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According to Video Games: Top Five Snow Scenes

With both parts of the US and the UK covered in snow, pictures of overturned cars, closed schools and snowmen are filling the television and internet. Children love it because they get a day off school, but spare a thought for the video game hero. Rather than a day in watching films and keeping warm, the poor video game hero has to brave the elements, endure the cold and fight off enemies, when the only fighting they really want to do is with snowballs. We look at the impact of snow on the Russian solder, the treasure hunter and the samurai. Here’s our rundown of some of the best recent examples of snow in video gaming.

Uncharted 2

Naughty Dog has continued to push the limits in gameplay, storytelling and graphics. Although the third Uncharted illustrated that bigger isn’t necessarily better, Nathan’s second outing, and best in our opinion, opens with Nathan hanging from a derailed train on a snowy mountain. With this backdrop, Naught Dog led us through an intuitive tutorial as Nathan climbs the train and onto the wintry peak.

Uncharted 2 captures the detail of winter as Nathan wades through a foot of snow, his footprints leaving marks, and flurries creating useful cover as he picks off unaware enemies. As with the whole series, the motion capture used in production works to perfection as Nathan tackles the snow. The snow storms and ice caverns of Uncharted 2 work to make it our favourite of Nathan’s adventures. Here’s hoping that Naughty Dog’s next title, The Last of Us, is what Uncharted 3 should have been.

uncharted2 snow

Skyrim

If we were asked to walk a thousand steps because some old monk shouted, our first thought would be, “Isn’t there a lift?” Well no, no there isn’t. But for the Dragonborn the climb was no trouble, apart from a rather persistent troll. For us this was one of the most memorable moments in Skyrim – no not the troll – but the climb. The higher we climbed, the more of the world was shown before us. Snow gently fell around us, and views of the Nordic homeland spread for miles. The well of Bethesda’s music worked to finish of this expertly crafted moment so much so that it has stayed firm in our memory over a year on.

Unlike other games snow wasn’t just a level or section of the game: it was part of the world. A world where hidden shires, ruined ships and the ancient Mages Guild populated. Fighting a pack of wolves, bandits or a dragon felt right in Skyrim’s winter wonderland. Although the previous Elder Scrolls worlds of Morrowind and Oblivion were memorable in their own right, Skyrim takes the title for our favourite.

skyrim - dragon

Company of Heroes 2

Although we have yet to experience the full campaign of Company of Heroes 2, we did go hands on with it back in October and were shown even more detail in the developer session. Just as in the historical campaign of the Second World War, the effects of snow and cold in the game are so important that the developers refer to it as General Winter. Not simply a visual treat, although it certainly is, snow and the cold will impact on the way we play.

Send a group of soldiers into a snow storm to scout ahead and they’ll begin to shiver in the freezing condition. The falling snow impacts visibility, meaning your troops are vulnerable to ambushes. Should they survive in once piece they’ll need to build fires and seek shelter to keep themselves warm: failing to do so will result in their frozen corpse hitting the deck to the shock of their comrades.

And that’s not all. The winter conditions mean frozen lakes can be useful pathways. You’ll see tanks slide as they attempt to gain traction, while the ice beneath them cracks from the weight. And should an enemy spot your approach over the lake they’ll be sure to rain down mortars on your position, leaving you to watch the ice break and your tanks sink to an icy death. So here’s a tip when you next go ice skating: make sure there are no mortar squads around.

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Red Dead Redemption

John Marston has, rightfully, earned his place as a gaming hero. And just as Mario and Sonic before him he had to wade through snow levels to do just that. When Marston ventures into the mountains large pines populate the scene and with them snow. While some of us would equate this scene with a white Christmas and mountains of presents, Marston’s mountains are instead filled with carnivorous bears that’ll throw you from your horse and tear you to shreds. And we thought bears liked honey.

Although in order for Marston to venture into the snow disbelief had to be suspended somewhat. The trouble was John’s farm wasn’t more than a few minute ride from the mountains. While the weather back home was sunny and warm – the ideal time to harvest crops and teach his son to shoot – only five minutes away snow covered the forest. We weren’t entirely convinced Rockstar Games did their geography homework. But as it was such an incredible game we let them off.

Red Dead Snow

Shogun 2: Total War

If Uncharted 2 and Red Dead Redemption explored the detail of winter, then Shogun 2: Total War revelled in the epic nature of it. Whether you’re leading an assault on a fortress or defending a river crossing, it all looks so much more filmic in the snow. As a hundred of your greatest archers rain down arrows through the snow, and an army of warrior monks face off against rows of matchlock ashigaru surrounded by white, the winter setting creates a mood fitting for such death. Due to the dramatic intro cinematic, memories of the climax of House of Flying Daggers, and even the iconic battle with the elements seen in Kurasawa’s works, Shogun 2’s winter battles are designed to fit into this iconic genre.

The realities of fighting in such conditions are also accurately realised. Whereas today we worry about train delays or gritting the road, the samurai of Shogun 2 face starvation and death should they venture away from supply lines at the end of the year, making lengthy campaigns or prolonged sieges just as dangerous as the battles themselves.

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So while we might have to shovel snow, take the day off from work, or worry about a bit of ice, spare a shout for the thousands of virtual corpses that lay freezing in the wintery wastelands of Japan, the cowboy who must fight off bears and the treasure hunter who hangs from a derailed train.

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