1. Talbot’s drug, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011)
Drug use in the world of Uncharted seems like an unseen but implied constant throughout the series. Nathan Drake has got to be juicing, right? Human growth hormone, steroids—something has to be behind the guy’s unreasonable strength and stamina. Old Nate never pulls a needle out on screen, though, so the only drug we actually know he uses is a potent psychotropic sourced from what might be an imprisoned genie. Talbot, a shady hood in the employ of Nate’s nemesis Katherine Marlowe, doses both Nate and his pal Cutter with the stuff in Uncharted 3, and it does not look like something you’d want to take at a Phish concert. Paranoia, fear, visions of already-scary mercenaries turning into violent desert gods, and full-on existential crises are just a few of its side effects. Nate also suffers from blurred vision and poor balance when he’s on the junk, but that may not be the drug. The guy never eats anything, and he’s constantly burning calories. Try a Powerbar, you goon.
2. Pollen of the Mother Punga, Fallout 3: Point Lookout (2009)
Point Lookout, the best of Fallout 3’s post-release expansions, takes place in an irradiated, mutant hillbilly-infested interpretation of Maryland’s Point Lookout State Park. The developers at Bethesda (which is indeed located right outside Bethesda, Md.) drew from the peninsula’s history and landmarks to populate Point Lookout with stately manors and creepy ghost stories. The add-on’s standout drug trip sequence, however, probably isn’t based on local flavor. While trying to infiltrate a local cult, the player is sent to the group’s sacred plant, the Mother Punga, to gather its seeds and take part in an initiation ritual. Upon removing the seeds, the grotesque plant sprays you with a cloud of green pollen, and you collapse. Things aren’t quite right when you wake up. A ghostly saw cuts through the fabric of reality. The world flips upside down. The bodies of your childhood friends float in the swamp waters. Worst of all, fake representations of the coveted Bobblehead power-ups taunt you with their false promises. “Blech. If my kid looked like that, I’d abandon it too,” the nastiest one says, resting on a surgical table with what you can infer is the corpse of your dead mother. That’s some mean pollen.
3. LSD et al., NARC (2005)
If the psychic fallout from the War On Drugs was made physically manifest, it would probably take the shape of Midway’s 1988 arcade game NARC. Here is the world writ in black and white, where everyone is either a crazed addict in the employ of a Van Morrison lookalike’s disembodied head or a cop with a Porsche, a rocket launcher, and an all-encompassing disdain for human life. It’s hallucinatory, sure, but you’re never explicitly hallucinating. The series’ 2005 reboot is a more layered exploration of narcotics law enforcement. Rather than blowing up drug dealers en masse, DEA agent Marcus Hill and officer Jack Forzenski arrest offenders and confiscate their stock. While taking the illicit goods to the evidence room is an option, it’s more useful to keep them and use them yourself. Smoking weed slows down time in a gun fight. Crack improves your fisticuffs skills. LSD turns everyone around you into either a jester or a devil, so you can tell who’s good and who’s evil. Right. There’s even a fictional drug, Liquid Soul, that makes you see everything in red for some reason. It’s an awfully utilitarian approach to using. Where’s the fun, 2005 NARC? At least those psychotics in the Porsche seemed to be enjoying themselves.
4. Visionary’s Potion, The Witcher 2 (2011)
The Witcher 2 follows the adventures and sexual conquests of scarred albino warrior-mystic Geralt of Rivia. Like any good introvert, he’s only able to really let loose after imbibing a good mead or smoking some herb he finds on the ground with his mystical herb-locating ability. He’s also not above the occasional drug deal. After drinking a moonshine distilled by some unhinged monk—the lesson here seems to be don’t accept hallucinogens from tattered-looking vagrants—Geralt trips balls and finds himself in a land of giant mushroom-penis trees and a chicken of kaiju-esque proportions (such that it also made an appearance on our Inventory of ass-kicking birds). Geralt, being used to this kind of thing, takes the situation with equanimity (he utters a Roger Murtaugh-tinged, “I’m too old for this”) and eventually comes to on a high-up outcropping, with no inkling how he got there. Never apologize for partying, Geralt.
5. Giant mushrooms, Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)
What the hell is it about video game drugs and enormous chickens? Now that illicit drugs are becoming more “acceptable” subject matter for games, it figures that there would be some overlap in style between various developers. But the coincidence here between the aforementioned Witcher 2 trip and Juliet’s trip in Lollipop Chainsaw, which also features a gargantuan chicken, is just weird. Unlike the Witcher’s relatively placid bird, however, you have to fight the chickens that Juliet encounters after she saws through giant psychedelic mushrooms. Or, given that this is Lollipop Chainsaw, you could always situate the camera to get a closeup of a hallucinatory chicken’s ass—male gaze in a daze.
6. Valkyr, Max Payne (2001)
In his quest to seek vengeance for the murder of his family by junkies strung out on a mysterious drug called Valkyr, the renegade DEA agent Max Payne stumbles upon the shadowy corporation behind its production. He discovers that the substance is a performance-enhancing drug that turns its users into adrenaline-fueled killing machines who are haunted by strange hallucinations. Max eventually gets captured by some thugs, is injected with an overdose of the liquid, and is left to die. The side effects aren’t great. Max sees the floor turn into “a vortex of green blood.” The player is suddenly thrust into a drug-induced nightmare in the elongated halls of Max’s old house. (Long corridors seem to be a signature element of game halluciations.) A demonic voice whispers something about the “flesh of fallen angels,” and then you hear the pleading screams of Max’s dead wife and daughter. Your plight gets even weirder when you pick up a phone and a voice breaks through the fourth wall to tell Max that’s he’s actually in a graphic novel and a computer game. Finally, he awakes in a pool of his own vomit. Who needs the D.A.R.E. program when you have Max Payne? It’s one of the most effective PSAs disguised as a video game ever made.
7. Fear toxin, Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)
Yes, Batman’s hallucinations in the first Arkham game—brought about by a dose of Scarecrow’s fear toxin—do result in the umpteenth rendition of Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered. But like so much of Arkham Asylum, the game builds on a familiar myth to produce intriguing new experiences. As the toxin courses through Batman’s bloodstream, a fairly on-the-nose dream sequence gives way to the truly daring stuff, a difficult level in which Batman must navigate the detritus of his psyche while avoiding a specter of fear that threatens to consume him. The design of this hide-and-seek chapter of Asylum isn’t unprecedented—it owes an aesthetic debt to the God Of War games, among others—but Asylum loads it up with a psychodrama all its own.
8. Mysterious liquid, Far Cry 3 (2012)
Far Cry 3 is the story of how one plucky white fratboy becomes a brave warrior by shooting hundreds of people and taking recreational drugs. Well, the drugs aren’t supposed to be recreational—they’re part of your hero’s harrowing journey into the self or some such—but in practice, they’re the gateway to fun adventures in pretend-land. While you’re on the trip depicted above, for instance, you get to hang out with all your bros and play a little underwater poker, and then you follow a guy who can zap himself over small distances, like the Star Trek transporter, except for your soul. The hero’s running commentary—which includes observations like “What the hell?” and “How’d that…what?”—helpfully lets players know that they are confused and awestruck by what they’re seeing. Perhaps someday, when video game graphics are even more refined, we won’t even need actual drugs anymore. We’ll simply plug into our hallucination mainframes and enjoy immersive depictions of an Australian guy engaging in wordplay while grabbing his crotch. For now, Far Cry 3 offers a tantalizing glimpse of our cyber-hallucinogenic future.
9. The green syringe, Surgeon Simulator 2013 (2013)
One of this year’s oddest success stories is Surgeon Simulator 2013. The game, which puts you in control of each finger on one hand of the world’s least dextrous surgeon, began life as a product of the 48-hour Global Game Jam. Each attempt quickly turns into a bloody slapstick routine, which makes for pretty good internet TV. The game went viral, and an expanded version was later released. But the full version hides a dirty hallucinogenic secret. You lose the game if your patient loses all of their blood. Among your surgical tools lie two mysterious syringes. Pricking your patient with the green syringe slows blood loss. Prick yourself with it, though, and you’re launched into a psychedelic haze. Your vision throbs with greens and purples, and even the quietest of sounds rings out with a thundering echo. It’s exactly the kind of bad trip that ‘60s anti-drug literature was warning us about—only in this case, a human life is in your hands. But fear not. The mystery liquid in the blue syringe can bring you back to reality. Now all you have to do is find it…