Many games are set in a prison – you’ve got your Escape from Butcher Bay (a favourite of mine), and your Manhunt. Then there’s Prison Architect, which – though buggy – is still a great laugh. However, many games in our treasured hobby take a short holiday to high security, and here’s my pick of eight of the best videogame prison levels.
Ellsworth Federal Penitentiary – Splinter Cell: Double Agent
Gravelly-voiced and surprisingly nimble mid-40s secret agent Sam Fisher hasn’t had a good day. He’s just failed a mission and seen a team-mate die, and on the extraction chopper awaits the news that his daughter has been killed in a car accident. As ‘bad day at the office’ goes, that’s a corker.
Six months later, a slightly more unhinged Sam is undercover in Ellsworth Federal Penitentiary, trying to find a way to cosy up to a domestic terrorist cell. Naturally, having befriended a member of in the incongruously-named ‘John Brown’s Army’, one of the best ways to win some support is to cause a riot and help the terrorist escape, all without killing any of the work-a-day guards – and so was a kick-ass level born:
‘What about the guards killed by other escaping inmates?’ Uhm. Nevermind. Fifth-Freedom and all that …
Aljir Prison – Syphon Filter 2
Despite being infected with a virus – and the Syphon Filter virus ain’t no average flu – former Agency operative Lian Xing takes it upon herself to break into Aljir Prison, and break out an informant before he’s executed.
What follows is a tense gauntlet of guardrooms, checkpoints and perilous gantry clinging adventure, as the cries and sobs of prisoners sound around you – and some get smacked about in the corridors.
Good thing then that the prisoners get their own back after Xing kills the power to the whole prison, causes a riot, and has to shoot her way out:
Damn that music still gets my heart pumping, even a decade later.
‘Cell escape’ – Metal Gear series
Despite being either the source of or descended from the genetic traits which make up the finest soldier in the world, Big Boss and his cloned sons have a nasty habit of getting captured. Whether it’s Metal Gear Solid or Snake Eater, the Snakes usually end up in a cell at some point, and need to find an ingenious way to escape.
Solid Snake’s preferred method – laying on the floor on top of a pool of tomato ketchup – is effective but messy, but kudos to Big Boss himself for coming up with no less than four methods to escape his tiny cell in Groznyj Grad:
• Dig a fake death pill out of your back and ‘die’ due to poisoned food
• Feed your guard bad grub and have him peg it to the loo, then escape
• Get told a radio frequency… by a ghost.
Or, my personal favourite, for its sheer bonkers-ness.
• Spin the camera around Snake in the options menu to make him throw up, then brain the guard when he checks up on you.
Hideo Kojima – breaking the fourth wall like a boss.
Emperor’s escape tunnel – Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
Emperor Patrick Stewart needs to escape some assassins, and conveniently his escape route requires him coming through your cell and repeatedly punching a wall, while spouting some nonsense about visions.
Oh, and you’re in the visions, and he recognises you, and you should come with him.
When Patrick Stewart tells you to follow him, you do it. A shame, then, that he’s immediately murdered, and you’re dumped in a sewer filled with skeletons and huge rats and left to fend for yourself – and how you choose to fend for yourself helps define the role you will play in the story ahead.
Well played, Bethesda, well played.
I’m sure paying Patrick Stewart a huge amount of money for a day in the recording studio was waaaaaay worth it.
UNATCO’s dark secret – Deus Ex
Captured by a secretive sect out to take over the world, nano-augmented agent JC ‘sunglasses inside are cool’ Denton is forced to escape his cell through a little trickery and guile – and some outside help.
Finding himself in what turns out to be a pretty big detention/research facility, Denton used his augmentations, social skills and awesome leather jacket to fend off the augmented Majestic 12 troops, and finally escapes… into his own office.
Yes, the Majestic 12 facility was built underneath Denton’s former employer, the apparently squeaky-clean United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition.
Figure that one out.
All that time you spent checking every corner for soya bars, bothering the staff, exploring the ladies’ toilet and hassling Gunter Hermann, and you never noticed the paramilitary base under your feet. Expert detective work there, agent.
Vorkuta – Call of Duty: Black Ops
While I’m not a huge fan of the Call of Duty series, I have fond memories of the first Black Ops title (before it went all near-future and naff) – and specifically the fairly heroic Resnov/Mason escape sequence which saw embittered miners go from hurling rocks to downing choppers in one well-scripted prison break-out.
I’ll let the video do the talking:
Cold Ridge Prison – Dishonored
Although Dishonored was a short game, I was completely taken in by its chunky cartoon styling, cool story, multiple endings and wacky powers.
Let’s face it, being able to summon a plague of man-eating rats never gets old.
After a fairly memorable opening, heroic (kind-of) bodyguard-turned-assassin Corvo is thrown into the darkest corner of Cold Ridge Prison – a dreary, dank tumour of a building so run-down you can practically taste the decay in the air.
Good thing then that a mysterious, otherworldly character known as ‘The Outsider’ has gifted Corvo with powers, provided he do his bidding, turning Cold Ridge from a slow death into one of the best-realised tutorial levels in gaming.
Learning to use Corvo’s powers slowly, the player moves through the prison, subduing or killing the innocent prison guards, before blowing a massive hole in the wall and jumping headfirst into a river thick with fish guts and offcut whale blubber.
Dystopian? You bet. Fun? Hell yes.
Shinra’s downfall – Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is a game that holds a special place in the heart of many a 20-something gamer. In a series known for its great characters, enthralling stories and tight gameplay (excluding FF13, which was naff all over), VII is still widely considered the best – and I personally remember the prison section for just how creeped out I felt afterwards.
Captured by megalomaniacal corporation Shinra, Cloud Strife and his merry band find themselves locked up and completely unable to escape. Days apparently pass as escape plans start to run out, and the plucky amnesiac, cross-dressing warrior starts to despair a little.
Then, the next day, Cloud awakes, and finds his door open. The walls and floor are smeared with blood and gore, and the guards are missing – and if that wasn’t creepy enough, the music has gone all ‘Blair Witch’ too.
Following the trail of destruction, Cloud comes across a broken storage container, and deduces correctly that a world-ending monster of prodigious strength has escaped, and killed everything in sight along the way – and only Cloud and his friends can put a stop to it.
Chilling, even to this day.
Got an entry for the list? Leave a comment below!
Article written for Pass the Controller