Ever since developers figured out that a few red pixels could stand in for gushing blood, video games have been catching flak for being too violent. Whether digital decapitations and virtual eviscerations are corrupting our children is up for debate, but there's no question that there are some spectacularly gory games out there.
We've compiled a list of the ten worst offenders in recent memory. In the interest of keeping things as fresh as possible, we've only included games released over the last decade (though if we hadn't, Pong would have easily topped the list for its callous depiction of white dot genocide).
Read on for the full list, but you might want to put on a rain coat first. It's about to get real bloody in here.
10. Condemned (Series)
To some people, Condemned: Criminal Origins was one of the best melee combat games ever made. To me, it's a hobo murder simulator. Want to kill a hobo with a two-by-four? Done. How about a lead pipe? Well, obviously. Taser to sledgehammer combo? Check and check.
Above all else, it's the stellar sound design that helps to make Condemned a truly disturbing experience. Take a whack at someone, and you'll hear the crack of their ribcage snapping like so many twigs. It's equal parts satisfying and creepy, and for that reason alone we've given it the number 10 spot on our list.
On the one hand, MadWorld's cartoony style and black and white graphics disguise its hyperviolent streak, but on the other, they make it just that more shocking, as every bit of blood you spill stands out that much more. The game also wins points for getting away with all this on the Wii, as Nintendo has gone to great lengths to ensure that their console has a family friendly image.
MadWorld may not be the best of games, but it's certainly one of the goriest experiences the Wii has to offer. It's amazing that Nintendo allowed this one to pass.
8. God of War (series)
After five God of War, I think it's safe to conclude that Kratos is not a very nice guy. Sure, the vast majority of the Spartan's bloodcount consists of mythological monsters who have it coming, but he's shown time and time again that he's not afraid to kill the occasional human or god who gets in his way. This means a whole lot of bloodshed and, more importantly for our list, a whole lot of quick-time-event decapitations.
Kratos may be the hero of the series, but his behavior in the God of War games—especially the third one—is far from heroic. At one point, he shoves a woman into a gear, jamming the mechanism and killing her in the process.
7. Ninja Gaiden II
The Ninja Gaiden franchise is notorious for two things: its brutal difficulty, and its extremely bloody gameplay. Ninja Gaiden II is easily the worst offender in the series, as the power of the Xbox 360 paved the way for some fairly brutal combat, allowing you to slice and dice enemies into a pile of limbs and an unhappy torso.
Sadly, Ninja Gaiden II may have been Ryu's violent last hurrah. The PS3 rerelease, Ninja Gaiden Sigma II, had the gore toned down susbstantially, and the upcoming Ninja Gaiden III won't even allow you to dismember your enemies.
6. Aliens vs. Predator
Most tie-in games like to keep things as tame as possible so as not to tarnish the franchise, but Aliens vs. Predator is the ridiculously bloody exception that proves the rule. In a rare turn of events, the AvP game is considerably more violent than the film series it's based on.
The Predator gameplay is particularly gory, allowing you to rip the head off an unsuspecting marine, spine and trachea still dangling from the bloody mess where his neck used to be.
On top of that, you can even melt a man's face off by spitting on him as an alien. Such gory depictions of violence are certainly a sight for sore eyes.
5. Mortal Kombat (2011)
The Mortal Kombat series has sparked so much controversy over the past two decades that it's easy to lose sight of just how violent it actually is. NetherRealm's 2010 reboot certainly followed suit, with plenty of gory fatalities and new x-ray attacks that let you witness all the internal trauma you're causing firsthand.
While every character plays host to two fatalities and a number of other less brutal attacks, certain characters like Noob Saibot succeed in making even the most hardcore veterans of the series wince. One of Saibot's fatalities was even showcased on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart for its gratituous violence—it depicted Sonya Blade being ripped in half from her groin upwards by two Noob Saibots.
Hey, "violent" doesn't have to mean "good." Though Namco Bandai's remake of their classic 1988 beat 'em up was certainly lacking in the gameplay department, it did deliver on its promise to show buckets and buckets of blood. In fact, that game's experience system actually revolves around collecting the blood you've spilled from your enemies. One of the game's bonuses—called "splatter kills"—even involve performing extremely gory finishing moves.
The original game was pretty violent, but the new Splatterhouse takes this element of the game to a whole new, and much bloodier level. Hell, you can even lose your limbs and use your detached arms to beat up enemies. It doesn't get much worse than that.
Silly? You bet, but also gratuitous enough to nab the number 4 spot on our list.
3. Gears of War (Series)
The Gears of War franchise's trademark gun, the lancer, is infamous for its chainsaw bayonet, which allows you to slice your enemies right down the middle. There was also the slightly-less-bloody-but-equally-disturbing curb stomp, which let you finish off downed opponents Ed Norton style.
In addition to the gory third person combat, there are instances in which you'll even make your way through living creatures (like through the belly of a giant worm in Gears of War 2), which you'll pulverize from the inside out.
As the series has progressed, things have gotten even bloodier, internal organs spilling out of dead bodies and new, weapon specific executions, all of them fairly brutal.
2. Dead Space (Series)
If you're looking for ultraviolent games, it's hard to top a franchise whose gameplay centers around a concept called "strategic dismemberment". Oddly enough, though, it's not all the flying necromorph limbs that put the franchise squarely into bloodbath territory. Instead, it's the myriad gruesome ways that the hero, Isaac Clarke, can meet his untimely end: decapitated, ripped in half, crushed, choked, impaled - and believe me, the list just goes on from there.
Even when Clarke isn't getting brutally killed, he's getting brutally tortured or watching other characters getting brutally tortured and then killed. At one point in the second game, Isaac is even stabbed in the eye by a syringe while fully awake. It doesn't get much worse than that.
Mr. Clarke, this first place finish is dedicated to you. May you always rest in pieces.
1. Manhunt (Series)
For all the blood and guts we've talked about on this list, none of those games have stirred up quite as much controversy as Manhunt. To this day, the game is banned in three different countries for its uncomfortably depictions of violence. Players could suffocate others with plastic bags, impale them with a crowbar and crack their jaws open, or even dismember them with a variety of environmental implements. The game was not exactly kid friendly.
The sequel kept with tradition, becoming one of the few games ever to receive an AO from the ESRB, effectively barring it from sale at most major retailers. Rockstar eventually released an edited version that skated by with an M rating, but that didn't stop it from being plenty violent. We shudder to think what the game would've been like had they released it in its unedited form.