RPS Discusses: Which Is The Best Level In PC Gaming?

Quake III's Q3DM17

Level 28! No, the other kind of level. The type that you run around in, shooting people or jumping on their heads and that sort of thing. Adam, Alec, Alice and Graham gather to discuss their favourite levels and/or maps from across the vast length of PC gaming, including selections from Deus Ex, Call of Duty and Quake III. Someone even makes a case for Xen from Half-Life, and means it.

Alec: What is your favourite level in an electric videogame? Anyone saying anything about Mario will be flayed. Arbitrarily, Adam can go first.

Adam: I was going to do the obvious thing – the obvious thing for both me and RPS as a whole – and pick a level from one of the Thief games. One of the scary levels. Probably The Cradle.

Instead, I’ve decided to shout about the merits of a couple of missions from Call of Duty. Yes, Call of Duty. The first Call of Duty. I went back to replay it recently, with the idea of breaking down how the series has changed over time, and was absolutely won over by it almost immediately.

The specific level I picked out is Brécourt Manor, which contains everything that I love about Call of Duty and none of the crap. It’s fascinating because it comes immediately after the first big blunder in the game – a silly car chase that takes away all agency AND makes the war feel like a jape. It’s the first time that’s happened. If you haven’t played those first CoD games in a while the most surprising thing about them is how harrowing they can be. Loud, chaotic and full of grim meaningless death that doesn’t even have the dignity to happen in slow motion with an orchestral dubstep score behind it.

Brecourt Manor has you taking out several artillery pieces and there are desperate moments when you’re clearing out buildings, shooting people up close and personal. There’s no glory in it. It’s bloody horrible. And then you’re pinned down between two buildings, then creeping forward inch by inch, foot by foot, as people drop like flies and their names blink out of existence.

It’s a really bracing reminder that Call of Duty cared about portraying battle in a way that emphasised the chaos and deadliness of an area thick with bullets. It makes you feel like a person trying to survive an awful situation rather than a person trying to win a war. It’s genuinely superb – more of a standout than the Stalingrad and Normandy missions – and I’m not going to use it as a stick to beat modern Call of Duty (mostly because I don’t play modern Call of Duty so I’d be comparing it to a bogeyman) but it does highlight how brilliant military FPS games can be.

My favourite level is probably Lord Bafford’s Manor though. Or Doom E1M3, which I’ve been weirdly fond of since I first played it.

Alec: It’s remarkable how rarely anyone seems to look at or even reminisce about CoD at that kind of detail – I’ve read little on why the initial games did war so well, though I have parrotted the line that they did myself all too many times. WELL DONE ADAM. Does that level successfully mask the whole infinite respawning until you pass the trigger line thing, then? I tended to find that looking too closely at a CoD ruined the whole thing. Like in Half-Life 2’s Ravenholm where you can find the exact spot the zombies spawn from.

Adam: It hides it more effectively than some of the other missions, mostly by hiding line of sight of the enemy lines a lot of the time. I forgot to mention that it starts in trenches and manages to make sense of the respawning by having you ducked down and unable to keep track of enemies. It’s smart stuff – a weirdly unspectacular spectacle, which is probably a frightening accurate portrayal of some kinds of combat.

They key thing I took from it was a sense of relief when it was done. Which is the kind of line that I’m fairly certain I’ve read about some COD games in an entirely different context.

Graham: I think the levels I find most impressive are normally designed for singleplayer use; that Gone Home constructs a believable and functional suburban home that serves its story, or the way Minerva: Metastasis winds inward to make efficient use of Half-Life 2 memory limits, or the way interior design in Mirror’s Edge is used to provide the player with unconscious hints as to which way to turn at the end of a corridor.

But the maps I love – that I have spent the most time on, and therefore have the fondest memories of – are always multiplayer. Even when they’re not very good maps for not very good game modes, in the case of – and I’ll talk about my favourite later, but – the Half-Life deathmatch map Crossfire. It was a set of grey builds re-purposed from the game’s singleplayer as a playground for the game’s better-for-singleplayer weapons, but it had a button on one end that caused an alarm to sound, blast doors to slowly descend, and an airstrike to kill everyone outside some 60 seconds later. I played it over and over and it produced dramatic, funny situations every single time – all thanks to that button.

Do others feel the distinction between the amount of love they have for multiplayer and singleplayer maps?

Alec: I wonder if the distinction is less between single and multi and more the difference between somewhere you visit and somewhere you live? Like, my most memorable singleplayer maps – like the first zone in STALKER, the Tentacle Beast in Half-Life 1 – are the ones that you had to spend a long, long time in before you could move anywhere else, even revisiting areas or seeing repeating scenes with tweaked contents. Most SP levels you just sprint through and right out of, seeing a section for a couple of minutes and that’s it. When you stay in one place, as you do in multiplayer, it starts to feel like your place, rather than someone else’s. But yeah, the harrowing, wall-less world of Q3DM17 feels like home because I’ve spent hundreds of hours in it, whereas any number of amazing maps from BioShock, say, are whispers in the wind.

Adam: I haven’t played Unreal Tournament for years but if you sat me down with a pen and paper, I could draw three or four maps. One of my mates at school made a Quake deathmatch map and I probably spent more time in that over the next couple of years than any other level in anything ever. There was lava and buttons that opened pits into the lava. PROBABLY.

(Brendon Chung’s fan art for Q2DM1, The Edge)

Graham: I could draw – and have drawn – maps of my favourite level, too. Though level seems like doing it a disservice: it’s Chernarus from DayZ. My leading question about multiplayer was a clever ruse so I could talk about a place that straddles both, because I think that’s where much of its power comes from.

Chernarus was built for a simulation war game and so feels more like a real place than a ‘designed’ space. It’s not peppered with low walls for handy cover, but awkward hedgerows, barren fields, farm buildings spaced with a natural rhythm rather than game design in mind. That makes it a wonderfully immersive place to be, but also the perfect setting for a zombie game, in which the real world is meant to have gone wrong and the normal has suddenly become horrific.

Alec: How much of that is, I guess, designed, as opposed to an accident of how much time you spent there, the unintended meaning this one house that had a backpack in or that hedge you almost got chomped behind takes on? I.e. is the layout of Chernarus actually great, or it was a happy accident that it was such a fine backdrop for monstrous events?

Graham: I think it is a beautiful place. I think it is a staggering technical achievement. I think it takes incredible skill to make a place that feels real without feeling boring. But I think its ungameyness, its simulationness, its realywealyness, is what gives it tremendous power when you drop zombies and backpacks and tell people to survive there. Which probably isn’t an answer to your question.

Bohemia deserve credit, because who else is there to give it to, but there’s a sense in that place that, if you were to design it with a zombie game in mind, you’d never make it look like that. You’d never have long, empty stretches of countryside if you were making a game in which people would be travelling by foot 99% of the time, for example.

Adam: I was playing DayZ last week and pretty much everything you’re saying there rings true. Seeing a zombie, or even another person, feels unnatural in the best possible way. It’s as if someone had been location scouting for a modern war film and received the wrong screenplay in the post. The sound design has a huge impact as well – times of day are recognisable by sound, even if you’re indoors or hunkered down not paying particular attention to the quality of light. It feels more like walking in a real place than any walking simulator I’ve ever played.

Alec: What about you, Alice? Why do you love Liberty Island and Dear Esther so much?

Alice: I am foolishly hungover, don’t bully me.

Like Graham, multiplayer levels are dearest to my heart, but mine are more from mods – from specific builds of mods, and specific versions of levels. When everyone got So Very Professional in the Half-Life days, levels were never really finished, with each new beta tweaking – or massively reworking – something. Half a map might vanish overnight, taking your favourite areas with it. Or a change in weapon balance might make certain parts of the map pointless. The levels I’ll call my favourites are terrible chimeras or five versions of a map across a dozen beta builds, things that never existed but in my mind can hold all the happy memories of heroic saves and hilarious defeats. This corridor from v1.04, that room from 2.0 when you could block it with turrets… I might try to draw some out on paper to see what they even end up looking like. Ghostly layers of architecture.

Alec: I’m going to be Shit Paxman and repeatedly demand that you reveal one level you love above all others, even though that is entirely the opposite of the reason you are particularly fond of particular games.

Alice: Mr. Meer, this line of questioning is-

Alec: ONE LEVEL.

Alice: NS_Eclipse from Natural Selection, maybe. Urban2 from Action Quake 2. All of Dark Souls except for the sectioned-off Anor Londo. I can’t deal with this kind of pressure. No, okay, it’s oh yeesh

Alec: So long as it has a chiptune soundtrack it’s your best ever, is what I’m hearing here.

Alice: When did things get so turned around that YOU’RE bullying ME? I’m never drinking again. Anyway, it’s Hell’s Kitchen from Deus Ex.

Alec: Tell me why now or I’ll make you write a feature about it next week.

Alice: We’ve had this discussion before. To me, Hell’s Kitchen is the level that makes Deus Ex’s promise. You wander around, poke into places, find completely optional doodads, hang out in a bar… it feels the most like a chunk of world from all Deus Ex, and you’re just getting the skills (and skill points) to really have fun with that. Also, it’s got a lot of verticality, which too few games are willing to play with. Getting up on rooftops, knowing you could be down in the streets or in another sewer, is great. I like surveying lands from high up. Let me on more roofs. I’m very sensible.

Adam: That’s why you love Assassin’s Creed so much. Best level – UBILAHNDAN.

Alec: I can’t believe no-one’s asked me what my favourite level is.

You’re denying the world the insight it so desperately craves.

Alice: Aren’t you the moderator? I think it’s your duty to ask yourself.

Alec: Who moderates the moderator? I need an adult.

Anyway it’s Xen from Half-Life 1. It’s actually the Tentacle Beast from Half-Life 1, but I’m going to say Xen anyway because it’s really bloody interesting despite being a nightmarish descent into fiddly platform hell. If it weren’t for Xen, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as misty-eyed about Half-Life as we are. Imagine if Half-Life ended with a bossfight inside Black Mesa. Imagine even if there had been another four or five hours of increasingly routine monster-murder and falling off ladders in Black Mesa. We’d have tired of it. Instead, it’s become this perfect thing in our minds, because we know that in its final leg it takes this abrupt deviation into something stranger and with completely different disciplines, and oh so much falling damage. It provides an honest-to-god-conclusion and it keeps what came before all the more special.

Also the giant spider-testicle is a hugely memorable, really unsettling and shocking boss fight. You’ve barely collected your wits after plunging into this new world, and then you have to battle this enormous, awful thing without any idea whatsoever what’s going to happen next or where the hell you can go, whether there’s ever going to be any more ammo or even what the context of your violent actions here is. In terms of preserving – even reinstating – Half-Life’s mystery and uncertainty, Xen’s a masterstroke. It’s so brave in its willingness to destabilise the player after so many hours.

But the Tentacle beast is so much better because it’s level as bossfight, environment and enemy and puzzles completely entwined, and I have written about that too many times before.

Alice: Xen is a magical end to Half-Life. It’s a shame it comes with a whole new game to learn, but hey, that’s alien worlds for you. Stabby meat trees! Flocks of strange birds! Vast lakes with horrible, horrible inhabitants! The shy plants were my favourites. Half-Life came at a point where technology could make really crude yet really exciting oddities teasing where games might go. The answer is a grey city, obvs.

Alec: Yeah, that’s it, it was Valve going “we genuinely believe we can make blockbuster science fiction with these huge, unpredictable setpieces, unexplained implications and dramatic shifts” as opposed to “this is how games go so la-de-da, no-one expects anything more than that, so here’s a big man in a tank to fight for a bit.”

Adam: I don’t disagree with these sentiments but I do love a good grey city. In games, and level design in particular, I tend to value the credibility of a place very highly so a really convincing but essentially mundane building, street or field is more exciting to me than a weird and wonderful place that doesn’t feel quite right.

Alec: I guess I might say Euro Truck Simulator 2’s depiction of Swansea, with that in mind. Now there’s an authentically grey city for you.

Adam: We could go back to Dark Souls (we shouldn’t because time is linear and irretrievable) and talk about how the world is weird but feels functional. It’s sensible.

Alec: I do notice that we’ve almost exclusively talked about shooters when we talk about ‘levels’. But we’ve also conflated it with ‘maps’ which is kind of its own thing.

Alice: OH HECK WAIT NO IT’S THE FOREST FROM THE PATH

Adam: Outside shooters, if I could remember precisely which level it was, I’d go with one of the Desert of Dijiridoos levels from Rayman Oranges but as it is, I’ll just say the entirety of Rayman Oranges.

Graham: Levels and maps are the same thing, sez I. Who makes maps? Cartographers? No, it’s level designers. But I do like N+’s Pit of Despair and Vini, Vidi, Vici from VVVVVV. Or every level the algorithm produces in Spelunky. Maths, that’s who makes maps.

Alec: The cornfield in X-COM is another very special one for me, though I guess that’s more level theme than level itself. But I can’t see those squares of yellow stalks without my blood chilling, both at the fear of what might be lurking in there and the knowledge that I’m about to spend forty minutes peering into corners of darkened barns to find the last Sectoid. As a statement that “something terrible has arrived in your pleasant world” it’s so iconic, though. Low tech conveying the sinister perversion of the human idyll so very well.

Adam: Dungeons too! Dungeons are levels and people can make maps of those levels. The second and third levels of the original Dungeon Master are imprinted on my memory. Terrifying places that seemed so unknowable at the time. I drew them on graph paper and wish I still had those old schoolbooks they were in.

Alec: Anyway, we all agree it’s that one with the frogs from Daikatana, right?

228 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Craig Pearson says:

    I love Badwater most of all.

  2. tangoliber says:

    There is a Doom 2 wad called Vanguard. The 2nd Map is called Drowned Shrine. I think that’s the best level.

    • Protester19 says:

      My Man!

      I know my favorite level is in doom somewhere, but i really can’t decide… mouldy (thats the famous cyriak to you fellows) has some of the best maps i’ve seen… but i am also a fan of the big stuff, like dues vult’s titular map… Valiant, vanguard, lunatic… really too many to decide…

  3. Blad the impaler says:

    If you’re including single-player, I’d posit the bath house level from Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. IMO best evar.

  4. Jenks says:

    CTF1 and 2fort4 haven’t been surpassed for me for shooters.

    The entirety of Dark Souls as one map stands out as the most impressive level design I’ve ever experienced, I can’t think of anything that even compares to it.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      As someone who has only made it part way through Dark Souls, I don’t get this, or the references in the article to DS having good level design. The first few sections, at least, are some of the most horrifically bad level design I’ve ever seen. Bland, impossible to navigate, illogical invisible barriers, and mostly just linear corridors. I can see how the combat could be compelling, but the levels themselves seem like horrible mashed together, generic ye olde themed wastelands.

      Plus the levels don’t appear to play a big role in combat.

      Obviously I’m missing something?

      • Cinek says:

        I don’t think you do. DS has some of the most awful level designs out there. Sure, from time to time it gets better, but… it’s mediocre at best, horrible at worst.

      • Jinoru says:

        You’re confusing me. How far did you get specifically? Did you get to the Armored Boar?

        The linearity of it is by design. Linearity isn’t necessarily bad, just if it becomes tiresome, and that only happens in Dark Souls when you become stuck at a certain enemy or boss.

        Also, I can’t remember illogical invisible barriers. The game is horrific to me, but not by your perceptions.

      • Jenks says:

        Yes obviously you are. The bulk of the game is one map, and the way it interconnects is beyond brilliant. If you quit early in the game you wouldn’t experience any of that.

      • fishyboy says:

        “Plus the levels don’t appear to play a big role in combat.”

        did you even make it past the tutorial stage? the shape of the level is definitely important in combat: cliffs offer an easy way to deal with enemies, dropping down from ledges and attacking is an excellent way to do damage, fighting on stairs can give you big advantage avoiding attacks, enemies with ranged weapons are often perched where they can attack you while you deal with other enemies below, etc.

        bland i can see, the areas on their own are not as exciting as some of the setpieces in modern games (although again, if you’d got further you might rescind that, levels like darkroot, anor londo and the painted world are really well visually designed imo), but the way all of the areas segue together is really well done. you end up finding all sorts of unexpected connections between levels which give you a much clearer idea of how everything fits together and helps make the world feel much more like a real place

    • MikoSquiz says:

      How different are the different 2Forts? The one that came with Team Fortress 2 is easily the worst map in the game and not a bad candidate for worst map ever overall. It’s broken in so many interesting ways it could be a game design course’s supplementary material along the theme of “Here’s how you don’t do it: Find ten elementary schoolboy errors in the layout of this map”

      • Jenks says:

        Yeah it’s terrible, people stopped playing it immediately and it’s not incredibly popular 20 years later.

    • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

      Bloodborne is denser and more creepy. There are tons of short cuts that make moving through the world seamless.

  5. Ansob says:

    The one that probably sticks with me the most isn’t even from a PC game (although fingers crossed, it might be from an upcoming PC game if the daft Rare collection gets a Win10 release) – it’s Chicago: Stealth from Perfect Dark.

    Mostly owing to the fantastic music:

    • puzzlepiece87 says:

      Thank you very much for mentioning Chicago, I thought of that instantly as well :)

    • Canadave says:

      PD had some brilliant levels. The whole DataDyne building at the beginning was great, and I loved “sneaking” into the Air Force Base as well. What really blew my mind when 12 year old me played it was when the Carrington Institute gets attacked, and suddenly the safe training area is anything but.

      Also, since we’re on Rare here anyway, I think a shout-out to Complex is in order, as well.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      As you’ve mentioned the excellent PD, Goldeneye also needs some love here.

      Complex, Facility, Temple… all masterpieces. Those maps were so finely balanced that the slightest mistake would be punished by good players, leading to extremely finely balanced and tense games.

  6. Halk says:

    Do we even need to discuss this? The correct answer is of course “The Sword” from “Thief Gold”. You’re welcome.

    • Ansob says:

      No, it’s actually First City Bank & Trust from Thief 2 (Life of the Party is also an acceptable answer).

      • Ross Angus says:

        Korect.

      • Turkey says:

        Nope. It’s actually the level 2 warehouse complex. It’s super fun to explore all the little stories of the people who rent spaces there, and there’s a few fun mini objectives if you pick the highest difficulty.

      • J. Eel says:

        Life of the Party is a complete riot with all the scattered narrative bits, and Shalebridge Cradle has great atmosphere, but that bank level is definitely the most engaged with a game’s mechanics I’ve ever been. It’s exactly the right size, exactly the right length, it presses you just hard enough at appropriate intervals, it paces your resource expenditure beautifully. It’s open-ended, with many viable paths, and it has that great feud between the managers that you can piece together. It doesn’t give you the great cross-section of the setting that you get in Life of the Party or some of the other levels, but it’s just an incredibly well-designed experience. Definitely the first thing that comes to my mind for best PC game level.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I second “The Sword”. Even the vanilla version of that level was great, but the Gold version pushes it into “best level of all time” territory.

    • GepardenK says:

      Thief gold + 2 has so many good levels, and they are good for very different reasons. “The sword” is a masterpiece in terms of emergent storytelling, “Lord bafford” for gameplay pacing and “Return to Chatedral” for atmosphere. I even really enjoy “Lost city” for its relaxed exploration style gameplay

      In T2 I actually find “Framed” to be one of my favourites, and of course “Life of the party” for its sandbox gameplay. “First city bank” is a good level, but a bit too large and messy to count amongst my favourites

    • jj2112 says:

      As much as I love the first two, the one that got me really scared was The Cradle in Thief 3.

  7. meepmeep says:

    Oh come on, it’s clearly the Milkman Conspiracy from Psychonauts.

    • Haggard4Life says:

      Yeah, I’m surprised they didn’t mention the amazing levels from Psychonauts like the Milkman one or Lungfishopolis.

      • ansionnach says:

        Those were pretty good, although I did end up getting sick of them wandering about to collect things I shouldn’t have bothered with. Kind of ruined them, especially Lungfishopolis. The milkman one was still pretty inspired.

      • jj2112 says:

        Googalor! still makes me smile

    • Rinox says:

      A million times this.

      “Although I often smell of excrement, I deserve your respect because I provide a valuable service.”

    • icarussc says:

      I intended to log in to say this, very vociferously. Instead, I find I have logged into agree with you, very vociferously. MILKMAN CONSPIRACY IS THE BEST LEVEL IN VIDEOGAMEDOM!

      Unless maybe it was the Napoleon boardgame level.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      I was going to say Milla’s Dance Party.

    • puzzlepiece87 says:

      Milkman Conspiracy is, at the least, tied for #1 on my list. Great pick.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      Uhh.. Black Velvetopia, no? Milkman Conspiracy looks great but it’s a three-dimensionally skewed and bent maze where you hunt for objects. It’s not much fun to play.

      Actually, for all that it’s a real nose-grinder, Meat Circus is a pretty great level just in terms of being a level in a platform game.

      • Kreeth says:

        Man there are quite a few levels in Psychonauts that are right up there: Milkman Conspiracy, Black Velvetopia, Waterloo, Lungfishopolis, Mila’s Dance Party – all fantastic in very different ways.

    • mrwonko says:

      I’ve always been very fond of Black Velvetopia, but lately I’ve realized that I also love the camp grounds themselves. As the article says:

      Like, my most memorable singleplayer maps – like the first zone in STALKER, the Tentacle Beast in Half-Life 1 – are the ones that you had to spend a long, long time in before you could move anywhere else, even revisiting areas or seeing repeating scenes with tweaked contents.

    • RimeOfTheMentalTraveller says:

      Actually, it’s the Ocean House Hotel from Vampire: The Masquerade.

  8. Monggerel says:

    CS_Assault
    accept some substitutes, not too many, mostly Aztec

    • laotze says:

      Bingo.

      • Jediben says:

        Bah cs_militia from 1.3 was best.

        • liquidsoap89 says:

          I always preferred Militia, despite accepting how incredibly unbalanced it actually is.

    • Syra says:

      DE_Dust2

    • Cinek says:

      CS definitely has a few levels that can be considered “legendary” and a point of reference for anyone interested in multiplayer level design.

    • shadybearfaced says:

      Im really surprised CS got no love from RPS. But really though, Assault and Aztec?

      IMO Assault is great from an ideation/aesthetic standpoint but its unbalanced as hell, you might as well throw Office in the mix too. But then again Im biased towards cs_office due to nostalgia. I cant stand Aztec except for its aesthetic (and nostalgia).

      Id have to vote de_inferno or de_mirage from CSGO. Both wonderfully designed and fairly well balanced with lots of tactical options for both sides aside from just camping or rushing sites.

      But I dunno, Id like to know why you like Assault and Aztec over better balanced maps like Inferno, Mirage, and Dust2 (which I actually cant play anymore due to its ridiculous overpopularity and overplayedness). If you ever see this thread again, that is :P

  9. kud13 says:

    I’m pretty sure one of the Hitman maps would be my favourite.

    Deus Ex, i’d probably say the Canals, actually-just because there was so much unconnected randomness to discover.

    DX HOUR absolutely floored me with the Yuzhao district. So many rooftops! So much stuff!

    For S.T.A.L.K.E.R, I’ve got twin favourites: the Dark Valley for exploration, as it’s nicely balanced difficulty-wise, and then the Wild Territory, which was always an exciting (read: desperate) gunfight, and that was BEFORE you figured out what monsters it spawned this time.

    Hmmm, yeah, come to think of it, Wild Territory is the best map/level ever. Hands down.

    • caff says:

      Hitman: Blood Money – A Murder of Crows.

      It had such atmosphere, such an incredibly rendered crowd, and such a wonderful shifting mechanic as time passed and you hit your objectives. Learning that map was one of the highlights of a very memorable game.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I could agree with this for the Hitman series, yeah. The crowd was very well realized. Although Flatline could really nail the Hitman mood, since you could calmly walk to the place, set up a bunch of accidents, and have them only trigger behind you in split-screen panels as you calmly walked back out.

    • Alien426 says:

      Hitman 4: Blood Money – Pine Cone Rehabilitation Center
      Hitman 2: Silent Assassin – Villa Borghese (I played the demo a million times)
      Deus Ex – Ocean Lab
      Star Wars: KOTOR – Manaan
      Star Wars: Dark Forces – Orinackra Detention Facility (so many great locations, though)
      Doom user-created maps – Megalab+Megawatt
      Team Fortress (Classic, 1.5) – Canalzone 2 or Rock 2?

      • Alien426 says:

        Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield – Pearl Castle / Briar Gate (Cayman Islands)
        Dark Messiah – The Temple Of The Spider

    • thetruegentleman says:

      With STALKER, it has to be the Agroprom Underground: it is there that players new to Stalker first find a place with a bunch of artifacts, and it’s certain that the player will get at least some Flashs, maybe even a Moonlight (the endurance artifacts that only makes shock damage worse, making them damn good at almost any point in the game.) Its also the first level that feels oppressively cramped, with a very jagged pathway that prevents you from seeing any enemies 15 meters ahead of you.

      It also gives the first decent suit and rifle that a new player is likely to come upon, and tops everything off by kicking off the real mystery of the main plot while also introducing you to both a bloodsucker, which is both the first humanoid mutant you see AND basically a jump scare that takes a full clip in the chest to kill. Once you’re done with that, and finally getting ready to leave? In comes the controller with a roar, who walks in slowly behind you as you watch (in full control), pulling your camera up to his shadowed face and “hitting” you, distorting the screen.

      It isn’t really a jump scare, and you can still kill it, but most players will run up the ladder in their reach screaming, running as far away from that tunnel as they can. Those players who eventually come back find out the best part: the controller is still there.

      Good god do I love that level…the terror of playing it for the first time seriously got seared into my brain, exactly because it didn’t do any of the cheap shit that most “horror” games do. It was scary, but it was fair; even rewarding.

      • kud13 says:

        Slightly different perspective on Agroprom tunnels for me.
        You walk in with a relatively shiny Merc armor (only had had the one firefight in it it far) and most likely with an AK you grabbed off one of the soldiers.

        It’s dark. Flashlight makes you a target. There’s a sudden bandit camp you can’t avoid stumbling into. 6-7 of them against you with you being the one charging in the open. (I think there may also be a sometime bugged quest to kill them all)

        Then come the bloodsucker. Invisible deadly terrifying. He usually comes at you when you collect the hide artifact, and there’s nowhere to run to avoid him. And it seems to ta more than 1 clip to actually nail him.

        Then there more soldiers-sometimes in tandem with the bloodsucker. Killing them in th narrow hallways as they work together is always a pain.

        The hideout usually has too much stuff to carry leading to an overload. Then there MORE soldiers although at this point you feel equipped to deal with them. Then I think there may have been a poltergeist, too, before you hit th controller. Only feasible way to survive that is insta-grenades. Once you figure THAT out, there’s a loading…

        And then, unless your game is modded, you encounter the most horrifically broken stealth section of all time, since the ENTIRE DAMN GARRISON magically becomes aware that you crawled out of the sewer in a remote corner corner they all converge to kill you

        Mad respect to artistpavel, the guy behind the Complete mods–he made stealth in S.T.A.L.K.E.R work. But because of what I described above, i’m soured on Agroprom Underground. Wild Territory had its own share of bugs but it’s openness and variety made it much easier easier to overlook the niggles.

        • thetruegentleman says:

          Yeah, the Research Institute was really bad (why the hell does CHANGING WEAPONS make noise enough to alert the base? And reloading a save alerts everyone? What the hell?) but at least killing everyone isn’t so hard once you know the bugs, which will at least let you sneak into a good location for fighting in an unmodded game.

          But the Underground? Sounds like you rushed it, and it’s there to teach you NOT to rush things: get into a good position for fighting the bandits by crouching, and use lean to kill them from behind a wall. Much the same with the Bloodsucker: listen for its roar, and then start carefully hunting for it if it doesn’t come after you; if you just take the artifact and start moving on, you’ll get punished for it (which is why you had to fight the soldiers at the same time).

          • kud13 says:

            Lol. I died enough in the Underground to know not to rush it. But I still never feel the love for that map

            There’s probably also the fact that you don’t really re-visit the Underground that much. Whereas the Wild Territory is the on way to Yantar which I visit frequently frequently during my “free play” portion of the game.

    • Vandelay says:

      Has to be the opera level from Blood Money. It is the perfect example of why Blood Money is the best of the series. The moment I realised I could impersonate the execution and get on stage with my target it immediately went from a fantastic level to best evs (no matter how impractical an assassination technique it was.)

  10. aoanla says:

    There’s something to be said for Facing Worlds from Unreal Tournament, but if I was choosing nostalgic levels, it would probably be Ziggurat Vertigo from Quake, because the low-g physics made a big impression on my early deathmatch experiences. [Although, if I was being really really nostalgic, it would be the first level of Apidya, just for the art design.]

    I think in terms of actually being a really well designed level on multiple levels, though, it’s probably the same as Alec’s “real” choice – the Tentacle Beast in Half-life. It’s a really tense set-piece, but has rules which are easily understood, whilst being different to the rest of the game.

    • yonsito says:

      Morpheus was great, too.

      • Rao Dao Zao says:

        Hyperblast!

        That singleplayer tournament finale against Xan gets me every time. It’s fast and tight and claustrophobic and wide open and he could come from any angle and there’s always that tense run to get the shield belt before he does…

      • LionsPhil says:

        Whenever I get back to UT99, Morpheus has just got to be the first level. Probably because it was in the demo. It’s not the biggest or fanciest of them by a longshot. From an analytical standpoint it seems like it should be a bit too open with all the lowgrav, players begging to be shot as they arc semi-helpless through the air. Doesn’t matter. Morpheus is great.

        • wyrm4701 says:

          I feel the same about Phobos. In the demo, not the best, but it does have everything that made UT99 the best FPS of it’s age.

    • Gryz says:

      I didn’t like CTF-Face at all. My favorite map by far was CTF-November !

      Although I think DM-Deck16 is the true classic in the Unreal series.

      • Premium User Badge

        keithzg says:

        As years have gone by I’ve grown to love CTF-Face, but I certainly didn’t at the time, in part because it was overplayed to degrees that wouldn’t be surpassed until de_dust managed to span several goddamn games. But yeah, CTF-November is definitely a better example of what made UT1 (we can call it that again due to UT3 existing, right? Or has UT99 stuck?) so unique, and DM-Deck16 is the UT map, especially since it was itself a remake of an Unreal map; it’s been part of the multiplayer fabric the entire time. It’s in the current free UT, too.

      • CMaster says:

        Deck 16 is such the opposite of most of what I have written about in this comment thread – soul, beauty, cleverness. It has none of those. What it has is pitch-perfect deathmatch gameplay. There’s no dead ends, but it doesn’t just feel like one big loop. It flows, it works, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The fact that it gets replicated so much and to such aclaim just shows how hard it can be to make something like that, because noone knows quite what the secrets are (although I’d hazard a guess that the mixture of curves and straights is important, when most DM maps are much more angular)

    • Raoul Duke says:

      Come on… AS_Overlord is the best in UT.

  11. BloatedGuppy says:

    I don’t know if it’s the best level ever, but I’m nominating Shalebridge Cradle from Thief 3, because it was amazing, and because it was straight bollocks that it didn’t get included in the best horror list on account of its parent game not being much of a horror title.

    • kaisergav says:

      Seconding this!
      On another note, I am thrilled to see the first CoD getting some love here. Brecourt Manor was definitely a standout level, but the singleplayer experience as a whole was fantastic, and really… substantial. I fear that what was great about this game will be/has already been totally forgotten thanks to the success of MW’s multiplayer.

    • airtekh says:

      They say in the article that it’s an obvious choice, but it’s obvious for a reason – it’s one of the most masterfully crafted levels ever put into a videogame.

      The Shalebridge Cradle is superb.

    • TheSplund says:

      I’d nominate a level from Alien Isolation (not sure which one though) due to it’s real sense of being there in a quite claustrophobic kinda way.

  12. UnholySmoke says:

    Facing Worlds is an excellent shout. These are all excellent shouts, but mostly because no-one else will pick it, I’m going for the Jedi Academy on Yavin towards the end of Jedi Outcast. Never – not even X Wing vs TIE Fighter – has a game nailed the Star Wars vibe harder than this level. The preceding Yavin Canyons it shite, the subsequent final fight with Desann is also shit, but fighting your way through the Academy, alongside trainee Jedi, against Stormtroopers and Dark Jedi…it’s perfect. Great use of verticality, varied layout, a pitched battle going on all around you that doesn’t feel like it’s there for your own benefit. Played it a million times.

    • Havalynii says:

      Wow, glad to see someone else give the Jedi Academy from outcast some love. I’d also add A New Life from Blood Money and Import/Export from Raven Shield. The cult home from SWAT 4 deserves a mention, as well.

      • shadybearfaced says:

        Oh man, I can’t believe I forgot about SWAT 4. That cult level is amazing.

        I remember the first time I played it, on that first staircase there was a creepy cultist girl calmly walking down the stairs, staring straight forward and not saying anything while we were screaming at her to get down and put her hands in the air.

        Next thing I know, a cultist with a shotgun pops up at the top of the stairs, the creepy girl ducks and runs away, and the shotty-wielding cultist mows me down.

        On the next go of the level, I was so prepared to take out these motherfuckers now that I was prepared for this little trick…. Only to realize that it wasn’t a scripted sequence at all, it was just the random placement of the enemies and how the AI handled the situation.

        God what a great freaking game.

  13. Jahandar says:

    For me it is definitely “Life of the Party” in Thief II.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Yeah, I’d say Life of the Party as well, though there are a fist full of Thief levels that deserve to be in the discussion. The Cradle, Return to the Cathedral, First City Bank and Trust, Lord Bafford’s Manor…the list goes on and on. It would probably be easier to list Thief levels that aren’t some of the best ever. Like The Thieves Guild.

      • Hart says:

        Glad I’m not the only one who wanted to see more thief 2 in this! Bank, cargo and sabotage were all incredible missions. I really didn’t know what I was getting into with thief 2 until I hit Cargo, and was completely floored by the amount of freedom I had. Those levels are expansive and open ended even by today’s standards.

  14. Muzman says:

    You inevitably have to break things down according to what they are trying to do – Non linear, linear, DM etc – but the bank level from Thief 2 I think rates objectively high on many a measure. Even though I didn’t like it as much as some others the first time around. It took time to appreciate something that dense.

    I mean, it’s a bank. It’s really a bank. A really friggen big one, crammed with perfectly realistic architecture – atriums, tellers, counting rooms, managerial offices- and virtual army of guards and worker robots. But it’s also a game level to such a degree that its myriad entrances can all work toward taking you through it, or should I say letting you puzzle your way through it, about a well as each other. And you find yourself tuning in to the structure of the place on an almost subconscious level (har), without it really telling you anything too overtly.
    There’s others in other games that achieve that kind of effect. But rarely and probably never with this kind of density.

  15. kleptonin says:

    That one corridor between two smallish areas in Deus Ex: Invisible War

  16. Dawngreeter says:

    I didn’t have to think about this at all. Sanitarium – The Innocent Abandoned (that’s the one with the kids on that farm village thing, and the “Mother”). It’s been years and years since I played it, but if I had to pick one level of any game, that’s the one.

  17. ScubaMonster says:

    I hated the space levels in Quake 3. So many accidental suicides.

  18. f0rcefl0w says:

    Nobody mentioned 2fort or de_dust and now I’m sad.

    • aoanla says:

      I considered (original Quake Team Fortress mod) 2fort, but I think Facing Worlds is actually a better variant on the same concept. Not that I don’t have fond memories of 2fort and all…

    • caff says:

      Hmm I’ve spent days, maybe weeks and months, in de_dust2.

  19. neoncat says:

    Y’all narrowed down “level” to “FPS map” really quickly. Here’s my top five, in no particular order:

    Heat (Mirror’s Edge) – THE CRANE, OMG THE CRANE.

    Come and ******* Get Me (Gunpoint) – A brilliant puzzle which utilizes every skill you’ve collected. (Also a very satisfying end.)

    Black Suit (Starseed Pilgrim) – Reversing the most basic mechanic in the game leads to an entirely different sort interaction between the player and the level, even though it’s randomly generated.

    Ending (Papo y Yo) – This is possibly the most vibrant and poignant space I’ve ever encountered. More game should let me fold space in half, but in Papo y Yo the physical transformations manifest the journey through memory in such spectacular ways. The enforced calm of the gondola ride is a breathtaking, funereal procession. etc. etc… It’s beautiful, and dares to weave narrative through space in a way that’s truly unique.

    Lair of the Blizkenripper (Card Hunter) – This one’s just here for the purposes of nostalgia.

    • aoanla says:

      To be fair, I did mention Apidya, which is a side-scrolling shooter…

      (I was completely remiss in not mentioning the last level from Gunpoint though, you’re completely correct. It’s brilliant, and a great Final Exam style level.)

  20. schlusenbach says:

    Q3DM17 is definitely the level where I spent most time in. It may not be the best, but it’s home.

  21. maninahat says:

    I don’t know why it hasn’t been mentioned already, but at least one of Dishonored’s levels should get an honorable mention. I particularly like The interior decoration of The Golden Cat, or the traversal of the bridge. I also want to include a level from a Mafia game because I remember them being well designed, even if I can’t remember any particular one.

    • Premium User Badge

      keithzg says:

      For me the standout level of Dishonored is the masquerade party. I loved that game, but I really wish more of it was like that map; I’d play an entire game of such levels in a heartbeat.

    • GepardenK says:

      Masquerade party from Dishonored is pretty good. Dishonored’s problem is that it’s design is very similar to Thief, and level wise it ends up standing in the shadow of Thief. Why mention “masqueade party” when we can mention “life of the party” or “lord bafford”?

      Sorry Dishonored, I really like you though

  22. Rane2k says:

    Oh man, there are a lot of favourites. Mostly anything that plays very fluidly, has a constant feeling of “wow” throughout it, and when you finish it you just want to play it again instead of the next level. :-)
    Bonus points if its got great music!

    So, a few, from different genres:

    Sonic & Knuckles: Lava Reef Zone, Act 1

    Quake 2: “The Canyon”
    I have an odd fondness for this one, occasionally just playing the level between deathmatches at a LAN. ,-)
    And of course:
    Quake 2: q2dm1 “The Edge”
    We used to start every LAN we made with this one, playing deathmatch rounds until everybody had set up their PC… and then we played a few more rounds. ;-)

    Need for Speed 2: “Pacific Spirit” and “Mystic Peaks”

    Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light: “Forgotten Gate”
    just a cool clever level :-)

    • Rane2k says:

      There´s too many to name, this pushes me down memory lane so hard. :-)

      The Living End (Map29) from DooM II and “Gotcha!” (also known as “the level with the Cyberdemon AND the Spider Mastermind” ^^)

      Lots of levels from Super Meat Boy and similarly hard games, but only after you have mastered them.

    • thelastpointer says:

      You just reminded me of NFS3: Aquatica. Thank you :)

  23. draglikepull says:

    As far as recent games go, Lady Boyle’s Last Party from Dishonored would be at or near the top of the list for me.

    • Premium User Badge

      keithzg says:

      Yeah, I haven’t felt the itch to re-play all of Dishonored (especially since I haven’t actually gotten around to the DLC yet), but I’ve replayed that party multiple times. I really hope the sequel is heavier on settings and scenarios like that one.

  24. Anthile says:

    Fallout New Vegas – any of the four story DLCs. Otherwise Fallout’s The Glow and Black Velvetopia in Psychonauts.

    • icarussc says:

      Black Velvetopia was *nearly* as good as The Milkman Conspiracy.

    • RimeOfTheMentalTraveller says:

      I really agree about Fallout, Sierra Madre is just amazin in how it throws you against these creatures without your weapons so you have to survive by the skin of your teeth on explosives and spears. And the cloud!

  25. skyturnedred says:

    Baldur’s Gate II had some great dungeons, which are a lot more memorable as levels to me than some fps maps.

    • Rane2k says:

      Yeah, especially the long dungeon under the Spellhold, and most of the Underdark.

      To me these two together made a nice counterpoint to the “free-roaming” phase of chapter 2.

      • icarussc says:

        The BGII Underdark (especially the Drow city infiltration) was the single best part of all of the Infinity Engine games, in my humble opinion.

  26. GameCat says:

    For me it’s definitelly Blighttown from Dark Souls. It’s hard, vertical, creepy, makes you watch every step and whoever designed and made it is a genius. It really captures the randomness of structure build from pillaged scraps of wood held together by ropes (and probably duct tape). Build in shadow of giant aqueduct (I think), the symbol of civilisation, by degenerated creatures. It looks like it could collapse in every moment.
    In the bottom there’s poison swamp and spider’s nest in the roots of old, destroyed Archtree.

    • dongsweep says:

      I posted this before I saw your comment, couldn’t agree more. It was crafted perfectly.

    • Dale Winton says:

      Anor londo for me. The rooftop battles , the shortcuts and silver knights. The greatest boss battle in any game then a massive reward

  27. Sin Vega says:

    The German Embassy in HItman 2, however, that’s possibly cheating because it’s the NPCs and possibilities that make it what it is: teeming with possibilities.

  28. Laurentius says:

    In non specific order:
    COD:Modern Warfare – this first mission on the ship.
    Pinball Fantasies – Part Land
    Cadillac and Dinosaurs- two first levels.
    Portal – whole area when you escape incineration.
    Outrun2006- these beach stages are so relaxing.
    Hotline Miami 2 – Execution probably because Sexualizer” by Perturbator

    and probably many more…

  29. Sin Vega says:

    Also I love New Eden from EYE Divine Cybermancy. It’s Syndicate, basically, but from ground level.

    • kud13 says:

      +1
      E.Y.E. had some truly amazing cyberpunky level design.

      New Eden was Great, but there was another one, which included a derelict 4-story hotel, and was basically like that building in the original Matrix. Then you walk outside, and it’s Neo-Tokyo meets Blade Runner again. If you go out further into the backstreets, it’s almost post-apoc, and the yo get one of those mammoth cyborgs you have to kill…..

      God, I love that game.

      • Scumbag says:

        I think that was electric sheep. That, New Eden and the Temple were the best things in E.Y.E. Unfortunately it kind of screwed it up in some places like the Sulaco moon base mission.
        New Eden was the crowning glory for that game though. Lots or areas to run about in, sniper spots you could telefrag the snipers out of to look about and a bloody fantastic soundtrack to boot.

  30. videogangs says:

    How has this thread gone this long without “We’ve got hostiles” being mentioned?!

  31. caff says:

    I’m going to pick Doom’s E1M1.

    Doom was the first proper 3D game I owned on PC. I remember being quite young, going into Virgin Megastore in Tottenham Court Road, and picking up an early copy of PC Zone magazine with a demo of Doom on the cover disk.

    I played it over and over again. Staggered at it’s technology, visuals, sounds. I think that one level taught me more about gaming the got me into PC gaming in such a huge way. It also introduced me to the world of mapping, thanks to the fairly comprehensible map editing tools that came out, which in turn got me into messing around with game development, artwork and sound.

    So many choices though. This is a great topic.

    • LionsPhil says:

      If we’re going for E1M1’s, I’ll take Duke Nukem 3D’s. Real(ish) setting. Terrain destruction. Pigcops in the dark. Troopers in the toilet. Secrets, mirrors, and lightswitches. It was a hell of a hello.

  32. Jason Moyer says:

    Best map ever is Vvardenfell from Morrowind.

  33. dongsweep says:

    The level that sticks with me most is Dark Souls, essentially the whole games is one big connected level but if I had to narrow it down I’d say the first few hours (zone(s)).

    • Nootrac4571 says:

      It’s not a PC game, but for the entire-game-is-a-single-coherent-space-to-explore thing, Ico comes pretty close. “Emerging from some dark tunnel and realising you’re in that valley beneath that wall you ran along three hours ago and assumed was just background scenery at the time” is a very specific itch that few games can scratch.

  34. Rane2k says:

    This is probably cheating, but I don´t care :-)

    Audiosurf – “Lockup – Slaughterous Ways”

    Also a sign of great levels, when you just load up the game, and select “the one level” from the menu (or back in the day enter a level select cheat) and play it.
    This does not tend to happen with story/plot driven games as much.

  35. kwyjibo says:

    In level based reportage, the listicle farm at Gamesradar have managed to produce a meditation on Ziggurat Vertigo.

    link to gamesradar.com

  36. apa says:

    Lacuna Seca, Bathurst, Mid-Ohio and of course Nordschleife. And the short one from rFactor 1, Jacksonville or something.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      Does it count when they are real world locations? :p

      I’d go for Atlantica/Aquatica in Need for Speed 3 as my top picks for race tracks.

    • iainl says:

      On similar lines, I was going to go for Spa-Francorchamps and Monaco, with Silverstone close behind.

      In ‘fake’ maps, I’ll have to leave the format and choose either wipEout 2097’s Gare d’Europa, or leave racing to pick the fourth stage of Rez over on the consoleboxes, and specifically the Running Man boss.

  37. Turquoise Days says:

    This can be answered very specifically:

    Timesplitters 2, Mexican Mission, Plasma weapons, Capture the Flag.

    I’m not sure if it is considered a particularly good level as far as design goes, or even if its well loved. As a time sink of my teenage years, it is without parallel. Timesplitters 2 was the Goldeneye of my brother and I, the game we knew backwards and upside down. The music still makes my fingers twitch.

    That’s what this comes down to for me really, emotion over logic.

    • Turquoise Days says:

      I should clarify – I’m well aware that this is a console game, but it stands head and shoulders over any level of a PC game for me, at least.

  38. Premium User Badge

    weirdcitizen says:

    Not sure if it passes for a level and will probably not be an opinion shared by many, but “the ultimate heist” in Oblivion was memorable.

    Call of Pripyat – the second sector, going in the first time and exploring everything without looking at the missions. The Jupiter factory in particular carried a great atmosphere of curiosity combined with dread.

    Like was said before, DX:HR’s Hengsha was brilliant.

  39. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    GoldenEye – Facility – Pistols – 1 hit kills

    Another shout for Dishonoured, think the Bridge is my favourite. Surprised it didn’t get mentioned.

    Deus Ex – Hong Kong canals

    Dark Souls – the Archive. Love that level, one of the puzzlier DS levels.

    Surprised as well no love for Battlefield. DICE are brilliant at making big, real feeling levels that also manage to have oodles of playability. Wake Island in its many guises has always been brilliant.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Oh, how could I forget – The police station in Hotline Miami, think the level’s called Assault. Possibly surpassed by the Prison break in HM2.

    • Havalynii says:

      Didn’t know we we were doing console exclusives, but yes absolutely the Facility. Also Duke64’s Piracy and the final boss level from Rage Wars.

  40. 3dbrook says:

    Does anyone remember the opening level to FarCry? I remember dozens or routes up the island and a huge array of fun. Was a real eye opening moment for me.

    Also have a soft spot for all Gilles

  41. Jac says:

    RA3map1 – thunderstruck, Q3CTF2 and unreal tournament Facing Worlds are unsurpassed for me in the FPS genre.

    Legend of Zelda on SNES is pretty much perfect though as a more overall map.

  42. tur1n says:

    I really like Arathi Basin in WoW. Simple, elegant and endlessly replayable.

    • Gryz says:

      If we’re allowed to talk about this dead game, that existed a decade ago, and is gone for good, then I would like to nomitate Black Rock Depths. Frigging amazing. It was firstly designated to level 50 to 55 players. But even for level 60 players, there was a lot to do. Mine Dark Iron Ore, melt your Dark Iron at the Black Anvil. New rogues could go and solo the barman for the shankar (best blue dagger). Everybody would go solo Lord Incendius to get their fire-resist bracers. There were truly multiple directions you could explore inside BRD. It would take hours and hours to visit every place there. Lots of quests, lots of bosses. There were some awesome trinkets there (hand of justice, better than most epic trinkets). The room with the braziers was awesome. The event with the 5 dwarven ghosts was pretty unique at the time. Heck, getting the key from a quest from a dead dwarf was really nice. Taking shortcuts by jumping down in the lava and running along the walls. Or the 10-seconds lava-walk to take the shortcut from the balcony to the entrance of the Molten Core. The vault where you could convert keys into gold. I could go on forever.

      Nothing like all that could ever be in WoW again. Too confusing for Blizzard’s new target audience.

      Yes, I used to love that game …. :(

  43. 3dbrook says:

    *All ghillied up

  44. elderman says:

    Marathon: Rubicon X, There’s No Place Like Up.

    I can’t justify my enduring affection for this level in rational terms, I can’t even remember it terribly well. I played this mod in a long-past part of my life when I didn’t have disposable income to buy games and had to make do with one new game every couple of years and whatever I could find that was free and good. I just remember playing this level and getting my mind blown. I think it was even first person platforming, which can’t have endeared it to many people. But there was something about catching glimpses of the level coming in and then having the whole space, more or less, visible and having to figure out how it worked. That’s what I recall, anyway. I loved all the levels in Rubicon, with special affection for the Rozinante levels and Hairy Legs, hmmm, also Blasted Vent Cores, I think, and Attack of the Wheenies, too.

    Perhaps it’s just that the design ideas for these levels were just subtle enough and just obvious enough for my understanding of video games at the time I played them. They got me to appreciate level design for the first time.

    And picking up on what Alex and Alice said about Xen, Marathon: Rubicon, a mod for Marathon: Infinity, completed dared to tell a deeply strange story and the level design did most of the heavy lifting. No Place Like Up, was probably less creatively adventurous than others, but I remember it was great fun to play.

    • elderman says:

      Someday we’ll get an edit button again.

      “And picking up on what Alex and Alice said about Xen, Marathon: Rubicon, a mod for Marathon: Infinity, dared to tell a deeply strange story and the level design did most of the heavy lifting.”

  45. Dave Tosser says:

    Arx Fatalis has a multi-level dungeon delve called The Crypt where the game swaps some of its Ultima Underworld influence for a bit of Thief. It’s darker, creepier and tenser than any other part of the game and it’s always the bit I look forward to most on a replay.

    Thief levels. Original missions: Life of a Party cos it’s vertical (always a plus) and fucking massive. Trail of Blood for its change of scenery and relaxed pace. Overlook Mansion for its use of a thunderstorm for dramatic lighting. Fan missions: Fuck if I know. Too many. And so many brill Dark Mod missions built around rooftops and climbables.

    Dark Messiah’s In the House of Ashes. Broken like anything else in that game but really eerie and with that drop at the start. SWAT 4’s Fairfax Residence, Raven Shield’s snowy Swiss mission, the plane in Rogue Spear, the embassy in Rainbow Six the first. Chaos Theory’s Bath House. The staircase that goes nowhere in Pathologic. Bloodlines’ Downtown. The mansion Mexican standoff in Silent Storm. Timesplitters 2’s Notre Dame. That rainy battlefield that kicks off Knight of Lodis. Alice’s Skool Daze. The frozen mountain in Rune. That mission in Freespace 2 that makes you dive, dive, dive. Blade Runner’s balcony. Lefty’s bar. Perfect Dark’s Datadyne raid. Goldeneye’s dam. The DuClare mansion, a location that turned up again in King of the Wood, a Unity adventure thing.

    Stop me before I carry on.

  46. Barberetti says:

    Yeah, there’s no way I could pick a best level. Narrow it down to 10 or so … maybe?

    At a push, I’d say Quake DM4. Then again, ZTN’s Vomitorium was fucking brutal.

    Aargh no, can’t be done!

    And yeah, the first CoD had some great maps. Carentan is probably my fave there.

    • AshRolls says:

      Yup Quake DM4 – The Bad Place, unsurpassed for duelling. Perfect flow and item placement.

  47. TWChristine says:

    Hands down, and without a doubt it’s The Sword mission (Constantine’s mansion) from the original Thief. At first I thought it was going to be just another rich dwelling to rob, but the more I explored, the crazier it got, and the crazier it got, the more I explored. I must have spent hours, and multiple playthroughs trying to find all the secrets and just sitting there in awe of the creativity that went into it. I no longer cared about the goals of the mission, I just wanted to see what was next! If I was a millionaire, I’d probably honestly make that house, just for fun. And I’m sure I’d be labeled as eccentric for it, but oh well!

  48. iambecomex says:

    Jedi Knight., a game with some of the best level design I’ve ever seen. The Imperial Garrison Tower. Enter city, fight through the outskirts, find everyone’s favourite psychotic rabbity thing, this is not a small level. Then you go down the longest corridor in gaming and you realise that was just the appetiser. An Imperial garrison awaits you, vast numbers of troops arranged in buildings like spokes on a wheel with the obsidian tower at the centre. Scout Walkers, Probe Droids, you can go up onto the tops of the garrison buildings, it’s simply huge. And then you have to go into the lower levels of the tower, more troops, then more troops. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game attempt that scale since.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      I guess I was too young for that level. My memories of it are primarily about being lost and overwhelmed. But the enormity of it was indeed pretty neat.

  49. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I love me some original Quake multiplayer maps, and I find it hard to choose between Claustrophobopolis, The Bad Place and The Dark Zone. The Bad Place in particular featured wonderful verticality.

    Then there’s Blood Run from Quake 3. Hell, there’s whole swathes of community maps for Q3 which are just stone-cold classics. Sure, a lot of them are retreads of maps made for earlier versions of Quake, such as the sublime Aerowalk, but Quake 3 made them pop.

    But then there’s Doom, which has seared its pathways into my neurons forever more. That’s the game that made me realise I’m more familiar with some virtual environments than real world ones I may visit on a daily basis.

    Or the original demo for Fallout I had on my old Mac, which I played over and over again. Minigun in a fridge. Genius.

    Or The Murder of Crows in Hitman: Blood Money, which absolutely stunned me with its huge crowds. Plus, I could assassinate one of the targets by dropping a piano on them.

    Then there was my stint in competitive RtCW, with MP_Beach obviously having a place in my heart, but possibly MP_Depot being my favourite due to some of the sneaky routes you could take to suddenly turn a losing game into a win.

    It’s simply too hard to choose one. There are just too many stunningly good game levels I’ve played over the years, and all have brought something interesting to the table.

  50. ghossttman says:

    The Asylum from Shadowman for me. A wonderful sense of place when you first encounter it, areas that couldn’t be accessed for ten (or twenty) hours until you’d got the right tattoos, and once you could finally explore the whole place you’d find yourself coming back to familiar areas from a different direction. And on top of all that, the level-within-a-level that was the Playrooms.