The 10 most shocking game moments of the decade

Manhunt | Executions | 2003

Manhunt is a dirty, dirty beast. Everything about it - from the grim environments, to the grainy VHS static much of the game is viewed through, to the sinister synth soundtrack - evokes filth and despair. Then there's the central premise of the narrative; you as the protagonist in an epic snuff movie, forced to kill or be killed.

And while just the concept is shocking enough in itself - and pretty much untrodden prior to, or since - it's the manner that you are forced to dispatch your prey that's most disturbing.

You aren't just murdering people, you're executing them in cold blood for the voyeuristic pleasure of your 'Director', graded for the quality and prowess of your deadly work. The nadir of these kills is - without doubt - the plastic bag suffocation.

This is the antithesis of a mercy killing. Cash is forced to restrain his victims, holding a plastic bag across their face as they struggle to breathe, a slow, protracted painful death, one which the player is intimately involved in.

Manhunt obtained notoriety for all sorts of things but if we were to choose one single element that trademarked its unique brand of shocks and taboo-breakers it wouln't be Piggsy, it wouldn't be the death of Cash's family, it wouldn't be murdering mental patients... no - it would be the carrier bag.

GTA IV: Lost and Damned | Full-frontal male nudity | 2008  

If nothing else, the GTA series has always been an equal opportunity offender. Hidden sex games, drunk driving, unrelenting violence; Rockstar North has never been afraid to seductively foxtrot with shocking content. But no Triad murder, premium hooker service or ruthless drive-by massacre has ever come close to evoking the sheer horror of seeing an old man’s exposed meat and two veg in The Lost and the Damned.

Picture the scene. As permanently miserable biker Johnny Klebitz, you’ve just been hired by shady politician Tom Stubbs to ‘deal with’ one of his rivals. Nothing out of the ordinary about that. Well, apart from the fact he’s having a massage. Fully naked. Before he casually flaunts his junk in your face. If you’ve ever wondered what stiffly-animated polygonal shaft looks like in a game… well, you’re sick and, if you seen Stubbs’ eye-offending scene, probably emotionally scarred, too.

We’ve all been conditioned to deal with sickening acts of brutality, gore and unremittingly dark narratives without batting an eyelid. But show us a flaccid piece of man meat and we lose the run of ourselves. Blinded by seeing a congressman’s c*ck or not, though, we’re glad the developer is brave enough to constantly push the boundaries of taste. If nothing else, there’s rarely a dull moment when Rockstar is involved.

Postal 2 | The whole thing | 2003  

With Duke Nukem having already introduced strippers to FPS, shortly before Grand Theft Auto brought in some hooker to shoot up in a dark alley, for a while it seemed that games had become as violent and grimy as they could. But then came Postal 2, and with it, a blood-soaked carnival of orgiastic grim that made Liberty City look like Bournemouth.

Whether you see Postal 2 as a knowingly ironic parody intended to rile up the reactionary political correctness brigade or just a pile of idiotic old toss (opinion seems split down the middle), there’s no denying that it elevated sickness to the level of an art form. It emulated GTA’s violent-as-you-want-it-to-be approach to open-world gaming, but made that potential violence both far more cartoonish and far more offensive than anything we’d seen before.

We got decapitations. We got cows’ heads pumped full of anthrax. We got to stick guns up cats’ arses and use the unfortunate felines as silencers until their inevitable rectal detonations. We could play football with body parts. There was blunt anti-censorship satire aplenty and even a few jokes about Columbine along the way. And on top of that, it was possible to piss on any NPC at will, whether they were on fire (at your hands, naturally) or not. And possibly most shocking of all, there was Gary Coleman of Diff’rent Strokes fame, making his career comeback by playing himself. Himself, that is, getting shot up in a book signing fire-fight against the police. And then, very probably, getting pissed on. Oh, quite frankly, dear.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 | No Russian | 2009

Has there ever been more of a furore behind a controversial gaming moment than the one surrounding Modern Warfare 2’s No Russian mission? Probably not. But it comes with good reason.

NPCs are present throughout most games and you can do things to them whether you want to or not. In GTA, for example, you can ‘accidentally’ run pedestrians over. Then there’s the chance to ‘unintentionally’ stab a bystander in the face with a hidden blade in Assassin’s Creed 2. But in Modern Warfare 2, you’re subjected to the horror’s of innocent civilians being murderised before your eyes.

Of course, you can can choose to skip this airport massacre at the start of the game. You don’t even have to shoot at them – like this…

Such is the uproar behind ‘No Russian’ that MP’s in the UK discussed it in the House of Commons. Australian politicians called for the game to be banned, as per usual. And the Japanese went one step further when they  mistranslated the phrase of ‘remember, no Russian’ to the rather comical ‘kill them all, they’re Russian’. Brilliant.

Whether you’re affected by the mass carnage is completely subjective. For some, this is THE WORST ATROCITY SINCE, WELL, EVER!! For others, it’s little more than a chance to practice lining up their headshots. Yes, even on the wounded one’s using their dying breaths to gasp for mercy.

But regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, you have to admit that No Russian is a watershed moment for games as a media. There are certainly worse things committed to film, which anyone that’s been subjected to Eddie Murphy’s Norbit can attest, but this will either spark even more hard-hitting scenes in games or will prompt a strict law against them. We hope it’s the former.

Next: Incest, nuclear holocaust and curb-crawling

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  • KishouTenpi - August 16, 2011 7:07 p.m.

    SPOILERS BELOW SPOILERS BELOW! Nanako's death in Persona 4? It had me and my friend in tears when we realised she was going to be kidnapped, let alone her death Child death is no laughing matter
  • DrillurSimpson - June 1, 2010 12:37 a.m.

    I was gonna comment but this is 6 months old. ... wasting my time. Still wasting it.
  • batmanboy11 - May 29, 2010 5:20 p.m.

    The first time I was decapitated by DR. Salvador I was so suprised and shocked I almost crapped my pants. The same thing happened with the Nuke in CoD 4: MW but it wasn't quite as shocking.
  • eee - April 30, 2010 5:30 p.m.

    Lol sorry Cepzeu mabye we will be in a real war soon and even though America does not kill civis. would that make you feel better. (sarcastic statement) (damn just a game)
  • eee - April 30, 2010 5:27 p.m.

    Lmao I loved no russian it was awsome ececuting people and watching others crawl to get shot by your buddies. Lol I even used the grenade lancher
  • ryno - January 19, 2010 4:27 a.m.

    pyramid head creeps me out
  • Cepzeu - January 11, 2010 4:43 a.m.

    no russian is really f****n sad. I (being a russian) think that it was the most sad moment ive seen in any videogame. F*** you Infinity ward F*** you!
  • deathrebellion - January 7, 2010 11:41 p.m.

    No nooooo manhunt the torture, the twisted savagery gahhhhh dats one on the worst games i've played (sick worst) and that tune that plays in the background is forever engraved in the back of my skull >_< Dr. Salvador wuz one of THE most nerve cracking enemies EVAR, just hearing the noise of the chainsaws after getting my head sliced for the 1st time wuz soooo creepy , used to keep turning around each sec to see if he wuz behind me XD
  • rocklee - January 4, 2010 4:23 a.m.

    poor leon
  • Romination - January 2, 2010 3:57 a.m.

    i'm calling bullshit of GTA 3. it's like you somehow didn't have a shocking moment left. crap.
  • PiscesIscariot - January 1, 2010 7:58 p.m.

    I laugh at people who think that No Russian will convince kids to go around shooting airports. I for one, laughed my ass off during that scene and I shot everyone I could. Why? Because you don't do that in games. You just don't.
  • BertTheTurtle - December 31, 2009 11:36 p.m.

    I even KNEW about that Pyramid Head thing before I saw it (due to my horrible mistake of reading pretty much everything about the game before I played it) and it still shocked me. Somehow I figured that moment would make this list.
  • GMAN2 - December 31, 2009 8:12 a.m.

    The END to Modern Warfare 2 was by far the most emotional a video game has ever gotten me. It was freakin' awesome.
  • DriveShaft - December 31, 2009 2:38 a.m.

    Hey, Pyramid Head's got needs too? I'd love to see the children x] Evidently I'm the only person who wasnt shocked by RE4 chainsaw <_<
  • mentalityljs - December 31, 2009 1:49 a.m.

    @NotBraze Well said!
  • aguilanthony - December 30, 2009 5:55 p.m.

    I must say I shit myself on the first encounter with chainsaw man in Resident Evil 4. I used two pistol clips on his head, threw a incenidary grenade and then a shotgun to the head and I still died.
  • onewheeled999 - December 30, 2009 5:49 p.m.

    Great article, as always. But I can't help but feel like the first time you see colossus in Shadow of the Colossus should be on this list. That was like the ultimate "Ohhhhh shiiiiit" moment.
  • Ironarm - December 30, 2009 5:48 p.m.

    Good choices, but I would have liked to have seen the whole Raiden in MGS2. That was HUGE! I mean look at the facts...when Kojima showed the demo and trailer at E3 he went so far as to EDIT Raiden out of game and place Snake in his place. Talk about shocking when you popped that game in.
  • WrathLord03 - December 30, 2009 2:16 p.m.

    I think I finally understand how the Australian economy works. Movies have been around for a long time. Games haven't. Therefore, movies are for adults - for example, the Hostel and Saw movies were allowed here. Games are for children. That's why we don't have an R 18+ rating for games. That's why a lot of games that had nothing worse than either Hostel or Saw got either banned or censored here. That's what the Australian government thinks, anyway. Adults play video games too, Australian Government!
  • dreamgor - December 30, 2009 12:09 p.m.

    for once i'm glad the videos doesn't work :( srsly... i don't think i could handle all that