OCT 16, 2023
A Year of Iconic Gaming Moments
NOV 09, 2022
What makes an iconic gaming moment? There’s no real answer unfortunately, otherwise gaming companies would bottle it and spray it liberally on every game that comes out. Instead, sometimes – very rarely – a game developer strikes gold. They make a moment in a game that just sings to us and makes us feel something. An iconic gaming moment is gaming at its best, something that transcends the simple act of play and lives with us long after closing the game.
For the last year on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram channels we’ve been celebrating iconic gaming moments every week. After 52 (Edit: 53, we did 10 twice) entries this series has come to its end, but here they are all in one place so you can browse through some of the best memories gaming has given us.
Note: Some spoilers will be below. We’ve tried to keep juicy plot details secret but invariably some will have slipped through. Proceed at your own peril!
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos was a game that did so much for the RTS genre. From flawless gameplay to being so open to mods entire game modes were built on its bones, it did so much right. One thing it did extremely well is integrating a compelling narrative into the game filled with betrayals and drama. Here, we see Arthas returning to Lordaeron after going through a transformative experience in the frozen lands of Northrend, and so a legend was born.
The intro to Half-Life 2 is one of the all-time greats but it’s this moment, a few minutes in, that really stands out. A brutal cop orders you to pick up a can and pop it in a waiting bin. It’s as much a demonstration of the game’s physics engine as it is evidence of the authoritarian regime you’ve found yourself in. Of course, you can do as the cop says, or you can pop it right in their face. Vive la resistance, after all.
Years after Warcraft III, StarCraft II expanded upon nearly everything in Blizzard’s grim sci-fi future setting. One thing we got to see was the capture and betrayal of one Sarah Kerrigan, something we’d lived through in the original StarCraft but had never seen – at least, not in its own cutscene. This iconic gaming moment gave us an up close and personal look at how Kerrigan was betrayed by those she worked for and showed why she’s not exactly humanity’s best friend anymore.
BioShock is a game made of brilliant moments but there’s a few that stand out. One of these is early on, when you’re exploring a dental surgery in the underwater city of Rapture. Things aren’t right there, something that becomes more clear as you explore, but it’s a dental jump scare which made this scene become legendary. At some point you’ll have to turn around and when you do, make sure you’re ready for one of gaming’s all-time greatest jumpscares.
Some gaming moments don’t just happen once, they can happen over, and over, and over, and over again. Minecraft’s creepers are an ever-present threat in the often-chill survival game. Who hasn’t emerged from their house in the morning only to be exploded? Who hasn’t been delving deep in a cave only to hear that telltale noise? All you need to know is, if you hear the tsssssssss it’s time to start running before you hear the BANG.
The original Resident Evil started a franchise for a reason but it’s an early jump scare that remains one of its most memorable moments. You’re just walking down a corridor in the creepy abandoned mansion and then, suddenly, they jump. Windows smash as weird zombie dogs jump through, giving you not only a heart attack but a new enemy to face (or flee from).
You’ve been walking through Half-Life’s Black Mesa for hours. Invading aliens have killed most scientists and are desperately trying to end you too, and then it happens. Finally, some backup. The army’s here and they’ll surely save the day. Surely. Surely?
Dragon Age: Origins is one of the best RPGs ever to grace gaming and its characters are a large part of that. Early on you’ll be helping an army take on the oncoming tide of Darkspawn but you’re not too worried – the king’s army is huge and well provisioned. Then Loghain doesn’t give the order to join the battle and leads his troops away from the field. This betrayal sets up everything that follows and has helped make Loghain a face all of us love to hate.
Pac-Man is a game about frantically running away from pursuing ghosts trying to chomp up every pill on the screen. However, sometimes you get to turn the tables on your ghostly foes. Power pills let you become the hunter, turning ghosts blue as they run away from you for a change. It’s a brief respite but such a welcome one and the catharsis of chewing up these spooks never gets old.
In BioShock there’s a twist near the end of the game that gives you essential information about who you are and why you’re there, and a simple phrase – would you kindly – leads to one of the game’s most shocking and brutal moments. Andrew Ryan may be the leader and founder of Rapture but even he can’t escape the golf club of management feedback.
The original Legend of Zelda gave players a colossal adventure across a huge world, filled with monsters and dungeons to explore. But without a sword, young Link wouldn’t get very far. Right at the start you are told that it’s dangerous to go alone and to take a sword proffered to you by an old man. Your adventure starts here and for many gamers, their life-long love of gaming started here too.
We could write an entire article about Bloodborne’s best bits but for our money, nothing beats one of the game’s final fights. Duelling amidst a field of flowers is a well worn trope in games and cinema, but here with the music and the emotional impact of who you’re fighting against is implemented perfectly. We won’t spoil this fight for you but if you’ve played it we’re sure it’s seared into your soul.
The revitalised XCOM series is a game of abstractions, where the dividing line between what the graphics show you and what’s actually happening under the hood is quite clear. That said, after many players noticed that 100% chance to hit didn’t exactly mean 100% – it was instead rounded up, it became a meme that swept across the internet.
Note: Yes we know this pic is from XCOM 2 where this particular rounding issue didn’t happen.
There are few opening levels as atmospheric, creepy, or just plain cool as the original Unreal’s. Escaping the prison ship that crashed on an alien planet is tense and exciting, but that’s nothing compared to what follows. You step out onto a strange landscape, the game’s peerless soundtrack playing, and you take in the vista. It’s impressive now, it was mind blowing in 1998.
The first Dark Forces was a great FPS that unfortunately has become non-canon with the release of films like Rogue One. The sequel, however, was what all sequels should be – expansive. Not only is the FPS action taken up several notches you also learn over the course of the game to control the Force, in addition to getting your very own lightsaber. There’s almost nothing like swinging your laser sword around and in Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight it still remains a blast to this day.
Portal 2 is packed full of some of the best jokes you’ll see in – or out – of gaming but nothing beats the part where he kills you. You simply have to play it to understand the sheer cavalcade of punchlines that assault you one after another. It’s perfection.
For PC gamers especially an iconic gaming moment can happen outside of actually playing a game. For those of us old enough to remember gaming on DOS, many of us will have become quite familiar with writing (and re-writing) our AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files in order to get a troublesome game to work. Tinkering was the name of the game those days and getting both sound AND mouse to work was a lasting achievement.
The Red Pyramid Thing, otherwise known as Pyramid Head, is probably the most iconic character in the entirety of Silent Hill 2. This masterclass in horror is itself an iconic gaming moment but there are few characters, few enemies, as utterly memorable as this helmet wearing friend. Their intro is incredibly memorable too, though we won’t spoil it here.
Final Fantasy VI was a huge leap forward for the JRPG series. Experimental in so many ways, it was full to the brim with plot, locations, and moments that stick with you forever. None of those moments are quite as memorable as the opera scene, however. Now, with the FF6 Pixel Remaster, that entire scene has been redone and spruced up which means a new generation can find out exactly why so many Final Fantasy fans get misty eyed around operas.
There’s a reason so many horror games took after P.T, partially because of the terrifying atmosphere but also partly because of Lisa. The ghost that haunts this repetitive hallway is one of horror’s most enduring and scary creations, and frankly we’re going to stop talking about her right now in case she’s listening.
Lord British is a jolly fellow from the Ultima series of game (and real life, hi Richard Garriott), and in most games you can find a way to kill him despite his apparent invulnerability. The best way to end this monarch is in Ultima VII: The Black Gate, where every day he stands for a moment under a golden sign. By clicking on this sign at the right moment it will fall on his head, killing him forever. Legend has it this reflected a real event that Richard Garriott survived involving an errant piece of signage, but whatever the inspiration, it’s a classic move.
More meme than moment, the initial seconds of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one that’s known to most gamers across the globe. Not only does it start an adventure that can last into the hundreds – if not thousands – of hours, but also because most of us have seen it quite a few times restarting the game over and over to create the perfect character.
There are many iconic bosses in Elden Ring but there’s only one Starscourge Radahn. On his tiny pony this gravity-powered colossus faces off against you on a deserted battlefield, giving you one of the best fights in this – or any – game. Thankfully you can bring some NPC friends with you to lessen the danger but be warned, Radahn is no easy meat and just when you think you’ve beaten him is when he’s most dangerous.
The Normandy isn’t just a spaceship in Mass Effect, it’s your home and as much a character as any of your teammates. So when in the opening minutes of Mass Effect 2 it’s rent asunder, it’s utterly heartbreaking. The beginning of Mass Effect 2 is one of the all-time greats and we will forever shed a tear for our lost first spaceship.
A lot of openings are iconic but none more so than the initial section to Indigo Prophecy / Fahrenheit. Here the player wakes up in a diner’s toilet with a corpse in front of them. What ensues is one of the most tense and frantic sequences in any game as you rush to hide the evidence of this crime before a cop wanders into the bathroom. Through a novel split-screen approach you can keep an eye outside at all times which only serves to ramp up the tension in this superlative sequence.
There are many bombastic, brilliant moments littered throughout the Halo series but it’s in Halo: Reach that Bungie did their best work. This, however, is a sombre affair. Once again we will not spoil this for any who haven’t played it but for those who have, you’ll look at that helmet and you’ll get a tear in your eye.
You can’t make a game and call it The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and not include some sweet, sweet ocarina music. Thankfully, you’ll be piping away on your little ocarina many times throughout the adventure and each time you get a new tune it’ll do wonderful, magical things that can often surprise you. There’s a reason Ocarina of Time is a classic and why so many can still play those tunes to this day.
The original Prey from 2006 featured many wonderful setpieces, from crashing planes on alien spaceships to taking revenge against the monsters that stole everything from you. Yet it’s the intro, inside a bar with Blue Öyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper playing merrily away on the jukebox that’s probably the most iconic gaming moment to come from it. As you watch everything get abducted as the aliens take you, this jaunty tune becomes your companion as you fly into the sky.
We’re back in Half-Life 2 for this one, past the guard with their can and we’re out onto the streets of City 17 for the first time. It’s hard to understand just how mind-blowing this was to see, what looked like an entire city laid out before us but something’s wrong, there’s alien devices dotted around and in the distance a colossal tower rises above us. It’s an amazing scene and one that sticks with you long after the game is closed.
The Last of Us is a grim, grim game filled with atrocities, heartbreak, and bleakness. That’s why the giraffes moment stands out so well. Near the end of the game, after much of the above grimness (but before yet more grimness) Ellie and Joel are given a moment of respite when some giraffes, loosed from a zoo years before, make an appearance. This little heartwarming moment provides an utterly essential contrast from the unrelenting misery of the rest of the game and recharges our emotional batteries before the final hurdles.
Honestly there’s not much we can say about this particular moment because to unpick it would be to spoil one of the finest moments in gaming. We shall just say this: System Shock 2 remains a masterpiece and you should play it.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is a game about exploring the forgotten undercity of a generic American city whilst hunting – and being hunted by – a serial killer. As you progress there are hints of something supernatural in the air and that’s never more clear than during the game’s department store level. Throughout, these broken mannequins are omnipresent and some are even enemies dressed up in disguise. However, right near the end of the level, the move when your back is turned. It’s terrifying, incredibly effective, and still an utterly iconic gaming moment all these years later.
The very first secret in Doom 2 is one that can be easily missed but is also incredibly simple to find. Just turn around! The chainsaw is an iconic weapon in the series and by including it as a secret right at the start of the legendary sequel it teaches the player to always be on the lookout – secrets are essential to your survival.
Picture the scene: you’ve just started this new JRPG called ‘Pokémon’, you’ve heard a bit about it but you’re not sure what’s in store for you. Right at the start, however, you’re given a choice between three pokéballs. It’s decision time, will you take Charmander, Squirtle, or Bulbasaur? It is a choice that’ll define your entire adventure and probably give you a life-long bond to that particular creature, so choose wisely.
With Tomb Raider becoming a little more grounded and gritty in recent years it’s hard to remember that the series wasn’t always that way. The first Tomb Raider game managed to walk the line between threat and goofiness perfectly, especially in its iconic boss fight against a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Before this you’ve been mainly fighting bats, wolves, maybe a tiger or two. Now it’s serious – there’s dinosaurs down here?
Everyone remembers their first time trying to kill the Capra Demon. Dark Souls veterans will tell you it’s not a hard fight, just run up the stairs, kill the dogs, then jump on its head. Easy, they’ll say. But that doesn’t encompass how stressful and terrifying this encounter is for first time – even second time players. Cramped conditions, multiple enemies, and this…thing…slicing at you. It’s a defining moment for not only the game but the series and one that definitely will stick with you.
Cayde-6 was an utter fan-favourite in Destiny 2. All through the players’ adventures he’d be there to quip and lighten the mood during dark times, and when he got serious you knew it was serious. So when in the Forsaken expansion for the game Bungie decided to kill him off it was utterly devastating for many Destiny 2 fans. What ensued was a righteous rampage of revenge against his murderer and one of the most personal and best storylines in the game. So long, Cayde-6 – you are not forgotten.
Chrono Trigger is rightly considered to be one of the finest JRPGs ever created, both mechanically and narratively, and it’s moments like this that hammer home that reputation. Once again we will not spoil what happens here but it’s an iconic moment that upends your expectations and the entire plot of the game. It’s masterfully done and remains a true high point in gaming.
A spinoff from the Metal Gear series might’ve fallen flat but right off the bat Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance sets out its stall and its stall is awesome. The game’s first boss fight sees you surrounded by the thrashing guitars of Jamie Christopherson’s Rules of Nature as you chip away at its health. Then, it swings its colossal blade at you. Press the right buttons and…you catch it. The vocals hit. You feel amazing.
Batman Arkham Asylum is a game that likes to mess with Batman’s head. It also likes to mess with the player’s. At one point it seems that the game has crashed and it does it in a way that’s identical to a graphics card going kaput. The game, of course, is fooling you and what follows is a psychological ride that contains equal parts joy and horror.
Way back in World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich King expansion the game took on a new focus, delving into storylines and narrative beats to enhance the players’ questing experience. Never was this more iconic than during the Wrathgate event. Here, both Horde and Alliance put together their differences to fight Arthas once and for all but..what’s that? The Forsaken? Betraying everyone? Even if this later didn’t follow through with all of its implications, this was a pivotal moment in Warcraft history and remains a high point for the series.
Throughout the whole of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic you’re following in the footsteps of a Sith by the name of Revan. You see visions of them throughout, going ahead of you, uncovering mysteries that you have yet to solve. Then, finally, you find out who they are…and we won’t spoil that reveal for you here.
Arkane’s Prey from 2017 is a stunningly brilliant immersive sim that takes players on an utterly unfortunate journey. Its opening, however, remains one of the strongest to ever appear in gaming. You wake up in your apartment and go to work. Then, you wake up in your apartment…and go to work. How you break this routine and its implications can turn all your expectations on their head making it not only brilliant – but utterly masterful.
Throughout all of Portal 2 you get used to your crosshair showing you blue and orange to let you know when a surface is viable for your portals. Then, right at the end, things look grim. You’ve been all but defeated and the Aperture Laboratories facility has been broken open leaving you staring up at the moon and…hold on. Surely not.
Journey is a game partially about communicating without communicating. All you can do with your randomly-assigned co-op partner is cheep at them and jump about. Late on, as you close in on your destination, you can’t even do that. As the cold descends your movements become slower, your cheeps become quieter. Eventually your partner falls with you soon to follow. It’s utterly heartbreaking and one of the defining moments not only of this game, but of all gaming.
You did it, you crawled through filth, fought off goblins and assassins, and have emerged from prison a free person. Oblivion’s open world awaits you and for a first vision of your adventure nothing beats this moment. A ruin, green hills, and freedom all laid out for you. After the foetid darkness of the sewers it’s a relief and a moment that will squat in your brain for eternity.
There’s a reason Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is still considered a classic and part of that is its inventive and surprising approach to storytelling. The mission Shock and Awe in particular is a highlight, where things don’t go quite the way anyone would expect them to. Again, no spoilers, but if you haven’t played it – go sort that now, we’ll wait.
Uncharted is a series built around brilliant and thrilling setpieces and that’s never more apparent than in Uncharted 2. There’s a ton to choose from in this instalment but nothing beats the train sequence, frantically battling waves of foes and even a helicopter as you move through stunningly beautiful scenery – it feels more like an action film than most action films.
Gordon Freeman isn’t the luckiest person alive, all they wanted to do was get through the day and finish the experiment but noooo, everything had to go wrong didn’t it and start an alien invasion from the nightmare realm of Xen. Half-Life is still held up as a FPS masterpiece and right from the starting sequence around the Resonance Cascade it holds up even to this day.
What makes a game iconic isn’t just a series of brilliant moments that fill you with adrenaline and excitement, it’s the quiet moments too. The pacing of big beats. Red Dead Redemption does that perfectly with the ride down to Mexico. All you have to do is trot along on your horse but around you is some of the most beautiful scenery seen in a game and a soundtrack that tugs at your heartstrings. It’s what you need right when you need it and a moment that lives far beyond the confines of the game.
The entire Halo series is basically one giant iconic gaming moment but that’s truly driven home when you first arrive on Installation 04 all the way back in the original Halo: Combat Evolved. After the chaos and frantic escape from the Pillar of Autumn you crash down and above you is…this. The ringworld curves away from you into the sky, letting you know exactly what kind of grand sci-fi epic FPS you’re in for.
Bethesda knows how to make a statement at the start of their games. In Fallout 3 you have no idea about the condition of the outside world, even series veterans haven’t seen the East Coast before. Then you emerge from Vault 101 and see utter devastation, your eyes blinded by seeing natural light for the first time. It serves to hammer home not only the damage wrought upon our planet by war but also gives you essential glimpses of your future adventures. Look, there, on the horizon. Is that a town?
The intro to BioShock is not only one of the greatest moments in gaming, it’s one of the greatest moments in media. Surviving a plane crash you find an isolated lighthouse. Inside there’s a bathysphere which begins to descend, telling you of Andrew Ryan and his city under the sea – Rapture. Then you see it. There’s no reveal as well done, no curtain-lifting as impactful. It is a simple unveiling but what a sight, what a scene, what a moment.