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Some of the Best Game Levels of All Time 175

Posted by Zonk
from the great-design dept.
Ant writes "Destructoid has its own list (with screen shots) of some of the best levels of all time in computer and video games. Ranging from FPS titles to racing games, the list attempts to run down some of the best levels from a number of game genres." From the article: "Bark At The Moon - This is the Guitar Hero song you bust out when you want to impress your friends. Speaking as someone who has beaten the game on Expert, I don't really know why it was the last song in the game: apart from the second solo, which you can survive through strategic use of Star Power, the song is relatively easy. I personally have a much harder time getting through Cowboys From Hell. Nonetheless, the near-constant barrage of notes and chords and hammer-ons and hammer-offs make you look like a total badass, assuming you can pass it. And if you can't, well, there's always Ace of Spades."
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Some of the Best Game Levels of All Time

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  • What? No Silent Cartographer?
    • by ad0gg (594412)
      Nice.. I don't think anyone else gets the joke though.
      • by Jonathan_S (25407)
        >I don't think there's a joke to be made here. I highly enjoyed the Silent Cartographer level; it was basically a showcase of Halo's gameplay.

        I especially like how the cutscene of unlocking the door about half way through, when you see the sword wielding Elite step out, it actually interactive. If you left a Warthog with an NPC operating the gun in the hallway in front of that door, when the cut scene activated and the Elite stepped out, the Warthog gunner would open fire and you could watch the bullet
  • by MyDixieWrecked (548719) on Friday November 03, 2006 @06:52PM (#16710877) Homepage Journal
    For me, nearly every level from Quake1 is a masterpiece of level design. In regard to the singleplayer maps, they're near perfect for what they were designed... however some (namely end and E4M3) also make excellent multiplayer maps. The deathmatch levels are also spectacular.

    Quake 3's Q3DM16 and Q3DM17 are 2 of the best maps in the game for 1 on 1 deathmatch.

    Bark at the moon is the only track in guitar hero that I enjoy.

    Myth had some great levels, too. although I don't recall the names of them. I miss that game.

    The original Counterstrike levels are all amazing. Especially the Dust and Aztec ones.

    the original Prince of persia had a vast majority of its levels very well designed as well.

    as to poor design... FEAR (for 360, at least) and Condemned (360) had some of the most poorly designed and unrealistic levels I've ever played. They feel like they were designed for a game and couldn't possibly exist in real life.
    • I like the low gravity maps in original Unreal Tournament.
      Its also similar to some of the maps and settings on Tony Hawks pro skater 2.
      Going back even further, I liked the 2nd track on Stunt Car Racer.

      I guess Windows XP was advertised specifically for me.
      • by Who235 (959706)
        I'll totally second the THPS2 vote.

        I go back and play the Venice Beach and Philly levels all the time for no reason at all.

        One of my favorite levels in any game was in Medal of Honor, when you dressed up like a Nazi and infiltrated the train station. It wasn't hard or anything, but I thought it was fun as hell.

    • by MrHanky (141717)
      Agree on the ones I know. I still waste time on Q3DM17 when I need a quick fix of adrenaline to keep going through the day. That and Quake 2's Q2DM1 or The Edge are my favourites for 1 vs 1s.

      It's been a long time since I played it, but Lode Runner on the C64 must have had plenty of good levels. I believe there were more than 150 of them, so they must have got some of them right.
    • I remember when the Q3 demo first came out, everyone in the office where I worked (who had been playing Q2 deathmatch for quite a while) were just absolutely amazed at the coolness of q3dm17.

      The number of hours we spent playing that level was incrediable :) And then when Q3 was eventually released the space levels just seemed kinda passe and nobody really played them much.
    • 1. Quake 2 - q2ctf1 - Mckinley Revival (threewave rail only ctf instagib)
      2. Quake 2 - q2dm1 - The Edge
      3. Tribes 2 - Katabatic
      4. BF2 - Karkand
      5. Counterstrike (any version) - de_dust2
      6. Counterstike Source - cs_office

      Then there's practially every track on Guitar Hero...
    • There has never been a cooler level in any game ever made. World 5-3 of Super Mario Bros. 3 was the high point of the entire business.

      Giant. Green. Clockwork. Shoe.

    • If you play Q3A in capture the flag mode, you must try actf38 "Feel the Base", from the Alliance level pack. It's so perfect it makes me want to cry just for remembering it.
  • Why do people take nostalgic game levels and even attempt to post a top 10 list of something so vague? There are probably hundreds of levels that tickle just about every gamer who's ever played them.

    'Tis not journalism to say that "world 1-1" in the original SMB was among the best levels ever built.
    • by ocelotbob (173602)
      I'd say as an initial level, 1-1 in SMB is really well done. It's nice and simple, ramps you up regarding the challenges you'll face in the game, and yet is still fun. Honestly, it shows what's missing in today's video games -- a game you can pick up, spend 30-40 seconds to learn the controls, and just have fun. Too few games are sorely lacking that these days.
  • Sometimes you go so fast your ally dies. Then they steal lives off you.
  • The giant living room in SiN was probably the best MP map I've ever seen. All of them in that game were pretty good, in fact. Rocket jumping on a giant couch was a unique experience, however.

    -B

  • What about 2Fort4 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by haplo21112 (184264) <haploNO@SPAMepithna.com> on Friday November 03, 2006 @07:06PM (#16711019) Homepage
    Team Fortress 2Fort4 is hands down the greatest Game Level ever designed. This was Team Fortress, it defined the game. Its shocking it didn't get a mention.
    • by bunions (970377)
      it's popularity also completely stagnated the game. I knew people who DIDN'T KNOW THERE WERE OTHER MAPS.

      And spazball was so much better.
      • For me 2fort4 was the gateway level. It got me hooked, after that i just couldn't get enough...
    • by Andy Dodd (701)
      2fort4 was way overrated, and too many people played it and nothing else. It was just one huge sniperfest and not much else. There were far better maps, but people were so ignorant that it was hard to find people playing anything other than 2fort4 (see the other poster's comment about some people not even knowing of other maps)

      Now Canal Zone, the first (and pretty much only) QWTF Capture and Hold style map, was where it was at. Canal Zone was amazing, I miss it so much.
      • by hibiki_r (649814)
        Canal Zone is where it's at. Pretty much every role was useful. Nothing more fun than seeing a team full of snipers, switch to scout, and destroy them with the wimpy nailgun and stun grenades.

        The ownage was so bad that some regular snipers changed jobs immediately when I got into the server :)
        • by Andy Dodd (701)
          It's too bad that by the time the Q3F team released their Canal Zone remake, Q3F was basically dead and no one played it.

          Hopefully Q4F works well... What's the current most popular TF incarnation, preferably one that has a version of CZ? :)

          I never thought of Canal Zone as a good sniper map... It was LOTS of fun as a demoman though, lots of strategic intersections to pipebomb. 9 times out of 10, someone going into the boathouse to try and cap that command point wouldn't see the pipes in time, resulting in
  • Simple, yet effective. There isn't a more beautiful joy than picking up a sniper rifle, finding a level you like and taking an enemy's head clean off their shoulders from the other side of the map.
    • by cortana (588495)
      Matched in equal measure by the frustration at getting repeatedly sniped at the spawn point...
    • by MoOsEb0y (2177)
      seconded. That map 0wned.
    • by Andy Dodd (701)
      That level had some wicked teleporter (or whatever it was called - it's been a long time) tricks.

      Shoot the teleporter beacon up onto a ledge on the outside of the enemy base.

      Run in, grab flag.

      Take the portal to the top of the tower.

      Jump off the tower on the same side as your beacon.

      Teleport to your beacon.

      Go pick up flag while enemy tries to figure out how you didn't die from jumping off the top of their tower.

      Of course, get sniped in the back on your return trip with the flag. :)
  • ...but the level in HL where you go up the stairs, through a door, and into a warehouse with catwalks, boxes, and, oh yeah, a squad of grenade-throwing marines. IIRC, that was the first pitched battle with marines you had in the game, and the first time I played through it, I could have sworn the marines were really people.

    The scripting was great, and you tie that into the final confirmation that, yep, the marines are Not Your Friends...it was fantastic.

    Unfortunately, of course, it really doesn't hold up as
    • by Reapman (740286)
      Could'nt agree more. I did a search for E1M1 to see if someone else posted first already and here it is :P I forgot about the HL level your talking about until now... that was INTENSE. At the time I had never played anything like it, that was massive immersion for me.

      Another two levels that pop in for me are from Doom2... Level 7 or 8, "Dead Simple" was insane, and Playing Level 16 the Suburbs on Nightmare in Co Op with a friend... thats some crazy action.
  • by Denial93 (773403) on Friday November 03, 2006 @07:07PM (#16711031)
    1. Top Ten Levels of all Time
    2. The 20 Worst Games Ever
    3. Games That Advanced The Art Of Storytelling
    4. Today's Best Dreamcast Games
    5. What Are Your Top Five 'Comfort' Games?
    6. Next-Gen's Top 20 From Tokyo
    7. The Top 5 Games of All Time
    8. The Top 100 Best-Selling PC Games of the Century
    9. ?????
    10. Profit!

    Seriously, it is getting ridiculous. I didn't even have to look back further than September this year. And none of those lists was any less arbitrary than this one.
    • To resolve your angst, please follow these simple instructions:

      1.Click the "Preferences" link at the top.
      2.Goto the "Homepage" link.
      3.Scroll down to "Customize Stories on the Homepage".
      4.Select any sections and choose how to display each of them.
      5.Profit.

      Really, this time there is no bother - the system does what it needs to and you get to miss these fluff discussions.
    • I prefer the "Top N" lists to the constant Sonybashing that seems to go on in the rest of the "Games" threads.
    • by Gertlex (722812)
      You forgot the top #x women in gaming. :)
    • Top 10 Gaming Eras, In no particular order:
      1. The NES Era - That was a great era.
      2. The "Vision" Era (Colecovision, Intellivison) - Ooh, that was a good era, too.
      3. The PS2 Era - Fantastic era!
      4. The Atari 2600 Era - A fundamental era.
      5. The 16-bit Era (SNES, Genesis) - Who could forget that era!
      6. The 32-bit Era (PS1, N64) - At least twice as good as the 16-bit era.

      And let's not forget those awkward transition eras:
      6. The Turbografx 16 Era - Not really 16-bit, but still incrementally better than the NES.
      7.
      • Kudos on miscounting (which happens more often then not. Sometimes they call it honorable meantion) However You forgot the hand held era, and the add-on era (second half of the 16 bit era)

        Now what you need to do to get a slash dot article about it, expand each one til it's a page each. Or instead just put the line on each page, and make a random quote/joke about it. You're almost there.
      • 6. The 32-bit Era (PS1, N64) - At least twice as good as the 16-bit era.

        I have to disagree here. PS1 and N64 marked the transfer from 2D into 3D graphics. While this works for some game types - RPGs and others which don't require accurate controls or good situation awareness - it killed platformers. You just can't get the same level of control and situation awareness in 3D than you can get in 2D.

        3D games also take much more resources to develop than 2D ones, since there still aren't any good 3D modelle

    • by Manchot (847225)
      I think the recent uptake in gaming "news" is mostly in anticipation of the upcoming release of the Wii and PS3. The current generation of gaming systems is nearly over, so people figure that it's a good time to take stock. It's most likely a temporary fixation, so I don't mind it for now. At least it's better than trying to freeze yourself for three weeks because you can't wait for the Wii.
    • by p4ul13 (560810)
      Let's just go ahead and close that bitching hole of yours. Just about any top ten list is going to be somewhat arbitrary or reflective of the writer's bias. The point to posting such an "article" here is to spark discussion, which it's accomplished.
    • This one I can actually see as being a decent article. If for nothing else than trendspotting.

      -Rick
    • by Chuu (307073)
      Regarding #8, I would actually be curious to see that list. It's also measurable, unlike the rest of the above.
  • Bard's Tale baby. Mangor's Castle??
    • by Gulthek (12570)
      Illusionary fire-dragon. Frost horn.
    • by Keebler71 (520908)
      Better yet (not sure if this constitutes a "level" but what the hey...:

      West of House

      You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

      There is a small mailbox here.

  • by 2008 (900939)
    They picked the opening sequence, which is very good, but for me the "Night of the Living Dead" bit where you're defending the house against hordes of zombies was better. And I think the Village level in Mercenary mode is best of all.
    • by steveo777 (183629)
      Totally loved that level (in the house). Absolutely insane if it's your first time through (IE, no Striker with 100rounds). And even then, it's a friggin' chore. I've gone through the game multiple times now and I ALWAYS savor that part. Now I try doing it with only one gun (fully powered) but no switching. Say, the blacktail, or either Magnum, but no switching. Haven't tried it with the Mine Gun yet... BTW Infinate launcher isn't as effective as you'd hope. :)
  • It looks like someone wrote it in MS Word and used the export to HTML option. There's garbage characters all over it to the point where I couldn't read it any more.
  • What about Quake 2's "The Edge" map? I believe it was the greatest deathmatch map ever created. I played about 2,000 games in that thing, and it was always a lot of fun!
    • I was thinking of The Edge also. I can't remember seeing another deathmatch map be played so relentlessly.

      Other excellent Quake 2 maps included Fury (by ztn) and q2dm8 (for team DM).

      Other games that I felt had good maps were Heretic 2 and... Daikatana (the 2nd 'world' ... was it ancient greece or something? I thought they were great but since the game was slammed no one really noticed).
  • Secret Cow level in Diablo 2 (AKA Moo Moo Farms)...

    It's great for being a joke brought to life, the sounds as you kill the hell bovines, being rather tough, and funky means of creating the level: Wirt's leg + Tome of Town Portal.
    • I have to agree on the cow level.

      Fireballing cows was great. It amused the heck out of me.

      Break out the sorceress. We're gonna have a barbeque!
  • It fails to mention popular levels as for instance CS_dust in counterstrike, not to mention the freedom of GTA "Levels".
    • by Sigma 7 (266129)
      It fails to mention popular levels as for instance CS_dust in counterstrike,


      Popular != best. If anything, treating cs_dust as the best level in CS is just like treating cs_dust as the only level - as most players would whine if something gets fixed or updated on that map.


  • The Shalebridge Cradle [PDF] [slashdot.org] level of Thief:Deadly Shadows was an awesome level. Scary as hell and full of stifling atmosphere. I have a save-game at the very beginning of the level for those times I feel like reliving something truly creepy.
  • Doom 2. Level 8. Tricks and Traps.
    • by Reapman (740286)
      I prefered the one previously, Dead Simple... but ya tricks and traps was pretty sweet only to see some of the "amazing" things you could do with the game... well ok, amazing for the time. D2 is still a fun game to blast through now and again =D

      Nothing like watching a group of Barons and a Cyber beat the living crap out of each other.
  • Safecracker.
    I tried for a week to figure out the timing of that last segment of the poison safe before seeing the trapdoor... and goats!
    • Yep, as I recall NOLF had a bunch of pretty good levels - and what about Farcry? At the time the levels in Farcry were kinda revolutionary for their HUGENESS and the amazing outdoor realism.
    • by KillerBob (217953)
      Yup. And I still love the parachute drop level in that game, too. Still haven't found all of the intelligence items on that level, hehe....
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein: MP - Beach

    So damn perfect, most decent servers keep it on all the time.
  • At the age of 9 it took me 3 hours of straight play to beat this level. In case the author doesn't know what level 4 is, it is the Ice level, then Snake, then Surfboard.
    • Yeah, I can't believe the author never beat it. It was annoying but not impossible. There were days I could beat it the first time every time, and days I couldn't after playing for hours. Now, why does that remind me of programming in perl?
    • Yes, I had to play that level for about a month straight (I was around 9-10 at the time, too) before I could beat it. I didn't realize there was a warp during the "fast" part until a few months later. Eventually, my sister and I became so good at it that we were able to complete that part, either by warping or seeing it through to the end, quite well and usually on the first try.

      Unfortunately, I never got past level 9... maybe I will fire up an emulator and use the magic of savestates to get past that damn
  • I liked the part in Zorro when the masked hero goes into the grave. Spooky music.

    Also, I liked the level in Necromancer when the trees are rooting their way through the ground to fall on the spider eggs.

    Of course, my favorite was BallBlaster/BallBlazer, but it didn't really have levels.
    • Ah, Zorro! I loved playing that game. There was a flaw in the floppy I had, so occasionally it would lock up.

      I think I also had Dallas on there, which was strange, mainly because of how young I was. It was still fun to learn.
  • Here are some of my favorite levels, in no particular order.
    Unreal Tournament - CTF Facing Worlds
    This is a classic CTF level that scales to large populations quite well. With enough people, you end up having "sniper wars" trying to take out the other team's snipers at the two sniper levels on the towers... so that they don't take out your players.

    There was a "Special Edition" of this map that moves all the spawn points behind the towers, as well as a sequel that wasn't quite as good as the original.

    Duke Nu
  • The battleship levels (and other kind of auto-scrolling levels) are actually more annoying than interesting. They may have been good when they came out, but now it's more used as a crutch than anything.

    If the character can already keep up with the camera (e.g. as in the Tool Assisted Demos [tasvideos.org]), those levels are more tedious than anything since there's almost nothing to.

    Some auto-scroll levels are badly designed as well, since you have to do a series of jumps within the first 1.5 seconds of the level.
  • Thief : Haunted Cathedral (I was so terrified the first time I heard an undead knight the hair on my head stood up and I kept looking over my shoulder (IRL) in fear of something coming up behind me.), Return to Haunted Cathedral (Somwhow on this level the AI seemed so much better than the AI I had ever seen in any other game including Thief itself, never mind that I'm a sucker for the undead.)

    HL: We've Got Hostiles (Fantastic intro music, the best name of a game level ever... besdies, killing "the good gu
  • Mute City from F-Zero for SNES
    Mario Circuit 1 from Mario Kart for SNES
  • The Seventh Crystal [ttlg.com] by "Saturnine", for Thief 2. Not only is it a well-designed, challenging mission with an immersive, dramatic storyline, atmospheric and spooky setting, and an innovative use of scripted cutscenes, but it contains the single most startling, adrenaline-pounding moment of any level of any game I've ever played.
  • "Shipping... And Receiving"

    It's a thing of beauty -- perfect atmosphere, layout, puzzles, enemies, and environmental detail. As a game designer, this level has always humbled me.
  • ...Falling Ship
    • by bckrispi (725257)
      YES!! This was perhaps the first time in an FPS where the environment itself worked against you. I was dizzy for an hour after finishing this level.
  • What, no Sokoban? No Astral Plane? I'd like to see this guy even make it halfway to the castle!
  • Yay for websites which claim to be iso-8859-1, but are actually UTF-8.
  • I personally found level 3 of Space Invaders particularly compelling.
  • You're asked to clear a minefield... in an unshielded TIE Interceptor, while four TIE Advanceds "watch." If you survive clearing the minefield, the T/A's attack. "He's the Emperor's stool pigeon!"

    You get to try and live long enough until the Emperor's cavalry arrives. Then, they ask you to race across the battlefield and inspect a shuttle approaching a Rebel cruiser and confirm that the Admiral is on board trying to defect. And blast it.

    That was a pretty cool level in 1994.
    • by noackjr (541550)
      I recall my mother coming upstairs to make sure I was OK after my first attempt at that mission. Apparently I cried out in anguish at the treachery and yelled "Noooo!!!" as I died (soon after). TIE Fighter was such a great game. I think I wasted a year of my life beating it on Hard with all Secondary and Bonus goals.

      And then the Windows ME installer overwrote the extended partition with the pilot file... I hate ME.
      • "I hate ME"
        OSQ: "I like me. I like me. I'm as good as I can be."
        Yeah, you are talking about [cough]millenium edition[cough] but the sentence sounded better my way.
      • by Rimbo (139781)
        That's awesome. How did she take the news when she found out?
  • * Super Metroid levels. any of them.
    * Zelda dungeons. any of them.
    * Sonic the Hedgehog levels. any of them.

    there are probably more from my 20+ years worth of gaming memory, but none as striking as those...
  • Original Starcraft Terran Campaign Mission 3? The one where you have to defend the base for 30 minutes while 90% of the map is Zerg controlled. Best moment is at when they send everything they've got at you with 5 minutes left on the clock. Most awesome experience ever in an RTS.
    • Yeah, however that experience is lost on you when you, having nothing better to do, build an army and take out all the zerg encampments while you wait.
  • I can't believe nobody has mentioned Psychonauts yet. The Milkman Conspiracy level, and Lungfishopolis, are sheer genius. Definitely rated up there for the best game levels of all time.
    • I agree that both were superb levels, but they ended kind-of weak. But that was the whole problem with Psychonauts anyway: a superb game that ended kind-of weak. Actually, the Meat-Circus level of Psychonauts turned it from one of my top-10 games to one I would not really recommend to anybody.
      • by deek (22697)
        That's true to some extent. The Meat Circus was a weak ending to a brilliant game. I thought the level was OK, but nothing really special. Problem is, the game had so many amazing levels which set the bar high. That made the last level seem much more bland than it was.

        Lungfishopolis had a great ending! Nothing weak about it at all. The Milkman ended somewhat weakly, but the rest of the level was so twisted and creative, that it didn't really matter.

        Psychonauts is now in my collection of games I'm keep

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