutely bonkers and psychotic he makes even the GTA protagonists seem rather well adjusted. Is he the hero? No. But his unrelenting charisma means you can’t help but root for him.
Oh and let’s not forget the matter of the ridiculous level of insurance fraud that takes place in this city. Though you can bet they’ll still find a way to blame you for the burglary of your own home.
1. Los Santos - GTA 5 / GTA Online
Los Santos pipped Stillwater from Saints Row 2 as the worst gaming city to live in for just two reasons. Firstly, GTA Online puts a whole new spin on why Los Santos is such an awful place to live. It’s absolutely bonkers. And the second? A certain person named Trevor Phillips - the terrifying force of redneck destruction.
On the surface, Los Santos looks like a decent place to live: there’s the hot weather, nice views, and beaches for those lovely sunset walks. But when every walk runs a high risk of you getting stabbed by a man wearing nothing but a bright pink top hat before flying off on his jet powered motorbike, there’s probably cause for concern.
A city with an almost unfathomable amount of illegal activities is bad enough, but with unrestricted access to weapons that would make the US army jealous, the average lifespan of London during the Black Death, and enough petty crime to make places like Las Vegas and Detroit feel more like a trip to Disneyland, the city’s only saving grace has to be the fact that its more murder-inclined individuals can’t access or destroy 99% of the buildings it’s made up of. It gets by on a technicality, but we’ve all had enough of house-bound isolation for one lifetime.
Well... and it's based on Los Angeles, which is enough in itself to get on this list.
Los Santos is without a shadow of a doubt, the worst of the worst video game cities to live in.