We really don’t have “levels” in video games these days. Most games provide a more continuous experience that have breaks or chapters but rarely identify discrete levels. Games like The Witcher and Dark Souls provide save points and mini-quests but don’t formally end chapters. Other titles like Tomb Raider and Uncharted identify the start of a new chapter but these chapters often begin Here’s the best levels in video games we’ve seen in 2016 so far.
The Bridge Scene in Quantum Break
We weren’t real big fans of Quantum Break. The game was incredibly ambitious but quickly fell into simple repetitive gun fights. There were hints of time traveling problem-solving but those sequences are hampered by choppy graphics and unpredictable platforming. However, the one level when all the game’s elements came together was the bridge sequence. At this point in the game, you’re trying to cross a bridge while avoiding enemy soldiers. Time is glitching significantly causing temporary freezes in some places and while other objects accelerate dramatically. Your hero decides to climb to the top of the bridge to avoid the soldiers, so you venture from the bridge’s underside up to a catwalk at its highest point. However, your plan falls apart when a ship collides with the bridge. You find yourself trapped on top of the crumbling bridge forced to platform your way down to the ship before time resumes while the bridge explodes in brief glitches around you. This scene, more than any other part of the game, perfectly captures the best of the game’s dynamics. In a game which we felt fell short of its potential, this one level showed us the game we were hoping we’d see.
Watching the Fire in Firewatch
Firewatch is a very mature game. You play as a forest ranger working a very solitary summer job in a beautifully rendered forest. You spend your days picking up litter, climbing and descending rocky mountains, and exploring forests and caves. The game feels pretty simple which we really liked but may not be for everyone. Your only communication in the game is with Delilah, another ranger working from a distant tower. She keeps track of you and – if you choose to engage with her – shares her background, explores yours, and can become a potential love interest in the game. The dialogue between the you and Delilah is one of the game’s strengths. This scene, though, where the two characters watch the first fire of the summer burning against the night sky features the characters at their most intimate. It’s subtle, beautiful, intimate yet still remote. The fire will play a big role in the more dramatic events that come later, but Firewatch is at its best in little moments like this one. It’s a perfect distillation of what Firewatch does really well.
Inside’s Absolutely Bananas Final Stage
The end of Inside should not be spoiled but the final level of this game is really memorable. Inside is the spiritual follow up to the impressive indie favorite Limbo and adds to the short list of games in which you play as a child who will frequently die horribly. Inside’s final level, though, reveals why so many adults are willing to kill this child so violently. The ending involves a huge shift in gameplay that works well visually and dramatically (which is why everyone recommends it but no one wants to spoil it, but you can see it here). I actually kind of hated the puzzles of the final stage (though the gameplay was pretty fun). Inside is a short, well-done game that we recommend. Go play it so you can see this ending everyone is talking about.
Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens revisits Return of the Jedi
We’re just getting started with the most recent Lego game and it starts very weirdly. Literally, instead of starting with the events of The Force Awakens, you’re actually a long time ago and a galaxy far far away from that movie. The first level is actually the end of Return of the Jedi and it’s actually surprisingly good. Sure, it is disorienting to start a game about a movie by playing a section from a different movie (and arguing that they needed extra content to fill out the game raises the question about whether an entire game for a single movie was necessary). However, this is probably the best Return of the Jedi level we’ve ever played. You play Han on Endor battling storm troopers and hijacking AT-ST, Luke and Vader battling the emperor, and Lando attacking the Death Star’s core. It’s one of the best Lego levels we’ve played and one of our favorite depictions of Return of the Jedi in any game. We’re not sure how the game will fill the rest of the hours (given that the movie was pretty short), but this was a good start.
Dark Souls 3 Takes Us Back to Anor Lando
Locations in a Dark Souls game have a particular significance because every single place has taught you an important lesson. Maybe that lesson was do not open a chest without slashing at it. Maybe it was always check the corners. Dark Souls is a brutal teacher but returning to a location gives you a strong sense of pride because everywhere you go promises horror but once you’ve completed a level, you’ve conquered that location (or at least survived it) and mastered that lesson. Returning to a place lets you remember how much you’ve grown. That’s why we loved returning to Anor Lando in Dark Souls 3. In the first game, it’s the home of possibly the most difficult boss battle in any game. Here you return to see how the Anor Lando’s changed in the intervening years, but it’s really a reminder of how much you’ve grown as a gamer. Dark Souls is one of the most brutal series we’ve ever played, but this little nostalgic level was a great addition to the finale of the series.
Uncharted 4’s Caravan Chase
Uncharted 4 is one of the best games we played this year and the caravan sequence is definitely our favorite level. Whenever we play an Uncharted game, we’re always looking for a level that is as well-executed as Uncharted 2’s train sequence. The cover-based shooting and climbing elements come together really well in this scene as the train races from the jungle high up onto an icy mountain before ultimately derailing. The series has never produced a level as good as that one, but second place definitely belongs to Uncharted 4’s caravan chase. Here, you and Sully are trying to rescue Nathan’s brother Sam who’s trying to escape on motorcycle from a platoon of enemy vehicles. The section starts with you spotting Sam from a distance and chasing after his pursuers while avoiding an extremely dogged enemy tank. You eventually get close enough to lasso onto an enemy vehicle and then battle the enemy drivers directly. It’s amazing to watch and very well done; we just wish you could replay this stage (and not the clocktower portion) over and over. It’s easily the best level we’ve seen this year.