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Gaming's Five Trippiest Dream Sequences

Some of the most beautiful and horrifying dreams and nightmares, brought to life by the magic of video games

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Some of gaming's most memorable moments happen when developers are given the opportunity to go a little mad. When you take designers' imaginations off the leash, the result is often a fever dream highlight reel of the bizarre, and shows off what's possible in a medium where absolutely everything is virtual and there are none of those annoying constraints of the physical world. In a way, video games are like dreams, dreams that exist in the collective consciousness, and so it's not surprising that the dreams inside video games are often so completely batty. We've plucked out the best of the best, graded on originality, cleverness, and sheer surreality.

5. Metal Gear Solid 4

One of the coolest moments of the last numbered Metal Gear Solid happens when a weathered, ancient Snake starts to drift off on a transport chopper. Players are transported back to Shadow Moses, site of the original MGS, and play through a sequence in the style of the original game, complete with original PlayStation-era graphics.

The sequence ends with Snake snapping awake, his face transforming from low res-polygons to modern textures, young Snake aging before our eyes. Not only is the sequence a great nostalgia piece and top-shelf fan service, it's also a welcome reminder of how far the series has come in terms of advanced graphics and logical controls.

4. Catherine

Catherine is novel in that all its gameplay takes place inside of protagonist Vincent's slumbering subconscious, and it is a bizarre and terrifying place. To start, in the nightmare landscape of his guilt-adled mind Vincent is perpetually in his underwear and sporting a pair of ram's horns, a marker of his infidelity. The other young men he encounters all appear as sheep, often with random articles of human clothing, and to escape Vincent has to scale massive towers of blocks. But that's only the tip of the surreal iceberg that is Catherine's dream world.

The true genius/madness of these twisted dreamscapes are the bosses, who reflect some of the real world crises Vincent is grappling with. There's the giant, warped flesh monster The Immoral Beast, signifying Vincent's lack of control over his own libido; the Doom Bride, a psychotic version of Vincent's girlfriend Katherine in a tattered wedding dress and wielding a giant, blood stained knife; and, of course, the giant zombie baby, a hellish representation of Vincent's fear of fatherhood that looks like it would prefer chewing human flesh to the pacifier currently planted in its distended mouth.

3. Penumbra: Black Plague

It's no surprise that the creators of Amnesia: the Dark Descent can sculpt out a killer dream sequence, and the one in Penumbra: Black Plague is a banger. Though the entire Penumbra series is like a bad trip in some ways, this dream sequence, with its human arm lanterns, river of blood, and black void replete with rusty chains manages to stand out from the general atmosphere of darkness and insanity. Of course, after all the horrors our "hero" Philip has been exposed to, it's a wonder he ever sleeps at all.

2. Max Payne

The infamous dream sequences from the original Max Payne alternate from whacky, fourth-wall breaking humor to dark reminders of the violent death of Max's family at the hands of hopped-up junkies. Max's guilt and pathos are amped up by way of an overturned crib defaced with blood, and the voice of Max's wife calling out to him, alternately accusing him or pleading for help.

Interlaced through these dark moments are breaks where Max realizes he's the star of a graphic novel (the game's cutscenes are comic book pages) or a character in a video game, haunted by speech "hanging in the air like balloons" or the sensation of someone controlling his every move. The narrative style and thick atmosphere of the Max Payne franchise makes it ripe for this sort of trippy treatment, and Remedy has proven that they're expert at toying with and subverting their own fiction.


1. Killer 7

Killer 7 really ups the ante to earn the top slot on our list: the entire game is a protracted dream sequence, a blood-drenched, psychadelic ode to broken psyches. Gore raining from the heavens, day-glo color cycling "people" who disintegrate into clouds of particolored globules, luchador assassins: Killer 7 is like a smorgasborg of uniquely Japanese madness.

Even the mechanics reflect the surreal, hyperviolent texture of the world of Killer 7; the female assassin, for instance, can slash her wrists and spray arterial blood everywhere to reveal secret doors and hidden passages. Killer 7 is the king of video games as hallucinogenic experiences, and the entire game has a crazed, dream like quality that makes it wholly unique and totally insane.

Originally Published Jun. 21st 2013

Columnist

Alan Bradley is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

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