Memory's a funny thing, isn't it? We have so many experiences every single day, in the real world and in our choice of entertainment, but we remember very little in real terms. Most of what we experience gets filtered and forgotten, leaving only memories that tend to have a strong emotional reaction attached to them. In games, especially ones released in recent years, there are so many high-impact scenes constantly flashing before our eyes, we could be forgiven for allowing them to blur into one. However, some games have certain scenes that are so impactful, they stay with us, long after we put the console down.
Oh, and spoilers. Obviously.
1. 'Half-Life 2' — Wake Up And Smell The Ashes
I could have easily gone for the tram ride, the tentacle creature or the canyon helicopter fight from Half-Life. Or perhaps the super-charged Gravity Gun, playing with D0g or (my God) Ravenholm from Half-Life 2. The series is packed with moments, scenes, areas and people that have forever stayed with me, either from playing them so many times (I still play through Half-Life 2 every now and then) or from the impact they had on me the first time (Ravenholm is still scary somehow). But it's the introduction to the second game in the series that still gives me chills when I load it up for another run.
At the end of Half-Life, the G-Man appears, giving you the choice of working for him and being put into suspended animation, or declining and dying at the hands (claws?) of the surviving alien horde. Canonically, Gordon Freeman chooses to work for the G-Man, which leads to the opening of Half-Life 2. Once again you're faced with the G-Man giving a brief, stilted monologue about how long you've been gone, culminating in the line:
"So, wake up, Mr. Freeman. Wake up, and smell the ashes."
The implication that the world has gone to hell in the time you've been in stasis, and the cold, alien way he speaks sets you up to rejoin the world you were taken from in the previous installment, with an urge to find out exactly what went down. The fact that the game that follows is one of the best games ever made makes it all the better.
2. 'Resident Evil' — That First Zombie
This is probably one the most iconic gaming scenes of its generation. Again, Resident Evil has a lot of moments that will have stuck with you if you ever played the game. But it's this short piece of (quite frankly ugly) FMV that will be most memorable. Even more so that that cheesy live-action intro movie!
Resident Evil uses something that has been lost in modern mainstream horror games and movies — the art of not tipping its hand too early. It takes quite some time before you even meet this first enemy, having already walked around parts of the mansion, exploring and building tension after seeing the chaos going on outside the mansion's front door.
After all this walking, you hear something at the end of a corridor, drawing you toward it. Rounding the corner, you're greeted by a creature, chewing on a corpse. Interrupted, it turns slowly to face you, giving you a good look at the monster you'll be fighting to survive. For the time, it was very much a creepy image, and the fact you were practically right on top of it (due to it being obscured by the wall) before triggering the video gave you very little room to work with as you grappled with the as-yet-unused combat controls. A very well-crafted moment of horror, something that the series seems to have lost in recent years. Maybe Resident Evil VII will return to this.
3. 'Battlefield 4' — That Helicopter Bit
Now, this one is a little bit different. Most modern military FPS games these days have more big, bombastic moments than you can shake a Michael Bay at. Some of them are genuinely memorable (the Modern Warfare series "Nuke" and "No Russian" scenes especially), but this one is a lot more personal.
I can't remember the name of the map, but it's set on a series of beaches and islands with a large (I think) hotel in the middle. A holiday resort, I suppose. After a group of players and I cleared out the enemy team from the ground floor of the now-ruined hotel, the sounds of a helicopter filled my speakers. An enemy pilot swooped into view at what was once the front of the hotel. We were screwed, all the work of clearing the building going to waste and another re-spawn and long slog back to the building.
A few players started running, but it's clearly hopeless. Then the helicopter inexplicably explodes. Did the pilot clip the wall? Did someone have a rocket launcher? A friendly jet fighter rushes over the wrecked enemy vehicle, like something out of an action movie, to the relief of everyone involved. It felt like the moment the heroes are rescued from certain doom by that renegade team member who happened to hot-wire a plane in defiance of their orders. A stunning, unscripted, almost movie-like moment that won't be replicated.
4. 'BioShock' — Would You Kindly
Admit it, you knew this was coming. Possibly one of the most shocking, unexpected reveals in gaming history. The moment that makes you question almost every instruction you've ever followed in a video game UP to this point. You'd spent hours fighting your way through Rapture, assuming you were helping Atlas, who always prefaced his instructions with a charming, "Would you kindly..." We thought we were helping. We thought we had decided to assist this pleasant, heroic freedom fighter take down a tyrannical ruler. We thought our actions were our own. Oh, how wrong we were.
It only took one audiolog to change everything; an audiolog about a child being ordered to carry out actions against his will when a certain trigger phrase was uttered: "Would you kindly..." The flashback to every order you'd been given completely rewrites everything you'd done throughout the game. It wasn't free will, it was indoctrination.
As it turns out, you were the illegitimate son of the tyrannical leader, taken by crime boss Fontaine and indoctrinated to respond to the trigger phrase. Fontaine happened to be masquerading as Atlas in an effort to remove the leader of Rapture — your father Andrew Ryan — so he could claim it for himself. The moment of realization is forever ingrained in my mind, and the implication that everything I'd done in this (and arguably every game I'd ever played) was all at someone else's behest sticks with me to this day. It's just a pity that the remainder of the game failed to use this revelation in an intelligent way.
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5. 'The Stanley Parable' — Literally Everything
I was quite torn over what to put in this last slot. I had plenty of options, all of which are top games with great moments that will be forever lodged in my brain. But the final spot goes to this game. If you could even call it a game. Interactive fiction maybe? Walking simulator? An experiment in gaming narrative? No matter what you describe this as, pretty much everything in The Stanley Parable is a memorable moment. If you have played it, I'd wager that you can still remember what the first ending you reached was. For me, it was the suicide ending, in which you defy the narrator to the point that he just lets you throw yourself off a ledge repeatedly until you finally expire.
The Stanley Parable is another title that plays with the idea of choice within gaming, or lack thereof. The narrator instructs you, as Stanley, and you either do as you are told, or defy the instruction. At first, I felt quite clever when I didn't do as I was told. "Aha!" I thought, "I bet they didn't expect me to do that!" But at every turn, the narrator chides you for not following the story as it had been set out.
It can eventually lead to all manner of insanity, from a secret making-of museum, to escaping the game world by clipping through the wall, only to find that the narrator expected you to do that. It really is quite genius at times, and half the fun comes from trying to find as many different endings as possible, just to see what the developers had thought of. A genuinely memorable and fascinating piece of (slightly) interactive media.
And Now For The Honorable Mentions
Silent Hill 2's appearances of Pyramid Head are quite unsettling, often distressing, and always memorable. Who can forget his, er, interactions with some of the other creatures? It's a pity he almost became a running joke in the series as it went on. The Scarecrow sequence in Batman: Arkham Asylum was absolutely fantastic, from its jump scares to its game crash. Even the platforming section that followed was excellent, and a great change of pace from the rest of the game.
I'm sure many of you will have these: World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. and Green Hill Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog. Is it the music? The bright colors? The fact that we've probably experienced the levels a hundred times? Whatever it is, those stages are perfectly crafted to evoke lasting memories from the moment that first note is played.
What About You?
Is there anything that you consider a video game moment that will stay with you forever? A piece of music combined with a scene? Maybe a specific level or shocking reveal? Let me know!