Thunderbolt logo

Against All Odds: Gaming’s Most Intense Moments

“Happy endings, they never bore me,” claim Babyshambles in 2005 track ‘F**k Forever’, but evidently we at Thunderbolt are of a more anarchic disposition than the foul-mouthed indie group. Happy endings bore us plenty, and amongst the many things we love about videogames is the ability to balls things up in a truly spectacular fashion.

Film and television, unlike games, are slaves to the satisfying conclusion. Bond will inevitably escape from that laser bed, scrotum intact, but human error can interfere with Peach’s liberation from the hands of Bowser – and as we all know only too well, it frequently will. The possibility for failure has defined the challenge of videogames since the medium’s infancy, and allows for the heart-pounding moments of inevitable demise listed below. The following examples make the cut because they reward our poor decisions or foolish mistakes with hilarious emergent gameplay, nerve-shredding fights for survival, or swift karmic retribution.

They’re tense, enthralling, precarious, and more often than not they end up in a controller hitting a wall with considerable force. What’s more, they may just be the magic ingredient that makes games so captivating.

screenshot
 
Pro Evolution Soccer

There comes a point in every virtual manager’s career where an impending loss has to be accepted. Careless mistakes have consolidated your opponent’s superiority, and the silent negotiations you’ve made with yourself (‘Alright, I need to score two goals before half time and then another three in the second half. Simple’) have broken down. On the wrong side of a 6-0 thrashing with twelve minutes left, you’re being passed off the park and the step-overs have begun in earnest. If you’re playing multiplayer, it’s unmistakably time to break some ankles.

Sliding in recklessly from behind in their penalty area, you and your opposition immediately understand the type of game that’s about to begin. They’ll attempt to flip-flap their way out of trouble while you’ll concentrate on career-ending challenges, taking every booking and penalty the referee chooses to enforce as a badge of honour. Cue cheeky evasive tricks, spectacular bursting runs from goalkeepers and a busy night for Manchester United’s physio. The giddy chaos that ensues usually helps to remove the sting from such a convincing loss, and if you have the brass neck to claim it in the first place, you might even convince yourself that the final ten minutes prove that you “weren’t really trying”.

The pinnacle and ultimate goal of this tactical master class is having enough men sent off to force the game to be abandoned (thereby cutting the margin of imparity to 3-0). Mark Lawrenson squeals in surprise at the turn of events, everyone involved laughs and it almost feels like a victory in itself.

screenshot

Far Cry 2

The fire looks really good. Ubisoft knows it looks good, too, if the tinder-heavy marketing campaign is anything to go by. Hell, even the box art looks to be seconds from being engulfed in flames. Such pride becomes understandable upon tossing a flare into a grassy area in Far Cry 2: the flames crackle and spread realistically around the immediate environment, before being carried further afield on the wind, taking hold on trees and huts, and isolating incautious players from safety. Pyromania is a winning distraction in the game, but the true beauty of Far Cry 2‘s fire-raising skills only emerge when it isn’t planned for. Meticulously considered tactical gameplay often has to be abandoned in the, ahem, heat of the moment, and whether explosions and bushfires help or hinder your progess is down to how well you can predict the spread. Razing impoverished villages to the ground during brutal shootouts has never felt so good.

Grand Theft Auto

A taxi is stolen. One star. You barely need to take notice of that, the State will lose interest in a minute. Said taxi mounts the pavement and runs over a young couple. Two stars. That’s manageable; you can still go about your business but you’ll need to be pretty nippy about it. A police car tries to cut you off, and gets bullets sprayed into the windshield for its trouble. You hit both officers, bringing the car to a standstill: nice shot. Three stars. Now the street is lit up with blue and red lights, but you narrowly avoid oncoming traffic and swerve onto an adjacent path. No rest for the wicked – you find yourself nose-to-nose with a ludicrously robust roadblock, where a dozen SWAT police officers are taking aim. It takes a handbrake turn to avoid them, and a thrown grenade to get rid of them. Four stars, and it’s all kicking off.

The streets of Liberty or Vice City can be awash with cops before you know what you’ve done wrong. This can be an irritating distraction if you’re commuting during an important mission, but the excitement of games of cat-and-mouse with the police is undeniable. It’s arguably the closest gaming ever comes to recreating the feel of Hollywood chase sequences, and Rockstar know exactly how to aid on-the-fly blockbuster stunts: namely, by having the good grace to provide well-positioned makeshift ramps across the map.

screenshot

The ultimate testament to the excitement of Grand Theft Auto when everything goes wrong and you find yourself running for the hills? Once the game is completed, it’s difficult not to spend every playing minute trying to relive the thrill of these impromptu chases.

Columns

Middle ground be damned; Columns is alternately serene or frenetic. Like almost all block-based puzzlers, the question isn’t if you’re going to fail, but when. As such, it can seem like an inevitable slide towards disaster when you fail to link a few lines of colour, especially because your reactions are tested more rapidly the further the columns pile. Eventually there comes a time that you must make every decision blind, simply slotting in blocks where there’s space and hoping for the best. For getting the heart beating and the palms sweating, there’s nothing quite like it.

Joyously, the appearance of having passed the point of no return isn’t always accurate: even as you franticly fit blocks into the remaining on-screen gaps, a run of fortunate columns can pull you back from the brink. Reducing the construction to a manageable level buys you more time to consider your placement of each three-jewel column, and things are much less stressful on the way down than the way up.

screenshot

Fight Night series

“This is one of our favourite points of the night – it’s where we make the call that this man has to win by knockout!”

Fight Night leans more towards intense realism than Rocky Balboa-style dramatics, and eventual victors are usually foreshadowed in the first few rounds of a match. If your win isn’t in the tea leaves, the ring can be a lonely, depressing place. Professional boxers at least have the comfort of knowing that every round they survive in an unwinnable fight is worth a lot of money in the long run; all the hobbyist gamer has for solace at these times is the enticing glow of the on/off button.

Well, that, and the kamikaze option. Our faces will be as beautiful as ever when the bell rings, so there’s no harm in abandoning defence altogether and going in swinging. Wildly throwing hooks and haymakers at an opponent isn’t a tactical masterstroke, but it stands to reason that it increases your chances of making the one game-changing punch that’ll leave your opponent sprawled out on the canvas, unable to reach a vertical base before the ten-count. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with a signature blow is the sweetest feeling the Fight Night series has to offer.

Or at least, we imagine it is. Only, whenever we’ve opted to throw caution to the wind we’ve found out in short order that boxers keep their guard up for a reason: namely, to avoid absorbing every three-punch combo their opponents know how to execute. The kamikaze option is almost certain to leave you staring at the lights, but don’t come crying to us – we never said it was the sensible choice.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2009.

Gentle persuasion

You should like us on Facebook.