Continuing my exploration of the best random levels in games I’ve played, here’s my pick of the best ‘Pieces of Eight: Videogame Space Levels’, in no particular order. As for a few of them being set largely in space anyway… shh.
The graveyard – Dead Space 3
Dead Space 3, while the weakest of the series, boasted some of the best space levels in the business – and since most of the action took place on the ice world below, hurling yourself through the void from hulk to hulk was a thing of beauty and pleasure.
Exploring the derelicts in orbit over the abandoned world was a delight – a scary one, admittedly, but a delight nonetheless – and something I came to miss once I was tramping around in a blizzard for the next 10-or-so hours. Graphically stunning, the sound design – mostly engineer Issac Clarke’s desperate panting – drew you into the action and kept you there.
Xen – Half Life
Although the inclusion of ‘border world’ Xen divided Half Life fans’ opinions, I very much enjoyed leaping from floating island to floating island, discovering the bodies of previous explorers and fending off the strange reality’s many and varied foes.
Being forced to take your skills to the next level as you leapt from platform to platform like a demented Italian plumber was a refreshing change of pace – and since Xen offered up some of the most interesting opponents of the first Half Life (including testicle-on-legs horror Gonarch) it’s an experience that has stuck well and truly in my memory.
ODIN – Call of Duty: Ghosts
In the grand scale of Call of Duty games, Ghosts was a largely forgettable adventure that fits all-too-neatly into the ‘same old, same old’ category. That said, the opening 15 minutes were something of a stand-out set-piece moment – even among the grand scale of COD set-piece moments.
Satellite-based kinetic weapon platform ODIN – the USA’s dirty little secret – finds itself being hijacked by enemy forces who somehow stole a US shuttle and managed to approach the heavily guarded installation without Washington DC being any the wiser. After a brief shoot-out, combat-astronauts Mosley and Baker are forced to scuttle the installation in the atmosphere – but not before the huge tungsten kill-rods launched from the station have wiped out half the USA.
Sure, Ghosts was a distinctly average game (although it did give the world the delights of Call of Duty Dog), but this space-based opening set the pace admirably.
Operation Uppercut – Halo: Reach
In an interesting departure from the series’ much-loved ground-pounding action, Halo: Reach’s Long Night of Solace mission sees not-Master Chief Spartan Noble Six take to the depths of space in a customised ‘Sabre’ fighter craft and battle wave after wave of alien space fighters as the human forces attempt to retrofit a shuttle with a massive bomb and blow up an immense battleship.
It was only a short mission, sure, but the change of pace and well implemented flight controls made this mission a joy to play and replay – especially when you had a few friends along for the ride.
Sovereign – Mass Effect
Despite its cripplingly long elevator loading screens, the first Mass Effect was a smash-hit success for RPG developer Bioware, due in part to its excellent plot.
Towards the end of the first title, Commander Shepard and his/her team of hard-bitten space adventurers find themselves battling down the side of an immense space station, in the hopes of stopping a battleship-sized artificial intelligence opening a portal that would usher in the end of the galaxy. You know, as you do.
In a tense and thrilling zero-G firefight, Shepard and his/her team dash from cover to cover, mowing down scores of the enemy, while the shadow of the immense Reaper known as Sovereign attempts to open the portal in the background. Lovely stuff.
Mothership – XCom: Enemy Unknown
After just about managing to hold back the tide of alien invaders, global defence initiative XCom finally locates and elects to assault the alien mothership hanging in orbit over Earth. Scrambling to take advantage of the craft’s appearance, the group sends in a crack team of operatives to destroy the mothership, and end the invasion.
Among their number is the first psi-sensitive soldier – a volunteer who goes on to give his/her life to destroy the mothership, before it explodes and wipes out the planet. However, before this final moment, the aliens’ mission is finally revealed – they intended to groom humanity to fight in an upcoming battle against a greater foe, believing Homo Sapiens a race strong enough to defeat their pursuers forever.
Probably shouldn’t have bombed Earth then, eh?
Rocket Town – Final Fantasy 7
Final Fantasy 7 (which still doesn’t have a HD-remake, Square Enix…) was a game filled with melancholic moments. However, the one that stands out most for me was the tale of wannabe astronaut Cid, and his love/hate relationship with hapless technician Shera.
Having had to abort a previous rocket launch because of Shera’s devotion to duty, Cid fell into a deep depression, lamenting his chances of ever being able to reach orbit. However, fate intervened, and Cid eventually managed to make it to space – on a mission to save the planet, no less.
Now that’s a stylish comeback – and one that left a mark on my 13-year-old heart.
Sevastopol burns – Alien: Isolation
I love a good, heart-pounding finale – and Alien: Isolation didn’t disappoint. Trapped aboard an abandoned space station that’s not only infested by xenomorphs but also falling into a gas giant, desperate engineer Amanda Ripley has to traverse the station’s external architecture and release a transport that constitutes her only avenue of escape – all while dodging debris, flames and alien attacks – without even being able to defend herself. No pressure.
Got a favourite space level? Leave a comment below!
Article written for Pass the Controller.