Lair (PS3) | Ravine of No Return
Although we mercilessly (and justifiably) shitcanned Lair when it came out last year, part of us really, really wanted to like it - and levels like this were the reason why. Ordinarily, stealth levels in flight-combat games are grueling and horrible, but the Ravine of No Return - which sees its hero sneaking into an enemy camp to knock out their power generators - is still one of the most beautiful things we've seen on the PS3 to date. Artistically, everything came together perfectly - the harsh spotlights, darkened ravine walls, crisscrossing power lines and mournful music combined to make the Ravine a hauntingly memorable place to glide through. For a few crucial minutes, we were in awe.
Then it all sort of turned to shit again at the end, when the game made us shake the controller for what felt like ages to break apart the generators we were sent in to disable. For a while there, though, Lair was onto something amazing.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (PS2, Xbox, GC) | Helm's Deep
The first game adaptation of Peter Jackson's film trilogy is pretty ordinary until the end. Basically, you hack 'n slash until your thumbs bleed. Stab, punch, kick, stab again - it's all the same, regardless of whether you're on the fields of Rohan or in the depths of Fangorn.
Helm's Deep, however, is different. Rain lashes your screen, the thunder of battle rumbles your controller and a seemingly endless, background-blotting swarm of orcs overwhelms your eyes. The urgency and intensity of the legendary movie scene is so well translated, in fact, that you can palpably sense the helpless women and children hiding below.
Suddenly, you're not just mashing buttons... you're defending good and defeating evil. Your sword thrusts have purpose and meaning. You are a hero.
Lost Planet (Xbox 360, PC) | Crossing the Plains
Three words: giant tequila worm. What more could you possibly need to know about this level? The setting appears tranquil at first - just a harmless and empty field of snow. A second or two later, though, and you find yourself face to face (or face to gaping thousand-teethed maw) with one of the current console generation's biggest - and greatest - bosses. Whether you kill the earth-shaking behemoth in an hour or a week, you'll feel a towering sense of accomplishment afterwards.