I can see my house from here!
"Hello, hello / I'm at a place called Vertigo..." So sung Bono is his touching song about being lost and trying to get a cellphone signal to ask how to get out of the rotating restaurant he's found himself in on one of his many nights out being wealthy and rich. Yes, I'm being daft, but I do have a related disclaimer to make here: Vertigo isn't actually the name for a fear of heights. That's Acrophobia. Yes, I thought that was a fear of acrobats too.
But you and I know that there is a psychological reaction to your brain realising you are directly above a massive drop and a lot of people call that vertigo. And that's what I'm talking about here, so let's put the technicalities aside, eh? You're going to get what you came here for, which is the best 'OH MY GOD I'M REALLY HIGH UP' moments in gaming. In fact, know what I say? DO look down. Its awesome.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes (Multi, 2013)
After the grounded first level in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, youre introduced to the hub area. Its pretty much the same as every hub area in recent Lego games, but with one tiny difference. Its suspended in the sky. And the next level is about 30,000 ft below you on the ground. The only solution: Skydive.
And so you literally jump off the edge and into the nothing beyond. The camera moves above you and all you can see is the ground below you and a load of Lego studs formed as hoops for you to fall through. Brilliantly, there isnt a break in the action between leaping off the hub and touching down on the ground, at which point you return to walking around as if nothing happened. Superb.
SSX (360/PS3, 2012)
There simply isn't just one jump that gives you that vertigo feeling in SSX (although I did almost go with the first jump on SSX Tricky's Elysium Alps, which is just plain awesome). But that pales when compared to the more recent SSX, which is full of moments like that. The angle of descent is so severe, you're always staring death in the face and you always feel high up.
And then you hit a jump and it all gets 100 times worse. No control, too high, gonna die. That's what your brain says, as it checks out and leaves you a nice note about how it isn't working out but it wishes you all the best with your future endeavors. Surprisingly, the wingsuit appears to take that feeling away. Maybe it feels too controlled? Much better to head to Weirdsville, grind a rail that leans out over a precipice and hope someone's got some new undies waiting for you at the end.
San Franciso Rush (Arcade/N64, 1997)
Even when San Francisco Rush was a contemporary arcade game, it was a little bit crap. The handling was so laden with inertia, it simply didn't have the kind of twitchy control that arcade-goers expected. It had blurry graphics too, which made it a logical shoe-in for an N64 conversion (fnar fnar--don't worry, I'll stop that now). But boy, did it know how to jump...
And there's one moment on the Extreme difficulty course, where you zoom up San Fran's famous hills, and literally take off at the top. And suddenly, the game is actually worth the 1 you put in its slot, as the city appears before you, rendered in full 3D with the finest (at the time) draw distance in any game. Just look at it. Still looks great now. Imagine how that felt in 1997.
Tomb Raider (Multi, 2013)
A lot of the entries on this list have played on the vertigo bone that everyone has in their heads (bet you didn't know I studied anatomy, eh? Clue: I didn't), but mainly to make jumps feel exciting. But Tomb Raider really plays on that 'don't look down' moment that you could feasibly experience in real life.
The radio tower climb at the end of the first act of Lara's utterly brilliant new adventure sees our heroine climbing up a rusty pole, with bits of it breaking off and the ground a looong way down. Honestly, after ten seconds climbing, the fall would be enough to kill her, but after that the height just gets more and more crippling. Is this strength born of desperation and necessity? Or is she just plain barmy?
Portal (Multi, 2007)
This is a killer. Probably because it isn't. In Portal, you can create an infinite loop of portals, allowing you to fall through the floor, emerge through the ceiling and proceed to fall through the floor again. Which, evidently, is absolutely not normal.
It's probably the sense of inexorably plummeting that does it. Not least because you soon reach terminal velocity and just keep on falling and it feels like you're never going to stop. And that's when you start keeping goldfish crackers as pets.
GTA 5 (360/PS3, 2013)
Mt Chiliad is the tallest mountain in all of GTA land. And its got a ramp on the top of it. Needless to say, this is the source of countless hours of mirth as Trevor (cos it has to be Trevor) mounts a two-wheeled vehicle and sees how long he can survive after zooming off either said ramp or the cable car station mechanism. You can just imagine him doing that as a recreational weekend activity, can't you?
Sure, you can try to survive the various undulations buffeting you this way and that, but basically youre doing it for the fall, not the landing.
Excite Truck (Wii, 2006)
Wiis rather brilliant launch racer has a clever trick up its sleeve: Terrain deformation. Or, more specifically, dynamic, player-activated terrain deformation. Get your jump right and hit the appropriate collectible and the ground below you falls away, leaving you flailing around in the sky.
The control method that sees you steering with the Wii-mote is perfect for this feeling of falling. Youre holding what feels for all the world like a steering wheel gone light, see-sawing at it in an effort to maintain stability even though your wheels arent in contact with anything. Its the automotive equivalent of running in the air. Totally pointless, but you kinda feel like you have to. It's an old tradition, or a charter or something.
Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast, 1999)
The Speed Highway level in the original Sonic Adventure is home to not one, but TWO incredible vertigo moments. The first is right at the start as you sprint forward, hit a speed-up boost pad on the floor and then hurtle down a slope at about 45 degrees towards a loop. The camera pulls back a little, the lens depth widens and it looks amazing. In fact, not even the same moment in Sonic Generations could match the original games effect.
The other (which I've handily included in illustrative form above) is about halfway through the stage, where Sonic comes to rest in a glass room overlooking the city. But then the floor breaks and the soundtrack squeals as the camera moves to reveal the city about a mile under Sonic, who has started to fall. Oh, but look! Hes OK, hes running down the side of the building. Little-known fact: If you build a house into a hillside in Somerset, England, real hedgehogs will do this too.
Hydro Thunder (DC/N64/PS1, 1999)
Most tracks in Hydro Thunder contain at least one mega jump, but the one in New York Disaster is the best. You're racing through scenes of urban desolation, with traffic signs and skyscrapers all standing at imperfect angles. And then suddenly there isn't any water under you. You're falling through the air and surveying the scene below... which just so happens to be an active volcano. Well why make it something dull? Nobody wants to look down and see... beige. Right?
The light physical nature of the boats (must be carbon-fibre) allows for ultra-floaty descents from the heavens, allowing you time to take in the draw distances and sensation of diving into the water below. Good ol' Hydro Thunder.
Assassin's Creed II (360/PS3, 2009)
Do not adjust your set! That screenshot is proof if ever proof were needed that last-gen games were brown. But anyway, there's actually an Achievement/Trophy for jumping off the tallest tower in the game, which just so happens to be Florence's Campanile, as pictured right here. In all honesty, it doesn't look *that* big while you're stood on the ground looking up (well, alright, it does have birds circling around it), but just wait until you're climbing the damn thing.
And of course, video game characters love to dangle from ledges, which is all well and good when you've got infinite grip, but something in the human psyche says 'hang on (literally), we're a long way up, relying on monkey grip and all the people look like ants. And the ants... well, they're now invisible, wise guy. But hey--you wanted to do this.' But then, the human psyche will also exhibit a strange desire to test that 'Drop' prompt under the B button. Just to see what happens.
Mirror's Edge (360/PS3/PC, 2008)
In a game all about running around in first-person, leaping between rooftops, you would expect something in your brain to think 'hang on a minute, my eyes are telling me I'm running around on rooftops...'. But that's the whole point. That's why it's fun. Would you play Mirror's Edge if Faith was just running around on a flat floor, jumping between chalk outlines of walkways? Exactly.
That said, I do think there should be a 'curl up into a ball and refuse to go anywhere' button, because the effect can be a tad nauseating at times. In fact, this really could cause actual vertigo. And nobody wants that. Which is possibly why Mirror's Edge didn't catch on too well.
Got any more?
You must have a favourite moment in a game where you've been standing at the top of something, or almost fallen over the edge of something else... whatever it was that made you think 'AAAAH!', do let everyone know in the comments. As for me, I'm afraid I have to vertigo now. Sorry about that.
And if you're looking for more, check out GTA 5 Stunt Jump locations (see the link there?) and The highs and lows of being a real Sonic fan. Just because I mentioned Sonic again and that's a particularly good article if I do say so myself.