Deep down, all videogames are about one thing: offering cool experiences that you won’t get anywhere else, whether it’s clearing a board in Peggle or watching Aerith die for the nine billionth time. They’re what keep us coming back, over and over again, and they’re the memories that are instantly dredged to the surface of our minds every time we hear a game’s title.
2010 has, unsurprisingly, been a great year for unforgettable moments like these, whether they’ve been unexpectedly awesome set-pieces, particularly impressive cutscenes or just a cool thing we found lying around. As the year draws to a close, let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable ones.
Oh, and because the following pages include endings, and mid-game revelations, consider yourself warned:
It’s inevitable that we’d put Red Dead Redemption on this list somewhere. It’s a game filled with stunning moments, some of them taken quietly in stride by players, and others becoming message-board fodder for months after the game’s release. This is one of the latter, and it left such an indelible mark in our collective psyche that we wrote three separate articles about it.
Don’t get us wrong, the ending and subsequent surprise were just as powerful, if not more so. But your first ride into Mexico is striking in its simplicity, and it’s a strong reminder of just how much more profound the right musical selection can make something seem.
Part of what makes this moment so memorable is how unexpectedly it arrives. When John Marston finally crosses the border into Mexico, it’s after hours of play, so most players might reasonably assume that the game world doesn’t have many surprises to throw their way. The second John mounts the horse that’s waiting for him, though, Jose Gonzalez’s haunting acoustic song kicks in, making the new landscape – and John’s own distance from the loved ones he’s trying to save – take on a sudden new significance. The scrub brush and dusty trails seem almost alien, and simply charging through to the next objective without taking in the scenery seems wrong, somehow.
Sadly, a lot of us remember this for a different reason: whether it was because of wildlife attack or just wanting our old horses back, we dismounted – at which point the song fades out, the magic disappears, the illusion shatters. If you did that, it was hard not to feel just a little cheated – although it ensured that, when something similar happened near the end of the game, you stayed on your goddamn horse.
Poor Poseidon. In the first God of War, he gave Kratos the power to electrocute his enemies and to breathe underwater, and what did he get in return? A savage beatdown from his bald, perpetually furious nephew two games later.
Above: You just know this isn’t going to end well
Of course, Kratos has delivered plenty of beatings before, many of them much nastier than this. What makes this one special? Only the fact that it takes place almost entirely through Poseidon’s eyes.
Above: Literally THROUGH his eyes at the end, there
It’s one thing to see Kratos dish out his endless third-person brutality against little onscreen monsters, but shifting the perspective to his victim made the violence more personal and less abstract – and, for the first time, gave players an inkling of exactly how terrifying it would be to have him mad at you. It’s not a quick beating, either, which gives the developers plenty of time to make sure that, even though you’re controlling the whole thing, you’ll wince at least once – and if you don’t, you’ll at least cringe a little when Kratos delivers the final blow.
Above: Press both thumbsticks? OK, but what will that…
Above: Oh JESUS
Yeah, OK, the story of special operative Alex Mason was pretty compelling, and filled with an assortment of awesome moments. We could have picked the raid on Castro’s villa, the daring prison escape, the dual-wielding Kowloon mission or even the tough-as-nails Tet Offensive. Or even the bit where we crossbow-sniped Russian soldiers in the snow. They’re all great, and all rendered with all the explosive spectacle and variety we’ve come to expect from the Call of Duty series.
Above: Yeah, this was pretty cool, I guess
However, none of those moments quite stack up to the sheer entertainment value we got after finishing the game and seeing JFK, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro and Robert McNamara gear up and prepare to defend the Pentagon against an unstoppable zombie attack.
The sheer implausibility of the setup, along with the cartoonish impersonations, amounted to a surprisingly funny exclamation point at the end of a mostly “serious” military shooter – and was instantly more memorable than everything that had come before. Floating red numbers and a hallucinatory indoor rocket launch are all well and good, but they simply don’t compare with the sheer ridiculousness of three bitter political rivals setting aside their differences to splatter zombie brains all over a government office.