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