It's not unusual to deliberately break books, movies, or TV episdoes up into chapters, but we rarely judge each individual act on its own merits. In gaming, we do. Many games feature incredibly compelling levels mixed right in with decent, boring, mundane, or even horrible levels. Even in across-the-board great games, one mission might stand out from the rest.

So here are some of the best levels, missions, or sequences I have encountered through all my years of gaming.


Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty 4: “All Ghillied Up”
One of the most-talked-about levels in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, All Ghilled Up mixes tense stealth with pounding action and provides an interesting background to one of the story’s main characters. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that the level includes some breathtaking stealth sections and very satisfying assassinations. Then the sneaking around ends, and you're dropped into a challenging, action-packed shootout that pushes your abilites, though not to the point of frustration. A standout level in a standout game.

Uncharted 3: Among Thieves
Uncharted 2: “Locomotion” and “Tunnel Vision”
Train levels are always tough to nail, but developer Naughty Dog created back-to-back masterpieces in these two chapters. The situation — main character Drake jumps onto a train full of bad guys — forces you to aim while the train shifts around on its track, making combat more difficult (and more fun). But this sequence's technical achievements really shine. You could just hang onto the train and enjoy the scenery. But then you'd miss out on the constant shift between close-quarters combat and outdoor train-climbing, nail-biting ambushes, and some of Drake's best one-liners. Any one of those things make these must-play levels.

Psychonauts: “Lungfishopolis”
If you haven’t played Psychonauts yet, shame on you. Every single level in this game displays amazing uniqueness and creativity; I could’ve easily filled this whole list with Psychonauts levels. But I'll single out Lungfishopolis, probably the most charming and creative sequence on my whole list. You play as a Godzilla-sized version of main protagonist Razputin as he terrorizes a tiny aquatic city, trampling poor lungfish along the way. Developer Double Fine then caps the level with a boss fight that doubles as both ptich-perfect parody and loving homage to old-school kaiju shows.

Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X: “Mt. Gagazet”
Haunting and atmospheric Mt. Gagazet doesn't show up until late in the game, and it's well worth the wait. The sequence begins with a great mano-a-mano boss fight that nicely articulates the true value of a certain party member. After a long trek through the mountains — accompanied by one of the best musical pieces in the game — you're rewarded with another quality boss fight. Best of all from a role-playing game perspective, the accent stays on the characters all throughout, pushing several from the background to the narrative forefront.

This list isn't definitive by any means…my first console was the Gamecube, so I've never experienced a lot of the classic Marios and Zeldas. Feel free to add your favorite levels in the comments below.

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