About two years ago, I wrote an article in these very pages reviewing video games featuring stages set in New Orleans. Spanning roughly 25 years and six consoles, our pixilated landscape progressed at a rate that our ongoing construction sadly could never keep pace with.
Since its publication, I have noticed the article reshared on a handful of instances via Where Y'at's social channels; each time, readers recommend additional titles - some I missed, others brand new - set in our beloved city.
Here is a look at 12 more games showcasing the Crescent City. Some of the out-of-print titles are a bit esoteric, and though they can't be found in most online console stores, the internet is ripe with emulators. Enjoy!
2 Fast 2 Furious
One of the most shocking discoveries I made working on this follow-up was how many racing games are set in New Orleans. Now, before I get into the gameplay, let's crush the most obvious reality flaw here: a racing game based in New Orleans?
One of my favorite suspensions of disbelief in any street racing movie is just how easy it is to have a flock of speeding cars rocket through a major city. Remember in the Fast and the Furious films when they raced through Los Angeles, Brazil, and London? Have you ever been to Los Angeles, Brazil or London? If so, then you know what traffic really is! Now, throw in a maze of one-way streets, never-ending construction projects, potholes the size of meteors, tree trunks ravaging roads into tortured contortions, pedestrians and tourists who give zero fs about the concept of jaywalking, cramped bike lanes and on-street parking, random sinkholes…and don't even get me started on the red-light cameras.
In reality, you couldn't race in New Orleans if you tried. But, seeing as how the appeal of gaming is defying our physical boundaries without consequence, let's see if any of these do our city justice.
Turbo Out Run (1989 - Sega Master System)
Turbo Out Run was a pretty standard racer during modern gaming's medieval era: you race against the clock trying to make it to the next checkpoint before time runs out. One thing I love is the band that performs at the conclusion of each stage - it just appears in mid-air, like a poorly layered Powerpoint .gif. I guess the designers couldn't find a place to realistically ground them alongside all the girls in bikinis rubbing up against your car. Sadly, with its stiff controls, this functionless flare does nothing to pull Turbo Out Run ahead of other titles in its overcrowded pack.
So, how does NOLA hold up? It doesn't. All you see as you drive through the city are trees on either side of an interstate - that's it. Well, almost…midway through the stage, there is an inexplicable lineup of foreign flags, half of which are German. When's the last time you saw that along the I-10? I wasn't able to find a copy of the game's instruction manual, so I don't know if Turbo Out Run takes place in some The Man in the High Castle-esque alternate reality.
If you're looking for an early glimpse at a pixilated Crescent City, there is nothing to see here. If a retro racer is what you are looking for, speed past Turbo Out Run and give the NES classic Rad Racer a drive.
Asphalt 6: Adrenaline and Asphalt 7: Heat (Mobile)
The Adrenaline series are available through both the Apple and Google Play stores, so anyone with a smart device can give these a try. The N.O. makes an appearance in the sixth and seventh iterations of the series; the stage is the same in both titles, just presented in a slightly higher definition in the later edition.
As for the Big Easy, the landscape is barely better imagined than in Turbo Out Run. Things start off promising enough with the stage introduction, featuring a nice overhead view showcasing the cathedral in the distance and what could be Poydras St. Then the race starts, and as soon as you know it you are out of the city speeding through some industrial complex smack into a rustic suburban neighborhood. Still, you know the race at least begins in New Orleans because of the inclusion of one unforgettable local landmark - the Mardi Gras Hotel. That's right, originality at its apex.
One thing that gripes me about the gameplay - and mobile games in general - is the inclusion of all the in-app purchases. It's like digital steroids - why bother getting good at something when you can take a shortcut and do even better. Another thing that makes no sense is that Asphalt 7 (and 6) both cost $4.99, but Asphalt 8 is a free download. Shouldn't the most up-to-date version cost more than its less advanced predecessors?
If you're looking for a somewhat serviceable mobile racing game, go the free route. As for taking a drive through New Orleans, there's nothing to see here.
The Crew (2014 - PS4, X-Box One and X-Box 360)
The Crew is a crime caper with a backstory reminiscent of the early installments in the Fast and the Furious film franchise. The set up is often over bloated and over complicated, but at its core has all the elements of a classic driving game.
Unlike the aforementioned racers, you actually feel like you are coming up on the city as you approach it from the interstate: the roads and skyline all look familiar, and what's that on the left? The Superdome! Sure, the surrounding landscape isn't picture perfect: there are old New Orleans' shotgun houses across from Mercedes Benz's prize sponsorship instead of commercial plazas, and the Smoothie King Center didn't seem to make the final billing either. Still, getting off at Poydras and driving alongside the home of The Saints is a real visual treat.
Unfortunately, all is not in its right place. Aside from seeing St. Louis Cathedral in the distance as you cruise through the French Quarter, none of the buildings really orient you to New Orleans - and when did all the one-way streets expand to two-way roads with multiple lanes? Cross under the I-10 on Poydras Street and you'll find yourself immediately warped to the Lakefront, and if you make your way to the Westbank you'll find yourself in the bayou. The Spanish moss covering all of the Oak trees in would-be Gretna is awkwardly illustrated as well - it looks like someone TP'ed every inch of this misplaced marshland
The overall landscape of the city may lack consistency, but The Crew may do the best job of any game on this list in its representation of the upper CBD.
That Voodoo That You Do
No pop-culture depiction of New Orleans would be complete without a little of the black magic that we are known for. Here are a few titles that include various Voodoo-inspired elements in their gameplay.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father (1993 - PC)
After Shadowman 64, this was the title most readers pointed out was missing from my original rundown. When I was writing that article, however, I remembered playing this game as a kid, I just didn't recall it being particularly memorable. Now I know why - you spend half the time reading the dialogue. I'm serious…this game should have been a book.
Gabriel Knight is a point-and-click mystery, similar to Colonel's Bequest (another game on this list produced by the same developer). The story involves a NOLA novelist trying to solve a series of homicides known as "the Voodoo murders."
The attention to detail is particularly charming in this game given its graphic limitations, especially the street musicians in Jackson Square. The inclusion of the Napoleon House bar and St. Louis Cemetery #1 is also fun. Of course, the Mardi Gras poster hanging above Gabriel's bed is a cackle-inducing cliché, but otherwise, this game captures the mysterious essence of the French Quarter better than any other title on our list.
I played an emulation of the original title for this review, however a 20th-anniversary reissue with a graphic facelift was released barely two years ago. This newer version may be more worthy of your time.
Shadowman 64 (N64 - 1999)
Shadowman 64 begins in a French Quarter apartment where the eponymous Voodoo warrior is entrusted to stop a quintuplet of undead serial killers from building an army of zombies. Three minutes into the backstory and the game quickly forgets the City that Care Forgot, its cameo reduced to the kind of role that would appear in movie credits as "Man in Blue Shirt #5". Next thing you know you are traversing through a swamp in search of a church. Given pop-culture's recurring topographical disregard for our region, I have no doubt the developers thought this boggy excursion was just off of Bourbon Street…but we know better.
What was most shocking to me playing Shadowman 64 is how poorly the N64 has aged. The polygonal character compositions, spastic camera angles, slightly delayed controls, low-res landscape textures - it's practically unplayable by today's standards. Even early 8- and 16-bit titles, though primitive, feature fluid character animations and an efficient perspective of your immediate surroundings. The N64's controller hasn't enjoyed a graceful retirement either: the early NES and SNES gamepads can reasonably be placed in a March of Progress timeline evolving into today's console controllers; by contrast, the N64 pad looks like a deformed sex toy (and if you have a Rumble Pack, it can actually function as one as well).
Shadowman 64 isn't hard to come by in secondhand games stores, and was not expensive, but is probably a collectors-only grab - a scavenged fossil from a bygone era. A sequel, Shadowman 2: 2econd Coming, was released to limited fanfare for PS2 in 2002.
Voodoo Vince (X-Box - 2003)
For most of the games on this list, I explored each just long enough to describe how our city was represented and offer an impression of its overall experience. Voodoo Vince, however, I'm happily playing all the way through.
You assume the role of the titular torture doll tasked with rescuing the owner of the French Quarter Voodoo shop in which he resides. The French Quarter is more than just an aesthetic here - it is a living, breathing character that helps you on your mission. One of my favorite parts of the game is when you bring the Jackson Square statue to life and the horse bucks you to the top of St. Louis Cathedral. All of the characters also pay homage to New Orleans, from a jazz-playing skeleton to a talking alligator and a chef named Crawdaddy Jimmy who asks you to located ingredients for his gumbo. You've also got to love the use of Mardi Gras masks as power-ups, as opposed to something that is simply superimposed into the surrounding environment to give the faux impression that your character is based in New Orleans.
The gameplay is smooth and responsive, and the animations are atmospheric and inviting. While most of the games on this list have adult themes, or at the very least reference murder, this is one you can enjoy with young gamers in your family; Vince lets loose some sass, but the teen rating is largely overblown.
If you play just one game on this list, find a copy of Voodoo Vince - you won't be disappointed.
Life of Crime
There's no denying New Orleans has its fair share of crime, and it mostly pays off in these titles.
Colonel's Bequest (1989 - PC)
Colonel's Bequest begins with a large text box stating its setting: 1925, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA. If you are a Tulane grad, this can't help but to make you excited. However, if you look in the periphery of this declaration, you will see students reading on park benches in Jackson Square. And what is that to the left of St. Louis Cathedral? …Yes, it's the entrance to Tulane as seen from St. Charles Ave. I don't need a history tour to tell me this isn't right.
As for the game, that's where our city tour ends. The game is a point-and-click murder mystery set in an old plantation house, with heavy emphasis on puzzle solving and character dialogue. Modern gamers will probably be put off by its rigid navigation and vintage gameplay, including the fact that, as far as I can tell, your character can't die at any point in the game. You just wander endlessly until you solve the case, greatly lowering the stakes of the decisions you make.
Hitman: Blood Money (2006 - PS2)
The stealth series fourth outing features a mission where you must carry out an assassination off of Bourbon Street. Mardi Gras' debaucherous Mecca is gorgeously reimagined here, often resembling the historic road beloved by tourists, reviled by locals and recognized the world over. One fun catch is the iconic Mason Bourbon sign (redubbed the "Bourbon House" here, undoubtedly for copyright purposes), bearing its motto "Dedicated to the Preservation of Jams." …Jams? Doesn't it mean "Jazz"? I'm sure this was changed for legal reasons as well, but the picture-perfect illustration was a nice inclusion.
Something I found suspect was that everyone in the large crowd making their way down Bourbon Street are dressed in suits like its Fifth Avenue - no "3-for-1 Beer" signs, no "I got wucking faisted on Bourbon Street" t-shirts. A steady snow shower persists throughout the duration of the stage as well…remember the last time that happened?
Still, these are the kind of idiosyncrasies you're bound to see in a film or an episode of CSI: New Orleans - minor faults in an otherwise respectable representation.
Mafia 3 (2016 - PS4 and X-Box One)
Released this past October, this visually stunning title's illustration of 1968 New Orleans - renamed "New Bourdeaux" in the game- was reconstructed using old photographs from that era to ensure its accuracy. Still, the designers stated the city was purposefully reimagined in close proximity to the Bayou to suit its Southern narrative…why does everyone always do this? The Superdome, which was just beginning construction at the time, was also withheld.
Critical reception has been highly mixed.
Outside the City: Other Games Set in Louisiana
It's good to get out of the city every now and again. Here are a few other titles that pay a visit to the proud Pelican state.
Alone in the Dark (1992 - PC)
Though there is nothing visually present in this game that pays homage to Louisiana, this title is noteworthy for being one of the first entries in the survival horror genre of gaming. What's most noticeable is how heavily the first Resident Evil entry borrowed from this lesser-known title - it's basically built from the same blueprints. Still, being released more than four years before Capcom's classic, the graphics barely qualify as a prototype by modern standards. The pixilated characters are so choppy they induce motion sickness, and both of the selectable characters look like drunks with bad backs when they run.
As the first of its kind, inveterate gamers may wish to give it a try for nostalgia's sake. Just avoid the film adaptation, which came 13 years after this inaugural début. A cinematic bowel movement courtesy of Uwe Bowl, critically considered to one of the worst director's of all time, it holds an impressively abysmal 1% on Rotten Tomatoes.
House of the Dead: Overkill (2013 - Wii)
The console-exclusive sequel in the arcade rail-shooter series effectively substitutes the Wii remote for a light gun. The majority of the game takes place indoors, leaving the only indication that the game takes place in Louisiana the fact that you are given this information. It was well received by critics, who complimented the title on its dirty humor courtesy of a foul-mouth cast. Still, the game is a bit stiff…those looking for a more interactive open-world splatterfest that actually makes its way through the French Quarter may want to pick up 2007's first-person zombie shooter Left 4 Dead 2 (X-Box 360), reviewed in our first article in this series.
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist (2013 - PS3, X-Box 360, Wii-U)
This entry in the stealth series finds the black-ops division traveling to Louisiana to prevent would-be terrorists from destroying the country's largest oil refinery. Outside of a quick dash through the swamps en route to the mission, there are no other geographical flourishes visibly placing the player in our (debatably) great state.