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The Top 7... Amazing video game maps that do more than just show the way to go

The two purposes of a game map are to show you which direction you should be heading towards and more importantly, to indicate which area you’re yet to loot for power-ups and collectibles.

But some maps are made with so much love and serve up so many with original ideas that they deserve to be listed alongside the game’s bullet-points on the back of the box. Or at least detailed in a special online journalistic list-article comprising an arbitrary number of entries. Say… seven? Yeah, let’s go with seven.

7. Mass Effect 2

Amazing because of it makes us feel like Vangelis-listening children

Not only is Mass Effect 2’s galaxy map an absolute visual treat, it’s also delivered in such a way that it feels like an integral part of the whole game and fits in seamlessly. When it all boils down, it’s simply a map, but it’s a bloody good ‘un.

You access the galaxy map aboard the Normandy and then pilot the tiny replica spacecraft over a superb intergalactic backdrop of stars and planets. There’s even a sci-fi soundtrack loop that contains shades of Vangelis, that provides a seriously soothing atmosphere for your planet-hopping. Even the much-maligned resource mining – where you suck planets dry of their precious metals to buy stuff - is an enjoyable and relaxing experience. For us anyway.

It’s the attention to detail that’s piled into the map that makes it so special and ultimately secures its place on this list. Each of the planets has a unique look and description/history attached to it. And of course, the map also allows you to visit our own solar system – complete with a little easter egg when you <ahem> probe Uranus.

But our favourite thing about Mass Effect 2’s galaxy map is that it takes us back to happier, pre-pubic times. Steering the tiny Normandy over the map reminds us when even a TV remote could be turned into a spaceship as we embarked on another game of ‘spaceman’ and spun round the living room before ‘docking’ with a startled cat – or Fur planet - as our imaginations ran wild.

If you’d told our innocent minds that we’d be able to do this very space travel twenty years from then, via a video game, then we’d have laughed and possibly reported you as a stranger danger. Well done, BioWare, your galaxy map really is out of this world. 

6. Doom

Amazing because it is a bloody terrifying meta-game

Doom, eh? Scary game. You don’t go around with a name like “Doom” unless you’re intending to be scary. “Ultra-Blood-Kill” is another good idea for a scary game name. As is “Monster Face-Eating Party of Despair”. Or “Seething Bloody Carnival of People Getting Power Drills Shoved in Their Eyes”. But no game title says “This is going to be bloody scary” as simply, succinctly and powerfully as “Doom”. Dictionary.com defines the meaning of the word as “unavoidable ill fortune”, and no-one likes that. It also mentions ruin, death and the end of the world. And if that was the sort of ill fortune you were looking at, you’d bloody well want to be able to avoid it.

So, Doom’s scariness established, it would only make sense for Doom’s map to be bloody scary too. And it is. All too often, the video game map is the refuge of the weak and cowardly. The paper or PDA-based shield against all of a game’s stressful horrors. The mother’s skirt for hiding behind, if you will, only with more geographical information, and less gingham than the twee nostalgic, 1950s variant of that metaphorical image we currently have in our heads.

But in Doom, the map screen isn’t a safe place you can run away and hide in when it all becomes too much. In Doom, the map screen is even scarier than the main game. Because in Doom, the map screen is a playable, real-time, overhead wire-frame version of the in-game action. A big, empty, black wire-frame version, with none of the detail, none of the clearly visible monsters, but all of the horrible sounds of your impending – or currently occurring – death. In fact, with the “iddt” cheat (which shows the entire map immediately, without the need for exploration-driven draw-in) it’s probably technically possible to play the entirety of Doom on the map screen, and doing so would make it the hardest, darkest, most confusing, and ultimately manliest survival horror game ever made

It’s debatable whether it would be any fun, but that’s just how scary Doom is. Too scary to bother considering anything as petty as your positive human sensations like “fun”. Some versions allow you to overlay the map on top of the main game, yes, but that's just Doom's way of drawing out the wussy cheaters. So that it can eat their weak souls.

54 comments

  • ithurtstopoop - January 16, 2012 8:52 a.m.

    U couldn't resist gettin TEETEE's in there
  • lordgodalming - January 16, 2012 8:58 a.m.

    How how how did the Dark Souls map not make it into this list? I don't usually put links into forum posts, but this is a special circumstance: http://www.tekmology.com/downloads/DarkSouls_Map_EN.pdf
  • An_Awesome_Guy - January 16, 2012 9:09 a.m.

    Although Dark Souls' map is nice, it's not revolutionary. The maps in this article have the potential to change the face of maps forever.
  • Yaro - January 16, 2012 9:40 a.m.

    And it also wasn't present in the game itself...I'm not even sure if there is a physical copy of it anywhere... I suppose Skyrim didn't make the list because Driver's map is the same deal, only more important as a gameplay mechanic. I love maps =)
  • BladedFalcon - January 16, 2012 3:38 p.m.

    Yep, beat the game twice, and i had no idea such a map existed until now XD And really, part of the charm with dark souls was getting your bearings without need of any pansy map.
  • 435 - January 16, 2012 9:01 a.m.

    Good choice on Driver. Fantastic game, and the map system was most excellent.
  • jackthemenace - January 16, 2012 9:11 a.m.

    TEEEEETEEEEEEEE'S. Love the article, you guys, the UK team sure is brilliant :D Loved the Miyamoto e-mails bit, as well as the ME2 map explanation :D To be fair, I'm surprised, like, the Skyrim 3D map didn't make it onto this, since that was so awesome, but one's that really stuck out for me were Resi 4, for some reason, and- I have no idea why- The Pokemon TCG, on the Gameboy Colour. I just remember that I used to enjoy moving around on the map just as much as I liked playing the game itself :P
  • DannyMB - January 16, 2012 9:25 a.m.

    I couldn't get the mass effect map music out of my head when I finished playing it. Not played Far Cry 2 but I love the map, very very nice. On a side note, why does the apple in your Super Mario image have leprosy? Seriously wtf is that?
  • codystovall - January 16, 2012 9:27 a.m.

    Im the map, Im the map, Im the map, Im the map, Im the map, Im the map, Im the map, Im the map, Im the map, Im the map, Im the map IM THE MAP!!!! -Sentient Map (^why maps shouldnt be alive)
  • Mezolitik - January 16, 2012 9:28 a.m.

    At least one of the Final Fantasys should have made this list, IMHO. I know everybody HATES FF now - even me, and I love it - but some of the earlier titles (4,5,6) had great maps. The overland map is a lost art, these days. I want to be a big man stomping on little cities again. Mass Effect 2 FTW!
  • CitizenWolfie - January 16, 2012 9:29 a.m.

    My God. Seeing the Doom entry bought back some repressed, terrifying memories I had long forgotten about. The horror. The horror.
  • Y2Ken - January 16, 2012 9:45 a.m.

    I honestly played through most of Doom II entirely in map view. There's a way to not only show the geometry, but also your bullets and the enemies. Makes it into an interesting top-down shooter where you can't tell what kind of enemy you're facing except by sound. Great fun. I'm a big fan of Skyrim's map, it's one of the first times I've actually been able to use a map to see the best way to navigate around (or up) a mountain. Admittedly it's also one of the first times that's ever been needed. Also I'd like to note Deadly Premonition's map, which had the great feature of showing the current locations of all the NPCs on it, along with the monumentally annoying feature of barely letting you zoom out at all, making route planning incredibly confusing at times.
  • An_Awesome_Guy - January 16, 2012 9:52 a.m.

    To be honest I wasn't a fan of Skyrim's map. While at first it seemed like a cool visual feature, it soon became apparent that it was functionally useless, shrouded in cloud and displaying no roads or clear pathways through the mountains of Skyrim. It is for this reason that I still play Skyrim with the map that came with it spread out on the floor in front of me.
  • garnsr - January 16, 2012 10:27 a.m.

    Agreed. Zooming out and moving the right stick makes it even more confusing, since it doesn't just move to the side, it pivots. If you don't know where you're going it's hard to see anything, and you can't tell which side of a mountain is just straight up and which area has a path.
  • Y2Ken - January 16, 2012 3:51 p.m.

    I'm actually a little surprised by the number of comments from people saying they couldn't make out paths up or around mountains. I wouldn't say I have a particularly fancy TV or anything which makes it easier to see, but I use it quite a lot for those exact purposes and it works fine. But if I'm in the minority who find it user-friendly, then fair enough and it probably shouldn't have been here after all. Perhaps that discussion was had. (Also, "tropical facesat"? Really Captcha?)
  • profile0000 - January 16, 2012 10:58 a.m.

    I found the original Dead Space to have an awesome map, but it totally was a pain in the ass to use most of the time.
  • madmax21st - January 16, 2012 11:32 a.m.

    "awesome map" "pain in the ass" By definition, it's not awesome if it's pain in the ass.
  • profile0000 - January 16, 2012 3:56 p.m.

    Hence "most of the time." That implies that some of the time it wasn't a pain to use and that is when it was awesome.
  • MidianGTX - January 16, 2012 11:26 a.m.

    I agree Dark Souls map should have made an entry. It probably wasn't the first to do so, but the way it presents itself as an actual map that doesn't translate directly to the game gives the player a better sense that the world really exists. Also, you failed to mention Minecraft's map, similar to Far Cry 2's but you freakin' create and fill it yourself! And how about Phantom Hourglass? Writing notes on a game map not revolutionary enough? I also think Midnight Club: Los Angeles' map is worthy of mention for being the first time a map really managed to impress me by zooming in and out of the action. Skyrim's kinda cheats by cutting away from the action. Oh... and Just Cause 2's for being huge, beautiful and subtly three-dimensional.
  • MidianGTX - January 16, 2012 11:27 a.m.

    Basically, what I'm saying is this list could easily have been a top 10.

Showing 1-20 of 54 comments

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