The PCG Q&A
We want to know which game levels truly stink. Sure, we can’t actually smell them, but if we think we can, then that’s probably a good thing! It’s a sign of everything in the environment design working in unison and therefore, a compliment. So, which videogame environments have the lighting, sound, props, and textures aligned just so to negate our need for smell-o-vision?
Let’s cover the whole smell spectrum: from must to crust. Is crust a smell? I’d like to imagine it is, and it’s bad. The kinda smell you’d find in a belly button. Anyway! Let us know which PC game levels you stink worst and why. Chef kiss with one hand, nose pinched with the other. Follow your nose down the page for a few PC Gamer staff picks, but if you think our answers stink (or don’t stink enough) give us your own in the comments.
Wes Fenlon: The oil field in Divinity: Original Sin 2
What a clusterfuck. I don’t know if anyone managed to get through the Blackpits in Divinity: Original Sin 2 without triggering a hellscape of fire, but I sure didn’t. I think it was almost inevitable in the launch version of the game: you get ambushed while making your way through this oil field, and as soon as one flame attack lights up the ground, it’s going to make its way across every surface in sight. I can barely even imagine the stink. First you’ve got the oil itself. The fire gobbles up all the moisture, making the air brittle and overwhelmingly acrid. That’s just the baseline. Then you get the whiffs of barbecued human flesh, including your own, because everyone is on fire.
You get to smell yourself burn, but you don’t die, because this is a magic game and your burning flesh can be healed so it can burn all over again. With luck your nostrils would go first. But if you can still smell anything, you’d also get to whiff the immolated voidlings, primordial ooze creatures that slug crawl their way across the battlefield and spread the fire behind them. Who knows what they smell like—probably puss excreted from a corporeal nightmare. Freddy Kreuger’s rotting big toe, but on fire. Honestly, maybe in this case the fire is a blessing.
Morgan Park: Central Repository, Prey (2017)
Kind of a deep cut, but there’s a part in Prey where you have to sneak into a room in zero-g that’s been overtaken by the Typhon’s creepy web-like “choral” structures. It’s the first time you have to get close to that much choral and my senses couldn’t take it at first. I imagined the choral smelled like the kitchen does right after microwaving a bunch of popcorn. It’s difficult to explain because I like eating popcorn, but the initial scent that blasts out of a bag makes me momentarily feel like I have light asthma.
I’ve never known anyone else with the same issue, so I should probably ask a doctor about that someday. Anyways, that’s the smell I assigned to the glistening choral, probably because the stuff is slowly overtaking the Talos 1 space station without actually hurting you and that’s kinda how the popcorny smell feels to my lungs.
Andy Kelly: Brookhaven Hospital, Silent Hill 2
I could pick any location from a Silent Hill game and it would probably smell bad, but it’s the freaky Otherworld version of Brookhaven Hospital that I think would really tip the smell-o-meter into nightmare territory. I’m imagining a fetid blend of disinfectant, infected open wounds, weird chemicals, and iron oxide from all the rusted metal. These games are getting old now, but thanks to the quality of that grimy, stylised texture work, they’re every bit as vividly, tangibly horrible as they were when I first imagined their stench.
Harry Shepherd: Blighttown, Dark Souls
Blighttown stinks, in every sense of the word. It’s a repellant place to be in terms of difficulty, environment, and just plain old stench. After descending planks of rotting, rickety wood, buffeting away ghouls and flaming dogs not necessarily known for their hygiene, your reward is… a poisonous swamp. Gross.
You’d have thought the sewers in the Depths—infested with distended rats and gross, curse-inflicting Basilisks—would be the smelliest place in any game. Not Dark Souls. Blighttown is the foul area below the waste-clogged pipes; It is the sewer of sewers. Avoid.
Robin Valentine, Dark Souls games in general
If it wasn’t for the lack of a PC port, Conker’s Bad Fur Day would win this hands down. Oh well.
I was about to say Blight Town is the obvious contender here—between the rotting structures and bubbling poison pits it looks like it reeks. But that’s made me realise, I feel like everywhere in the Dark Souls games smells. Everything’s old and rotten, or burnt, or covered in mold. Even the ancient ruins look like they’d be really musty. And I dread to think what the monsters would smell like—shrivelled zombies, slimy mutants, sweaty knights that haven’t taken their armour off in 200 years…
Just take a second out of your day to imagine what odor is given off by the Asylum Demon’s enormous scaly arse. People say the Dark Souls games are hard, but they’d be an absolute nightmare with smell-o-vision.
Graeme Meredith: Resident Evil 7, especially in VR
Not strictly a PC Gaming experience I know, but… When playing Resident Evil 7 in PlayStation VR, the somewhat unassuming rubbery scent of the headset started to become one with the truly horrid, rotten locations you suffer throughout the game. Through sheer terror, I basically forced myself to complete RE7 in VR, and loved every revolting moment of it. However, I didn’t anticipate how the strong association between the hardware and the game would impact my other gaming. For a few months afterwards, any time I “suited up” to play a non-horror game in PSVR, a rush of unpleasant sense memories would come rushing back. Still to this day, the mixture of rubber and clammy face sweat permeates my enjoyment of Astro Bot Rescue Mission.
James Davenport: Aperture Labs, Portal
I could point to nearly any horror game and find some kinda corpse pile or sewer or sunken Lovecraftian fishing village scenario and say it stinks in the conventional sense of the word. Rot and all that. But another smell I hate? The astringent, sanitized smell of a dentist’s office, and I have to imagine a facility completely run by a rogue AI trying to make its human lab mice feel comfortable must smell similar.
Everything in Aperture Science, from the pallid wall panels to metallic robotic scaffolding, feels like it’s fresh off the factory line, manufactured at the exact intersection of cheap and efficient. I imagine it smelling of iron oxide and varnish, laundry detergent and pond scum. And sometimes, eerily, I imagine it smells like nothing at all. Scent vacuums. The horror.