Like all forms of art and media - anything born of our imagination - games also take a lot of their inspiration from our lives and the world we live in. As technology has improved over the last 30 years, the extent to which these virtual worlds resemble their real-life inspiration has increased. Whether a game developer is trying to exactly recreate the landmark or city that has inspired them or whether they use a particularly impressive monument as muse for their fantastical creations, using these real-life locations as a template lends an air of relatability as well as credibility to the worlds they create.
Some of these game studios spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars getting the attention to detail they desire just so the player can feel fully immersed in the world they have (re)created. Perhaps you will even find your next travel destination in this list - or perhaps you will just find a cool new game to add to your library. Here are the 20 most fantastic and incredible gaming world locations that you can visit for real, albeit under different circumstances than pictured (you won't have to deal with any zombies, super-mutants or moving statues on your travels - we hope).
20 Grand Theft Auto III/IV - New York, US
Grand Theft Auto III was one of the first games ever to attempt to build a believable cityscape in 3D as its game-world, and they ambitiously chose New York as their inspiration. Their interpretation of the city, called Liberty City in the game, was an incredible feat for the time, and included various landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building. Grand Theft Auto IV improved further on this rendition using the more modern technology of the time to give us the fantastic (yet now-dated) image above, and a world that imitated its source in more detail than ever.
19 Fallout 3 - Washington D.C, US
The Fallout series is well known for giving us incredible renditions of apocalyptic wastelands but perhaps the most recognizable world they have given us yet is in their rendition of the US capital in Fallout 3. Numerous landmarks can be seen albeit in a considerably more run-down and decrepit state than today. The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Building (pictured) and Thomas Jefferson Memorial are all present and beautifully rendered as tattered, abandoned versions of themselves yet no-less impressive than their real-life counterparts. The rest of the city also follows a to-scale layout of Washington meaning if you know the real city, you will be able to find your way around in the game too!
18 Assassin's Creed - Damascus, Syria
The first Assassin's Creed game gave us the most detailed and life-like rendition of a middle-eastern city we had ever seen - Damascus, replete with prayer towers and domes or "qubba". All of this gave the protagonist lots to climb on and over in his quest to fight the Templars and the way the city was sectioned into districts is in line with how the city operated at that time during the crusades. There were Teutonic knights, Hospitaliers (an order that still exists today, based in Malta) and Templars in the Christian district, contrasting with the Moors and mosques present all around the city.
17 inFAMOUS: Second Son - Seattle, US
Seattle might not be the most obvious choice of city for a video-game but these developers have done a fantastic job representing not only the architecture but even the weather, flora and general atmosphere of the sunny-yet-rainy city. The space needle is obviously present in case you need a reminder of where you are, and the mix of fall colours with evergreen trees gives a truly authentic representation of the north-west coast. While this action-packed sandbox game doesn't leave you much time to pause and take it all in, you can't help but take the occasional breather to take in some of the more impressive moments.
16 Sleeping Dogs - Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong is an incredible island city that manages to blend old and new architecture with culture and a business-oriented industry. Sleeping Dogs does a commendable job of recreating this quaint juxtaposition of opposing architecture, from its futuristic skylines to its traditional parks and archways at ground level. While the game had a few flaws, it is still a great sandbox game that will really make you feel like you know the city and give you a good idea of how this bustling metropolis spawned from its humble beginnings into the sprawling business centre it is today. Of course if the game isn't your thing you can always take a trip there for real - the graphics are better!
15 Watch Dogs - Chicago, US
Like the previous game, Watch Dogs met with a few complaints from consumers at its release but also garnered a cult following large enough to warrant a sequel (more on that later!) thanks to its unique premise and gameplay - but also thanks to a faithful recreation of one of America's fiercely proudest cities, Chicago. Once again, all the city's most prominent landmarks are present including "the bean" as pictured above and the developers have done a great job of faithfully mapping out the city - not just for the sake of realism, but also to give the game a sense of reason and continuity that would be missing from an imaginary metropolis.
14 Metro 2033 - Moscow, Russia
Metro 2033 is a game based on a book, set in a dystopian near-future Russia with a lot of the action taking place in - you guessed it - Moscow's metro subway tunnels. While the image of Moscow depicted within isn't exactly flattering - or historically accurate - it does give an architecturally faithful depiction of Moscow both above and below ground. Various recognisable buildings including parts of the Kremlin can be seen throughout the game, which imagines a post-nuclear future where Nazis and Communists still battle each-other over differing ideologies. If games aren't your thing you can also read the excellent novel of the same name by Dmitry Glukhovsky.
13 Final Fantasy XV's Altissia - Venice, Italy
Final Fantasy XV was a graphical masterpiece of the moment by anybody's standards, which made its incredible scenery and architecture all the more impressive. The game drew inspiration for many of the locales within the game form real-world locations but perhaps the most obvious and impressive is the city-nation of Altissia's re-imagining of Venice. The city is complete with canals, gondoliers wearing the traditional striped shirts and flat-topped straw hats and even Altissia's palace bears a striking resemblance to St.Mark's Cathedral - possibly the most incredible structure in all of Venice and a must-see for all visitors to the Italian city.
12 GTA: Vice City - Miami, US
After their success recreating New York in GTA III, Rockstar Games wanted to try their hand at a wholly different city of equal cult importance. With films like Scarface and shows like Miami Vice having such popularity even in the early 21st century, Miami seemed like the obvious choice. To separate their latest endeavour from the former, they made sure to give "Vice City" its own inimitable personality replete with neon lights in hues of sunset - from cyan to magenta to sombre oranges - as well as various denizens of questionable character, dressed in either Hawaiian-print shirts or brightly coloured zoot-suits. Even the radio stations screamed "80's" to complete the cultural celebration of this Florida city.
11 Watch Dogs 2 - San Francisco
Just as they had done with Chicago in the previous game, developer/publisher Ubisoft went to painstaking lengths to give us the most faithful and contemporary rendition of San Francisco that they could offer, including all the famous landmarks as well as the coastline and wharfs that the city is known for. The developers took what they had learned from making the first game and, if anything, this game is an even more impressive and detailed rendition of its source than the first game was. Building a modern and realistic virtual city is harder than a futuristic or ancient one as there is much less room for artistic license, but Ubisoft have frequently proven themselves more than up to the challenge.
10 Dark Souls' Anor Londo - Il Duomo di Santa Maria, Milan, Italy
If you haven't heard of Dark Souls by now then you must be living under a rock. FromSoftware's epic adventure is most known for it's expansive and mysterious world as well as (much) higher than average difficulty, but something you may not know is that the iconic city of the sun, Anor Londo, has it's cathedral extensively modelled around the real-world cathedral of Il Duomo di Santa Maria (Cathedral of Saint Mary) in Milan, Italy. As anyone who has played the game can imagine, this structure is nothing short of magnificent and is worth a visit in and of itself.
9 Yakuza - Kabukicho, Tokyo, Japan
The Yakuza game series is all about giving an action-packed yet authentic depiction of life in the Japanese crime syndicate. To make a believable story about the Yakuza you need a believable city for them to extort and terrorise. Set in the Kabukicho district of Tokyo, Yakuza faithfully recreates one of the seedier parts of the Japanese capital. Right down to the writing and colouring on some street-signs and neon advertisements, this game has painstakingly imitated Tokyo's red light district to give gamers the most immersive experience possible. Just don't try to recreate any of your favourite sequences in the real-life Kabukicho, Tokyo.
8 Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Rome, Italy
Ubisoft once again proving that no-one does full-scale virtual city-building quite like them, whether it be of the ancient or modern variety. The highlight of AC's Rome is without a doubt their recreation of the Roman Colosseum, reckoned to be the most historically accurate representation of this building ever seen in a video-game - and you get to climb all the way up it! While the gameplay in Assassin's Creed has remained pretty much the same over the year, no one can deny that having an entirely new historically-accurate city to roam around each time makes these games worthwhile all the same.
7 The Division - New York, US
The Division's rendition of the Big Apple definitely differs somewhat from that of GTA IV as the game is set in a post-apocalyptic future that has been ravished by smallpox, but if anything it is even more impressive. The atmosphere is slightly reminiscent of Fallout's Washington D.C and the attention to detail is incredible. Not to mention that, as an online multiplayer game, it has received continued support and updates from its developers. In fact, now is a better time than ever to dive into the game's world an experience a true-to-life New York in an uncertain future. Oh yeah and its another Ubisoft gameworld, so what are you waiting for?
6 Persona 5 - Sangen-Jaya
Sangenjaya is a peaceful and quaint little neighbourhood nestled in the Tokyo metropolis just west of Shibuya and away from the sensory overload of that area. Why the game developers chose this particular neighbourhood for their high-school-based role-playing game is a mystery but they recreated it with such love and authenticity that it has become something of a pilgrimage for fans of the game to go to Tokyo and visit various locales from their favourite game - much to the annoyance of the local residents. While the game certainly isn't everyone's cup of tea, it has an immensely loyal following primarily amongst Japanese teenagers. As an off-shoot of the Shin-Megumi series of games, you would have to play about 10 other previous instalments to truly understand what's going on, but the environment they have reconstructed here is no less impressive for it.
5 Far Cry 4 - Nepal
The Far Cry games are famous for giving us vast and sparsely populated areas to run around in unhindered. It is no contest that the most authentic and impressive of these environments is that of the fourth game, set in the Himalaya mountains in the country of Nepal. While the building-style and clothing of the locals are true to their inspiration, the most incredible thing about this world is the environment itself. Distant snow-capped mountains and seemingly endless and varied terrain really make you feel like you are crossing huge distances within the game in order to accomplish your goals. In fact I reckon the only way to get a more authentic experience of these beautiful mountains is to visit them for yourself.
4 GTA: San Andreas - Los Angeles/California, US
This time Rockstar has moved to the west coast to recreate not just a city but an entire area based on modern-day California. You can even head out of the city and visit the San Andreas fault as a sort of "Grand Canyon" type of landmark (and then proceed to try jumping over it in a BMX bike and inevitably failing). At the time, San Andreas was Rockstar's most ambitious game to date, as well as the last game to use the same engine as GTA III before they updated the engine for GTA IV. Because of the lowered focus on graphical wizardry, the game offered a more culture-focused experience with lowriders, palm trees, ubiquitous fast-food and street-gangs.
3 Assassin's Creed: Unity - Paris, France
Always on the look-out for which historically great city to encapsulate next, Ubisoft made an informed choice in the French capital of Paris, a city replete with towering church spires as well, of course, the legendary Notre Dame cathedral - the sheer scale of which can be seen in this picture from the game. For a game all about climbing up tall buildings then jumping off them, a city with so many spires and turrets seems like an obvious candidate but this in no way detracts from the ever-present skill and methodical dedication that the developers show when building these virtual cities.
2 Tomb Raider Underworld - Thailand
Including the famous "Ko Tapu" island from the James Bond movie Man With The Golden Gun, this Tomb Raider game set a new standard for the sheer scale and beauty of the series. Doing justice to the incredible, overgrown temples and sculptures that litter the Thai wilderness is no easy feat, and many games have done an adequate job but for a game all about investigating long-lost treasures (and then stealing them) it seems fitting that Tomb Raider boast the best looking hidden architecture. I don't know why anyone would need another reason to visit Thailand but perhaps playing this game will finally convince you.
1 S.T.A.L.K.E.R - The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Pripyat, Ukraine
While the tragic destruction of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine will always serve as a reminder of what happens when we mess with powers that we have not truly harnessed, it has become something of a cult symbol in popular culture, with the ghost town of Pripyat becoming the subject of numerous legends and the old semi-destroyed power plant itself now open to tourists (it's not number one on my list but I can see the attraction). Truly encapsulating this air of mystery around the plant and it's surroundings, this game fantastically and faithfully recreates the buildings while adding in various mutant creatures of its own design for the player to deal with (I swear there are NO MUTANT MONSTERS living in the actual exclusion zone). As a result, this is perhaps one of the creepiest and eeriest games on this list - as well as one of the most legitimately creepy and eerie real-life locations. Just remember to take a Geiger counter with you.