The 12 Best Stories in Video Games

News John Saavedra 10/7/2013 at 1:40PM

Drama, action, tears, social commentary, complexity, beauty. These narrative have it all. A list of the most well-told video games of our time...

**May Contain Spoilers For The Games Listed Below**

Story hasn’t always mattered when it comes to video games. Sometimes it’s about relaxing, letting out all your frustrations, clobbering your opponents with the quick press of the R trigger. But this generation of games will be known for its gripping narratives, games so complex that they’ve taught us something about ourselves and the world around us. And we’re not just talking about the stories being told, but the WAY they’re told. Video games offer a level of interactivity that no other form of media can offer. Developers put you in the main characters’ shoes. Your story is their story. These games come alive and you are thrust into a story that’s unbelievable and heart-wrenching.

On the eve of Beyond: Two Souls, this is a celebration of the games that have left us gasping for air, screaming for more, or satisfied our every need. Here are some stories that we didn’t want to end, stories that still linger with us:

The Binding of Isaac

Religious fanaticism takes center stage in this 2D survival horror platformer. You play as a crying naked child named Isaac, who must make his way through his ghoulie-infested basement in order to escape his Jesus-freak mother, who believes God has asked her to sacrifice her child. What ensues is a biblical journey of survival that doesn’t let up until God (the version that flooded the earth, burned down cities, and asked his followers to sacrifice their children) is satisfied.

Uncharted 2

This is the closest we’ll get to a good Indiana Jones game where he isn’t a Lego. A true cinematic experience, Naughty Dog pulls all the stops in this award-winning adventure game full of love, friendship, betrayal, and lust. The twists and turns that Nathan Drake, fearless adventure and treasure hunter, encounters through out his search for the tree of life, an endless source of energy that could be the key to saving the world. Nathan is in constant danger: jeeps want to run him over, trains want to throw him off cliffs, the yeti chases him all over the Himalayas, and mercenaries want to beat him to the treasure. The story escalates, which is why the tension works so well. Nathan doesn’t start out looking for the tree of life. One treasure hunts leads to another leads to another until all the connections are mapped out in his little journal and the conspiracy is revealed. The world is such a vast place, but for an adventurer like Nathan Drake, it can get pretty small.

Alan Wake

This the first game I’ve played that’s captured the writing process so well. The way a writer can get lost in the worlds he creates is what’s out to kill Alan in this psychological thriller. Through out the story, Alan questions what’s real and what isn’t. Is his wife dead? Who killed her? Can he trust his failing mind to solve the mysteries that revolve around a lake town with a dark past? He is constantly haunted by nightmares and apparitions in the darkness, not to mention a list of supporting characters who know more about him than they let on. This is a true examination of what happens when your mind begins to slip.

Fahrenheit

Speaking of mind slips, let’s talk about the mind**** that is this game’s story. At first, this game is a murder mystery. You’ve woken up in a public bathroom with a dead man you don’t remember meeting or killing. But there is blood all over your clothes and your heart is about to beat out of your chest. Did I do this? This game works so well because it lets us into the minds of several characters. Although the game specifically revolves around this murder, we get the story from the point of view of the murderer, a (claustrophobic) cop investigating the murder, and the murderer’s brother (who is a priest with a crisis of faith). While the murder can be pretty concretely explained by the cop, the murderer doesn’t, and something much darker at work here. Enter crazy blood cult and a crapload of strange visions.

Fallout 3

This series has been in the postapocalyptic business for so long that it’s basically the roadmap for all other games in the subgenre. You couldn’t have games like Borderlands, Metro: Last Light, or Rage without it. The story is at it’s finest when punching you in the face with social commentary. What are we willing to do to survive? Steal, murder, eat each other? Blow up your enemies? At what point do we lose sight of decency and become the animals we all really are at heart? This game sheds light on humanity’s true nature while also commenting on the ugly undertones of today’s society: greed, deception, and violence.

Dead Space 

Visceral’s masterpiece capitalizes on the classic horror tropes from movies we all know and love such as Alien, Event Horizon, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later. After receiving a distress call from a mining ship stranded in space, you are sent on a mission to revive the ships system and get the crew home. But what’s waiting for you on that ship isn’t a crew at all...The guys at Visceral are true students of survival horror, taking all the best parts of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Doom, and creating a narrative that intrigued us with its constant twists and scared our pants off.

BioShock 

On the other hand, you can’t simply call this game a hardcore survival horror game. After a plane crash, you swim your way to a lighthouse that actually leads down to an underwater city where all the people have become addicted to a drug that gives them superpowers. Grisly murders and civil war everywhere! Splicers jump out at you from the darkness and make you pee yourself, and that crazy magician guy whispers ****ed up things in your ear, but it’s also hilarious. And that twist at the end (so in-your-face obvious!!) leaves you gasping for air. The ability to pull different emotional reactions from your audience is a rare gift, and this game does just that as you face the ridiculousness of Rapture.

The Last of Us 

Will it be regarded as Naughty Dog’s true masterpiece? Obviously, it’s headed for several game of the year awards. Not only for its beautiful visuals, lighting, and action-packed gameplay, but also for the dark story that ties everything together. A bounty hunter must transport a little girl with a terrible secret across the country while also keeping her safe from zombies and bandits. This story has a moral compass that not many games have been able to achieve. Are you willing to sacrifice yourself for a little girl who’s carrying a virus that’s killed billions of people? Is there ever a right time to kill another human being? Can we ever go back to being civilized after so much of our humanity has been stripped down to its most primitive level?

Half-Life 2

The king of all science fiction games. Everything you’ve ever heard about singularities or portals or teleportation in video games stems from this series, which made science cool again. Gordon Freeman is awakened by the G-Man for a new assignment. He is thrust into the conflict in City 17, a gateway between Earth and the Combine, an alien empire that has found its way to our dimension and enslaved humanity after the accident at Black Mesa, which you are responsible for. Along the way, you jump into teleporters and try to domesticate headcrabs.

Metal Gear Solid 2

Probably the most interactive storyline on this entire list. Also, the most frustrating. This game is out to confuse and fool its audience. The main characters, military operatives tasked with stopping a group of mercenaries from getting their hands on the ultimate weapon, must discover the forces at work behind the occurrences that have bound them together. You are literally part of the story as Kojima feeds you more and more misinformation, causing you to aid the bad guys, only there aren’t really any bad guys because they’re all dead to begin with...This story showed us how information warfare works and spun all its characters into a web of lies that aren’t finally revealed by the end as mind games played by higher powers to turn the world onto a path of bloodshed.

Heavy Rain 

Another game by Quantic Dream that definitely deserves mention. Made up of a series of interconnected stories starring characters who become intertwined through a series of grisly murders, the twists in this noir game still keep me up at night. Out of the shadows, the mystery unravels and the pieces start to come together as the characters become obsessed with catching the Origami Killer. It becomes more and more obvious that you’ve been playing as the murderer the entire time as you race to a shocking finale that will leave you very satisfied.

Mass Effect 

I don’t know an RPG that does space opera any better than BioWare’s classic tale about a man who must stop an ancient alien race from destroying the entire galaxy. This game has the grand scale, romanticism, and fantasy that this subgenre of scifi requires. Commander Shepard, the first human Spectre, goes on the adventure of a lifetime, as he travels to undiscovered planets and drives through intergalactic portals. Not only is it action-packed, but the lore is exceptional as you discover that the galaxy is older than you think.

Did I miss anything? Sound off in the comments!

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I am aware that this is personal opinion and I respect that. But since there is an option for a comment, let me say that the best stories list without Silent Hill 2 is absolutely incomplete.

if it makes a difference to you, #13 was Silent Hill 2...

CoD 4 - MW

Max Payne 1-2

No Walking Dead? Bullshit list.

I agree with Tamerlan. Either the list is terribly incomplete or the list needs to be retitled like "best recent video game stories".

Walking Dead was definitely on our list! We decided to cut it down to top twelve to represent different kinds of games.

What games should we add?

Fair enough.

Why do you think it belongs on this list?

I read this article just to make sure it didn't have Final Fantasy on it.

Why do you think Max belongs on this list?

Deus Ex? It might not have had great graphics, but it certainly had one of the most complex and immersive storylines ever.

Knights of the Old Republic, anyone?

I'm not a fan of military shooters but I think Spec Op's The Line deserves an honorable mention

I'm not a fan of military shooters but I think Spec Ops The Line deserves an honorable mention

Dragon Age Origins, Red Dead Redemption, GTA 4, and Portal 2 all had excellent narratives as well, and deserve some love.
If you want to reach further back, games like Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy Tactics, Kotor, and the Wing Commander series stick out in my memories as being particularly engaging as well.

Skyrim?

I like the list, as well as some of the comments. Going back a bit, I'd have to make mention of Earthbound.

They took the standard RPG narrative and twisted it back, being very self-aware and funny, while also menacing at times. They also got rid of the sword-and-sorcery elements and made you carry baseball bats, and use teddy bears as shields.

But the story was amazing, going at the whole "chosen one" cliche very differently, and by the time you confront Giygas, you have so much invested emotionally in that fight.

walking dead. had me on an emotional rollercoaster. good to see mass effect on the list

Mass Effect 2 - Only game I can recall that's nearly 100 percent driven by the characters. And although Zelda has rather simplistic story lines when you break it down, it is still a staple in storytelling for video games.

I'm a little confused by your description of The Last of Us. Joel isn't a bounty hunter, and other things you said about the game aren't true as well. Did you play it?

Great lists but some notable games with better stories are not listed... I'm talking about the witcher series, dragon age origins, walking dead, ......

Agreed, BlackDeath!

I did. How would you describe the game?

That was definitely on our original list! Cut it due to length :( One of my favorites, though!

Why do you say that?

Its all your opinion but this seems mostly focused on new games. If it were me id put chrono trigger/chrono cross and legend of dragoon on the list.

As long as we referring to just the story, I think that kingdom hearts 2 deserves a mention.

Beyond two souls definitely deserves to be on the list as well. Epic storyline, amazing graphics, beautiful music and acting beyond anything I've ever seen.

I'm surprised Final Fantasy VII isn't on the list. Best game of all time that set the bench mark that no other game has yet reached.

Legacy of Kain series deserved to be on this list.

What about the classic known as Planescape: Torment?

Why isn't legend of dragoon on here BEST STORY EVER ACTULY MADE ME CRY

meh i thought deus ex was ok for what it was worth and i got it for free through psplus. while the game was cool and all once you got into the police station in like the 3rd or so mission the game decided to go on ultra-tryhard

How bout Portal 2? Best story I've ever played, myself.

assassin's creed all of them

No Chrono Trigger or Walking Dead?

And as strange as it may seem, Super Mario RPG had a fantastic feel about it.

Just an observation, but it seems like people like to compile these lists for games post 2000. For many that I have seen, no Nes/Genesis/Snes games are usually on these lists.Funny that, when back then it was less about graphics and more about story and gameplay.

¿Why there's no Graphics adventures here?
Grim Fandango or Gabriel knight have excellents storyes, for example.

Ummm... The original Wolfenstein?

Beyond Two Souls, The Walking Dead, Assassin's Creed 2.

Syberia? Gray Matter? The Longest Journey? Everybody knows only about violent games again?

TOMB RAIDER!!!! (the new one) also Assassins creed, splinter cell conviction, deus ex

Fahrenheit??? really?. It sucks, any microids game its much better -.-

Right? Syberia,or any Microids productions, and Myst!!

A best stories in videogames without graphic adventure... that is an insult

Max Payne 1 has a better story than most games that are listed,

depending on the definition of "game", but most Japanese visual novels have better story than the list here.

Final Fantasy X. Everyone has had a piece and a half of VII, but the shocker at the end of X, made me as a 10 year old cry. A ten year old, who is normally so self absorbed with getting ''the next best thing'' allowed himself to get emotionally invested in a very complex story and coherent as to what was going on....that's special. An honorable mention, Star Ocean on PS1.

basically any RPG from SNES, for one.

i am alive has gotta be in there

This list is not complete without Silent Hill 2

where the hell is 'GONE HOME'. what kind of noobs are giving these reviews. *sigh

yeah specially black flag !!

i guess tht wasnt released at tht tym :D

You're wrong as usual zohack.

Sony pony #1stalker