Five of the Best is a weekly series about the bits of games we overlook, those poor old things. I’m talking about crowds, potions, mountains, hands – things we barely notice at the time but can recall years later because they’re so important to the overall memory of the game.
Now is the time to celebrate them – you and me both! I will share my memories but I’m just as eager to hear yours, so please share them in the comments below. We’ve had some great discussions in our other Five of the Best pieces.
But this week we’re all about…
Lighthouses! Who doesn’t love one of these strange buildings, towering yet somehow frail seeming, standing between the land and the sea? What must it have been like to build them? What must it have been like to work in them? What must it be like now to visit and fix something, to spend a few moments in one of those eerie spaces where nobody now lives, yet the light goes on, strobing through the night and keeping everyone safe?
We love lighthouses, don’t we? Oil paintings of ’em, rental cottages beneath ’em, Fraggle Rock – which I’m pretty sure you can stay in for a night or two if you have the cash – where a lighthouse was the portal to another world. And of course they’re everywhere in games, giving a touch of focus and class to a video game landscape, but also suggesting something wistful and liminal, envoking life lived at the very edge of something!
Here are five of our favourites.
Beyond Good and Evil
Sure you’re under attack from an evil government and your watery planet is constantly threatened, but Beyond Good and Evil is a lifestyle game at heart. You’re a photographer rather than a soldier, so you get to play around with a camera. You inhabit one of the most dreamily European of all science fiction worlds. And yes, you live in a lighthouse.
What a lighthouse! Clamped to the coastline, the coiled tower giving way to dark rock and caves where secrets lurk, the whole thing doubling as a refuge for the needy and dispossessed. Even if the whole thing didn’t serve as a fancy plasma shield to keep everyone safe from cosmic attacks, the lighthouse would very obviously emerge as a metaphor for Jade, the game’s heroine – holding back everything that is bad in the world, while also providing a beacon of hope.
Oop, another game about the clash between darkness and light, even if this one is a touch more literal. In fact, it’s extremely literal. I’m Alan Wake and I’m a writer, see? I have bad dreams and I need to get away for a bit. Obviously I’m a massive hipster so I want to get away somewhere where there are pines and log cabins and diners. And what’s this? A massive lighthouse. Sold.
Alan Wake’s lighthouse is a pretty useful thing to have in a game about fighting off shadows with a torch as well as a gun, but I like to think it’s also a sign of the sort of Instagram opportunities people like Alan Wake are looking for when they go on their holidays. Alan Wake’s world is a total nightmare, but cor, look at the landscape! Look at that lighthouse! Now, let’s go antiquing!
Of course the village has a lighthouse! And of course it’s the job of Tortimer, the mayor, to turn it on every night. Animal Crossing on GameCube is a perfect little getaway, a pocket universe containing only things that are delightful and that warm the soul. What would its coastline be without a beacon?
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Animal Crossing’s lighthouse is that you can only get inside for one week of every year, when Tortimer goes on his vacation and asks you to light the lamp for him. I’ve always loved the sense of a world that ticks over with or without you in Animal Crossing, and the idea that there’s this one interior which is always there but largely out of reach is very evocative. What a game!
The lighthouse is a newcomer to Fortnite’s island, but it already feels like a classic. It’s so jaunty and colourful, giving a sense of shape to the new island’s coastline, making you realise, yes, you’ve reached the end of the map, everything is behind you and ahead of you there is nothing but sea.
Inside the whole thing is an absolute riot of chests, so it makes good sense to land on the light itself and dig your way down. But more than that, this building is simply irresistible because of what it is: it’s a lighthouse! I dare you not to land there, or at least to feel a certain urge drawing you towards it as you pile out of the battle bus.
BioShock’s ruined utopia may get all the fanfare, but the game’s stand-out sequence remains its very first, when you find yourself adrift in the burning seas, and in your panicked splashing – what’s this? – a mysterious tower rises out of the oceans.
It’s a thrilling idea. Who doesn’t feel a sense of real adventure stepping inside this strange, wind-battered place, and finding, of all things, a portal leading you down, down, down into the depths? Rapture can be a bit shapeless when you get into it, wandering between locations, doing this and that, following the golden arrow rather than paying attention to any real sense of place and monument. But the whole place is anchored, perversely, by what lies above it – that tower among the waves, its light – is there even a light? – warning you to keep your distance.