Crysis - maps are absolutely gigantic, while at the same time subtly advocating different possible routes and tactics. Fifth time through the game and it's still like playing it for the first time.
Super Meat Boy - each level has tiny nuances to maximize frustration (you thought that jump was safe? Think again!)
Mirror's Edge - there's nothing else that quite matches the feeling of jumping from rooftop to rooftop, climbing elevator shafts or running through metropolitan complexes as you are chased by police ninjas..
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light - some of the puzzles, especially those in Co-Op are downright clever.
Dead Space - Metroidvania aboard an abandoned spaceship full of mutant zombies, mixed with zero gravity and physics puzzles.
Super Mario Galaxy springs to mind (never played the second one so I can't comment on that,) and Uncharted 2 was really impressive in the ways it funneled you forward while hiding the scripting. Certain sections of Metal Gear Solid 4 were also really incredible, but I feel like a lot of that had to do more with the concepts for the levels than the designs themselves. Like the microwave hallway, for example. Brilliantly designed and thought out, but in terms of the architecture of the level it's nothing crazy or special. Although it was very impressive how you could take so many different approaches to a level in that game. I also feel that Limbo deserves a mention here. It's far from my favorite game, but the something about the design of it all really sold it.
Oh, and the original Battlefield Bad Company had some really superb multiplayer maps. The sequel did too, actually.
" @Johnny5 said:And i'm gonna have to throw Lazarovich from Uncharted 2 out there as a response to this oneWho is the best character introduced in a sequel this generation? Let us debate. "
" ...you totally used the Giantbomb thread generator didn't you...
Hell my first click I got "Best character introduced in a sequel this generation" "
Super Meat Boy - These maps are tightly designed and fun to play. They can also be incredibly difficult.
Modern Warfare 2 - Had the best multiplayer maps this generation. They were tight, focusing action into specific points.
Just Cause 2 - The world of Just Cause 2 was huge, but also looked great. Tons of stuff to do and explode.
Grand Theft Auto IV - Liberty City is the best attempt at world creation attempted in video games.
Uncharted 2 - The single player had lots of great maps and set piece moments.
Best is a dumb label. My favorite this year hands down has been Sleepy Dogs, this generation? Portal 2 and Super Mario Galaxy stick out. There has been no huge revolutions in level design this gen, really just brute force amount of polish. There are probably revolutions behind the curtain that the player doesn't notice but yeah. Most positive changes tend to be polish, or aesthetic.
Sleepy Dogs sticks out to me this year not only for the polish but because the dudes clearly watched a lot of Hong Kong New Wave cinema. So many nods, and their interpretation of Hong Kong is great. It felt aesthetically like San Francisco, but oversized like Houston. Really good stuff.
@bearshamanbro: Generally speaking, I highly disagree about MGS4 and VanQuish for the reasons you stated. MGS4 is just too easy on most difficulties to actually require stealthy play; I watched my friend shoot like 100 dudes to death in the first act of the game before he just started camping spawns. You can use stealth, and it's interesting, but the game goes faster if you're not being as stealthy, you don't lose significantly more health, and you get WAAAY more Drebin Points playing it slowly. Also, Act 3 and 5 totally suck in terms of actual level design, despite being the most interesting acts in the narrative.
Meanwhile, VanQuish actually will totally limit you in types of gameplay, and certain available approaches to the gameplay just don't work very well. I love VanQuish, but I don't think the level design is that rock solid.
I'm with the people playing Super Meat Boy pretty happily. Puzzle games go to Portal, Braid, or Fez. For shooters, I'd probably agree with @Hosstile17 that Halo 3 probably has the best campaign level design, though the multiplayer maps in 360 Halos were generally not as strong as Halo 2. I guess Left 4 Dead and L4D2 make great runner-ups. Batman: Arkham Asylum definitely had the strongest stealth design this gen, but if you're more interested in variety, I'd give it to the actual major assassinations in the original Assassin's Creed. And Demon's Souls/Dark Souls would both be great picks for best action-adventure level design; only Twilight Princess comes to mind as an alternative. And for more pure-RPG stuff, I'm leaning towards Fallout 3, which seems unfair because there's also some really bullshit level design in that game involving Mirelurks and the Ants.
@EpicSteve said:I disagree. I'm a Halo fan, but the maps in Reach were poorly designed. Most of them were copy-then-pasted from the single-player, which I find lazy on Bungie's department. On subject: I say the Super Mario Galaxy series have the most creative and expertly designed maps of this generation.
" Halo Reach's multiplayer maps are solid. "
Maybe in pallet, but they were still excellent MP maps.
Halo 3's were, in my opinion, the best, especially when you include DLC but I really liked Reach's maps.
And I think that MGS 4 is only kinda neat in that "there are three linear paths to take, yay!" beyond that, they aren't very interesting paths and the levels look bland and simple as all hell. Crysis did a better job of actually interesting gameplay spaces with actual dynamic open options.