In the real world, doors are rarely a remarkable thing. Most of them are downright confusing—do you push? Do you pull?—and these days the last thing I want to do is touch a handle that's been fondled by hundreds of germ-ridden hands. At worst, doors are an annoying obstacle and, at best, a two-inch protective barrier between you and the outside world. But in videogames, doors are magical.
They're also incredibly hard to make. A few weeks ago, developers from game studios of all sizes shared their collective trauma on Twitter and explained why videogame doors are such a nightmare to make. It turns out that doors are one of those tiny, invisible aspects of a game that you rarely notice even though it costs developers countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears. It got me thinking about how often videogame doors transcend the humdrum opening and closing of their real-life kin, and how often videogame doors create moments that are surprising, shocking, or simply awe-inspiring.
These are the best doors in PC gaming.
Every door in every Souls game
When Demon's Souls released for PlayStation 3 in 2009, it introduced us to a door opening animation so sexy that From Software has reused it in every one of its games since. Why change what is already perfect? Somewhere in the nightmare maze of every Souls game is a big, giant door that you push open with the strength of a mother lifting an SUV off of her trapped child. Despite a few slight variations, it's basically the same animation every damn time, and I always love to see it.
What's excellent about these doors is that opening them is such a dramatic moment. The animation for each one is unusually slow and long, and the sense of weight each door carries—the groaning of its hinges, the dust falling from its frame—really sells the fantasy that you're trespassing on sacred ground, unearthing the mysteries and horrors of doomed civilizations.
Knocking out guards with Gunpoint's doors
The doors in stealth game Gunpoint are fantastic because you can hack them in so many different ways. You can also use them to knock guards out cold. If you never played this 2013 indie game, the gist is that you have a gadget that lets you rewire electronics to change what triggers them. Connect a lightswitch to a door, and suddenly it becomes a door switch instead. But if a guard happens to be standing in front of that door, it'll still be lights out for them.
It's a simple system with a surprising amount of complexity. Linking multiple electronics together let's you tee up interactions that, when coupled with your knowledge of how guards behave in certain situations, often create hilarious chain reactions with unexpected consequences. It's cool, but there's also something just so beautiful about flicking a lightswitch to make a door smack a guy so hard he passes out.
Amnesia's doors that you can peek through
Most doors in videogames have a binary state: They're either open or they're closed. But Amnesia: The Dark Descent blew my mind back in 2010 because doors didn't open with a push of a button but required you to click on them with the mouse and drag them open. When fleeing from a jawless, eldritch monster, having to stop to manually open each door was terrifying. But it also meant you could peek through doors to see what was on the other side while staying hidden. It felt revolutionary. Also there's that wonderful moment when you first discover monsters can also break doors to get to you, which rates very highly on my "worst moments of my life" list.
Prey's vagina doors
Arkane's excellent immersive sim is actually predated by a different game also called Prey that was released back in 2006. It's an extremely weird and somewhat forgettable shooter, but one thing about Prey has haunted me for years: It's giant, glistening vagina doors. I really don't know what more I can say about this other than, yeah, that's definitely a door that's forever burned into my memory.
Escaping Vault 101 in Fallout 3
One could argue that Fallout is pretty much an entire series of RPGs about the consequences of opening a very big door. Most of the games have a similar theme: To escape a nuclear apocalypse, humans fled into massive underground vaults sealed by an iconic, gear-shaped door with a number written on it. Time passes, things inevitably go wrong, and the player is forced to brave the radiated wasteland outside the vault for one reason or another. And that always involves a pivotal moment of cracking open that iconic vault door.
The game to do this best is undoubtedly Fallout 3. It's a scene that technically involves two doors, but one is actually just a very small door that conceals the proper vault door. A Dors d'oeuvre, if you will. Watching this scene today, it's clear that Fallout 3 hasn't aged very well graphically, but what makes this moment so special is what opening that door means. It's the critical breakpoint between your life as a pasty-skinned vault-dweller and a glowing, cancerous wasteland warrior. For its time, it was a jaw-dropping scene where you stared out at a vast wasteland of possibility. It was incredible.
Portal 2's giant vault door
Valve's history of epic doors goes back decades. Hell, the entire intro sequence to Half-Life was basically one long cutscene where you watch very big doors open and close while aboard a tram. And even back then it was clear that Valve had a penchant for making satisfying doors. But the best door Valve ever designed subverts that legacy in the funniest way possible. If you don't know what I'm talking about, explaining what happens can't really do it justice. Just watch the video above.
Dead Space 2 doors that cut you in half
Most of the doors on this list are indifferent to you. They don't hate you, or wish you ill—and they certainly can't hurt you. But none of these other games are Dead Space 2, which masquerades as a videogame but is really just a vehicle for serving up some of the most gruesome and shocking deaths in any game.
Death by door isn't the most horrific way to die in Dead Space 2, but it's still disturbing. During certain levels, the player can accidentally shoot out windows and decompress the room, causing everything nearby to be sucked out into space. But Isaac, the protagonist, has exceptionally bad timing because each time he crosses that threshold, blast doors snap into place pinning him violently against the hull. There's four separate cutscenes that can trigger when this happens. Sometimes Isaac is slowly bisected while he groans in agony. One variation sees him get his arms stuck and shorn clean off. It's a haunting but necessary reminder that doors are also a very serious pinching hazard.
Left 4 Dead's big, red safe room door
Not all doors are evil, though. In Left 4 Dead, for example, there's no sight more welcome than the safe room door. It means you're about to get a nice reprieve from your adrenaline-pumping sprint through the zombie infested streets. The safe room door means finally getting a chance to restock on health and ammo, and maybe catch your breath while reading deranged messages written in blood by the safe room's previous residents.
These aren't just regular doors, though. Left 4 Dead's safe room doors are like the Superman of doors. Each one is a symbol of strength in a world that's gone to shit. No matter how many zombies are chasing you or trying to break down that door, it will always protect you. Thanks, door.
Dark Souls 3's ultra-cheesy door shields
But Steven, you say, haven't you already mentioned Dark Souls in this list? It's true, you have an impeccable memory, but From Software's door genius knows no bounds. In Dark Souls 3, for example, there's a door that you don't open but wield. It's technically a shield, but if you get two of them and hold one in each hand you can place them together and become a human door (homo ianua), the most heavenly of creatures.
The only difference between you and a real door is that instead of opening into some separate space, the Giant Door Shield opens a can of whoopass. Dark Souls 3's Giant Door Shield became an instant meme because they were just way too powerful in PvP. Not only could you withstand almost any attack without being staggered, you could also use them to shove enemies off cliffs for an instant kill. And even if they managed to avoid the fall, the doors did a shocking amount of damage for some reason, so it was easy to kill enemies without taking a single point of damage.