Not everyone has the luxury to live near towering mountains, emerald forests, and cobalt oceans. Luckily, there are tons of video games out there that transport players into the great outdoors. In fact, according to Washington Post, studies have even shown that experiencing virtual nature has positive effects on mood and lowers stress levels.
Whether it’s exploring parklands, diving beneath the waves, or tending to the garden, playing games that take place in the great outdoors is a rejuvenating and captivating experience, and fortunately, great outdoor adventures can be found on all the major consoles and PC.
Firewatch (PC, Xbox, PS, Switch)
Set in 1989, Firewatch puts players in the shoes of Henry, a man who has abandoned his wife suffering from early-onset dementia. Riddled with guilt and seeking solitude, he takes a job as a fire watcher in Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. Soon after arriving, however, Henry discovers that a mystery haunts these woods and he sets out to find answers.
The game lets players take as much time as they want to explore the wilderness, and no two playthroughs are the same, as gamers’ choices during conversations with their fantastic boss, Delilah, alter what’s discovered and when.
Beyond Blue (PC, Xbox, PS, Switch)
Beyond Blue is a stunning underwater game where players learn about marine life and the problems that industrialization and climate change pose on the oceans. The game follows Mirai, a young marine biologist who is following a pod of whales.
Beyond Blue was made in partnership with the BBC and marine biologists, so gamers learn actual facts about the ocean while playing. But Beyond Blue is much more than just edutainment. It has a great plot and gamers can revisit previous ecosystems to spend as much time as they want diving into the digital ocean and swimming with dolphins, sharks, whales, and more.
A Short Hike (PC, Xbox, PS, Switch)
Universally hailed by critics and gamers, A Short Hike transports players to the fictional Hawk Peak Provincial Park. There, gamers will take the form of a bird and fly, swim, play volleyball, hike, fish, and even find hidden treasure. The only main plot of the game is to reach the top of the mountain, but the real fun is getting to know the park’s other visitors and taking part in the many tasks and challenges they present.
A Short Hike is a pleasant, quaint, and incredibly welcoming experience that will leave players longing to once again be a kid at summer camp. If played through, the game is actually quite short, making it great for players who want a game they can finish over a single weekend. Fortunately, even after winning, gamers can still enjoy Hawk Peak for as long as they want.
Haven Park (PC, Switch)
Haven Park is considered by many to be a Short Hike “clone”, which, to a degree, it most certainly is. In fact, the game’s creator, Fabien Weibel, openly and avidly praises A Short Hike and admits that Haven Park was heavily inspired by it.
However, whereas A Short Hike puts players in the shoes of a visitor, Haven Park puts gamers in control of the park, tasking them with finding materials and building campsites to keep guests happy. There’s also a good dose of exploration and adventure too, even including a trip into a mysterious mine. It’s an awesome game for fans of A Short Hike who are craving more.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U, Switch)
The Donkey Kong Country franchise has always had a close connection with nature and even environmentalism. The levels are lush with vibrant colors and are set in exciting locales like jungles, snowy mountaintops, and even under the sea. So it’s no surprise that the series’ most recent installment, Tropical Freeze, would keep the legacy alive.
This time around, the DK crew needs to defend their home from arctic invaders who seek to takeover DK Island. Tropical Freeze is one of the many excellent Wii U games that were ported to the Switch and it comes equipped with a bonus mode and new features.
Walden, a game (PC, Xbox, PS)
Created by USC’s Game Innovation Lab, Walden, a game invites players to follow in the footsteps of famed American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau during his time living on the shores of Walden Pond. Gamers must survive in the woods, just as Thoreau did, while also learning about his life and relationships with others through the letters he sent, pages from his many books, and his interactions with visitors.
The game is inspired by Thoreau’s famous book, Walden, and seeks to get players acquainted with nature and a simpler life. Exploring the forest, listening to the birds, and spotting wildlife are just some of the relaxing joys found in Walden, a game.
For players who want to experience nature but also the charms of a small town, Lake is a must-play. Set in 1986, the game follows Meredith Weiss, who leaves her job in the big city to return to her hometown, Providence Oaks, which is nestled up in the mountains next to a stunning lake. She takes a job as a postman and begins to rekindle her relationships with the locals.
It’s a gorgeous and relaxing game that lets players drive around quiet streets, view the spectacular towering pine trees, and relish in the picturesque beauty of a welcoming community.
Fans of farm simulators will certainly want to check out Stardew Valley. The game was singlehandedly made by Eric Barone, who was a longtime fan of the 90s farm simulator Harvest Moon and was disappointed that more games like it hadn’t been released. To solve the problem, he decided to make one himself.
Working nonstop for four years, he built a game that harkened back to the 16-bit era and was filled with rich colors, relaxing music, and a rewarding planting/harvesting mechanic that instantly hooked players. The game mixes elements of a farm simulator with that of adventure games and even has some RPG elements too. A co-op mode was also introduced in 2021 so gamers can play with their friends.
Abzu involves swimming through gorgeous, pastel underwater worlds, encountering orcas, whale sharks, and dolphins…as well as aliens and dinosaurs. It’s not an easy game to describe and every player will likely find their own unique meaning within the plot.
But one thing is certain, the game is simply stunning, and (aside from a few levels involving the aliens) is a relaxing and zenlike experience. There is no real point to the game, players simply swim around, enjoying the beauty of the ocean while completing a few very light puzzle elements. As long as the player explores, the plot will naturally present itself.
Sure, Minecraft might be a 64-bit game that’s designed to be reminiscent of an 8-bit game from the NES era…but there are very few other games out there that let players get lost in nature the way Minecraft does. It might be a very boxy version of nature, but there’s no denying the landscapes in Minecraft are positively stunning. The game’s versatility is another unique feature that few other games possess.
Players can build a small homestead on a prairie, or a treehouse in the jungle. Or, if a gamer really wanted to, they could live off the land, taking on the role of a hunter-gatherer who makes fires at night, hunts by day, and embraces the beauty and bliss of a life lived close to nature.
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