Cheat codes that lead to dark places

In the early days of gaming, the complex set of maneuvers and commands that unlocked cheats weren't for the player's benefit, but the developer's. They were an easy way to check parts of the game, to go deeper without having to play the entire thing beginning to end. That changed once cheats leaked to the gaming public at large. With a public more than willing to exploit a game for fun and profit, it was inevitable that developers would take the opportunity to throw in Easter eggs, leave hidden messages, and introduce nightmares.

No, you read that last part correctly. To paraphrase a noted scientist, a cheat code might take you places, they just might not be places you want to go. We've collected examples of codes that have taken years off players' lives, not given them extra ones.

Chaos (GT) A.D.

Depending on how you play, Grand Theft Auto is already a complete war zone, just with a lot more old ladies to run over. Once you have a game where you can blow up cop cars with a rocket launcher, there's not a whole lot of ways to escalate things.

But Rockstar found the exact path to madness in Grand Theft Auto 3. A slew of game-breaking codes exist for the game, but three in particular allow players to make the game's random pedestrians destroy everything in sight, make it so they hate each other, and, if you want an extra goose, make it so they all hate you in particular.

The result, as one might imagine, is the type of insanity only Lovecraft could imagine, and in case you thought the madness was confined to Liberty City, there's versions of the three codes in GTA: Vice City and San Andreas.

Satan the Hedgehog

Everyone can generally count on the Sonic the Hedgehog titles to be good, clean, family fun. Okay, except for that time a hedgehog with a gun had to save the President, and that time he made out with a human woman.

Oh, and that one game that had a message from Satan.

Yes, really.

Sonic CD had kind of an abundance of secrets to access, most of them by selecting very specific tracks from the game's Sound Test menu. The typical stuff is in there, a level select, a Debug Mode, but a few of the codes brought up fun little bits of artwork like this peak kawaii piece right here and this picture of a weird, Dark Knight Returns-style Sonic.

The nightmares come with this one right here, which brings up this wallpaper of Sonics that all look like that human-faced dog from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and a message in Japanese. But, surely, the Japanese message is something pretty innocuous, right? Well, not quite.

The message translates to: "Fun is infinite, Sega Enterprises, Signed Majin." Never minding that Eldritch Abomination Sonic is no one's idea of a good time, but the name Majin translates to the word "Devil" in English. Though it would later be revealed that Majin is the nickname of one of the landscape designers on the game, that would be the moment you go ahead and drop your copy of Sonic CD in a shallow grave on consecrated ground.

The Headless Raceman

Not even racing games — univerally appealing, family-friendly racing games — are immune from the whims of a developer's most evil instincts. In this case, it's Grand Prix racing title Super Monaco GP hiding a terrible secret.

Now, to be fair, the game was already in the devil's domain by the sheer fact that it's one of the few racing games in existence where you can just full on pull a Grand Theft Auto, crash into the flag man so hard he disappears into the stratosphere like he's trying out for Team Rocket, and suffer no repercussions. That's bad enough. But to make it worse, if you finish in the top three in the game's Arcade Mode, and hold the A, B, and C buttons when you cross the finish line, your driver will be holding up his own dismembered head as a trophy. Because, sure, that's exactly how sane, healthy, not-undead-psychopaths celebrate victories.

Lara Croft and the Dance of Death

An unfortunate side effect of being a professional daredevil adventurer is that there's absolutely no shortage of ways for the unmerciful angel of death to come calling, and the Reaper has only gotten more brutal over the years to Lara Croft in particular, especially when the series rebooted in 2013. However, of all the ways Lady Croft could bite it, nobody could ever see spontaneous human combustion coming.  Nobody, of course, except for the devious folks at Crystal Dynamics.

Lara Croft was, of course, gaming's first major female icon, and you don't get to be gaming's first major female icon without a bunch of horndogs trying to get her top off for the sake of seeing, what was at the time, a set of very pointy polygonal boobs. Fake codes and mods were rampant after the first Tomb Raider came out. Finally, the good people at Crystal Dynamics had had enough, and instituted a grim and horrifying — ahem — booby trap.

Crystal Dynamics themselves leaked a special "nude code" to various sources after Tomb Raider 2 launched. During gameplay, you were supposed to step left, then right, then left, step forward, step backward, turn around three times, jump forward and hit the roll button. Pervy players were then treated to the horrifying surprise that yes, Lara would get her top off, and by top, we mean her entire torso explodes in midair.

Now I am become Death, Destroyer of Sims

Just like real life, there's all sorts of ways to  mess up a Sim's life, but up until The Sims 4, killing a Sim wasn't the easiest task. Not counting some of the wilder ways to die in the expansions (you could get killed by a meteor in one of them!), the only surefire ways to slay a Sim were old age and hunger.

In The Sims 4, however, death is everywhere, waiting for the chance to strike, but if the Reaper moves a little slow for your liking, you can take up the scythe yourself, to disturbing results. Typing in some very specific commands into the game's cheat console, you could play some of Death's classic hits like killing a Sim by burning them alive, giving them a heart attack, or making them instantly starve to death. You can go experimental. One command will electrocute a Sim the next time they even attempt to touch a piece of technology, another makes them instantly freeze to death.

You can also go full on jazz odyssey, and enter a command to have your Sim instantly die of embarrassment, have a rage-induced heart attack, or even laugh themselves to death. You are the master of puppets here, and you can cut the strings however you please.

A Wrinkle in Timesplitters

The Timesplitters games were the heir apparent to GoldenEye and Perfect Dark that the world deserved — made by many of the same developers, in fact — and sadly, the series has mostly faded into obscurity. However, all three games were able to build on the principles set out by Rare's magnum opus FPS titles, including a wide range of game-breaking cheats.

Things got a little less awesome in the first game, however. The old GoldenEye staples of Big Head mode and Paintball mode returned as well as a cheat that changed the gunfire noise into funny sound effects, but the game also includes a group of unlockable cheats allowing players to change their enemies into ducks, rabbits, and gingerbread men. This sounds hilarious on paper. It is TERRIFYING in motion.

See, the animals were basically just reskins of the regular enemy models you see in the main game, with the same animations and demeanor. Which means, instead of adorable rabbits and ducks running around, you had strange stretched out humanoid deformities that mostly made them look like things Chris Cunningham rejected from Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy" video. They were horrifying, and you are armed with a gun that sounds like a cat's squeaky toy. It is surreal and just plain WRONG.

I have no mouth and I must Command & Conquer

The plot for the Command & Conquer titles have always gone darker than your average RTS, and Red Alert kicks things into further high gear with its alternate history where Einstein erases Adolf Hitler from existence, leaving Stalinist Russia to rise to extreme power. That's screwed up enough, but all it takes is one single cheat code in Red Alert's PS1 port, Retaliation, to kick up the screwed up factor several notches.

Inputting a specific code in the game's sidebar unlocks a mode allowing you to change the physical properties of ore, which your army harvests in-game for resources.  One of the things you can change the ore into? PEOPLE. Living, breathing people who scream in terror as you harvest them, so that they may be fed to your armies.

This could all be taken as a grim joke, if not for the fact that one of the expansions for Red Alert 2 includes a mission where people are herded up for "processing" as well.

Bring me the head of John Romero

The very premise of Doom is the stuff of nightmares, where you wake up on Mars, all of your friends and coworkers are either dead or possessed, and there's an infinite number of godless abominations trying to devour your immortal soul. You'd think, after two games and so many dead demons, Doom had run out of ways to shock and disturb, but for the curious and daring player, the games save the best for last.

One of the cheats in Doom 2 — a common cheat in PC games of the era — turns off clipping, a function that basically makes the game world solid so you're not just walking through walls like a ghost. Turning it off, however, means no door in the game is truly closed to you, and all sorts of hidden areas are accessible.

You can even tiptoe right past the final boss in the game, and when you do walk through the wall directly behind him, you're faced with a new kind of terror: the severed head of John Romero, impaled on a spike, screaming the scream of the unholy each time you shoot him. Killing him ends the level, just like if you kill the boss. But you know what takes forever to kill? TRAUMA.

The Neg

There's something extra chilling about disturbing things showing up in racing games in particular. Maybe it's the fact that they're usually the sunniest and most innocent genre imaginable, and you never see it coming, or that the content usually has nothing to do with fear. Unless it's Twisted Metal. Or that one N64 game with the serial killer message on the back of a sign.

Wave Race, being a Nintendo game, doesn't necessarily go as dark as that, but it does include a cheat that's just as psychologically damaging. Entering a specific code in the options menu swaps out the normally chipper Australian announcer for his already-checked-way-out-for-the-day non-union American counterpart. And for minutes on end, this dude undermines your every decision, every turn, every time you don't hit a turbo, every time you DO hit a turbo. The mocking is non-stop, and relentless, and nothing in the game is as daunting and demoralizing as having the announcer equivalent of Patrick Bateman commenting on your accomplishments.

Enter the Gaben

Sometimes, there are things that are only disturbing with distance and new perspective. There's already more than enough that's deliberately disturbing in Valve's games before you even get to the stuff that you have to break the game to experience. Ask your local data miner about the locked audio files in Portal 2 portraying the exact moment when Caroline gets turned into GlaDOS, for example.

Still, with time and distance, and Valve going from beloved game developer to mostly "those guys who make Steam," what might've once been a fun Easter egg becomes a funhouse mirror of self-indulgent horrors. Case in point: the original Half-Life. Once again, our good friend, the No Clipping mode, plays a role here, but turning on noclip at a particular point in a stage will lead you down through the floor into a tiny unlit dungeon plastered in a massive mosaic made up of the face of the God Emperor Gabe Newell. It was probably weird when the game was first programmed. In the wake of the man's ironic and unironic worship, and his company's near-stranglehold on the world of PC gaming, there's something just downright unsettling about a room that's just the smiling face of Gabe, like it's the last thing you see when you try to contest a denied Steam refund.