As modern blockbuster games become more about the action and less about the honed craft of skilful gaming, the awesome level has receded in favour of the all out set-piece. Whilst we are now treated to massive helicopter fights and rockets whipping through buildings, there was a time when a really well designed series of platforms was enough to elicit the same effect. Regardless of what era of gaming you think of though, there are always a handful of levels that really built up a sense of immersion within their respective games, those levels that were so good that you couldn’t help but be absorbed by their excellent design. We’ve pulled up ten of the best levels out there that really got you into the game.
Hyrule Field – Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Like with all great games, the masterful Ocarina of Time begins with a slow start. Having ventured through the rather enclosed spaces of the Kokiri forest and Deku Tree’s innards, the game suddenly goes for broke by throwing you out onto the majesty of Hyrule Field. Whilst it may not seem like much to today’s audience, Hyrule Field seemed like a total breath of fresh and open ended air when we first saw it back in 1998. Just one note from Hyrule Field’s legendary theme is enough to transport many of us back to Ocarina of Time; our first ever taste of a fully 3D Zelda game. And what a sweet taste it is.
Halo – Halo: Combat Evolved
The original Halo brought console FPS gaming to the fore of cultural perception, but it was also one of the first major shooters to truly include massively open campaign maps in its ambitious story. Whilst the opening level shares the spaceship corridors of so many other generic sci-fi shooters, Halo’s eponymous second level opened up to truly show off what Bungie’s debut Xbox title was capable of. With a huge open space, intense tactical battles against the covenant and a totally insane and novel ride in a Warthog partway through, Halo is one of the defining levels in FPS history.
World 1-1 – Super Mario Bros. 3
Levels don’t have to be open ended epics to truly capture the sense of what a game is about. Mario Bros. 3 is arguably the most polished platformer ever conceived, and its opening stage defines everything that is so well crafted about this game. The gentle introduction of all the classic Mario elements and new power ups is a master-class in level design and game pacing, and the secret bits in the clouds accessible through clever use of the Tanooki suit offered a perfect introduction to one of Mario’s most iconic power ups. They just don’t make ‘em like this any more.