The 10 Most Insane Set Pieces in Video Games

July 23, 2020

Video game set pieces became a popular feature during the days of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. With that trend came some jaw-dropping moments that are still incredibly memorable today.

From Nathan Drake falling from a crashing airplane in Uncharted 3 to the opening scenes of Fallout 4’s nuclear nightmare, there is plenty of variety in set pieces to be found. 

Here are the 10 most insane and stunning set pieces in video games.

10. The Suicide Mission — Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 did a lot of things right. However, one of the most impressive feats the 2010 game managed to pull off was the climax. Throughout the game, the player knowingly builds up to the appropriately-named “Suicide Mission.”

The genius behind this mission is preparation. Utilizing the player’s choices throughout the game, as well as in the heat of the moment, the game decides whether or not you survive the adventure. 

9. Blowing up Megaton — Fallout 3

One thing that 2008’s Fallout 3 wanted to establish early on was that players would have an effect on the world around them. What better way could there be to prove this than to obliterate one of the starting areas?

Players with a flair for the evil could help detonate a nuke in the middle of Megaton. For those unaware, Megaton is one of the first cities you find in Fallout 3. It’s a pretty important place, as there are many quests found there. Oh, and there are tons of characters, including children, that will also be caught in the nuclear fire.

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8. A normal day in the Asylum — Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a deep breath of fresh air for Batman fans in 2009. As a first foray into the world of Bruce Wayne, the game delivered in virtually all respects. Even Batman’s flair for psychology found its way in, which was appropriate for the setting. 

While exploring the insane asylum that’s home to all of Batman’s worst enemies, things begin to get a bit weird. Batman is subtly poisoned by a fear toxin without warning. Then nightmarish hallucinations interrupt the gameplay until Batman is eventually forced to confront the source of the visions: The Scarecrow. 

Even today, it’s easy to be fooled by the very realistic glitch effect that makes you believe your console or computer has crashed. 

7. Taking the Train — Uncharted 2

There is no series that does a good set piece like Uncharted does. In fact, this list could be populated entirely by moments from those games. However, one moment in particular stands above all of the rest. In 2009’s Uncharted 2, Nathan Drake finds himself storming across an improbably long train. He does this while dispatching countless henchmen with bullets, explosions, and some old-fashioned fisticuffs. 

The entire sequence plays out like an interactive high-quality action film. That is, until disaster strikes and the train is blown off the tracks. Crawling out of the wreckage as it precariously dangles from a cliff is definitely a highlight from the Uncharted games. 

6. Taking on the Cyberdemon —Doom (2016)

Doom (2016) had lots of great moments that just flawlessly explain the appeal of such a series. The big fight with the fearsome Cyberdemon, though… that’s the really good stuff. 

This boss battle is an adrenaline-fueled test of all of the player’s abilities. Plus, the Cyberdemon has the ability to erect walls around the player. This takes away the classic circle-strafing approach and makes the player try a few new things in order to claim victory. 

5. Shooting for the Moon — Portal 2

The level design and events of 2011’s Portal 2 are so fantastic that they’re still impressive today. In the climax of this classic, the game offers a unique moment that typically ends with the player saying, “Oh, no way…”

We’ve all shot at the moon in one video game or another. Portal 2 actually makes something amazing happen when you do. As the player quickly runs out of options and danger closes in on them, a big, bright moon can be seen in the background.

Shooting the iconic portal gun towards the massive space rock actually works. A doorway to the moon itself opens up in the room where all of the action is happening on Earth. Naturally, space is a vacuum, so everything nearby begins being sucked into the emptiness of space, including the player. All in all, this was the last little stroke of brilliance that a game like Portal 2 could offer.

4. Return to Shadow Moses — Metal Gear Solid 4

All of the nostalgic muscles were flexed in 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4. By taking the player back to the setting of the first Metal Gear Solid from a decade earlier, many emotions were dug up unexpectedly. Seeing the former spy playground so degraded and aged was definitely sobering. Add that to the fact that veteran players would still remember the exact layout and you have a perfect formula to begin feeling older. 

3. Who’s a good boy? — Resident Evil

Resident Evil is a creepy game set in a scary mansion. From the opening moments of the 2002 game, this is made abundantly clear. However, this reality doesn’t truly sink in until the player is confronted by the breaking of glass in a long hallway. The first encounter with zombie dogs is totally a set piece that’s hard to forget for the sheer trauma alone. 

2. The Stranger — God of War (2018)

By the time Kratos and Atreus return home from their hunting trip in 2018’s God of War, the player already knows that this game has a different feel to it than the original games in the series. This might lower players’ expectations regarding what kinds of characters could be included in the story. 

This makes the arrival of “the stranger” perfectly timed. From the first unveiling of the character’s incredible strength to the wide range of setting destruction that followed, this scene was a great way to kick off a long journey.

1. An easy-going drive — Halo 3

The final mission of 2007’s Halo 3 was a perfect end to the original Halo trilogy. The epic music playing while Master Chief makes a desperate warthog run for safety was a great way to remember one of Microsoft’s best properties. 

While the series has clearly continued, this would-be ending for the spartan still stands tall as one of his best moments.

What is the most amazing set piece you’ve ever seen in a video game? Tell us in the comments below!

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