…is something you’ll probably not see this year if you, like me, are a Midlands dweller. But videogames will always be there to drag you away from this middling, pitifully dull-weathered county which we haunt and into a wintery landscape of cold, white joy, no matter how geographically challenged you are. So here at You Died, we thought we’d follow suit of every blog ever and give you our favourite snow levels that I could think of whilst at work. Not that I’m slacking or anything, we’re just winding down for Christmas and there’s not much to do, better than staring at a wall or, you know, talking to someone…
Gears 2 was a big snowy bastard with entire levels and map packs devoted to it. The campaign chapter ‘Ascension’ is, in terms of the games narrative, a gathering storm and also acts as a nice little pace breaker to the combat by putting you in charge of a Centaur Tank and sending you up a steep, foreboding mountain in a heavy blizzard, taking down Locust strongholds, enduring ambushes from Reavers and forcing you to leap over huge ravines. The best parts? Fighting a Reaver on a frozen lake as Seeders launch Nemacysts at you and afterwards reaching the summit, smashing through a Locust stronghold in the Hollow and taking down 3 Corpsers. Their brilliant ‘eyes in the darkness’ reveal alone is a great moment in a great game; add in the snow and it’s near perfect.
Special mention goes to the best multiplayer map ‘Avalanche’ with the literally-game-changing titular disaster that occurs roughly halfway through a match, altering the landscape and beating Battlefield’s ‘Levolutions’ by about 5 years.
The Last of Us – WinteR
*SERIOUS STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW*.
The best section in the whole game, hands down. After the huge ‘NO!!!’ moment at the end of Chapter 3, you’re thrust without any explanation into a serene snow covered forest; a scene which sits utterly at odds with your own internal feelings – where’s Joel? Did he survive? How long has it been? Months? Years? The game ain’t saying. Instead of answers to the harrowing questions that previous chapter posed, you’re presented with an environment of stunning beauty and left to explore. Fresh snow glistens as the early morning sun bounces off it. Snow clings to the branches of trees as a small flurry gently floats in the air. Fresh snow crunches under your feet and tumbles down bare rock faces. The snow underfoot has some real dynamism to it too – Ellie’s feet fall under the snow realistically as she tentatively walks, not just settling on top of it. It’s this incredible level of detail that Naughty Dog pile into their games that puts them head and shoulders above every other studio when it comes to nailing an environment and then coupling it with the narrative. Later in the level, a truly vicous blizzard hits and, again, the environment plays into what you’re experiencing. Now, as the rejuvenated Joel, you’re desperatly searching for Ellie who is at the mercy of a clan of cannibals. You, the player, knows where she is; you’ve traversed this town before as Ellie. But the blizzard is an equalizer, obscuring your vision to no more than a few feet – only the light from the few trash can fires bloom through the layers of thick, billowing snow to offer any indication of what’s ahead. You’re fully in Joel’s shoes, totally blind and stumbling, hoping to hell that you find Ellie before it’s too late. A masterpiece of narrative gameplay.
Donkey Kong Country – Snow Barrel Blast
Gorilla Glacier gives you 6 whole levels full of snowy, ice filled goodness from the SNES’ best platformer and the best level of the bunch is the first one, Snow Barrel Blast. Starting off on a mountain range, you’re at an immediate disadvantage with the ice under your feet causing you to slip around. The game then throws another spanner into the works when the snow starts falling. The ground under your feet looks lovely and chunky with the fresh snow thanks to the still amazing pre-rendered graphics and the sheer blue sky perfectly captures that ‘almost so bright it’s blinding’ feel you get after fresh snow fall. But then comes the best part – as you make your way through the level, the sky in the background darkens and a heavy blizzard hits making the platforming even more difficult; you’ll find yourself having to squint through the snow to make out your next path. And all this is done with the lowly processing power of a SNES. Beautiful.
Mario Kart – Vanilla Lake 2
There’s a lot of hate out there for this track with most people finding it too difficult or even plain unfair. These losers are wrong and this track is brilliant. Popping up in the still-bastard-hard Star Cup, it is, by comparison to the other tracks, a deceptively simple circle. But once you learn its rather tricky racing line, you can whip around the whole track at a ludicrous speed. The icy surface, treacherous to the beginner, acts as a cornering aide to those in the know. Hit the corners at the right angle and you’ll never have to break, drifting for a wonderfully long time, cutting through the shortcut in the track’s barrier and smashing your mates’ best time with embarrassing ease.
Condemned 2 – The Black Lake Lodge
The list could’ve and probably should’ve started and ended with this because it features snow and a big fucking bear. A great set-up: you play as professional hobo killer and full-time alcoholic Ethan Thomas, who has just crawled out of a plane crash all dazed, blurry and surrounded by a snow covered forest. You hear roars in the distance. Wolf? Nah, bigger. Dinosaur? Maybe… After wandering around in the snow and freaking out a lot, you find a severed arm, then you find the arms owner mauled to pieces in an ominously abandoned lodge. Exploring further, you witness other victims being dragged off down hallways and you can tell this probably won’t end well. A little more exploration and a big bastard bear leaps out and engages you in a genuinely heart-in-mouth chase through the lodge’s corridors and rooms. The sound design is excellent here as it really sells the weight and ferocity of the beast as it slams around inches behind you. It all ends when the bear handily walks past the only shelf of gas cannisters in the whole place and you do your best Martin Brody impression and blow the thing out the side of the lodge.
The game then decides to go full tilt mental and has you shouting peoples heads off with your special mutant bird throat. But let’s just forget about that and remember the great, foreboding snow. And the massive fucking bear.