People often point to games like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame as some of the scariest games in history, and I am inclined to agree with them. On that same token, people often consider games like Street Fighter, Battlefield, and STALKER as some of the most exciting games in history. Yet again, Iím inclined to agree with them. However, Iíve never truly experience terror in any of these games. Oh sure, Iíve been scared shitless in Silent Hill and Iíve gotten rowdy kicking ass in Street Fight: Third Strike, but Iíve never felt true terror.
Terror is one of the most interesting emotions, at least in my mind, to experience. Itís that subtle mixture of crap-in-your-pants tension and adrenaline-pumping excitement that makes terror what it is. Whatís unique about terror is that you are utterly stunned, but yet you are so caught up in the moment that you need to move on. Only one game has ever truly made me feel terror. That game isnít even technically a game. Itís the multiplayer demo for Splinter Cell: Double Agent.
Now, a little backstory before I get to the story. Splinter Cell: Double Agent came out back in mid-October of 2006. Around that time, a demo was put on Xbox Live which featured a portion of the seriesí famous multiplayer mode. For the uninformed, it is called Mercenaries vs. Spies. In it, opposing teams of heavily armed mercs and agile spies play a type of cat-and-mouse game. The spies must download a file from two of four servers and take the completed file to a point on the map, with the mercs trying to stop them the entire time. The demo featured one map and a few gadgets for each side. Of course, I never got around to playing it, since Rainbow Six: Vegas had come out at the time, and that was practically the only XBL game at the time, aside from Gears of War.
About two years after that, I was taking a break from CoD4. It was well known amongst my friends at the time that I was getting a tad bored, so I was taking a three week break from the game. A buddy of mine recommended a few games for me to play, and one of those was the aforementioned Double Agent demo. To my surprise, a small number of people still played it, with him among them. Now, I had never gotten a chance to play multiplayer mode for the game, so I was a tad skeptical. However, he finally convinced me to give it a try.
It was quite late at night, since the majority of the fandom lived in Europe. He informed the other people that I was a n00b, so I had a couple matches or so to get used to the game. I stuck to the spies, since I found their style of play more appealing. They had no offensive weapons to speak of beside their hands, so you either had to take a massive risk and get close or just avoid the mercs. I was too unskilled to try and get close, so I usually acted as a guinea pig, leading around the mercs while my partner took Ďem out. The system worked well. For the first 5 matches or so, thatís how things worked.
Not happening on my end. Ever.
However, it finally came time for me to play a merc. At first I thought it would be cool. I was dead wrong. You see, one of the main aspects of the game is the motion tracker. Most multiplayer games have this system. However, it has never been so effectively used. Itís like in the Alien series. The marines can see that the xenomorphs are rooting around. They just have no idea where they are (vertically I mean) and when they will strike. This created an intense form of paranoia inside of me. Any time I would see a blip on the motion tracker, I would spaz out, look every which way, and spray and burst of fire at anything that remotely resembled a spy. The other team knew of my paranoia, and exploited the hell out of it. It eventually got so bad that I ended up in a fetal-position-like state. I would hug corners, turn on my Thermal Goggles and just waited for my inevitable demise.
I clearly didnít win that round. My partner was a little annoyed, but he understood my state of mind. It was decided after that that I should stick to the spy side of things, much to my pleasure. It was the last match of the night, and it was sure to be the best. By now, I was an expert. I still didnít mess with close-quarters confrontations. However, I learned how to play with others emotions and paranoia. Our strategy was that I would be the main downloader, while he would try to draw them to himself at another server. When we were caught, weíd run away, regroup, and go at it again. The mercs were always on their toes during that game.
A major part of the gameplay is knowing when to run. As soon as you start to download, the mercs are alerted to your position. Knowing when to run and when to stay another precious 5 seconds is integral to being a good spy. I was a master of this. One thing we noticed of the other team was that they always had one guy waiting near the drop off point, itching to blow away the next spy trying to turn in a complete file. We decided to try and beat this by having me download both files and run to the point while he drew fire away from me. Extremely risky, but very smart. I easily got the first file within a couple of minutes.
My Worst Nightmare
Now to get number two. By this point, the mercs are especially savvy. I could only spend 15 seconds or so at a point before needing to run. This dragged on for 4 minutes, with each passing second building up that precious terror inside of me. All I could feel was my heart beating a mile-a-minute in my chest. Each passing second I got more and more scared of the possibility of my death. I finally get that last file. I could not have been running fast through the map. Using every available shortcut, I make a beeline for the drop off. Suddenly, I get shot. I donít get killed, but I fully understand the danger in that moment. I manage to lose him and change my route to a more safe but time-consuming path. I finally get to the final stretch, and all I can see is that boxÖ and the merc taking aim at me at the other end. Going against every possible instinct, I rush for the capture point. By some sort of miracle, I dodge every bullet and capture the intel, winning the game. With only 15 seconds left, mind you.
It was a big moment. Never before have I talked so much trash post-match. I can still vividly remember the adrenaline high. I could not have been more scared and excited. All of this, I experienced in a multiplayer game. Sadly, I never played mercs vs. spies again. I guess I never got around to it. Still, I think back to that night in mid-í08. Itís moments like that that make gaming so special. Games have this special ability to make you experience so many emotions in a short period of time that are directly influenced by your actions. I just wish more games managed to replicate that experience for me.