There is something about these great games - especially the ones that leave a strong memory foot print and keep resonating in your head after you complete them. Their world is so compelling that they easily swallow you in and make you part of that world. Well, in simple terms they are so immersive! I believe it has to do with the compelling atmosphere the developers create, specially the level designers,an area that is extremely critical to success of any game - be it Single player or Multiplayer. I wanted to capture a few of those memorable levels that I can still imagine or think off till date and they are my obvious favorites. While there are a handful, I wanted to write about a few specific ones in this post.
Highway 17 from Half Life 2 -
Still one of the best linear levels ever seen in the games. It throws everything at the player - pacing, exploration, adrenaline pumping shooting, puzzles and the level keeps getting better and better. I always take example of Half Life 2 for a what great game should be and it only achieved its feat with such brilliant level design. The levels set that right tone and atmosphere - with that eerie silence and environment ambience, you had every reason to be worried in the game. The silence of Gordon Freeman just makes the experience even better.
Another great example is the Water Hazard level from HL2 - again what a remarkable level and a finest example of how to build a vehicle based level with the right amount of pacing, puzzle and exploration. You simply forget the fact that you are basically being taken through a strict linear level design. You can almost imagine the rest of the world you are in.
Enough of the Half Life 3 hype! I would say a next-gen remaster or a remake of Half Life 2 with the accompanying episodes would do! May be throw some extra missions/content and call it deleted scenes from Half Life 2!
Volcano from Far Cry
Another game that easily immersed me was the very first installment of Far Cry that Crytek developed. I wont even talk about the ones that followed later as Ubisoft could never re-produce the magic that the guys at Crytek did. The first part of the game felt very original but didn't just stop there being a tech showcase and had brilliant level designs. It just had a perfect setting - a remote island, mystery surrounding it, bizarre mutant creatures and everything just unravels as you play seamlessly. This level was all about prep work, the game lets you do the load out - basically take anything and everything you can before you get in. Once you enter the Volcano base, you are in for a ride where the game throws all the badass enemies at once. I would have lost count of the times I would have failed in this level before I got to the final encounter with Doyle. What surprised me in a good way was how Crytek handled the concept of open world design in a very ingenious way. The overall game essentially was broken into a clear linear design channeling you through the mission objectives while still maintaining that illusion of open world. Sure the game gave you that scale and sprawling landscape to move around but made sure the levels had a clear way forward.
All Ghillied up from Modern Warfare 1 -
Again one of those super memorable levels that most of us would have enjoyed where you get play Captain Price's historic mission in Chernobyl in the past. The atmosphere, sound track, Captain MacMillan's commanding voice over, the mood it sets - this level had every little thing perfectly done. You should notice how the designers had set the weather for the level to set the right tone and mood. It would look it was about to rain with a hint of sun light still in there and distant thunders adding to the atmosphere. While these are subconscious, they greatly added to the worrying mood you go through imagining the consequences of the mission. The part where MacMillan asks you to prone and move through the grass field slowly unnoticed while a whole army of vehicles and patrol move past you with MacMillan saying - Easy Lad, let them go- beautifully done! The level captured the town of Pripyat in a very convincing manner and made you feel that you were in a nuclear radiation affected zone.
The part where you have to carry him and put in a good enough zone where he can take some clear shots, was handled brilliantly. It was one of those rare levels where you wanted to obey the AI without playing too smart!