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You can always rely on the Greek myths for some good violence, as well as incest, child-sacrifice and other fun things. God of War faithfully recreates this world by putting you in as the new God of War, Kratos and you have to take vengeance on Zeus, the chief God. It starts with death, it ends with death and there is copious amounts of mythological splatter all the way through. Far more fun than sitting through a Classics lesson at school, and is was named as the best PS2 game of all time in 2012. Pity the following 8 games in the God of War series were less than exciting and relied too heavily on overly complex puzzles, rather than cutting off the heads of other deities…
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Now, it’s not often that a violent video game is also called beautiful. But that’s what happened with Bioshock, on its 2007 release. It wowed critics with its immersive graphics, depicting an underwater city in 1960. But it had a disturbing aspect to it – the Little Sisters, mutant little girls that wandered about the city, protected only by their Big Daddies. The game gave you a choice – you could kill the little girls and get more points, or spare them and gain less. Of course, you’re meant to do the right thing, but who’s going to sacrifice a top score for the sake of not shooting a child in the face? So, little-girl killing it was then….
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Carmageddon was an oldie but a goodie, being originally released in 1997, although it’s had a comeback as an Android app in 2013. The basic premise of the game was that you drove around and tried to run as many people over as possible. It was a little hearted game, but certain pressure groups didn’t really see the funny side, and thought it would encourage young drivers to actually hit and run. It was banned in some countries, including Brazil, and heavily censored in others. For example, in Germany the people were replaced with robots and they spilt oil when you hit them rather than blood. The outrage didn’t stop the game being popular though, and there were a number of sequels. The name was even hijacked by the Los Angeles authorities to publicise a freeway closure!
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This Microsoft game was released on March 27 2000 and later had a PS2 edition as well. As the name suggests, it’s all about being a soldier – a first-person shooter that doesn’t hold back on the realistic depictions of violence. Each person figure in the game has 26 different zones to it, and shooting any one of those will make it explode dramatically. So, a shot to the head leaves the enemy with just a stump of a neck, and the teenage boy’s favorite – a shot to the crotch – will make the enemy clutch his groin before falling over. The detailed gameplay was enabled by the GHOUL engine, and it was the very first game to use that technology but, as you’d expect, the technological advance was opvershadowed by the outcry over the violent content. It was classed as an “adult motion picture” in British Columbia and placed on a “harmful to young people” list in Germany. And it was pretty graphic. But for the weak of stomach, there was an option to turn the gore off. So everyone’s happy.
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Released in 2003 by Rockstar Games, this game was notorious for its violence, as it followed a Death Row inmate who was forced to appear in a series of snuff films. There were various methods of despatching enemies, but one of the most widely publicised ones was the suffocation with a plastic bag (shown above), and the murders grew more graphic and realistic with every level. The Chicago Tribune said “Manhunt is easily the most violent game ever made”.
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How outrageous a video game is changes over time – some of the games that seem fairly innocuous today would have shocked an audience in the 80s or 90s. So it was with Mortal Kombat which provoked outrage on its release in 1992, thanks to unprecedented levels of violence. One particular feature was the finishing move, which was called a Fatality – once you’d defeated your opponent, you could use a special move to kill them. It was this mercilessness that marked Mortal Kombat apart from its competitors, and brought the phrase “Finish ’em” into everyday gamer parlance. It was the first game to ever be given a mature rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board and was banned in several countries, but has gone on to become one of the most enduring franchises of all times, with many different versions of the game, along with TV shows, books and even a movie or two.
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In 1993, a new phrase entered the American English lexicon It was “going postal” and it referred to a bizarrely high number of shooting sprees that had been committed by postal workers in the 80s and 90s. The games Postal and Postal 2 are based on that phrase, the concept being that an ordinary person can one day just snap and go on a murder rampage.The game itself is simple – players need to go about daily tasks, and they can either join the queues, take the abuse and stay quiet…or they can do things as violently as possible. The result is generally ultraviolence – otherwise, it’d be a bit dull, wouldn’t it? Postal 2 was particularly brutal and it was banned in New Zealand, due to “gross, abhorrent content” which included cruelty to animals (something to do with a gun and a cat’s bottom) and an emphasis on bodily functions. An oddity of a game, but a very successful one.
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When you think of blood-soaked games, you’d expect them to be made for the XBox, PC or Playstation, wouldn’t you? The last console you’d associate with violence is the family-friendly Wii, home to mild-mannered cow racing and golf games. But Mad World broke the mold, with its black, white and red palette as well as its high levels of violence. The plot was along the lines of “Battle Royale” or “The Hunger Games”, where the characters have to kill each other in the name of entertainment and the deaths are inventive, like pushing your opponents under a speeding train. Predictably, groups like mediawatch condemned the game, saying “We need to ensure that modern and civilized values take priority rather than killing and maiming people”, however specialized gaming magazines laughed off the criticism, saying the violence was so ridiculous and over-the-top that no-one could actually take it seriously.
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Another successful franchise is the Dead Space series, which was released in 2008 and has had two sequels since. PlayStation World described it as the “world’s scariest game” and it channelled the movie “Alien”, with survivors of a monster attack wandering around an abandoned mining ship. It involved reanimated corpses called Necromorphs, and the protagonist Isaac had to sever their limbs in order to stop them killing him (shooting them in the torso doesn’t kill them, so you just need to slow them down). It felt like a horror movie, full of atmosphere, and the mundane ship-fixing missions were livened up by the creepiness of the set up as well as all the violence. Detailed, terrifying and very graphic.
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If you’re going to keep getting publicity for new games, the shock factor has to increase every time. Eventually, it will probably be impossible to shock anyone so it’s impressive that GTA V still managed to cause outrage with its 2013 release, despite the fact that you would just expect sex, murder and violence from any GTA game. The mission that caused the controversy was “By the Book” where the player has to torture an Azerbaijani fugitive, followed by a monologue from one of the characters about how ineffective torture was. It was meant to be a satire on America’s methods of dealing with foreign prisoners but there was immediate outcry about the “poor taste” of the mission. Add it onto the usual GTA murder mayhem and you have possibly the most violent game ever.