Immersion’s become something of a buzzword in recent years, and as a result it lost most of its meaning. It means something different for everyone, and nobody seems to agree on what makes a feature “immersion-breaking”, barring intrusive, unexplained interfaces.

To make things simple, let’s just boil it down to: an immersive game is one that can help you imagine you are the character you play more than you are a person in front of a computer, and help you become involved in the game world’s intricacies. There are many facets to immersion, and most of them contentious, but these are the very basic-level precepts.
So let’s see some immersion-friendly games, then, shall we?

10. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

Escape from Tarkovsky

Based on a science-fiction novel by the Strugatsky brothers, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was an unexpected hit of the year 2007 (we did mention it was a great year previously). It is set in an alternative incarnation of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which is peppered with spots of bizarre, seemingly supernatural activity, which bloomed after the power plant tragically malfunctioned.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was possibly one of the most immersive and brutal games of that year, depicting a fascinating and, ahem, viscerally believable place. It even made sure to include several endings to account for the players’ progress and decisions, to help make the story of the Marked One truly their own. The first-person perspective, and survival mechanics were a great boon too. Watching out for the radiation and staving off the hunger do a great job selling the reality of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s setting.
Buy S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat now.

9. The Witcher 3

The princess in another dimension

We have written about TW3 time and time again. Let’s make it quick.
What sells the reality of The Witcher 3 world, aside from its open expanse are people going about their business whether you see them or not, they talk, and in general appear to have their own lives to take care of instead of just waiting to give you a quest for a magic sword. Also: watching the day seemingly turn into night as the storm comes over the horizon, and the pines swaying in the wind is a one of the kind experience.
Buy The Witcher 3 now.

8. BioShock

Rupture in Rapture

Another game from 2007! BioShock went for much more spatially oppressive environments than S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but instead provides a subtly and aptly guided tour of the half-ruined underwater city inspired by the aesthetics of the early 20th century. BioShock works on many levels, and it finds a way to close the gap between the player and the protagonist in a spectacular twist.

Although the game itself is ten years old now, there still people who may remain oblivious of the big reveal, so we have one thing to ask of you: would you kindly refrain from spoiling it for others in the comments?
Buy BioShock Triple Pack now.

7. Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines

Generation gap

Troika had a short, but outstanding run as a video game developer. Although Arcanum is still fondly remembered by some, and The Temple of Elemental Evil was perhaps the finest adaptation of D&D 3.5 rule set in a video game, none of these games share the legendary status of VtM: Bloodlines.
Years pass and nobody has yet created a better game not only about vampires, but also about being a vampire (Dontnod, don’t mess Vampyr up, please). VtMB is a real treat, and allows you to immerse yourself fully in being a child of the night and make some sweet goth/rave music. What?
The necessity to keep your thirst for blood at reasonable levels, maintaining your ever flimsier Humanity to stave of the bestial side of your new nature, and keeping up the secrecy of the vampires’ existence in a centuries-old Masquerade make Bloodlines much more than just an edgy power fantasy.
It also happens to be a great adaptation of the legendary RPG system by White Wolf, under the same name: Vampire the Masquerade (which got a gorgeous anniversary edition several years ago).
Buy Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines now.

6. Stanley Parable

Rebel inside, please

Stanley Parable is something of a curiosity here, because it’s being meta af doesn’t hurt immersion one bit, quite the opposite.
In SP you play as a corporation drone named Stanley, who through irrelevant contrived circumstance is left alone in the office building he works in. He also happens to have a Narrator commenting every step of Stanley’s attempt to leave the premises or do pretty much anything. It’s not a game one can easily describe, because so much of it relies on the surprise and discovering new situations and commentary, but believe you me: before long you’ll be fully invested in the game.

Buy Stanley Parable now.

5. Alien: Isolation

Someone may hear you scream

We had a number of immersive survival horror games recently, not the least of which is last year’s Resident Evil VII. There is, however, something gripping about Alien: Isolation. Maybe it’s the familiar threat of a Xenomorph that does it for many people? It’s easier to immerse oneself in setting we are already familiar with, and hiding from the Alien is different from hiding from obscure monsters, if only because we’re sneaky specifically because we know all too well what’s going to happen if we’re discovered without our power loader.
Buy Alien: Isolation now.

4. The Elder Scrolls (in general)

Do or do not. There is no must

The3 Elder Scrolls in general are the go-to solution if you want to immerse yourself in a world full of stories to tell, places discovered and still to discover, and multi-layered systems emulating things you’d expect to be possible, from alchemy to crafting, to tomb raiding.

Systems may differ from game to game (no spellcrafting in Skyrim is a wasted opportunity), but the essence is kept: create your character, finish the tutorial section, and then do whatever you want, indefinitely. You can ignore the main quest forever and the game won’t force you to pick it up, content with letting you just roam the lands being heroic, villainous, or just gathering resources to craft something magnificent.
Buy The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Legendary Edition now.

3. MMO RP servers

Taking roleplaying up a notch

MMORPGs are frequently “RPG” in the name only, with unimportant and linear story, but extensive loot and progression system. Until you plop into RP zones, or even an RP server. Suddenly you are among people immersed in the setting’s lore and invested in their characters’ trials and tribulations. And a bunch of griefers who just don’t care and make endless Illidans, Drizzts or Lobos. And then we have games like EVE Online or Second Life, in which the immersion can reach slightly disturbing levels.
Either way, if you have a penchant for giving your characters more internal monologue and motivation than the game typically acknowledge, pop into one of the RP zones/servers in World of Warcraft, The Second World, or even Champions Online, if you fancy superhero themes. The Caprice club always welcomes all sorts of beings.
Buy World of Warcraft: Legion now.

2. Dead Space

Necronopes

Interfaces in video games are the kind of arbitrary features we’ve come to just accept as an intrinsic part of the experience, unless they are absurdly obtrusive and make playing harder than intended.

Dead Space solves this problem by ditching an arbitrary interface completely. Health bar? Now it’s represented by a glowing tube in the back of your character’s suit. Ammo? A holographic display of your weapon shows how much you have left. It make you pay more attention to the surroundings, instead of the interface, which boosts the immersion significantly. Suddenly the confrontations with the grotesque Necromorphs are much more engaging when you don’t have a convenient and fast way of checking how you’re doing on a resource front.
Buy Dead Space now.

1. Metro 2033/Redux

Closed for all passengers

Another, after S.T.A.L.K.E.R. post-nuclear first-person perspective game, Metro 2033 was created based on Dmitry Glukhovksy’s novel under the same title. Released in 2010 is quickly gained popularity, large enough for a more complete Redux version and a sequel titles Metro: Last Light.
It’s similar to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in a way, but put more emphasis on travelling through the corridors of the Moscow Metro and Metro-2 housing a community which survived a nuclear strike in 2013 (I remember it as if it was yesterday). While not as flexible as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., it creates a very vivid scenery and enables both gung-ho and stealthy playstyles. It also has some moral decisions to make, although the game doesn’t draw attention to them. In a way Metro mixes some of the best aspect of BioShock and S.T.A.L.K.E.R., creating a very immersive experience.

Buy Metro Redux now.

The good(?) ending

So that’s ten games which happen to be pretty good at providing the layer with a sense of immersion. There are many more, and possibly drawn from various genres, because what’s immersive to some players isn’t to others. Many, myself included, manage to be immersed in isometric RPG, while others find it unimaginable, so yeah.
What are your types? Which games make you feel “there and then” in the world presented?
Let us know in the comments.

Featured image: Parable Visions. Art by Cameron Gray