Single-player. It’s almost always the portion of any video game that I’ll tackle first before setting foot into any form of multiplayer mode on offer. Some games are based entirely on multiplayer and simply tack on a single-player option to try and justify the price, whilst franchises such as Uncharted, The Witcher and – more recently – DOOM, base themselves around that solo experience that so many of us crave. Games have become just as good at telling stories as many films over the past few years, but they can also offer up something that films can’t. A great story that is accompanied by engrossing and intuitive gameplay that stands out is more likely to stick in my mind than a film would. Of course there are also those single-player levels and experiences that stoke the fires of controversy and there are some that become instant classics that are revered by fans due to their simplicity – or complexity.
I recently finished the single-player campaign of Titanfall 2, a game that offers up a specific mission that was unique yet also a hell of a lot of fun at the same time. The mission itself has firmly stuck in my mind for what it offered and was a topic of discussion between myself and my friends – as we mainly concurred on what a brilliant piece of game design it was. It got me thinking about other single-player missions, levels and locations that stuck with me long after I’d put the controller down. So, to that end – and in no particular order – here are some stand out moments from my adventures through a variety of different games.
Warning: This article may contain major and minor spoilers for a few games, proceed at your own discretion.
Effect and Cause – Titanfall 2
This is the aforementioned mission I talked about in the intro paragraph. Titanfall 2’s single-player is altogether really good, but Effect and Cause is the stand out moment of the entire experience. Throughout the level you’re able to manipulate time on the fly for both combat and puzzle solving purposes. You may be getting overwhelmed by enemies, but it’s no problem because with a tap of a button you can leap into the past/future, regain your health, get into a position behind your enemies and pop back into the time period you were fighting in. A cool little touch is that when you kill an enemy in the past their corpse will show up in the place you killed them in the future once you jump back there – albeit slightly more decomposed.
There are also puzzles where you’ll need to time wall running and jumping with phasing between the past and future in order to avoid certain obstacles and hazards. It’s also a great deal of fun to just phase between the past and the future and see what changes in the environment around you.
In a way, it feels like Respawn Entertainment got a little bit of Portal in my Titanfall and I can assure you that’s no bad thing.
All Ghillied Up – Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
This one could almost be considered a cult classic at this point. All Ghillied Up is all about the atmosphere and the setting in which you find yourself. As Captain Price, you’re on a mission with Captain MacMillan to sneak through the overgrown and radioactive decay of Pripyat, Ukraine in order to assassinate Imran Zakhaev – a notorious arms dealer.
Whilst the story that Call of Duty 4 tells is fictional, the reality of the situation is that the abandoned ghost town and hellish landscape around Chernobyl which is the setting for the mission is very much a real thing. Wandering through the lonely streets of Pripyat and realising that it genuinely used to be a bustling city is almost haunting. In real life, it’s dangerous to even think about entering the city without a guide, but Call of Duty 4 offered a brief – and surprisingly accurate – look at one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. It’s dripping with atmosphere and offers a nice change of pace from the guns blazing nature of the previous few missions.
To this day, All Ghillied Up is the one thing I think of whenever someone mentions Call of Duty 4. It’s synonymous with the game at this point, because it made me stop and think for a brief moment.
No Call of Duty game since then has managed to capture the essence of what made All Ghillied Up great. But Call of Duty 4 isn’t the only game in the franchise on this list…
No Russian – Modern Warfare 2
Whilst Call of Duty 4 had a mission that was memorable for all the right reasons, Modern Warfare 2 had a mission that gained notoriety for all the wrong reasons.
No Russian garnered people’s attention for all the wrong reasons back in 2009. One of the first missions of the game, it sees you as an undercover CIA agent embedded in a terrorist cell making your way through a Russian airport committing a heinous act.
You’re able to mow down unarmed civilians – if you choose to do so. No Russian has been called a “test” of the players morality in some cases as you’re not actually forced into firing your weapon at all. The game even asks you if you’d like to skip the entire mission if you’re likely to be uncomfortable playing it. But the media immediately latched onto the content of the mission and put it on blast for the whole world to see. The graphic content featured in No Russian was more than enough to put unaware parents who had proxy bought the game for their young children into a state of shock. It’s no surprise that Modern Warfare 2 was the first game in the franchise to be rated an 18 in the UK.
No Russian is controversial yet it’s nowhere near the best mission in the game – far from it in fact. It wasn’t necessarily needed in the game to advance the plot either – given that the whole thing can be skipped – and unfortunately it’s the one mission I point to when I think of Modern Warfare 2 these days.
Click Clock Wood – Banjo-Kazooie
Moving on from the despair of No Russian we have the colourful and cheery world of Banjo-Kazooie. Click Clock Wood is the final level of the game and is unique due to the fact that the seasons actually change, allowing you to complete certain puzzles and reach certain areas depending on what seasonal door you entered through in the hub room – provided you’ve found the switch to open each individual door. You’ll be able to do things such as plant a seed in the spring and then go through the door to the summer variant of the level and find that it has sprouted, allowing you to progress.
Being the final level in the game also means that it provides a fair challenge too, and gathering all the jiggies, notes and jinjos is no easy feat due to the amount of hopping about between seasons you’ll be doing.
Click Clock Wood also features a vibrant colour pallet which separates it from a similar level in Super Mario 64 – Tick Tock Clock. I nearly considered putting Tick Tock Clock on this list, but Click Clock Wood was far and away the more engrossing, challenging and ultimately more fun experience that you were able to find back in the Nintendo 64 days.
N. Sanity Beach – Crash Bandicoot
Short, sweet and simple, N. Sanity Beach is the first level of Crash Bandicoot and introduced the world to the now famous platforming marsupial.
N. Sanity Beach is on this list for nostalgia purposes more than anything else as it was the first game I ever played on the original PlayStation. The level introduces you to the mechanics of the game and gives you an idea of what to expect going forward and takes no more than a couple of minutes to complete. But seeing Crash wash up on that beach for the first time, stand up and give his smug grin before seamlessly transitioning into gameplay still sticks with me. Frankly, I can’t wait for the remastered version to come out.
The Covenant – Halo 3
This is the part where you get really angry with me for not having The Silent Cartographer from Halo: Combat Evolved in this spot. Sure, it’s a great mission but I have so many more memories of The Covenant from Halo 3.
Not only is this one of the longest missions in the franchise, it gives you access to a massive amount of toys to play with from the Halo sandbox. The mission begins with you storming along a coastline with a Spartan laser in order to take out an anti-aircraft wraith before jumping into a warthog and barrelling through a forest to shut down a shield generator. After this you’ll jump into a hornet – an awesome flying VTOL for the uninformed – and take the fight across a bay as you take down Covenant banshees, phantoms and ground targets too. After this you’ll storm a facility with some Elites before jumping into a scorpion tank and taking on not one, but TWO Covenant scarabs! Scarabs are big and scary and up until now you’ll have only encountered one at a time.
When all is said and done you’ll storm the Citadel with the Arbiter, kill the Prophet of Truth and witness one of the most spine tingling cutscenes in the Halo series.
Whilst it was great playing the mission solo, Halo 3 was able to be played in 4 player co-op and the amount of time I spent with friends messing about on this level for hours on end, finding silly glitches and screwing each other over still brings a smile to my face whenever I think about it.
Anor Londo – Dark Souls
Ah, the magnificent city of the gods and the location of the Lordvessel. It truly is a sight to behold when you arrive here in the original Dark Souls with its gorgeous views and unique level design. It also holds a special place in my heart as it’s the place where I gave up on the game the first time around only to come back later and thoroughly defeat it, cementing Dark Souls as one of my all-time favourite games. Seriously though, **** those archers on the castle buttresses, they’re the worst.
Anor Londo is also iconic as it’s the location of arguably one of the toughest boss duos in the game – Ornstein and Smough. Fighting one of them would be bad enough, but you’ve got to worry about them both at the same time. Ornstein is quick and agile and is always on you whilst you also have to remember that Smough is slowly lumbering around with massive area of effect attacks that hit like a tonne of bricks. I still have nightmares thinking about how long it took me to beat them.
Despite not telling you outright, there is a lot of lore surrounding Anor Londo and it’s easy to get lost trying to discover and read about it all because it’s frankly fascinating. From the illusion of Gywnevere masking Anor Londo in sunlight, the true nature of the painted world and the secret behind a wall in Lord Gwyn’s tomb, there’s a lot to explore.
A version of Anor Londo also reappears in Dark Souls 3. The chamber where you fought Ornstein and Smough has been taken over by Aldrich, Saint of the Deep who has done a fair bit of… redecorating, since you were last here. Between you and I, he’s not very good at interior design.
World 1-1 – Super Mario Bros.
This is about as iconic as it gets. The first level in Super Mario Bros. is legendary in a sense, as it saved video games as a whole back in the 1980’s when the industry was in heavy turmoil. It brought something new to the table and put the player firmly in control of their experience. It wasn’t overly difficult but it introduced the player to everything they needed to know in order to progress through the game.
Jumping on enemies to squash them, power ups, coins as well as varying jump distances to help you understand that holding “A” for longer made Mario jump further. It was all there to educate you on what exactly Super Mario Bros. was.
Nearly everybody at some point in their lives is bound to have played this specific level, whether they like video games or not. It’s something anyone can get to grips with from the get go.
We Don’t Go To Ravenholm – Half-Life 2
Ravenholm was one of the earliest experiences I had with video games that I’d call “creepy”. Half-Life 2 isn’t a horror game, but walking through the dark and abandoned streets of this mission whilst being assaulted by hordes of zombies and headcrabs gave me the willies.
Whilst Ravenholm is a slightly dreary place it’s also the first time you really get to mess around properly with the iconic gravity gun in Half-Life 2. There’s a reason there are massive amounts of sawblades and explosive barrels lying around when there are zombies to be killed, and dismemberment is most certainly on the agenda for Gordon Freeman.
Suicide Mission – Mass Effect 2
Who will live? Who will die? Did you make sure you did everyone’s loyalty missions? Are you picking the correct people for the right jobs? These are all questions that you’ll be asking yourself in this stress inducing final mission from Mass Effect 2.
Every decision you’ve made up until this point could affect the outcome of your Mass Effect 2 story – and ultimately the continuation of your story in Mass Effect 3. If certain squad members die here – such as the biotic psycho, Jack – then you’re going to be putting yourself at a massive disadvantage in the sequel. It’s all well and good going for the best ending, but sometimes it is fascinating to see what might happen if things do go awry.
The suicide mission is one of the most pivotal moments in the entire Mass Effect trilogy as there is so much riding on it and through numerous playthroughs it always finds some way to break my heart into a million pieces. Rest in peace, Legion, you’ll not be forgotten. Next time I’ll remember to do your loyalty mission.
The Gate – Spec Ops: The Line
Just like No Russian, this is another gaming moment that attracted a bit of controversy due to a choice that the protagonist makes. White phosphorous is one of the most despicable weapons on the planet, burning flesh to the bone and inflicting an inhumane level of pain and suffering.
So, naturally the protagonist in Spec Ops: The Line inadvertently uses this horrible weapon on women and children in an attempt to kill the bad guys despite not even thinking that things could go horribly wrong – which it does. You feel like a literal sack of human garbage after this happens and to make matters even worse you’re forced to progress through the charred remains of innocent people as Spec Ops: The Line declares that you are a mass murdering monster who should be ashamed, even though I was never given a choice – something many fans of the game have insisted there should have been.
This mission in Spec Ops: The Line is one of the only times I’ve ever felt true guilt playing a video game, even though it wasn’t explicitly my fault. It was a moment that I had to put down the controller and take a walk from how nauseated it made me. Spec Ops: The Line is a great game with a surprisingly immersive story, but I wish I’d been given more of a choice when it came to this mission.
The Paleto Score – Grand Theft Auto V
Robbing banks is bad and you should never actually consider doing it unless you want to spend time in the clink. However, in video games you CAN rob banks and come off relatively scot-free, particularly if you’re robbing one in the middle of nowhere and you come equipped with massive amounts of body armour and a minigun.
This is exactly the premise of The Paleto Score heist in Grand Theft Auto V. After realising they’ve made a huge mistake, the authorities literally bring the army in to stop you and your rag-tag group of criminals from making off with millions. You’ll lumber from garden to garden avoiding tanks, helicopters and heavily armed police attempting to stop you before being saved by Franklin driving a digger and riding off into the sunset.
The entire mission is exhilarating, backed up by an incredible musical score which fits just right. It became the talk of the water cooler at my work just after Grand Theft Auto V was released in 2013. It’s one of those missions where you can’t help but exclaim “holy **** this is awesome!”
Kick The Hornet’s Nest – Far Cry 3
This mission is just plain stupid fun and that’s what makes it so great. Far Cry 3 was an amazing game but the missions themselves weren’t all too memorable, except from this one. The reason it sticks so vividly in my mind is because you get handed a flamethrower and are told to go and burn fields full of drugs. All the while you’ve got “Make It Bun Dem” from Skrillex and Damian Marley playing on loop in the background which had me giggling like a child the whole time.
New Arrivals – Dead Space
Creepily atmospheric with great level design is one way I could sum up the first mission of Dead Space. Immediately upon boarding the USG Ishimura you know something has gone horribly wrong when there’s nobody to be found and you’re accosted by horrifying necromorphs that can jump out of anywhere at you.
Despite this, you never feel lost or completely overwhelmed in New Arrivals. The game is by no means holding your hand, but it’s gently pushing you in the right direction and accustoming you to the terror that is yet to come through subtle audio and visual clues. It’s clever, it’s well done and it makes Dead Space an almost certain recommendation to anyone looking for a decent horror title.
The Last Enemy That Shall Be Destroyed – Red Dead Redemption
You may have seen my warning about spoilers at the start of this article and maybe you kept on reading anyway. But I implore you to not read any further if you’ve never played Red Dead Redemption and plan to play it at some point in the future. You’ve been warned.
The “final” mission of Red Dead Redemption absolutely floored me. The emotions that I felt upon completing it were overwhelmingly strong and catapulted Red Dead Redemption nearly to the top of my all-time favourite games.
You’ve played through the entire game as John Marston who has finally been reunited with his family after fighting to see them again. Things seem idyllic. There’s probably going to be a happy ending to this story after all. But that’s where you’d be wrong…
The US Bureau of Investigation – whom Marston has been helping the entirety of the game – have come to tie up their last loose end. After fighting off waves of soldiers, Marston retreats into the barn where he saddles his wife and son onto a horse and tells them to ride as far away as they can.
After a brief cutscene, Marston accepts his fate and pushes the barn doors wide open to be confronted by a firing squad of soldiers. You control his last stand, and whilst you can take down a few, it isn’t enough. Marston is riddled with bullets and falls to the ground drenched in blood before looking to the sky, content that he has achieved his redemption and saved his family.
Marston’s wife and son return to the ranch after hearing the gunfire to find him dead. Buried on the ranch, a shot of Marston’s grave fades into gloom and rain. As the camera pans out a second grave containing his wife – who died three years later – comes into view as a man who resembles Marston stands over them. Jack Marston puts his father’s hat on and turns away.
I cried for a week afterwards.
Bonus: Shoot This Guy In The Face – Borderlands 2
I don’t even think I need to explain this one…
Whilst these were just a few of my favourite – and also controversial – choices of memorable single-player moments I know for a fact that there are hundreds more out there that I could have listed too. Feel free to leave your favourite moments in the comments below!
Tags: Banjo Kazooie, Borderlands 2, call of duty, Crash Bandicoot, Dark Souls, Dead Space, Far Cry 3, games, Grand Theft Auto, half life, halo, Mario, Mass Effect, Red Dead Redemption, Spec Ops: The Line, Titanfall 2