Games take us to all manner of fantastical, unlikely places. But as good as video games have gotten at accurately recreating a space-marine shootout or a mountaintop dragon battle, there's one thing developers are still learning how to create: A dance club.
Many games try to create thriving urban environments for players to occupy, and there's nothing that says "thriving" and "urban" like a packed, sweaty dance club. Unfortunately, until very recently, games have been very, very bad at rendering realistic dance clubs.
This scene from Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines (a game which I love, I should say) best exemplifies the sort of awkward, embarrassing antics you'd see in early video game dance clubs. There just wasn't enough processing power to make the club as hazy, loud, or crowded-feeling as it needs to be to be convincing. I love dancing at The Asylum, but mostly because it's so endearingly goofy.
There's nothing sadder than an empty dance floor, though, as evidenced by this video from Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's like being at an unpopular kid's Bar Mitzvah.
I remember playing Mass Effect 2, when I first arrived at the Afterlife bar, I was incredibly impressed with how alive it felt. (Now, when I visit, I'm more aware of how empty it is.) Still, it's a pretty good scene, if only in how it builds up to the entrance to the club.
I liked the vibe of The Hive in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The audio may not have been quite right, but it conveyed an icy, cool energy that worked with the game. Don't know how I feel about the random chicks gyrating around the place, but hey, no video game club is perfect.
Rockstar have long understood how dance clubs feel, once again demonstrating their preternatural ability to be ahead of the curve on this sort of thing. Even with its now-primitive graphics, Vice City's Malibu Club is a pretty convincing club:
It paves the way, of course, for the much more convincing clubs in Grand Theft Auto IV and its expansion chapters:
The dance club scene in Max Payne 3 may represent the pinnacle of video games' representations of dance clubs so far:
Nice. The thrumming bass, the way that dialogue instantly gets cut out and muffled, the fact that you can't understand what the hell anyone is saying. There are some shortcuts—see through the smoke and mirrors of the lens filters and fog machines and you can tell that the dancefloor animations are somewhat repetitive and limited—but all the same, this club feels more authentic than any before it.
A huge part of creating a convincing digital dance club is the music and more specifically, the way the music sounds. It can't just be the regular background music that plays during the game—music in a club is thrumming, physical, oppressive. You can't hear anything over it, and as a result everyone is shouting. On top of the pounding bass, there's a high-frequency scream of reverberating voices. It's not an easy thing to get right, making it all the more remarkable when a game does.
I turn it over to you—what are some of your favorite video game clubs? Any classics that are worth mentioning?