Folsom Prison Blues: Gaming’s Greatest Prison Levels

Folsom Prison Blues

Gaming’s Greatest Prison Levels

by exterminat

©2012 Nicholas Laborde

When this time of year comes around, our thoughts begin to condense and our vision begins to narrow: E3 is right around the corner.

If we choose to come out of this daze, we may not enjoy the circumstances in which we may find ourselves, such as an annoyed OXCGN Editor in Chief demanding that I produce an article that isn’t a review.

My thoughts immediately read, “I feel as if I’m trapped inside a journalistic prison.” And then it hit me!

Here are, in no particular order, some of gaming’s best prison levels (also known as “Places I Hope To Never Visit”).


The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

It’s an average day in the Middle Ages. You wake up in prison, and proceed to carry out your daily duty of staring through your cell whilst pondering the air speed velocity of a swallow.

Not long into your routine, though, something interesting happens: the Emperor himself shows up, and he even speaks to you!

What could possibly be the icing on this cake?

He’s in a bit of a hurry, and his only means of escape is through YOUR cell. I don’t know about you, but that would make for one hell of a last day of incarceration.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent (2006)

Sam Fisher, at this point in time, is not a happy man. He’s just lost his only child, and is more than ready to undertake the most dangerous of missions.

Becoming a double agent, Sam is sent to Ellsworth State Penitentiary in order to befriend suspected terror organization member Jamie Washington. A high-ranking member of the JBA – John Brown’s Army – Jamie is a crucial part of Sam’s undercover mission, and they must escape the prison together.

Only, it happens to be a maximum security facility. That’s nothing for Sam Fisher, original Splinter Cell and all-American badass.

The duo split up, and Sam uses his signature stealth abilities to sneak around a cleverly-incited prison riot. The duo make their way to the roof, hijacking a news helicopter and escaping in style.

There’s nothing like sneaking your way out of prison, and with the pedigree of Sam Fisher, it was child’s play in Double Agent.

Half-Life 2 (2004)

Half-Life 2 is a very memorable game. Even to this day, I can vividly recall most of the gameplay scenarios to the T… and I’ve only played through the game once.

During the course of the game’s events, Gordon Freeman finds himself attempting to locate Eli Vance, father of close friend Alyx Vance and a former coworker of Freeman.

This quest leads him to Nova Prospekt, a freakishly demented Combine prison facility used to transform its denizens into horrible Combine war assets.

Throughout the journey Gordon meets up with resistance fighters and even commands squads of antlions to do his bidding.

As with many segments of Half-Life 2, this section nailed atmosphere perfectly and provides an intriguing insight into how the Combine operate.

The segment is so influential that it spawned an entire spin-off early on in Resistance: Fall of Man.

Metal Gear Solid (1998)

While this part of Metal Gear Sold isn’t exactly a prison segment, it’s close enough to fit the bill.

Solid Snake is knee-deep in his infiltration of the Shadow Moses complex, which was believed to be a toxic waste disposal facility.

After getting captured and tortured, he’s locked in a room with a bed and a guard outside.

Surprisingly, it could go multiple ways, the most famous of which involved.. a bottle of ketchup. If players were patient enough, Snake’s newfound friend Otacon would sneak him a bottle of the stuff in order to expedite his escape.

The guard had a terrible case of the runs, and Otacon snuck by during one of the guard’s trips to the bathroom. The player could then lie on the ground with the ketchup in hand, awaiting the guard’s return.

Even years later Snake can fool him…

Upon his “grand” return, he freaks out upon seeing a “bloody” Snake on the floor and subsequently opens the door. Then, players could make their escape after humiliating the guard.

You have to feel sorry for the poor guy. Those stomach problems never would dissipate even over a decade later!

Gears of War (2007)

It’s fourteen years after Emergence Day, or E-Day: the day a nightmarish horde of aliens (or are they truly aliens?) known as the Locust emerged from the ground to terrorize humanity.

Cue Marcus Fenix, who’s been in prison for several years now. Incarcerated for going against orders and attempting to save his father instead, Marcus doesn’t lead the happiest of lives in the dismal dungeon.

The complex is in disarray, and isn’t exactly the most quaint of locations. Suddenly, his best friend Dominic Santiago busts him out and brings news that he is to be immediately reinstated into the COG army, the last organized group of humanity and its final, dying hope.

Marcus and Dom fight their way through dozens of Locust to depart the derelict facility, escaping in the nick of time to avoid attack from a giant spider-like foe known as a Corpser.

Many gruesome sights greet the player as they traverse the prison, from small creatures known as Wretches spitting on Marcus in his cell to mutilated bodies freely hanging from the ceiling. It set an amazingly spot-on precedent for what Gears of War would be.


Saints Row 2 (2008)

Saints Row is a franchise founded upon not making sense. After being knocked into a coma several years prior due to an explosion on a yacht the player was on (because that’s how science works), our main character finds himself incarcerated in a maximum security prison.

He wakes up, magically locates his dormant vocal chords, and proceeds to escape in the most unclandestine way possible upon the realization of his situation.

Not only do you all of a sudden overpower the guards, but you easily obtain their firearms and take the fight to them. Other prisoners join in, but don’t survive the fray.

Our “hero” escapes the facility in style literally through the front door, eventually acquiring a boat and smoothly strolling back into everyday city life.

Normally I’d critique the sheer ridiculousness of this particular prison segment, but this does happen to the be the only member of this list that allows the player to throw guards… so I’ll make an exception.


Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)

Vorkuta. Easily the most iconic prison segment in recent years and arguably of all time, Call of Duty: Black Ops opened with a bang on a momentous note.

Main character Alex Mason has found himself in a prison with Russian World War Two hero Viktor Reznov. Reznov and Mason are engaged in a fight in order to attract a guard. Once he comes in to break up the fight, Mason knocks out the guard and Reznov takes his keys.

He proceeds to announce that “step one” is complete: “Secure the keys!”

Throughout the level, Reznov and Mason advance throughout the prison and proceed to overpower its guards with the help of the newly-freed convicts. What defines this level and sets it above many of the others in this list is that of the simple way in which it was executed.

The “plan” consisted of eight steps, all of which are morale-inducingly shouted by the prisoners as they are accomplished.

  • Step 1: Secure the keys
  • Step 2: Ascend from darkness
  • Step 3: Rain fire
  • Step 4: Unleash the horde
  • Step 5: Skewer the winged beast
  • Step 6: Wield a fist of iron
  • Step 7: Raise hell
  • Step 8: Freedom

Flawless in its execution, Black Ops showcases one of the most entertaining prison levels of all time, and produces a well-written scenario that many players will never forget.


Could Black Ops 2 outdo Vorkuta?

Whether it was escaping a Soviet labor camp at the height of the Cold War or simply allowing the Emperor to continue along his way, gaming has shown us a wide variety of ways in which to handle prison life.

These are only a few of the multitude of interesting scenarios in which gamers have done time.

If nothing else, they’re a perfect example of why you should always be on your best behavior.

What do you think? Are there any better ones that we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

©2012 Nicholas Laborde

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I'm an American from steamy Louisiana, one of the most electronically deprived areas of the United States. I've gamed since I was four years old as a result, and plan to do it onto my deathbed. I discovered I could write in June of 2010 when I started a little site called Fans of The Genre with a few friends, and that eventually collapsed three months after due to social lives kicking in. No less than two weeks after that I discovered OXCGN via the community gamer gab competition, and become a staff member shortly after. In February of 2011 I was welcomed to the Editorial staff, then in March of 2012 I was promoted to co-owner... and here I am!

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