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15 Most Cinematic Gaming Moments

We love movies and games at totalfilm.com.

With Gamer on the horizon, we've decided to celebrate the moments when games and movies converge, creating scenes that'd look as good on cinema screens as they do on our battered portable tellies.

So, rest your joypad on one knee, rest your DVD remote on the other knee, and join in. How many have you played?

 

BioShock (2007)
 

The Moment


After miraculously escaping a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean, our hero Jack swims towards a mysterious lighthouse.

Inside he finds a bathysphere that plunges him deep below the sea.

As he descends a film plays of enigmatic entrepreneur Andrew Ryan describing his underwater Objectivist paradise, Rapture.

And as the haunting orchestral score begins to swell and Ryan's speech reaches its rhapsodic peak, the screen drops to reveal the city in all its Art Deco glory.

At once beautiful and intimidating, the city is one of the most evocative video game settings of all time.


Cinematic Equivalent


The first time we see Ridley Scott's vision of a futuristic Los Angeles in Blade Runner (1982).

The camera glides slowly across the city, past smoke-stacks belching flames into the polluted air, as Vangelis' stirring title theme reaches its crescendo.

Just like our introduction to Rapture, the scene is beautiful, but with an ominous quality.

Something's clearly not right with either city, and as we make our journey inside – as both Deckard and Jack - we learn exactly what that is.

 

Next: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

 

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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

 

The Moment

After fighting your way through the war-torn streets of Modern Warfare's non-specific Middle Eastern city to rescue a downed helicopter pilot, your flight to freedom is cut short when a nuclear bomb is detonated just a few miles away from your location.

As the mushroom cloud rises into the clouds, the shockwave tears the city to pieces and sends your escape chopper spiralling to the ground.

When you wake up you drag yourself (in real-time) through the rubble before eventually dying. It's a brave game that kills a main character, and lets you control his last few moments.


Cinematic Equivalent

The awesome, humbling power of nuclear weapons and their effects on populated areas was memorably evoked in James Cameron's Terminator 2 (1991).

Sarah Connor is haunted by visions of Los Angeles being ravaged by nukes, reducing a playground packed with mothers and children to cinders as she shrieks in feeble protest.

In both the film and Modern Warfare, the depiction of the impact is stark, uncompromising and brutal.

 

Next: Silent Hill 2

 

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Silent Hill 2 (2001)

 

The Moment

For the duration of Silent Hill 2 we take James Sunderland at face value. He receives a letter from his deceased wife asking him to come find her in their 'special place' – a hotel in the evil-infested town of Silent Hill – and he sets off to find her.

But then, upon reaching the hotel that was so special for the couple, he's faced with the truth.

There was no letter. He was the one who killed her, to spare her from the pain of an incurable disease.

A chilling moment, and one that makes you question everything you've experienced up until that point. Was it all in James' head?

Cinematic Equivalent

Brad Anderson's The Machinist (2004) also plays with the idea of an unreliable narrator. Trevor Reznik (played by a stick-thin Christian Bale) is a factory worker terrorised by hallucinations and who hasn't slept in over a year.

We soon learn that the reason for this paranoia and his emaciated body is a hidden guilt he's forced himself to forget – a hit and run accident in which a small boy is killed.

This revelation hits the viewer just as hard as Reznik, and raises questions about what was real, and what was all part of his sleep-starved imagination.

 

Next: Killzone

 

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Killzone (2004)

 

The Moment

Helghan dictator Scolar Visari (played brilliantly by Brian Cox) addresses his army on the eve of their invasion of Vekta, a planet controlled by their enemy, the ISA.

Scenes of the Helghast's troubled past are shown as a furious Visari prepares his men for war, citing their ill-treatment at the hands of the ISA as a reason to rise up and fight.

A stunning opening cinematic that almost makes you wish you were fighting for the bad guys.

Cinematic Equivalent

Any film where a charismatic orator stands before an army and stirs them to battle.

Mel Gibson in Braveheart , Viggo Mortensen in Return of the King , Bill Pullman in Independence Day (er, sort of), Gerard Butler in 300 , Colin Farrell in Alexander ... well, you get the idea.

Visually, the Helghast's Nazi-inspired black-and-red uniforms and flags are reminiscent of the Norsefire Party in James McTeigue's adaptation of Alan Moore's V For Vendetta (2005).

 

Next: Grand Theft Auto IV

 

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Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)

 

The Moment

The mission Three Leaf Clover is infamous among GTA fans for being fiendishly difficult, but it's also one of the game's best-designed.

Breathlessly paced and packed full of masterfully directed set-pieces, it sees you and a gang of fellow thieves robbing an inner-city bank and escaping through the city streets while SWAT teams and police helicopters hunt you down.

Armed with M16s you cut through swathes of police officers, slip down alleyways, hop over fences and eventually escape to freedom through Liberty City's vast subway network.

Cinematic Equivalent

Pure Michael Mann. Everything, from the bank job to the stylish suit-and-mask combo to the shoulder-slung bags stuffed with money, is a direct homage to Mann's Heat (1995).

In the movie a bank heist goes wrong and master thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is forced to run and gun his way to freedom with an M16 in bustling downtown LA. It's one of cinema's coolest shootouts, brilliantly recreated in GTAIV.

 

Next: Half-Life 2

 

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Half-Life 2 (2004)

 

The Moment

Gordon Freeman, gaming's toughest scientist, awakens from stasis to find Earth a changed place.

An alien race known as the Combine have enslaved humanity, transforming our society into a nightmarish, Orwellian dictatorship. You'll never forget your first tentative steps into City 17.

Masked enforcers savagely beat the populace and raid their homes, and enormous video screens play soulless propaganda from Earth's new ruler, Dr Breen, a puppet of the Combine.

Perfect post-apocalyptia, and one of the most brilliantly convincing virtual 'film sets' we've seen.

Cinematic Equivalent

City 17 is a lot like the harsh, anti-intellectual America of Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966).

There's the same rigid social hierarchy, people are controlled by fear and intimidation, and the country is being stripped of its cultural identity.

In Fahrenheit, books are outlawed and anyone caught reading them is committed to a mental institution, their books incinerated by a group known as 'The Firemen'. This kind of bleak society was also realised in Equilibrium (2002).

 

Next: Medal of Honor: Frontline

 

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Medal of Honor: Frontline (2002)
 

The Moment


By today's standards the visuals are laughable, but when it was released, MOH: Frontline was the most immersive World War 2 game we'd ever played.

The defining moment was the opening level – a hectic assault on Omaha Beach.

As the landing craft approached the foggy, German controlled coastline, you'd hear the constant whiz and ping of bullets.

Then the door would swing open and you'd see hundreds of soldiers charging towards the Germans, mortar shells exploding all around you.

Cinematic Equivalent

Saving Private Ryan (1998), of course. It's no coincidence that Frontline was developed in conjunction with DreamWorks, Steven Spielberg's production company.

Everything from the visuals to the dialogue is identical to the movie, and several scenes are mimicked including seeing soldiers clearing beach-head bunkers with flamethrowers.

However, the game wasn't quite as vivid and starkly realistic as Ryan, which never flinched from the cruel brutality of war. During the film, you never saw any soldiers healing their wounds by crouching behind a barrel for a bit, for example.

 

Next: Resistance 2

 

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Resistance 2 (2009)

 

The Moment

Aliens have invaded America in the 1950s, and hero Nathan Hale is fighting his way through the tall, majestic forests of Orick, California.

Up until now you've been fighting pretty standard sci-fi bad guys, then suddenly the Chameleons show up.

These creatures use a see-through stealth camouflage to hide in the dense undergrowth, pouncing when you least expect it.

A brilliantly tense section that'll make anyone with a beating heart jump at least once.

Cinematic Equivalent


This whole level owes its existence to Predator (1987). In the movie Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his crew battle an invisible alien predator in a dense South American jungle.

His entire team are cut down by the beast and it becomes a cat and mouse chase between Arnie and his technologically superior hunter. And Arnie wins, of course. The only difference is that in Resistance, you're fighting a whole army of the things, sometimes all at once.

 

Next: Resident Evil 4

 

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Resident Evil 4 (2005)

 

The Moment

Leon's former mentor and now arch-nemesis Jack Krauser has infected himself with the Las Plagas virus and become a super-fast, super-strong killing machine with a mutated, blade-shaped arm.

And you have to fight him... with a knife.

Cue a brilliantly choreographed fight to the death, of which more is in slow-motion than at normal speed.

You have to keep the action flowing by following on-screen button prompts, but we'd happily just gawp at the screen and watch them fight for hours on end.

Cinematic Equivalent

Okay, so the film stunk, but the penultimate battle between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix Revolutions (2003) is a classic, overblown, over-choreographed scrap.

In the midst of a raging storm Neo battles thousands of clones of Agent Smith, and it's as needlessly slow-motion packed as Leon and Krauser's knife fight.

The Matrix changed video games forever – for better or for worse - with its 'bullet time' effect, which has become as much of a gaming staple as save points or stealth sections.

 

Next: Total Overdose

 

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Total Overdose (2007)

 

The Moment

Known by most as the game that let you steal peoples' hats, Total Overdose was a free-roaming crime adventure set in Mexico.

Hero Ram could toss himself around in slow-motion, spin around in mid-air and fire a machine-gun hidden in a guitar case.

Tongue lodged firmly in its cheek, the level at the Bullring is a highlight. Flamenco music plays as Ram leaps around the arena taking out scores of bad guys, accompanied by a lucha libre Mexican wrestler.

Cinematic Equivalent


The machine-guns in the guitar case is a big clue. Yes, the game is basically a shameless 'homage' to Robert Rodriguez' El Mariachi (1992), and its sequels Desperado (1995) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003).

The stylised gunplay, soundtrack and comic book-style world of ludicrous, sombrero-wearing gangsters were all exploited by Total Overdose to great effect.

Rodriguez' series revolves around a guitarist and part-time gunslinger, known only as El Mariachi, on the run from savage gangsters. Antonio Banderas never pinched any hats, though.

 

Next: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

 

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Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008)

 

The Moment

Snake infiltrates a militia group and enters a raging battle on the streets of a Middle Eastern city.

Professional soldiers and rag-tag bands of mercenaries fight for supremacy, while Snake tries his best to avoid the conflict altogether and sneak deeper into the city.

Dodging the chaos of the guerilla war and slipping between the shadows is a real thrill, and in a rare twist for a game, you feel as if the war erupting around you is more important than your own actions.

Cinematic Equivalent


Children of Men (2006) sees Clive Owen caught in the midst of a violent street battle between militant rebels and the British Army.

Filmed in one continuous shot (although artificially – CG was used heavily), the fighting is as brutal and ear-shattering as in Metal Gear, as Clive tries desperately to escape the war zone.

It has a documentary-like feel, with wobbly camerawork and dirt and debris dirtying the camera lens – an effect also used by director Hideo Kojima in Metal Gear.

 

Next: Portal

 

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Portal (2008)

 

The Moment

In this puzzler from Half-Life creators Valve you've been chosen to test a new weapon that lets you fire small 'portals' and jump instantly between them.

You're guided through each test chamber by a robotic female voice who you quickly learn isn't all she seems.

She is GLaDOS, a sophisticated AI that's gone rogue and taken over the facility, using you as an expendable guinea pig for her own twisted amusement.

After escaping her numerous attempts to kill you, you finally confront her face to, er, screen, and shut her down for good by tossing her vital components in an incinerator.

Cinematic Equivalent


Machines regularly go rogue in cinema, but it's HAL from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that has the most in common with GlaDOS.

Both protest their innocence when they're being shut down, and both have eerily calm voices, despite murdering their human masters without a moment's thought.

And they both even sing; HAL's haunting rendition of 'Daisy' as Dave deactivates him, and GLaDOS' 'Still Alive', which has become something of a cult hit.

 

Next: Max Payne

 

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Max Payne  (2001)

 

The Moment

New York cop Max Payne returns home after a hard day at work.

He calls to his wife. No answer. As we move through the house something's not right. Objects are scattered across the floor and closets have been raided. Max pulls his pistol from its holster and moves upstairs.

Then we see it; the dead bodies of his wife and child. And the murderer is still there. Max kills him in slow-mo (bullet-time again) and swears revenge on the scum of NYC, becoming a violent, hard boiled noir vigilante.

Cinematic Equivalent

The premise of Max Payne is similar to Death Wish (1972). Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) returns home to find muggers trashing his house and sexually assaulting his daughter, and eventually murdering his wife.

This sends Charlie into a spiral of madness and he becomes a vigilante, taking the law into his own hands and cleaning up the streets of New York.

 

Next: Shadow of the Colossus, 2005

 

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Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

The Moment

Fumito Ueda's minimalist masterpiece gives you one simple task: slay 16 enormous beasts to save the life of the girl you love.

However, the beasts in question are docile, beautiful creatures who only attack when threatened.

The traditional ideas of good and evil are turned on their head, and for every sad-eyed Colossus that falls, you feel genuinely guilty.

The tenth Colossus is our favourite; a Dune-style, desert-dwelling worm that you chase on horseback, attacking its eyes with your bow and arrow when it raises its head briefly from the sand.

An epic, thrilling battle.

Cinematic Equivalent


Shadow of the Colossus owes a lot to Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke (1997).

In an early scene we see hero Ashitaka battling Nago, a demon in the form of a giant boar. Just like in Colossus, Ashitaka pursues on horseback (well, it's an elk, but still) and attacks the beast's eyes with his bow.

But it's also similar in that the demon can't be labelled as classically 'evil' – it's an angry nature spirit punishing mankind for destroying the environment. Hayao Miyazaki likes to play with the ideas of good and evil in the same way as Ueda.

 

Next: Dead Space

 

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Dead Space (2008)

 

The Moment

Isaac Clarke (see what they did there?) is part of a team sent to rescue the stricken mining ship U.S.G. Ishimura.

The game opens with Isaac on the bridge of a rescue craft as they hunt for the Ishimura in an asteroid belt.

As they move closer to a nearby planet, the asteroids gently drift apart and the ship looms into view.

Like BioShock's intro, the sequence gives you an uneasy sensation.

The eerily lifeless ship, which has a crew of thousands, floats silently in the planet's orbit and none of its lights are on. A masterclass in tension building; you almost don't want to go aboard.

Cinematic Equivalent


Dead Space borrows liberally from every science fiction film you care to mention – from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Sunshine to Aliens – but the ship's spooky introduction is almost identical to that of underrated big budget B-movie Event Horizon (1997).

Both are about a lost spaceship, and both feature a team of rescuers who find themselves battling an ancient, demonic evil.

 

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