Video games let us explore fantastic worlds, from fantasy kingdoms to the depths of outer space, but sometimes they can offer a fun perspective on a more mundane location. When that location is your own home, it can be pretty interesting to see a place that you’re so intimately familiar with become a digital battleground. In the case of my own hometown though, it feels so appropriate that I wonder what took so long.
Rock Of Ages
I’m from Gibraltar, a tiny little country located on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. It’s weird place, where different worlds meet. To the North, we’ve got a border with Spain. To the South, across the sea, you can see Morocco, in Africa. And for over 300 years, we’ve been British.
Aside from the lovely weather, mix of cultures and presence of monkeys, Gibraltar’s also known for being an impregnable fortress. George R. R. Martin has cited it as his inspiration for Casterly Rock, home of the Lannisters in Game of Thrones. Overlooking the gateway into the Mediterranean, the bullet-riddled rock has long been a focal point for conflict in the region, and has withstood many sieges. Even to this day, it’s still a source of tension between the UK and Spain, with the latter laying claim to the region against the wishes of the people who live there.
As a result of this, the interior of the rock is criss-crossed with several generations of tunnels and bunkers, including an underground city, complete with hospitals, schoolrooms, gun emplacements, subterranean lakes and secret doors. Ancient Phoenician shrines have been unearthed in the caves. The perfect location for a video game.
With a population of just over 30,000 and barely enough territory to take up a pin-point on the world map, we don’t have the glamour or recognition of Washington D.C. or London. But, rather unexpectedly, Gibraltar has built somewhat of an international reputation thanks to video games.
Overwatch has given us the best digital representation of Gibraltar to date. For one thing, it includes the famous view to Africa and renders it gorgeously, with sunlight effects in the outdoor area almost approaching the real thing. Secondly, the interior basically gives a high-tech update to the real life tunnels and bunkers in the rock, which, given that they haven’t been used since WW2, are nowhere near as polished, nor full of Winston’s cool gadgets.
Take a look at the real deal. It wouldn’t look amiss in any FPS:
Watchpoint: Gibraltar is notorious among the Overwatch playerbase for being the longest map to cross, requiring exceptional teamwork to push the payload all the way. Aside from the prospect of a living out the shoot ’em up (or slash ’em up) fantasies us natives had playing around the tunnels and old military installations as kids, there’s yet another factor that makes the Overwatch map endearing to locals. You see, Gibraltar’s most recognizable native fauna are the monkeys, the only wild monkey population in Europe.
And which Overwatch hero calls Gibraltar his home? None other than Winston, the ensemble’s genetically enhanced gorilla genius. Not exactly a monkey, but it’s an obvious reference.
Check out Winston’s antics in his Gibraltar home in the Overwatch animated short, Recall:
Command And Conquer: Red Alert 3
The alternate history of Command and Conquer: Red Alert led to some strange alliances in their storyline, but the third instalment’s Gibraltar mission was remarkable for kicking off the surprising team-up of the Allied forces and the Soviets against the Empire of Japan, which had launched a surprise attack by sea.
YouTuber Ghostnova shows us how it’s done in the above video, with the mission kicking off with a deliciously catty exchange between reluctant comrades Tanya and Natasha (crack commandos for the Allied and Soviet sides respectively) as they wade through pods of dolphins to make it to shore. FYI, that’s how I arrive in time for Summer vacation every year.
It’s somewhat injurious to Gibraltarian pride that the famously stalwart fortress falls so quickly to the Japanese that it’s just glossed over in the story, with the allied commander’s mission being to retake the port from the Empire of the Rising Sun.
Red Alerts 3‘s mission is a bizarre trip for a local, watching these two ladies kick butt all over some recognizable landmarks like the cable car, stadium, lighthouse and airport. Since no Gibraltar video game level would be complete without monkey jokes, there’s also a giant monkey statue which is definitely NOT taken from real life.
Although the layout of the different landmarks doesn’t match up that closely with reality, there are some nice touches that show the devs did their research, like the main road that crosses the airport runway.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
This one’s more of an honorable mention, and makes me think of its wasted potential more than anything else. In Wolfenstein: The New Order, high-tech Nazis rule the world, and you’re heading up La Resistance. One of the things these fictional super-Nazis managed was building Gibraltar Bridge, a huge structure connecting the continents of Africa and Europe over the Strait of Gibraltar. This project has been proposed in real life but never seriously undertaken. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great shooter that puts forward a really alternate history idea and lets you wreak havoc all over it, as demonstrated by theRadBrad in the following video.
Sadly, Wolfenstein: The New Order doesn’t set any action in Gibraltar itself, despite the tunnels and fortifications practically begging for a large scale FPS treatment. In the Rock’s underground complexes, there are actually secret tunnels connecting to the main area, intended for use by a small team of resistance fighters and saboteurs in case the Nazis managed to capture and occupy the main complex. Waging guerilla warfare against the Nazis while evading them through secret passages would have been a great scenario to get the Wolfenstein treatment
So far, I can participate in sexy shootouts in the sunset, trash some quality German engineering, and liberate my homeland from giant Japanese mecha with the help of my comrades in the USSR [since the original time of writing, there’s a Call of Duty map too!- Ed]. Not bad for a small town on the edge of nowhere. I still feel that Gibraltar as a video game level hasn’t quite realized its potential.
If I had my way, I’d base a game around an old myth that one of the deepest natural tunnels in the Rock of Gibraltar actually leads down to Hell itself. That’s right. Blizzard, since you were so kind with that Overwatch map, let’s make Diablo: Gibraltar happen. Bethesda, look closer to Earth for the next Doom reboot.
Have you played a videogame set in your hometown? What’s your favorite real-life videogame location?
This article originally appeared on video games magazine site NowLoading.co. The site is no longer online, but I’ve uploaded a selection of articles from my time as a staff writer there (2016-2017) here as portfolio samples.