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59 levels to play before you die: S - Z

The Simpsons Game (PS3,360, Wii, PS2) | Mob Rules
Any gamer with a healthy funny gland will surely appreciate this amusingly esoteric sideways snigger at Grand Theft Auto and the highly-charged reactionary fracas it attracts. In terms of gameplay the level is an uninspired old sock (like most of the game), but is well worth a sniff just to sample The Simpsons' own humorous assault on Rockstar's series with its ultra-violent parody, Grand Theft Scratchy. And, of course, we get to see Ned Flanders being carjacked by Martin Prince.

Thief: Deadly Shadows (PC, Xbox) | Shalebridge Cradle
The Thief games have always been tense, eerie experiences, particularly when they dip into the supernatural. But when thieving, stealth-dependent "hero" Garrett stupidly decides to set foot in the Shalebridge Cradle, a burnt-out orphanage/asylum that's about six times more haunted than that description suggests, all bets are off.

The Cradle isn't scary - it's terrifying. Before you even see it, you're leery of it, as Deadly Shadows spends a fair amount of time and effort building it up as a place of unimaginable danger. You'll stumble across bedtime stories that warn children to stay the hell away from it, read written accounts of strange and horrific events that transpired there, and hear numerous rumors that it's the home of a monstrous hag that creeps through dark alleys and devours children. And when you finally do see it, very near the end of the game, its imposing Gothic façade should be all the reason you'll need to forget your mission and run far, far away.

Everything that happens once you enter the place - the strange sounds, the eerie non-music, the odd interplay of light and shadow - adds up to one big mind game that's been carefully calculated to frighten you as much as a videogame can. And it tends to leave its mark on those who play through it - or at least, it left enough of a mark for PC Gamer UK to devote six pages of its March 2005 issue to this one, single level. Due to the number of spoilers in the PC Gamer article, though, we advise not reading it if you're planning to play through the level yourself. That goes double for this video:

Timesplitters 2 (PS2) | Siberia
You might not realise it while busily knee-deep disgruntled Russian military types, but TS2’s Siberia level is one of the best-paced stages yet to come out of FPS.

The level’s structure allows you to tackle it as either Rambo or Bond - it’s possible to clear at least half of it with a 100% bodycount without being seen once – and the increasingly hectic tone builds seamlessly, taking you from the silent, snowbound, pistol-and-sniper-rifle opening to a full-scale military seige by way of infiltration, espionage and biohazard outbreak. Massive freedom to experiment with combat makes the experience totally your own despite the level’s linearity, and to top it all off, there are zombies as well.