A report on the Xbox Live Games with Gold titles available for November 2014.
Top 10 Story-Driven Games
Videogames are the pinnacle of escapism. Becoming fully emerged into a game is a wonderful experience, one that is compounded by making the gamer actually care about the characters, organisations or world involved. Some games are mindless, such as Geometry Wars where their sole purpose is to entrance the gamer with an entertaining experience without much thought. The best games though, in my opinion, are the ones where you forget the world around you and, without realising, end up playing into the small hours of the morning utterly engrossed in the plot and gameplay. This list provides an insight into the top 10 games that I believe are the best written and most moving games.
10. Silent Hill 2
So much of my childhood was spent terrified whilst playing this brilliant game. Whilst the main character James Sunderland isn’t the most enigmatic hero in gaming history, due mainly to poor dialogue, the actual narrative of Silent Hill 2 was completely compelling. This game is not just about killing all manner of monsters and tension, it’s about the narrative tension, the mysterious plot lines, story arcs and character interaction. Silent Hill 2 was one of the first games to really integrate multiple ending scenarios successfully, with 6 equally plausible final situations being possible.
No, not the 2007 imposter, the original 1993 SNES Shadowrun. No one can play this game without becoming sucked into one of the most detailed RPG narratives in gaming history. Combining witty dialogue, lovable characters, a plot that thickens the more you delve, the shady environments and the artfully timed gloomy music, Shadowrun results in total immersion. Although beginning with a cliché amnesia story, Shadowrun evolves into a plot-line filled with data hacking, shapeshifters, assassins, crime overlords, magic creatures, A.I’s and evil corporations which all create a truly memorable experience.
8. System Shock 2
The series that led to Bioshock, their spiritual successors. System Shock 2 has a very unbelievable story – but this is gaming, so the wilder the better, right? However unconvincing the events are, the way in which the player is drawn into this scenario, via beautifully wonderful dialogue and log books scattered throughout the game, is what makes System Shock 2 a masterpiece of gaming narrative. Set in a futuristic steampunk world, System Shock 2 deals with bio-engineered creatures known as The Many, and the protagonist must put an end to these cretinous spawns in order to save the human race. Plot twists, deception, betrayal and evil genius comes together to produce a game which you hate to leave.
7. Half Life
No list of the best storylines in videogames can be called complete without listing Half Life. A beloved franchise that set a precedent for interactive story telling within the gaming industry. As far as the plot goes, a whole is torn in the space-time continuum thus paving the way for all manner of nasty things to crawl and slither onto Earth, further inflamed by some seriously dodgy human characters. The way that Half Life delivers its narrative to the player was, at the time, an incredible leap-forward from the tried-and-tested methods of boring cutscenes or walls of text. The player is actively engaged in the direction of the story in Half Life with no cutscenes, just action, making Half Life a thrilling tale of adrenaline-induced euphoria.
The narrative in Portal is not complex at all, but what does shine through to make this game incredibly immersive is how the story is told, or more specifically how it is not told. The player is left in a world with only a psychotic A.I robot to guide them through the game, more than likely to their doom. As the game progresses, fractures can be seen within the world; broken test chambers, maddening graffiti, and strange(er) objects dotted about. What does this mean? Who did this? Where are they now? Portal doesn’t even attempt to directly answer these questions, instead the player find themselves putting the pieces together themselves, coming to conclusions, or becoming as insane as GLaDOS. This isn’t a bad move on the writers part, or them being lazy. The design of Portal allows the player to create entire scenarios of what the world is, was and who populated it.
I can’t put into the words how many times I had to pause Bioshock just to sit there open-mouthed thinking, ‘What? How? But he-? That was…damn”. Other than having an incredibly beautiful setting in a utopia-turned-dystopia underwater wonderland, Bioshock has a very compelling story line. Philosophy is a primary motivator in Bioshock, whereby clashing philosophies of the worlds intellectual ‘elite’ creates many a moral dilemma for the player. Although linear in a large amount of aspects and with low re-playability, the plot of Bioshock is incredible. The characters are deliciously evil, insane, corrupt and violent. The world of Bioshock is detailed enormously through dialogue, and you grow attached to the underwater fallen Eden in a way that makes you sincerely care about the story, characters and ultimate fate of the protagonist.
4. Final Fantasy VII
Although being the 7th game in the series, FFVII is the best. No argument. A plethora of deep characters, all with detailed backstories, ambitions and motives make this game one that I would happily trade realities with. The plot is epic to say the least, with story telling based upon emotional cutscenes and intense flashbacks. It’s impossible to play FFVII without becoming totally attached to the characters and dealing with the fairly adult themes can leave vast pits in your soul due to decisions that needed to be made.
3. Metal Gear Solid
Cutscenes. So many cutscenes. That’s all the criticism of MGS you’ll get from me. Without these monstrously long behemoths, MGS would not be the story-driven legend that it is. Cutscenes aren’t the only way that this glorious story is told. The dialogue between Snake and his team is pretty much constant throughout the game and leads to the player becoming engrossed into the story. The conversations are interesting, raised higher by excellent voice acting, and serve as a great way to expand the story. Whilst playing MGS I really felt like I was Snake, that I must prevail against the odds, I must overcome my own demons for the sake of a cause bigger than myself.
2. Deus Ex
The Godfather of videogame story telling, Deus Ex has one of the richest and most believable created world in gaming. Inside this world are countless characters, fully fleshed out and realistic, as well as many story-driving narrative features and twists. The only way to gain knowledge of the plotline is to interact with NPCs within the game. The dialogue in Deus Ex has, in my opinion, yet to be surpassed by any modern game. Deus Ex provides a story told through the mouths of those who you feel have really lived it. This dystopian future is so well constructed and dripping with ‘lore’ to explore, that the player may as well become a citizen. Deus Ex was also one of the very first games to change in relation to the choices made by the player. Whilst we take this for granted nowadays, when Deus Ex was released, this was unheard of. The decisions weren’t merely path A or B with zero repercussions, the game made it blindingly obvious that whatever you chose will have direct, and sometimes drastic, impacts of the world around you.
1. Banjo Kazooie
This last one is all down to personal opinion. There can be no ultimate best story-driven game of all time, because each one of us takes something different away from every game we play. For me, Banjo Kazooie gave me the greatest story experience of my gaming career. The characters are goofy and completely mad, I mean come on, talking boots? Bear in mind I was 8 years old when I first played this game but I fell in love with it. The environments were whacky and explosive with colour, strange sounds and weird inhabitants; everything child-me needed for a sensory overload without funnelling sugar straight down my throat. The game has an outstanding level of detail, and although the characters are completely loony, they all have their charms and made me feel like one of their best pals with how the player interacted with the world.