Five of the Best is a weekly series about the bits of games we overlook. I’m talking about hands, maps, cats, startup screens – things we ignore at the time but can recall years later because, it turns out, they’re integral to our memory of the game. Now is the time to celebrate them!
It works like this. Various Eurogamer writers will share their memories in the article and then you – probably outraged we didn’t include the thing you’re thinking of – can share the thing you’re thinking of in the comments below. We’ve had some great discussions in our other Five of the Best pieces. So come on, what are you waiting for? On we go!
When I gaze out of the big windows beside me I see building works and grey skies. Oh February. Oh England. What I wouldn’t give to be padding through the warm sands of a beach somewhere else, somewhere hot – somewhere I can splosh in and out of the water all day, drying lazily in the sun.
Thank goodness for games that can whisk us away. They can take us to untouched beaches with pearly white sands and turquoise seas. Or they can take us farther, to different worlds and the impossible beaches of fantasy. So dry off, sit back, and let’s get away for a moment or two. Let’s explore the best beaches in games.
Sega’s sandbox game
Sega’s renowned for its big, beautiful blue skies, and of course those things are often paired with equally magnificent beaches. There’s a roll-call of them throughout Sega’s most iconic games, whether it’s Jeffry’s stage in Virtua Fighter 3, the azure coast of the first OutRun or Sonic Adventure’s opening level. Which is all well and good, but what about the time that Sega made a game out of an actual beach.
First revealed in 2014 and still available to play in a handful of Japanese locations, this thing looks amazing, even if I’ll admit I’ve yet to track one down to play. Will it be as good as its premise suggests, as projections mingle with soft sand that’s begging to be sculpted? Maybe, maybe not, but I’m just so, so glad that it exists. It just goes to prove that, no matter what you say about modern Sega, they’re still the masters of blue sky thinking.
Sea of Thieves
There’s no purer tropical fantasy than sailing a big wooden pirate boat and exploring barely charted islands for treasure, and Sea of Thieves nails it. You can even dress in ridiculous clothes and sing songs!
But what I really like about the tropics in Sea of Thieves is the contrasting weather. One moment it’s idyllic, the sun blazing and sparkling on the calm sea, and the next, it’s raging, rain pouring and thunder crashing, water rising like mountains around you.
Sea of Thieves knows what it is to make you feel humble in nature’s presence, and nature’s presence instils in me a deep sense of calm. I could bob up and down on those seas for days.
“We’re approaching the LZ! It’s gonna be hot!” I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it! As the UNSC dropship plopped Master Chief down on the beach at the beginning of The Silent Cartographer – which to this day remains the greatest Halo campaign level of all time – and thrust me into a skirmish on the shore, I found myself dumbfounded a video game could immerse me in such a heart-pumping, epic shooter battle. Amid the blast of grenades, assault rifle fire and grunt squeals, I looked up. That’s a huge ring in the distance, shooting up into the sky, wrapping overhead and coursing down the opposite horizon. We’re on an island on a ring in space. And there’s a jeep with a minigun on it!
What’s remarkable about The Silent Cartographer is that no matter what the player does or where the player goes, it doesn’t break stride. As you make your way into the island’s mysterious alien installation, going deeper and deeper underground, you start to realise that everything is connected in a way that at least creates the illusion of coherence. By the time you’ve fought your way topside and grabbed a pickup from Echo 419, Halo has taught you it’s a game that takes sense of place incredibly seriously. You really did land on the beach, jump in a warthog, explore an underground base and emerge victorious without a loading screen, without the video game itself getting in the way. The island feels real, even as the wizards at Bungie pull levers this way and that behind the virtual curtain. Back in 2001, Halo’s beach blew me away. Looking back at old gameplay of The Silent Cartographer now, nearly 20 years later, it still does.
It’s not a real video game if there isn’t at least one cliché in there, is it? Crash Bandicoot is a little wonky by modern standards, the jumping a bit finickity and clichés abound, and that little starter beach is no different. You wake up, face down, waves lapping at your feet, knowing this is a reference to something but not what, exactly, that reference is – one of those iconic scenes that seems to have transcended its actual origins to just be a recurring, ironic nod, like cartoons with baddies tripping on banana skins and clumsy characters trying not to smash a Ming vase.
But anyway, for some reason Crash, of all games, seems to nail the archetypal wake-up-on-a-tropical-beach cliché more than anything else I can currently imagine. It actually is iconic, an enormously well-remembered opening, what with the jorts and the title music and that little eyebrow wiggle to the camera before you go flipping off into the jungle. There’s a single, long path ahead, and you’ve arrived at the beginning of it. Cliché or not, it’s as good a way to start a video game as any.
Rime is drenched in the Mediterranean. The whole game is inspired by it, by a childhood spent playing on its beaches and swimming in its sea. In fact, the deeper meaning of the game grew out of a near-death experience Tequila Works’ creative director Raul Rubio had in the Mediterranean. He was trying to impress a girl by swimming out to a buoy when, all of a sudden, fatigue set in. Unwisely, he panicked, and the last of his energy left him. Then he began to sink…
It’s a story Rubio shared with me when we talked for a long time about the many meanings of Rime. That’s a longer piece published a while ago on Eurogamer. Don’t read it if you haven’t played Rime because it’ll spoil the surprise, but do play Rime and then read it. Or else. (Just pretend you’re terrified.)