9 Pittsburgh-set video games to explore the virtual city | Arts + Entertainment | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

9 Pittsburgh-set video games to explore the virtual city

click to enlarge Approaching Pittsburgh in Organ Trail
Approaching Pittsburgh in Organ Trail
Between the pandemic and the biting winter cold, the ability to wander around the city has been curtailed. While some public places such as restaurants and museums are open on limited bases, the leisure to stroll or meander outside without a specific destination in mind now comes with considerations of health safety precautions as well as inclement Pittsburgh winter weather.

To remember what it’s like to explore the city without such concerns, you can wait until the weather improves and the pandemic ends, or you can get a taste of Pittsburgh in one of these nine games. Since these games vary in genre and connection to Pittsburgh, they are listed from most directly comparable to and recognizable as Pittsburgh to the most abstract and “on a technicality” references, but all have the ability to satisfy nostalgia for roaming Pittsburgh’s streets.

1. The Last of Us

Chapter 5 of Naughty Dog’s 2013 post-apocalyptic action-adventure game is literally set in Pittsburgh, complete with Downtown’s highway ramps and an unnamed bridge that resembles the Fort Pitt Bridge. The buildings and roads are overgrown with plants, and to wander the streets, you’ll have to make your way around abandoned cars, but it’s recognizably Pittsburgh. The city even keeps its name in this post-apocalyptic world, making it the most straightforward reference to the Steel City and also giving Pittsburgh its own page in The Last of Us’ Wiki.


2. Fallout 3: The Pitt

While Fallout 3 is set in the ruins of Washington, D.C. in the year 2277, the DLC “The Pitt” is set in the ruins of Pittsburgh. This game has a more literal map of Pittsburgh with recognizable landmarks such as bridges, the Cathedral of Learning — called Haven in the game — and the Point, but the nuclear blasts of the Great War and the resulting “fallout” give the environment a distinctly different look and feel from the Pittsburgh outside our doors. Still, this first-person role-playing game offers the chance to see the sights, including a graffitied “Welcome to The Pitt” green sign with the ever recognizable “Visit PA” tagline on the bottom.

3. Left 4 Dead

After a zombie outbreak begins in Pennsylvania, the player character has to fight their way through Newburg and Fairfield, both based on Pittsburgh. Fairfield is the location of the first campaign, “No Mercy,” based on Mercy Hospital, and the DLC campaign “Crash Court.” Fans of the game have even recognized Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital as the reference, although that unfortunately led to an influx of low reviews referencing the game. Newburg’s references to Pittsburgh are a bit more vague, comprising an airport, a river, and a forest in the game’s geography that make the city distinct from any of Pennsylvania’s five actual Newburgs.

click to enlarge Inside of Snack Falcon in Night in the Woods
Inside of Snack Falcon in Night in the Woods

4. Counter Strike: Global Offensive

The HRG Aquarium in Valve Corporation and Hidden Path Entertainment’s 2012 multiplayer first-person shooter is technically located in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge is even visible in the distance. But HRG Aquarium’s floor map and visual design are based on PPG Aquarium, offering the chance to roam the familiar, relaxing halls of the aquarium, with the slight stress of other players shooting at you.

5. NBA Street V3

The 12 courts in EA Canada’s 2005 streetball game are based on real locations in the United States — and one in England — and “The Hawk” is based on Garland Park in East Liberty. It’s not as expansive as the maps in games like Fallout 3 or The Last of Us, but it’s a comforting, familiar slice of Pittsburgh life without the stress of being shot at or having to survive post-apocalyptic conditions.


6. Organ Trail

Players visit Pittsburgh on their cross-country roadtrip in this zombie survival parody of Oregon Trail. Like The Last of Us, the city is called Pittsburgh, but other than a bridge that looks like the South Tenth Street Bridge and a mall that might be Ross Park Mall, there isn’t much to connect the game setting to the real city. Still, it’s a fun chance to see Pittsburgh rendered in retro pixel art.

7. Sports league games

The Madden NFL, NHL, and MLB series all fall into this category because they have the same connection to Pittsburgh: giving you the chance to play as one of Pittsburgh’s national sports teams in a familiar stadium or arena. While some of the stadiums may be outdated, it’s a chance to be in a Pittsburgh sports complex without the safety concerns of a cheering audience during a pandemic.

8. Guild Wars 2

This fantasy MMORPG from ArenaNet belongs on the list by a technicality. Yes, the setting is fantastical, with beasts to fight and a terrain that doesn’t resemble Pittsburgh’s, but Skrittsburgh still pays homage to Pittsburgh’s East End, Homestead, Mount Washington — called Mount Gnashington in the game — and the Hill District, as well as the city’s tunnels, in the game geography.

9. Night in the Woods

It may be another stretch, but playing as Mae in the Rust Belt-inspired Possum Springs has a distinctly Pittsburgh vibe. The 2017 story-based exploration game by game designer Alec Holowka and animator Scott Benson, who lives in Pittsburgh, features food markets like Food Donkey, Ham Panther, and Snack Falcon that are reminiscent of Pittsburgh’s staple Giant Eagle. Walking around Possum Springs and listening in on your neighbors’ conversations also allows you to become a nebby neighbor in true Pittsburgh fashion.

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