Now that Grand Theft Auto V, the latest entry in Rockstar Games' bestselling franchise, has hit store shelves, it's bound to rekindle some discussion about violence in video games. But GTA V is by no means the most brutal title ever – there are many blood-soaked, gore-spattered video games that have come before. Here are 12 horrifying examples. —Donald Deane
Mortal Kombat is infamous for its grisly finishing moves, known as "fatalities," where characters can be decapitated, immolated, eviscerated or electrocuted. It's also responsible for making the phrase "Finish him!" part of everyday language. For better or worse, the brawler broke ground when it comes to carnage in video games. It's the bloody granddaddy of them all.
Doom may seem tame compared to modern games. But when it was released in 1993, it singlehandedly popularized first-person shooters – and the blood and guts that go along with them. Although there were earlier games that helped shaped the FPS genre – Wolfenstein 3D chief among them – none did more than Doom to pave the way for today's violent shooters.
Carmageddon is a car combat game in which the objective is to wreck the vehicles of other racers and mow down pedestrians and defenseless cows. When it was released, the game was considered so violent it was censored in some countries. (In Germany, for example, bystanders were replaced with robots that leaked black oil rather than blood).
GTA III was the series' first foray into an immersive, fully 3D environment, and it revolutionized the concept of an anything-goes sandbox where players could carjack vehicles, solicit prostitutes, steal, kill and otherwise cause copious amounts of mayhem. The world of open-ended video games would never be the same.
This sci-fi survival horror game pits players against human corpses that have been reanimated by an alien virus. The best way to defeat them? By shooting off their limbs, naturally. The violence isn't all one-sided, though. Make a wrong move and your character may get mauled, bitten, decapitated, impaled, torn in half or eaten.
The Wii has a reputation for family-friendly games, but the insane splatterfest known as MadWorld is anything but. In it, players control character Jack Cayman as he battles his way through a violent televised game show called DeathWatch. Yes, it's ludicrously gruesome, but the game has one thing going for it – style. It's rendered in predominantly black and white with vivid splashes of arterial red. Makes sense, given that its visual design is based on Frank Miller's Sin City comics.
The Call of Duty franchise is no stranger to violence, but this installment is particularly notable because of the "No Russian" level, where gamers join a group of terrorists as they casually murder scores of people at an airport. Players can abstain from the slaughter if they choose, but that doesn't save them from being executed by a terrorist leader at the end.
Gamers are hard-pressed to find an intelligible plot in Postal because, well, there really isn't one. Instead, the objective is to go on a murderous rampage and kill a certain number of armed non-playable characters on each level by using weapons like machine guns, Molotov cocktails and napalm. There are innocent bystanders, too – like an entire marching band – and while there's no bonus for causing collateral damage, the game doesn't exactly discourage it either.
In Manhunt, yet another violent video game developed by Rockstar, a death row inmate is forced to participate in a series of snuff films by a psychopathic movie director. The objective is pretty simple – kill your way to freedom or become a casualty yourself. Stealth executions with plastic bags, hammers, batons and crowbars are the main method of defeating enemies. Charming!
Billed as the successor to Mortal Kombat – but ultimately nixed by Electronic Arts a few weeks before shipping for being "senselessly violent" – Thrill Kill is a fighting game where up to four players battle to the death in a closed room. If that isn't bad enough, the game also has a creepy BDSM vibe and encourages horrendous finishing moves like "Botched Facelift," "Cannibal" and "Human Jigsaw Puzzle." We're probably all fortunate this one went unpublished.
Bulletstorm does nothing less than reward players for creative kills. The more sadistic the death, the more points you get. Methods include throwing an enemy into a cactus, ramming a baddie with a hot dog cart or feeding an unlucky victim to a man-eating plant. Play this game and you'll never, ever keep your hands clean.
This stunningly violent first-person shooter uses an aptly-named proprietary damage engine called GHOUL, which breaks character models down into 26 discrete "gore zones." In other words, enemies can literally be shot to pieces. If you've got a hankering for exploding heads or bloody stumps, this is the game for you.