Video games are one of the best forms of escapism, as they take the player to anywhere the developers deem possible. Video game locations are diverse, ranging from cities to outer space. They can take players to lost lands, up vast mountains, and to the depths of the ocean. The only limits are developers’ imaginations and the tech available to them.
With so many locations, it’s also not unusual to see the transportation between these places take center stage from time to time. Take trains, for example, which have appeared countless times across gaming, and have made for some excellent levels in their own right.
10 Wrong Side of the Tracks (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
It may not technically be on a train, rather alongside one, but this mission in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is well known enough to spawn memes based on its infamous failure line of “all you had to do was follow the damn train, CJ!”
The goal is to drive a Sanchez motorbike next to the train so that protagonist CJ and his friend Big Smoke can take out a group of rival gang members. It’s notoriously tough, but it’s an exciting chase that’s one of San Andreas’ more memorable missions. It’s also not the only time trains feature in the game, as they feature in two other story missions, and can be driven around the map as part of San Andreas’ many side activities.
9 New Hyrule (The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks)
Not so much a level as it is the game’s entire overworld, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is heavy on railways, with the game’s major objective retrieving Rail Maps that bring back the titular Spirit Tracks, a network of railways that connect the different realms of Spirit Tracks’ distinct version of Hyrule.
The Spirit Train acts as the player’s main source of transportation throughout Spirit Tracks, and can be upgraded throughout the game by adding weapons, freight cars and additional parts. And it’s such a notable train that it even got turned into a stage in the Super Smash Bros series.
8 Train (Goldeneye)
In the simply titled mission “Train” in Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64, James Bond must infiltrate a Soviet train and disable its braking mechanisms to reach ally, Natalya.
One of the game’s more linear missions, it also requires good use of doorways to avoid enemy shots, as there aren’t many places to hide in the narrow carriages. It also notably ends in a tense countdown where Natalya has to hack the villain’s computer while Bond opens an escape hatch.
7 Charge Man’s Stage (Mega Man 5)
Charge Man’s Stage in Mega Man 5 is a standard Mega Man level in its layout, with one notable twist: the player is gradually breaking onto a train and moving through the carriages to reach the boss. The camera even sways a little from time to time to indicate the train is moving in the most effective way the NES was capable of.
What makes this a truly notable train level is that Charge Man himself is also a train. With attacks such as charging Mega Man with his cowcatcher features and throwing flaming coal around, he leans heavily into the theme, creating a fight with a train while on board a different train.
6 Jesse Faden in “Swift Platform” (Control: The Foundation DLC)
Control is a game full of mysterious Altered Items, capable of shifting reality around them. In the DLC expansion The Foundation, protagonist Jesse Faden can find an old movie camera sitting on a rail platform used by the Federal Bureau of Control for transporting items around the facility. And touching this camera results in the rail platform coming to life and kicking off an unexpected chase.
Racing across the rail tunnels of the facility, Jesse has to hop between platforms on parallel traps to avoid being shunted off by sudden walls. All of this while fighting off enemies and a tough “Third Act Villain” to a catchy 80s synthwave music track. It’s an unexpected moment but ends up being one of the greatest moments of the DLC.
5 Desert Railroad (Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation)
Before Tomb Raider gained a gritty new reboot with a survivalist Lara Croft, the classic Tomb Raider games saw Lara in a wide range of globe-trotting antics with little regard for her personal safety. And nowhere was this disregard more noticeable than the Desert Railroad level of fourth game The Last Revelation, which saw Lara jumping and climbing around a moving train.
This is a short level, but there’s a lot going on. Shootouts with enemy thugs, perilous climbs along the side of the train, breaking into crates along the way for supplies and culminating with Lara using a crowbar to remove the carriages and stop in Alexandria without issue. A fun break between two journeys into the dark caverns around Egypt.
4 Our Best Selves (Red Dead Redemption 2)
A lot of Red Dead Redemption 2 features trains, with protagonist Arthur Morgan being part of the infamous Van der Linde Gang. Among their crimes is train robbery, which they do multiple times throughout the game, so there are a lot of train missions to choose from here, in both story missions to side activities.
But the final train mission of the game is the most chaotic and action-packed, with the stealthy approach falling apart, a carriage catching on fire and exploding, and a Gatling gun shootout with a troop of US Army soldiers. It’s a big climactic moment for the game, and therefore worthy of inclusion here.
3 Timber Mission (Final Fantasy VIII)
In Final Fantasy VIII, protagonist Squall and his friends are part of an elite squad of mercenaries known as SeeD. After passing their entrance exams in the early part of the game, they are sent on their first real mission: help the rebel forces in the occupied town of Timber to seize the Galbadian President’s train car.
The mission is a complex one, built around uncoupling and recoupling carriages using stolen codes while stealthily avoiding guards. This all culminates with a confrontation with the President, who turns out to be an undead clone. An exciting mission with a lot of twists and turns that establishes Squall and friends as a force to be reckoned with.
2 Ecliptic Express (Resident Evil 0)
Resident Evil 0 is a prequel to the series that opens on an abandoned train in the woods. The Ecliptic Express is an Umbrella-owned vehicle that ran near Raccoon City and become the site of another outbreak of Umbrella’s experimental zombie-creating viruses.
Rebecca Chambers of STARS Bravo Team ventures through the train, accompanied by escaped convict Billy Coen, as they steer it safely into the Umbrella Executive Training School while avoiding zombies and giant leeches. It’s a significant portion of Resident Evil 0, with multiple floors and a lavishly decorated interior that makes a striking opening segment.
1 Locomotion (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves)
The train chapters of Uncharted 2 make for one of the most iconic appearances of a train in any video game, with the aftermath even making it onto the cover art. Nathan Drake jumps onto the train believing that fellow grave robber Chloe Frazer has been kidnaped and needs rescuing.
What follows is a long trek through multiple carriages, battling enemies, climbing around the sides avoiding passing signs, and doing battle with a chasing helicopter that ends up destroying portions of the train. It’s the kind of technical marvel that Naughty Dog are known for, and one of the most exhilarating portions of Uncharted 2.