BioShock (Xbox 360, PC) | Fort Frolic
Rapture's entertainment district is both the prettiest and the scariest section of BioShock. Glamorous theaters and glitzy neon night clubs exist in the same space as defiled corpses and deranged creeps. The area's ringmaster, Sander Cohen, is both an artist and a madman. His creations - posed tableaus of plaster cast bodies - are disgusting, but also bizarrely intriguing. The two faces of Fort Frolic - evil and beauty - mix surprisingly, surreally well. It's a perfect microcosm of the game as a whole.
Only watch the first three minutes of the video below, unless you want the rest of the game spoiled for you as well.
Call of Duty 4 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC) | All Ghillied up/One Shot, One Kill
This is a masterclass in how to pace a level. The eyeball-aching tension of the opening stealth section builds to genuinely breath-holding levels you become staggeringly outnumbered, never more than a couple of feet away from discovery and death. The bravado of increasingly hairy escapes battles for dominance in your brain with the insane level of risk needed to make them.
The tension finally crescendos with an all-or-nothing sniper shot, before all hell breaks loose and you’re forced to run and gun for your life as a whole army bursts out of every street and alleyway. And then the chopper appears.
And your CO and only ally gets taken down. And you’re still about a mile from safety…
Castlevania IV (Super NES, Virtual Console) | Mode 7 madness level
Apparently Konami wanted the first 16-bit Castlevania to make a lasting impression, as part IV uses pretty much all of the SNES's visual tricks. If you need a good example, level 4 is Mode 7 porn, scaling and rotating pieces of the level (and even the boss) with reckless abandon. Head two minutes in for the money shot. It's a weird level for sure, but there was nothing else like it at the time, and that made it stand out in any "Nintendo vs. Sega" fanboy's mind.