Every game creates its own version of the world in which it takes place. Art based on real-world locations can reflect different aspects of the city’s architecture, its topography, or its personality.
Since it’s Valentine’s Day, what better way to spend a holiday marketed to love than with a city marketed to love? Here are ten different videogame takes on Paris.
Velvet Assassin’s second mission sees Allied agent and assassin Violette Summer on a mission to take out a Nazi officer in a cathedral. I guess this is your chance to see not-Notre Dame filtered through a game that takes place in the morphine-addled memories of a comatose secret agent, with the Parisian skyline occasionally visible through an orange haze.
In keeping with the theme of dying assassins’ missions flashing before their eyes, Hitman: Contracts’s levels are bracketed by a framing story of a wounded Agent 47 dying in a Paris hotel. Also built around flashbacks, Hitman: Blood Money lets you play the mission that ends with 47’s wounding: a double-hit in a (the?) Paris Opera House.
Much more freedom of movement here as you control Sean Devlin, race-car-driver-turned-resistance-fighter whose career change spells doom for both hordes of Nazis and a palindrome. It’s Devlin’s (who is most certainly not prone to drinking, this is a videogame and characterization is always nuanced!) responsibility to bring local color back. You see, the Nazi occupation has sucked all of the hues out of the city of Paris and only through acts of targeted violence can color be returned. (It’s a metaphor.)
Travel back to the days of the French Revolution! It’s 1789 and Arno Dorian is yet ANOTHER assassin running through the streets of Paris. I don’t know if it’s something particular to Paris, to videogames, to urban spaces in video games, or to my own tendency toward intrigue that so many of these Parises are playgrounds for extrajudicial killing. And you’re not technically Arno; you’re someone using a machine called an Animus to relive Arno’s memories while occasionally being time-anomalied into other eras of Parisian history.
Assassin’s Creed: Rogue combines the Irishness of The Saboteur’s Devlin with Unity’s Arno’s life story. Released shortly after Unity, its version of that game’s time anomaly is the flashing-forward to an older Shay’s visit to Paris. But since it was released for the Xbox 360 and PS3 rather than the Xbox One and PS4 AND isn’t focused on Paris itself, these sequences only render a tiny area of Paris around Shay. Given the meta-interests of the Assassin’s Creed series, it plays like a teaser of that game’s environment: a "hurry up and go spend money on one of those systems so you can see how Paris really was!" (If you’re interested in listening to a couple of professors talk about how Ubisoft’s Paris compares to history’s Paris, check out History Respawned’s video.
From historical Paris to a future one: This Dontnod-developed third-person brawler with really-cool-but-disturbing-in-their-implications memory-altering puzzle elements takes place in a cyberpunk future Paris called Neo-Paris (because that’s how we name cities in Cyberpunk). Nillin, the protagonist, parkours her way through the city and a story about memory and identity and oppression (let it slide on the whole “she starts killing the people she’s supposed to save, victims of corporate exploitation” because it’s a videogame and be surprised at her parentage because, again, it’s a videogame).
In the middle of all this action, stop for a break at Café De La Chandelle Verte. Or you could, at least, if it hadn’t been blown up right at the beginning of the game. After the explosion (caused by a bomb-toting clown) American George Stobbart teams up with ace French reporter Nico Collard in an investigation that involves a centuries-old rivalry between the Assassins and the Knights Templar (not an Assassin’s Creed game).
I’ll be honest—I never got past the Deus Ex tutorial. But when I started this list I decided that despite never having played it, knowing that part of the game was set in Paris meant it must have been pretty talked-about at the time. My in-depth research tells me it’s got catacombs! Catacombs are pretty neat.
The base of operations for the anthropomorphic animal gang in the Sly Cooper series is headquartered in Paris. An early mission in this game involves Sly, his tech-turtle Bentley, and hippopotamus Murray (he’s the muscle) pulling off a heist to steal a giant robotic bird’s tailfeathers from a forger and nightclub owner (a lizard, because he’s a lounge lizard!). It sounds weird, but the game does a great job of capturing the structure of a heist film. This Paris has a series of missions for the three thieves to do in preparation for the final heist.
Brian Taylor has never been to Paris.