Is New York Overplayed?

Apparently a lot of you are sick of playing video games in the city I live in.

Last week, from the comfort of my desk at the Gawker Media offices in New York City, I reported about an event I attended in the TriBeCa neighbourhood of New York City about a new video game that will be set in New York City.

That game is Crysis 2, and many of the comments I saw in reaction could be summed up as "another one?"

Yes, video games have been set in the Big Apple, for a long time.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, Nintendo Entertainment System, 1987: Boxer Little Mac goes jogging past the Statue of Liberty.

Make that, a really long time.

Spider-Man, Atari 2600, 1982: Peter Parker, in spandex, swings past, uh, maybe a skyscraper or large NYC-style cheese grater.

Everyone knows that there are piles of games set in New York City. (Everyone = Wikipedia.) Even the people making games in New York City know this.

"There was this point when everybody was doing New York [in video games] " Crysis 2's lead creator Cevat Yerli, told me. (He's not from New York. He's based in Germany). "So why do we do New York as well? ... I liked the challenge of standing out from all the crowd."

You see, we've crossed from the era when it was hard to make games set in NYC because no one was doing it, to the era when it's hard because everyone is doing it.

Prototype, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, 2008: Some sort of biological infection wrecks Manhattan. The military is called in. Players get to blow them up and the infected creeps - chases through Central Park included.

Standing out from the New York crowd was not Yerli's only motivation. Before I even told him I live in Brooklyn he was justifying the transition of the Crysis series from tropical island to Manhattan Island with the one fact every New Yorker agrees with: This city is awesome.

"I also always saw New York as a symbol of nature," Yerli said. "It is an icon. People know the Statue of Liberty. People know New York. There's so much to it, and, for me, it's the pride of mankind. Then if I want to save some city - which one would it be - that symbolises the strong will of mankind, if you will? That is New York."

I thanked Yerli for designating my home as the place to save.

Games set in New York often are in this city because they have to be (that's where Spider-Man lives!) or because it makes for a recognisable backdrop (that's the Statue of Liberty!) or because, well, it's a cool city that provides a pretty good template. You don't even have to call it New York City - call it Liberty City - and people will still know what you're talking about and look forward to base-jumping off the Empire State Building or cursing at the taxis.

Grand Theft Auto IV, Xbox 360 and PS3 and PC, 2008: A love letter to four of five of the boroughs of New York City, as multicultural and socially wild a New York game as there ever has been.

Realise that even some racing video games have New York City tracks, which makes little sense, unless you've fantasised about looping the lanes of Brooklyn Bridge or the streets of Times Square. Also odd, and worth noting, almost no major New York game-making development studios are in New York City, so this isn't like television or comics where the creators seem to set their fiction in the place they live.

Yerli, whose Crysis series was previously set on a tropical island is in New York for the 2010 sequel for good reason, he told me: "This time the the location is an integral part of the story. It has its own character arc per se. It is a lively character that is alive. It has its transformations going on. It is something that is, in a sense, crying and you want to protect it. It wants to be saved and for me that kind of already tells so much story without having to tell it. Showing it instead of telling it."

I'm OK with the idea of New York crying. Hey, I was okay with whatever it was that happened to New York in Metal Gear Solid 2, though I'm still not sure what that was. (Anyone?)

Turtles in Time, Super Nintendo, 1982: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NYC residents.

For all the games set in New York, I don't have many memorably New York City gaming moments. I think I liked jumping to the top of the Empire State Building in Prototype, but it's already fading from memory. I liked spray-painting subway cars in the version of New York in Marc Ecko's Getting Up. Doing a King-Kong and shooting down helicopters from the top of the Empire State Building in GTA IV's The Ballad of Gay Tony was cool too, rivalled by a motorcycle chase on subway tracks and that great New York moment of dangling a blogger from a helicopter hovering over Battery Park or thereabouts.

I don't mind all the New York City video games. But I live here. Admit it, though, Los Angeles, GTA: San Andreas not withstanding is too devoid of landmarks to be an interesting video game locale. Other cities? Shanghai is getting some attention in Army of Two and Kane & Lynch sequels this year. Moscow has some cool buildings, as does Paris, which was rendered quite nicely in last year's The Saboteur.

Maybe Crysis 2 can be the final New York City game. Yerli has an idea that might make it suitable for that honour.

He had told me that he'd been to New York City three times during the development of Crysis 2. The third visit was recent:

"Over New Year's I've been to New York to work out the ending of the game," he said. "I was supposed to go to kind of my second honeymoon with my wife and I cancelled that one." (He remains married, believe it or not). "Instead I came here for New York for New Year's.... The point was the end [of the game]wasn't clicking. So I got this beautiful view of Central Park and whole of New York on the right side of me and I was thinking: 'What can I do with New York in the end?'"

"How can you destroy it?" I asked.

"Something that no game, no movie, no fiction ever did with New York," he said. "And, rest assured, that trip did provide the idea."

New York video games, I love you all.

Crysis 2, PC and PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, 2010. New York needs saving.


    All of the reasons he gave could be used for many other cities (London more so). But really the main reason we see New York a lot is because dev's make games for the US market, and americans would much rather be saving/destroying New York then say London.

      What Wrigley said. Also any games set in non-US cities have to involve non-US voice acting on a large scale.

      I'd be interested to look at Japanese games about saving Japanese cities. It's honestly not something I've seen much of. The only Japanese games I've played have been set in fantasy worlds...

      Tokyo would be kinda cool to roam through.

        Fragile Dreams on the Wii is post-Apocalyptic Tokyo where you're the last human wandering towards the Tokyo tower in the distance, trying to find survivors.

          I've also heard very good things about The World Ends with You representing the youth culture parts of Tokyo.

            The closest you could probably get to that is yakuza i think; 3 has tokyo if i am not mistaken, and 2 had kamurocho and another japanese district

    Haven't we seen enough of New York? Other cities such as London and Sydney have recognisable landmarks too. Even other cities in the US, such as Seattle and San Fransisco have landmarks and would be more interesting than playing through New York for the thirtieth bloody time.
    Even better, make up a new city! Use your imaginations, developers!

    Hmmm. I start all my serious replies with Hmmm, it indicates my feeble brain is working at some level, so bear with me. As I was saying...

    Hmmm. Ok, this may sound a tad weird, but I like getting into a game, sometimes for giggles, sometimes for thrills, but for the most part I enjoy a game for its escapism. Crysis 2 can be whatever the hell it wants, thats fine, but its got me disapointed, maybe selfishly so. I'm guessing 90% of us live in the burbs, quite near, or in concrete jungles. We see buildings, roads, street lights everyday. Sure, there's a certain fun in tearing everything down to lose your frustrations of suburban life and there should be games for that, no question.
    But, I loved farcry and then crysis and to a slightly lesser degree (sorry Dave) farcry 2. The main catch for me was, nature! We spend so much time bound in our homes these days and we should be spending more time going for a bushwalk. A stroll along a beach, exploring a jungle stream. Thats why I enjoyed f1,f2 and crysis 1. I would spend more time I think just sitting around, watching the wind in the trees, the god rays flickering through the leaves as the sun rises over the sea. It takes you to a place that I think we all miss out on these days.

    Thats very dear to me, cause being in a wheelchair means a bushwalk is nigh on impossible, forget about trying to make it to the waters edge at a beach, I'm bogged in the first meter of sand. Maybe my desire to explore nature games is skewed somewhat because of my circumstances? But I think others not just me enjoy these games purely for the calm the scenery gives them. The freedom and motions of nature explorable games can be just as appealing, if not more so than city/new york games.

    Hmmm. :)


      with your response in mind Qumulys you should try just cause 2 it is a fantastic overlooked exploration type sandbox game. much better than the first one which had crappy controls and a cardboardy feel. the second one is just fantastic to explore, the graphics are amazing from snowy mountain peaks to idealyic(spelling sorry)lush tropical beaches. i really have had a lot of wow moments with this game the likes of which i have not had since san andreas, worth checking out and heaps of outdoors :)

        Thanks for the tip. I have been meaning to check it out. Hows the nature gfx compared to say crysis?

          being a lowly console user its fantastic pushing the 360 to its limits,draw distance is amazing i dont know how they have done it virtualy no pop up etc, the visuals are stunning, i guess it would be even better on pc.there is lots of flying if you want in differet types of aircraft, helicopters etc and flying around at dawn or dusk the sunsets and sunrises are pretty cool.they have a free demo on line for pc, to check the visuals but it limits the area you can access and the time to half an hour, but from what youve said i highly recommend this game to you. i will be playing this game for quite a while just for the pure joy of seeing the sights.The story line is very over the top james bondish and the voice acting laughable but the missions are fun. if you do get it though i recommend building your shields and character up as you go along before completing the main agency missions.

    Car racing game in Canberra, anyone? Big, wide roads, numerous roundabouts to allow for tons of track designs... :p

      and not to mention - not a single other car on the road

        Except Parkes Way at around 8.00 in the morning. It's a parking lot. Although that rather wide bike/breakdown lane would make for some insane high-speed action...

      oh yeah i forgot to mention too, that i have been to thailand 3 times in real life and at times was very often reminded of the nature and beaches and jungles of thailand by this games graphics and setting

    I'm sick of every TV show and movie taking place either in New York or LA also.

    Sydney: recognisable landmarks (Harbour Bridge, Opera House), tall buildings (Centrepoint), dense buildings for easy rectangle modeling - come on, developers. Give me a game set in a city I live near for a change.

    like Wrigley said, it's a pure marketing and sales-driven decision. The majority of their market is in the US, and given the choice, their gamers would usually prefer that their games contain more easily recognisable location.

    Was the 1982 Turtles in Time caption some kind of witty time travelling joke, cause I sure don't recall seeing any SNES consoles kicking around in 1982

    not only am i sick of games in new york but movies and TV shows as well i just think that its been well a little over used

    I'm not necessarily sick of New York in games, but I'd prefer to see some more cities - non-US cities - get some attention too. I'd love a definitive videogame Tokyo to run around in.

    You know, I just realised why they picked NY for Crysis 2. They're just ripping off Predator! Guy in a stealth suit in the jungle aka Crysis 1... naturally it has to be in a 'concrete' jungle for the second one!

    "Turtles in Time, Super Nintendo, 1982"


    The machine wasn't even a THOUGHT then!

      It's a typo, it's supposed to be 1992

    New York is the only city on earth didn't you know?

    come on use a different city, like Sydney, GTA in Sydney would be great, as long as actual Australians do the voices

    It was great to see Washington, DC in Fallout 3.

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