Its that time of year again! The lights are up, the shops are full and we're all awaiting with excitement and trepidation the arrival of Santa/irritating relatives on Christmas day. So, what better way to celebrate the holiday seasons than with video games. More specifically, the best snow and winter levels the medium has to offer. Lets get cracking.
The final mission of Bungie’s Halo franchise, you’re taken to the newly-rebuilt Halo’s control room, and have to fight your way through genuinely endless waves of Flood to get to the top. The environment is ice-encrusted, making it cold, unwelcoming and threatening, which is perfect for complementing the silver and blue Forerunner architecture, and making the oncoming horde feel that more hostile. We all know how this ends, though – you send this game out with a bang, destroying the Halo Ring, but not before the best vehicle run in the history of Halo. Halo: CE and Halo 4 don’t hold a candle to the atmosphere of an icy ringworld exploding around you.
If you want to open with a snow level, this is how you do it. After a few cutscenes and a showing off of Lara’s signature twin-pistols gunplay, we’re brought into the Caves, a secret-filled, enemy-strewn platforming maze. The echoing and wailing of the cave is punctuated by a limited amount of music when encountering puzzles, secrets and revealing dangerous enemies there’s a bear in that pit that’s obviously a trap, by the way - and as you move in, the snow slowly melts away, leaving a player in all the suspense that you can expect from a classic such as Tomb Raider.
You don’t even get past the opening level screen before this level cements itself as iconic – the music of Sonic 3 is legendary not only for how each track fits the zone, but also due to the massive pop influences. Ice Cap’s theme, totally not lifted from “Hard Times” by The Jetzons, brings you through the best opening 20 seconds of any side-scroller ever – the blue blur snowboarding downhill at breakneck speed before bringing you to breakable platforms, puzzles and underground avalanches before you return topside for high-speed action. And the Robotnik end-boss music is amazing.
I don’t think I’ve ever considered a Call of Duty game until now, but this mission is peak FPS content. Having to scale icy mountains to start with is impressive, but with limited sight lines and a blizzard on the way, you’re forced to work with your environment as you sneak into a Russian base, working with heartbeat sensors, silenced weapons and the Scottish legend that is Soap McTavish to make your way in and out. It’s the antithesis of COD’s recent mad-dash run-and-gun style and it’s possibly one of the best missions in the entire game series.
How I’ve managed to talk about snow and not talk about the planet covered in snow, I don’t know. 2005’s Battlefront 2 is still bloody amazing and holds up to this day, and in the last mission of the campaign, you’re a member of the 501st Legion – Vader’s Fist, how cool is that name – leading the fight against the Rebel base on Hoth. Driving ATATs and blasting down snowspeeders tying you up, you face a battle of attrition to take out the shield generator, and finish off the game playing as Darth fucking Vader mopping up the last of the Rebels. Defending a beacon for a time, you watch as the Empire rains down orbital fire on escaping Rebel ships. You want to know why this game is so beloved? This is why.