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

5. Grand Theft Auto IV

Amazing because it has funky GPS synchronicity

Some games require lots of map checking and cross-referencing. Constantly in-and-out like a cartographer's best customer. Grand Theft Auto is definitely one of those games. And it used to be a serious ball-ache. Drive for a bit. Check the map. Drive a bit more. Check the map. More driving. Better check the map just to be sure. And so on. Sure there was the radar with its clusterfluck of icons. But that was often about as useful as looking through a kaleidoscope to find the dangly bits in a porno. But then GTA IV took GTA maps to the next level.

Before we get on to that though, let us get our obligatory GTA IV 'TEETEES' reference out the way...

Above: Obligatory GTA IV 'TEETEES' reference

Anyway, yeah. GTA IV took GTA maps to the next level. How? By using the power of GPS synchronicity. Set a marker on the map and the game immediately calculates the fastest law-abiding route to the destination. If you do veer off the GPS-approved route, it recalculates a new path faster than you can say "recalculate a new path". Pretty sweet. But that's not all. Factor in the option to turn on voice GPS in all cars and it's practically impossible for anyone with basic cognitive abilities to ever get lost in Liberty City. Simply set a waypoint on the map and the car will actually tell you how to get there. With words that it speaks. Amazing.

Above: Cundy beautifully models the GTA IV map that came with Episodes from Liberty City. He likes maps

How many gamers used the actual physical map that came with the game (see above) to find their way around? Probably not many. Because the in-game map was better than the actual real map. And there are other things about the GTA IV in-game map that we like. It has a zoom function. It has a legend that can be toggled on/off. It features very atmospheric map music. It was redesigned for each of the GTA IV 'Episodes' - Lost and Damned was given a gritty look with a red map crosshair, while Ballad of Gay Tony's map had a disco makeover and a magenta map crosshair. But GTA IV's map is mostly amazing for its ground-breaking technological advancements in player orientation.

4. Metroid Prime trilogy

Amazing because it is all 3D and filled with morbid existential dislocation

It’s ironic perhaps, that a Metroid game should have such a sexy map. The series is of course built primarily around a powerful sense of the unknown, that alien, disconnected, stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling of being utterly isolated in hostile surroundings and having to acquire the rules and means to survive while also slowly coming to find one’s way around. A big flashy map should surely be the antithesis of that. But it isn’t.

No, you see the great thing about Metroid Prime’s map is that it isn’t merely a static plan of the area. It’s a dynamic, 3D model of the game world. It updates in exactly the same way as the traditional Metroid maps of old (ie. through exploration or finding map files which unlock whole sections of it), but it’s the sheer scrolly, twisty, 3D zoomability (official Nintendo terminology taken from e-mails between Miyamoto and Retro Studios. Only the actual words used may have been changed.*) that makes it such a big deal. Or small, depending on how far zoomed out you are. Though it’s not really small. It’s still big, it just looks small because you’re further away.

Above: Actual metaphor a little bit lower. Damn page layout not fitting out visual gag plans

You see the ease and speed with which you can pan and zoom the map right down into a faceless, mysterious, bare polygon version of the very area you’re in, and then right back out to the whole currently-revealed level layout, gives both an highly tangible, claustrophobic attachment to your immediate environment as well as a dizzying sense of the overall scale of your situation. It makes Samus’ isolation and sense of insignificance within the world she explores all the more affecting, through the tactile interface with which she can experience the bigger picture.

Also, being all orange and hard-looking on the outside but with a soft, vulnerable human experience in the centre, it’s a metaphor for the very state of being Samus herself. Or something.

3. Far Cry 2

Amazing because it is actually real (in the non-real world of the game)

There’s something quite surreal about seeing a genuine, flapping-in-the-breeze parchment being used as a game map. For years, we humans have used ink and paper to plot a journey, but using one in Far Cry 2 just seems oddly brilliant.

With the a cardboard map in one hand and a digital compass in the other, Far Cry 2 does its best orienteering-simulator impression. These are your only tools for navigating the African wastelands and add a realistic twist that emphasises your survival in the wilds.

But the best thing about the map here is that you can wander around with it on display in your hand. And when you need to make a quick escape on foot, the guide is lowered slightly so you can peek over the top and make sure you don’t run straight off a cliff.

You won’t find GPS in the vehicles either. Instead, you’ll have to hold the map up as you drive too. Yes, it’s rather dangerous but anyone you’re likely to run over while distracted by the map will most likely be enemies anyway.

Having the map actually in your hands is a really simple, but novel way to make it essential to your survival and bring out our inner scouting skills.

*Or made up.

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54 comments

  • Fox_Mulder - January 20, 2012 12:59 a.m.

    Great article. I especially loved the changed *Or made up jargon obtained by infiltrating Miyamoto's e-mail. The Driver: SF map looks essentially like the Skyrim map, being rendered in real time, but is way cooler because of it's upgradeability. Keep up the awesome Top 7 features guys!
  • winner2 - January 18, 2012 4:26 p.m.

    The map/gps from farcry 2 and I had a love/hate relationship. That game felt pretty real for farcry as well. No mutant animal powers, no pause map, and random malaria attacks. But they took out the option of going prone, and that was where I was shocked.
  • TheRevLives - January 18, 2012 2:59 p.m.

    Didn't GTA IV use the same map from the first Saint's Row? Also, Surprised Oblivion's or Morrowind's isn't here.
  • mothbanquet - January 18, 2012 8:16 a.m.

    I remember Operation Flashpoint. A bog-standard OS map, a watch and a compass. You get lost, better brush up on your orienteering skills...
  • armerus - January 17, 2012 4:08 p.m.

    I knew when I saw Matt Cundy's happy smiling face on the featured article, that I was going to enjoy it. I agree, maps are a good part of a game. Without them it is inevitable that I would be a balled up wreck by the end of the day. These maps are truly great, but I especially love the games that come with map posters, cause I find them a lot more awesome, not only because you can hang them up and shizz, but you can also see where your going without having to go through a menu.
  • sleepyMexican45 - January 17, 2012 11:01 a.m.

    Cundy looks like a drunken tramp.
  • A9entOfChaos - January 17, 2012 7:56 a.m.

    No love for the Skyrim map? I know it doesn't help you get up the various mountains and it does not calculate a route like GPS. But there is something about looking at that map and thinking wow! How the **** do i get there? IT adds to the adventure IMO.
  • Gyaruson - January 17, 2012 7:43 a.m.

    Saints Row 1 had a turn-by-turn guidance system in their game, and that was before GTA4 by over a year and a half. It didn't have voice directions, but it had the same "follow this line to reach your destination" in the minimap. Plus it didn't have a cell phone, which made it infinitely better than GTA4. So, there's that.
  • A9entOfChaos - January 17, 2012 7:54 a.m.

    Cool Story
  • Gyaruson - January 17, 2012 9:36 a.m.

    Thanks! It makes me happy to know that my quest for factual awareness has brought you a little bit of joy in your life. HAVE A GREAT DAY!
  • Rowdie - January 17, 2012 8:36 p.m.

    And we have yet another reason why GTA IV is so overrated.
  • ColinKapow - January 17, 2012 5:50 a.m.

    Teetees! I love it when there is a really obscure top 7
  • Zeos - January 16, 2012 11:18 p.m.

    Lol. Awesome article as always, guys!
  • brizzie - January 16, 2012 8:51 p.m.

    In GTA IV I actually used the physical map to mark all the armor, weapons, pigeons, rare locations (like the sports car shop or the motorcycle shop or the "Rich House"<-- House with a chopper, motorcycle and a sports car) and I used the street names to find the cars for "Steve".
  • FOZ - January 16, 2012 4:46 p.m.

    ME2 didn't have a map so much as a pointless little flying mini-game. Odd. Metroid Prime's is one of the most detailed and actually useful maps ever. Far Cry 2's magic map was a pain, because it was all you had to look at unless you wanted to get lost. Make awesome visuals, no GPS or arrow system. This brown piece of paper sure is more appealing than all that jungle and sprawling savanna.
  • A9entOfChaos - January 17, 2012 7:57 a.m.

    Let me guess.. someone stole your sweet roll?
  • archnite - January 16, 2012 4:05 p.m.

    I'd add the Just Cause map for when you first open the map up and think "wow this game is pretty big" and then pull back and realize you were only looking at like an eight of the whole thing. Plus it did the Driver: San Fran thing first.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - January 16, 2012 2:59 p.m.

    Mass Effect 2 should be 6 and Doom should be 7. Just saying.
  • TURbo - January 16, 2012 1:06 p.m.

    Skyrim map interface was one of the most weakest parts of the game.

Showing 1-20 of 54 comments

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