As technology has improved, video games have become increasingly cinematic. There’s a lot of talk that the industry should be considered an art form in its own right, with visuals, music, and storytelling advancing to levels that rival the movies we watch at the theater.
Gaming becoming more of a mainstream pastime has seen more money being pumped into AAA blockbuster releases, and production values climbing ever higher. Some big franchises pride themselves more on their story than their gameplay, plotting twists, turns and loop-the-loops as unpredictably as a Dan Brown novel.
There’s something else that happens as storytelling, and cinematic action in games improves: it all gets way, way too real.
As a long-time fan of horror movies, I sometimes find that the genre has diminishing returns. There’s only so many times you can watch the dumb blonde whimpering as she creeps down the darkened hallway, after all. As she’s crushed into flecks of squishy spam by whatever the thing is this time, I’m not so much horrified as I am rolling my eyes at the repetitiveness of it all.
The answer to this, according to some filmmakers, is to dial the gore up to eleven in hopes of repulsing us. I guess you can’t get desensitized if they keep raising the bar. Video games have caught on to this trick too, always courting controversy for their violence. To illustrate this, why don’t we take a look at 15 Gaming Deaths So Violent They Make You Sick (Literally).
15 For Honor: Relax... They're 'Armless
Middle Ages combat was a super brutal business. Vicious weaponry like battle-axes and maces were a limb-loppin’ good time, foot soldiers wielded spears with curved edges designed to slide inside the gaps in suits of armor and perforate the knight inside… it was all largely hand-to-hand and blade-to-abdomen.
For Honor is a fighter (well, sort of) set during this period (also sort of). You choose a faction (Knight, Viking or Samurai), a class from that faction, and you’re going at your opponent 1-on-1, 2-on-2 or 4-on-4. Whichever mode you choose, fights are suitably vicious and visceral, with some brilliantly wince-inducing execution moves. The hulking armored Lawbringer will raise his opponent in the air on his halberd and impale them, while the swift Peacekeeper will slice off her defeated and cowering enemy’s arm before gleefully decapitating them.
14 Resident Evil 4: Where’s Your Head At?
Resident Evil 4, as fans will know, was the game that brought the series kicking and screaming into interactive action movie territory. Leon’s second adventure is a ridiculous, balls-out bullets-a-mundo experience, like something from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 80s heyday.
Sure, Resident Evil 5 and 6 took this whole thing even further, but they lacked the range of deliciously gruesome death animations that Leon was put through in 4. That old classic, the chainsaw decapitation, was in there, of course, and there was even an ‘easter egg’ death in which your ally shot you in the heart (after you accidentally damaged him too often while the two of you fought side by side). My personal choice for grimmest, though, would have to be those giant mutant bugs spitting acid in your face and melting the flesh away from your skull.
13 Dead Space 2: Aye Aye, Captain
Well, damn. I’m sure you all knew this one was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. Jeez, this is rough.
As I've said, I’m a fairly seasoned fan of horror films, and I’m not easily shocked. That said, though, we all have our weaknesses. For me, it’s anything eye-related. That contact lens trial I once had at the optician was harrowing enough, so what the hell was Dead Space 2 doing to me with this one?
Near the close of the game, there’s a certain machine you have to operate. This is done, in true Visceral Games fashion, by plugging Isaac Clarke into it and playing around with a needle a nano-inch from his eyeball. It’s tough to keep it still, as the player character naturally squirms like a stuck fish as it gets closer. If you fail, a truly horrendous death scene awaits.
12 Gears Of War: Duelin’ Chainsaws
Epic Games’/The Coalition’s Gears of War series isn’t one to mince words. Or actions. Or to mince anything, really, save for the many, many damn foes you’ll be shredding to mincemeat over the course of the campaign.
The games depict humanity’s vicious, desperate struggle for survival against the Locust and Lambent forces, mutated man-things bent on their destruction. Clearly, it’s going to get pretty damn grisly around here. The Gears games are known for their hyper-masculine gun-toting gameplay, and their complete lack of restraint when it comes to violence.
One of the series’ signature weapons is the Lancer, an assault rifle which can be equipped with a chainsaw bayonet. When two opponents bring said bayonets to bear on each other at the same time, a chainsaw duel ensues, and the loser is sliced in half.
11 MadWorld: I’m Only Gonna Break-Break, Break-Break Your Heart
Sit down, Akon. Nobody asked you. Get out of here with Break Your Heart.
You might never have heard of MadWorld. It’s quite obscure as this list goes, being a fairly niche Wii hack and slash from 2009. The important thing is, though, that it had an amazing Sin City-esque art style and a taste for gore that rivaled even Mortal Kombat.
The action centers around Jack Cayman, a man with a retractable chainsaw built into his arm. He is our protagonist and rising star of game show called DeathWatch, a kind of modern day gladiatorial combat. You build combos and high scores by setting up the most gruesome kills, tearing out enemies’ hearts and impaling them through the face as you go. Still, I guess it beats most reality TV today.
10 God Of War III: Kratos, The God Killer
Say what you will about Nintendo, the family-friendly eccentric member of the industry. You can snark all you like, but there’s one thing you can’t deny: they’ve got the biggest roster of gaming icons around. PlayStation and Xbox have their own big franchises, but nobody who can quite touch Mario and company.
In recent years, relative newcomer Kratos has established himself as a PlayStation mascot. The guy is known for his bold, brash, if-you-can’t-beat-em-rip-their-damn-intestines-out-and-set-their-mama’s-dog-on-fire attitude, as well as the intense violence of his action franchise God of War. In the starring role, Kratos takes issue with the gods of Greek mythology, and, being a powerful demi-god himself, fights and kills many of them in a brutal fashion. When it comes to the grisliest moment, I’d probably push for the death of Helios, which sees Kratos grip his head and twist until it's torn off.
9 The Punisher: Electrocution Laser Torture, With Sharks
Any comic fan will tell you that The Punisher is not a man to screw with. His skull logo will tell you that at just a glance. This is not the symbol of a man who wants to share a manly hug, ask how your wife and kids are doing, and then invite you over for a fancy-ass garden party that weekend.
Frank Castle is a ruthless vigilante, waging a one-man war against crime in retaliation against the killing of his family. An ex-army vet, Castle has all the tools he needs to beat on the bad guys, and is a merciless interrogator, not to mention torturer and executioner. He takes out his prey in a variety of grisly, Bond villain-ish ways; this classic laser scene is my personal favourite.
8 BioShock Infinite: Like A Dentist’s Drill, But Worse
It’s a tough gig, being Booker DeWitt. In this 2013 FPS from Irrational Games, you play as a con artist who is sent to the steampunk city state of Columbia on a mission to rescue a mysterious young woman named Elizabeth. You take this gig as a way out, to erase your debts and save your own ass from the mistakes of your past.
In one memorable incident in Columbia, you come across an interracial couple being stoned in public (racial segregation being rife here). As the player, you’re given the choice between throwing a baseball at the couple or at the leader of the baying crowd. If you attempt the latter, you’ll be apprehended by guards, who will attack you with a horrifying, swirling little handheld saw tool. Sure, you turn the tables and one of the guards meets a grisly fate instead, but… damn.
7 Resident Evil 7: The Cop In Daddy’s Garage
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was, in all sorts of ways, a real paradigm shift for the series. It did away with all that third-person action movie bravado that the franchise had become bogged down with. It introduced a whole new cast in a whole new scenario, with nary a Chris Redfield or Spencer Mansion in sight. It’s an FPS, granted, but the biggest deal here was that it actually qualified as a horror game again.
Those early moments, which see you pretty well defenseless and stalked by the crazed father of the family—who is indestructible—were pretty darn tense. If getting your hand sliced off by your demented girlfriend aren’t bad enough, just wait until you see daddy thrust his shovel into the cop’s face and half of his face slowly slide away. Pretty.
6 F.E.A.R: Your Buddy Tossed Around Like A Blood-Leaky Rag Doll
F.E.A.R (which stands for First Encounter Assault Recon, because of course they’d shoehorn any damn thing in there to make that acronym work) is another horror-themed FPS. Here, you play as the point man of a special forces team who specialize in the supernatural. Your character has superhuman reflexes, and is able to track these ghostly enemies as well as slow down time in typical Matrix fashion.
None of these abilities count for much in one early incident. Investigating a supposedly abandoned building, your squad is ambushed by the supernatural scourge. One unfortunate member of your party is thrown around endlessly from wall to ceiling as you watch. This all goes on for far too long until your guy is finally dragged away and explodes in a shower of blood. It’s one of the most protracted and violent deaths in recent gaming.
5 Soldier Of Fortune: Your Very Unfortunate Soldier Enemies
Many of you, like me, have had gaming careers that span a good few decades. If you start racking up a list of all of the casualties we’ve left in our wake over that time, you could start to feel a little bad. How many goombas and koopa troopas have we stomped over the years? How many harmless shuffling undead have we blown away in shooters? Far too damn many.
Of all the many mobs we’ve cut down in swathes, from Metal Gear guards to Gears of War Locusts, I pity none as much as I do the enemy fighters in Soldier of Fortune. Raven Software’s FPS hit at the turn of the millennium, and is infamous for its gore. After your initial headshot to kill an opponent, you could continue blasting them to remove all their limbs, leaving just a squishy defeated torso.
4 Tomb Raider: Fresh Reboot, Same Old Impalement
I’m really not convinced that Lara Croft thought her career decision all the way through. You’d think that archaeology would be harmless enough. The word just makes you think of Ross from Friends, and his nerdy collection of dinosaur toys. Maybe she should’ve got a second opinion from Indiana Jones? He’d have told her the real truth. The reality of the job is all running from big-ass boulders and crazy tribesmen who want to rip your heart out.
The Tomb Raider series was all about super difficult acrobatic platforming, and grisly death animations when you mistimed a jump. The series was rebooted in 2013, and with its jump to HD graphics came far more realistic, far grislier death scenes. Lara falling twenty feet and slumping over a series of spikes is one of my earliest memories of witnessing a painful video game death, and the new version of it has all the impact it did then.
3 The Last Of Us: The Bloater’s Radical Approach To Dentistry
The Last of Us was, right off the bat, a pretty darn grim prospect. A survival horror action game from Crash Bandicoot’s Naughty Dog, the game centers around a post-apocalyptic United States ravaged by a strain of the Cordyceps fungus. Cordyceps, for the uninitiated, is a parasite, and the fictional strain in the game is strong enough to invade human hosts and change them (think Resident Evil 4’s Las Plagas).
The resulting infected are The Last of Us’ zombies, if you will, and they’re kind of a-holes. One enemy variety, the Bloater, is your typical fat-guy-who-takes-a-hell-of-a-beating type, and he can inflict a brutal kill on our hero Joel if given the chance. This guy will grab him by the head, and pull in both directions until Joel’s jaw… well, you can imagine.
2 Outlast: The Wedding From Hell
Outlast, as anyone’s who’s played it can attest, isn’t a super friendly happy-fun-times sort of title. It’s a survival horror game from Red Barrels, which tackles a very familiar plot: an investigative journalist moseys on in to an abandoned psychiatric hospital, in search of clues for their next big scoop. What does he find? Paranormal horrors, cheap jump scares, all of that good stuff.
While it’s not the most original game around, Outlast was well-received by players and critics, and was a good little slice of horror at a time when that was hard to find. Its DLC, Whistleblower, was particularly gruesome, featuring the infamous groom. Do you remember the scene with this guy hacking away at the still-twitching bodies of his victims, preparing them for his 'wedding'? Of course you do, it’s indelibly etched in your mind.
1 Mortal Kombat: Finishing It With Finish Him/Her
That’s right, friends. I’ve saved the best, and most tediously predictable, until last. It would have been nothing short of sacrilege not to include Mortal Kombat’s fatalities in a rundown of some of gaming’s most violent deaths, after all.
Those iconic cries of FINISH HIM! and FINISH HER! Just define everything about violent gaming kills. This has been the case ever since Mortal Kombat first began in 1992. The idea of not simply knocking your opponent out at the end of a fight, but instead outright killing them, is still a novel one, and the series prides itself on constantly finding even more elaborate and grisly ways of doing so.
My personal choice for most brutal? Ermac’s Inner Workings. Levitating, bone breaking, pulling out guts, this one has it all and he doesn’t even have to lay a hand on his opponent to do it.