From Resident Evil to Need for Speed, Colorado offers a prime setting for video games

Many of the contenders competing in the second annual Kong Off cut their teeth on such quarter-munchers as Pac-Man and, of course, Donkey Kong. But today's generation of video-game players are more likely to have gotten their start blasting terrorists into bloody chunks in the cheesy light-gun shooter Target: Terror.

Released to arcades in 2004 and ported to the Nintendo Wii by Boulder-based Leviathan Games, the game's first level has the player taking on campy, live-action terrorists in no less glamorous a locale than Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport.

Balaclava-clad terrorists take cover in the airport's distinctive brushed-metal elevators, pop out from DIA's Images of Nature store (imaginatively named "Painting Depot" in the game) and drop down from the terminal's world-famous tented roof.

Target: Terror, while critically reviled, is one of the few video games that attempted to re-create a Colorado landmark. But Colorado's long and twisted video-game history doesn't stop there; an astounding number of games call our state home — or at least have paid it a visit.

Some of these games are what you'd expect from a "Colorado" video game: 2003's Cabela's Dangerous Hunts makes the Rocky Mountains the backdrop for a whole lot of deer shootin', and 2011's DiRT 3 transforms the snowy slopes of Aspen into an icy rally-racing battleground. Where in the USA Is Carmen Sandiego? teaches preteens geography by asking them to solve the disappearance of Pikes Peak (Hint: Carmen Sandiego is probably responsible.) The heavily hyped first-person-shooter Homefront takes place almost entirely in Montrose, as a Red Dawn-esque band of revolutionaries takes up arms against the North Korean army and liberates the local White Castle.

As a stamping ground for the undead, Colorado's flat plains, bustling cities and mild weather make this state a perfect stop for the zombie on the go. Dead Rising, released in the early years of the Xbox 360 and later ported to the Wii and iPhone, is set in fictional Willamette, Colorado, where a zombie outbreak has turned glassy-eyed mall walkers into, well, dead glassy-eyed mall walkers. A crazily ambitious zombie Massively Multiplayer Online Game, The War Z, is due this winter, and zombie hunters will find themselves fighting to survive in the mountains of an imaginary Colorado.

And then there's the granddaddy of them all: Resident Evil. The t-virus that begat that series's mob of troublesome zombies was first released in picturesque Raccoon City. No one is quite sure where Raccoon City is located in the United States, but hints of its location in the Midwest and its place at the foot of the Arklay mountains suggest Denver. Despite Raccoon City's world-class trolley system and its residents' guaranteed employment with the sinister Umbrella Corporation, the town is not a pleasant place to live: In both the games and the movies, the city is ultimately nuked to contain the outbreak.

If a Sunday drive is more your speed, Colorado's finest virtual highways are ready to take you for a ride. The cross-country race in last year's Need For Speed: The Run takes players on a tour of Colorado's varied environments: trading paint on the Million Dollar Highway, dodging avalanches on Independence Pass, and finally racing through the heart-stopping beauty of...Commerce City.

And the just-released Forza Horizon, the first open-word entry in Xbox's venerable racing series, takes place entirely in a mashed-up Colorado landscape straight out of a speed demon's gasoline-fume hallucination. Racers competing in the events surrounding the Horizon music festival are treated to postcard-worthy scenes of snowcapped mountains, verdant groves of multi-colored trees, and blurs of Italian supercars racing by at 200 mph. Forza Horizon's Colorado isn't a depiction of any particular area, though; it's more a distillation of the nature and adventure of our state.

Over the years, some game developers have used a Colorado location as shorthand for "Anytown, USA"; others have made it synonymous with snow. But both the faithful and fictitious representations of the Centennial State help make Colorado's video-game history come to life. And while we keep our fingers crossed for Grand Theft Auto: Denver, there are still plenty of corners in this square state just waiting to be explored from the comfort of the couch.

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Chris Utterback
Contact: Chris Utterback