As gamers we are spoiled for choice. From the pixelated worlds of yore to the technical masterpieces of today, we’ve journeyed form the depths of space to dark fantasy realms to war-torn historic battlefields right down to humdrum suburbia. It’s been beautiful, thrilling, and... just a little bit ordinary.
Because, generally speaking, the floor is always down and the roof is always up. But every now and then developers decide to get creative, to take the laws of reality, twist them into the gaming equivalent of a Klein bottle, and transform the comfortingly familiar into the brain-meltingly bizarre.
These are worlds of gravity gone haywire, that make you question what’s real, worlds that scramble your sense of direction so badly your brain up and waves the white flag. There may not be many such levels but when we do see them they are always ambitious and always special.
In this article we look at nine of the best, levels taken from old classics and ground-breaking modern titles, and immerse ourselves in some of the most bewildering, unsettling and awe-inspiring mind-benders gaming has to offer.
(Note: These are discreet levels, so while games like Antichamber and Manifold Garden definitely qualify in concept, those are seamless experiences and belong on a different list.)
Warning: Spoilers incoming.
9. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - Falling Ship
For all their mind-bending spectacle, most games that feature gravity reversal don’t truly reverse gravity. Instead textures and topography are swapped, creating the illusion of said reversal while still providing players with a fixed point of reference
Falling Ship is subtly different. Protagonist Kyle Katarn finds himself trapped aboard the freighter Sulon Star. It is in free fall, the ground is coming up fast, and players have mere minutes to find their ship and escape.
But instead of falling horizontally the ship is canted at an angle, putting players at the bottom of a diamond rather than the more traditional, intuitive box. That doesn’t sound too bad, but this is Star Wars, packed with Star Wars grey, and so outside of a handy floor texture to orientate yourself by, that weird angle can turn something as simple as telling floor from ceiling, or even whether you’re going up or down or not, into a panicked brain freeze.
It is one of the most disorientating levels ever created, but rather than being frustrating every failed attempt serves as the unravelling of the maze, translating to an exhilarating high when players finally get it right.