10 Video Games That Totally Floored You –
Ever since Metal Gear Solid nailed Hollywood sensibilities as far as cinematography and A-list voice acting was concerned, we’ve enjoyed one hell of a ramp-up in video game storytelling quality across the board.
It’s easy to forget the industry only went 3D 20 years ago, but contrast that first Hideo Kojima project against something like Uncharted 4 or Spider-Man, and you get such a feeling of humanity, acting, believability and tone coming through in more recent work.
Of course, you don’t need fancy graphics or motion-capped actors to connote intense emotion (just look at a certain death in Final Fantasy VII), but it certainly helps.
When all the aforementioned aspects line up, coupled with characters or world-building elements we’ve indulged in for tens of hours, the result is often something we’ll talk about for the rest of our lives.
– SPOILERS within –
10. What Remains Of Edith Finch
What Remains of Edith Finch was practically designed to be included on lists like this. It’s all about death and attempting to escape your inevitable doom and has you literally jumping into the shoes of a family who have all succumbed to grisly fates. That said, every emotional beat feels earned, rather than simply designed to be as manipulative as possible.
Each vignette acts as its own mini-story, from documenting the suicide of a factory worker who totally loses himself in his own daydreams concocted to pass the time, to the drowning of a baby, presented from its own surreal perspective. Each comes with its own distinct art style and set of mechanics as well which, while keeping the game itself fresh, allows it to subvert your expectations before delivering a surprising emotional blow.
Every new story is inherently resonant but it’s the larger, overall narrative – all about learning to do the most with the time you have and not always fearing the end – which makes the game something truly special.
At first glance, Undertale doesn’t seem like all that much of an emotional game. In fact, it’s actually one of the funniest releases of the decade so far. From the wise-cracking skeleton Sans, to despondent ghosts who just want to share their moody music with you, the indie is quirky to the point where it almost becomes sickly.
However, the carefree nature of 90% of the title is primarily there so the developers can truly pull the rug out from under you in the final moments and reveal that nothing in the game has been as lighthearted as it seems.
It turns out you don’t have to kill the monsters you come across, but on the first playthrough you’ll probably inevitably succumb to a few murderous tendencies. Not simply because sparing enemies can be a long, arduous process, but because engaging in combat nets you LOVE (health) and EXP (well, experience), which make endgame bosses far easier.
Unfortunately it turns out that both of these features were actually acronyms, with LOVE standing for “Level of Violence” and EXP being “Execution Points”. If you’ve been killing monsters then you’ve pretty much been slaughtering innocents who were already living in fear, as well as validating every prejudice they had about humans on the surface.
8. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade was the indie darling of 2017, and while that ridiculous praise might have set expectations for new players too high (especially those unprepared for just how much of a slog the gameplay is in the later hours), Senua’s journey through Helheim is as intimate as it is grand, ambitious and surreal.
Ostensibly about the heroine’s literal descent into hell in order to save the soul of her dead lover, the narrative doubles for a metaphorical exploration of mental illness and psychosis, with Senua’s nightmarish internal conflicts brought to life by haunting whispers constantly chastising her, made even more impactful by the immersive 3D audio.
The way this intimate struggle is externalised is where the game’s power truly comes from though. The backdrop of this hellish Norse mythology setting perfectly reflects Senua’s inner turmoil, while visually striking, surreal scenes of disjointed chaos bring the journey to an intense crescendo in the closing hour.
It doesn’t always gel, but when it does Hellblade delivers a sensory assault that’s unlike anything else.
7. The Walking Dead Season 1
The game which put Telltale back on the map (and sadly, it’s turning out, led to their downfall), The Walking Dead’s first season proved just how compelling narrative-driven games could be. Starting from the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and covering its first few months, while there are plenty of tense action sequences and tough decisions to get swept up in, it’s the relationship between Lee and his adopted daughter Clementine that’s the game’s emotional core.
Watching these two people develop into a genuine family – warts and all – because of your own actions captured a relationship rarely seen in gaming at the time (and hit the sweet spot before the pervasive parental themes of emotional video games felt a littleoverdone).
Of course, while their bond (and its inevitable unwinding) was the highlight, it was supported by other, just as complex, relationships and life-or-death scenarios. Having to be the leader of a group and deal with abrasive personalities inevitably led to disaster, made worse when you were the one being called upon when a tough decision needed to be made.
6. Mass Effect 2
Bioware’s immaculate sequel is arguably a career best, and though the entirety of the game’s 50+ hour campaign is tightly written and character-driven, it’s the closing “Suicide Mission” that really knocks everything out the park.
Every one of your relationships matters. Each character you’ve recruited, all the research you’ve done into fighting the nefarious Collectors – it all comes down to one final push to wipe them out for good. Feeling like some life-moulding final exam you’ve prepared for across an entire semester, the most gut-wrenching part of Mass Effect 2 happens when you end the mission with far less people than you started with.
Yes, there is a way to make everyone survive, but you’ll likely need a guide to figure out precisely which hidden cogs are turning behind the scenes. Going into it with the best intentions is precisely why this thing hits so hard, and I’d bet you all remember the first time you went through that final relay.
5. God Of War
A far more contemplative and powerful take on Kratos, Sony Santa Monica went back to the drawing board, emerging with a mature, self-reflective and confident look at what it means for a super-powered individual to truly “grow up”.
Uncharted 4 operates off a similar core ideology, but where God of War goes one step further is in its portrayal of violence, seeing Kratos’ son Atreus start to exhibit the same nihilistic traits as he once did, when we played him in the main trilogy. Horrified by the idea of such bloody history repeating, God of War’s second half is all about instilling a sense of responsibility, learning and respect.
This analysis of the glorification of violence feel like a self-reflective commentary on how the industry has itself grown and matured. Kratos cements the notion by saying that his son must “be better” than just wanton slaughter, and the game’s closing scene combines a series of twists involving a mural of Kratos’ death, and who Atreus truly is.
The overall sentiment is one of regret, but acceptance. It’s of exploration, escapism and excitement about what the future holds. It’s one of the best stories of 2018, and an essential milestone in the advancement of gaming as a medium.
Another storytelling gem as far as capitalising on decades worth of Spidey fiction goes, Insomniac’s take on the web-head isn’t afraid to go all-in on some character-changing ramifications.
Case in point: The death of Aunt May. Though finding out Doc Ock knew all about Spidey’s true identity even though he played buddy-buddy with Peter is a gut-punch, but following the acquisition of a cure for a city-wide plague – one that’s slowly killing Aunt May, no less – Parker has to make one HELL of a choice:
Save the person you love, or save the city?
Thankfully the player didn’t have to decide, and Peter decides that the lives of New York are more important than his auntie. The decision comes alongside the reveal that Aunt May also knew Peter was Spider-Man, making for an unbelievably intense scenario and rush of emotions – one that carries through the following scenes and well into the credits, if not the next day.
3. That Dragon, Cancer
Born from the real-life experiences of developers Ryan and Amy Green, That Dragon, Cancer is all about the two parents dealing with the realisation that their child, Joel, had only been given four months to live when he was a year old.
Dealing with a situation that’s every parent’s worst nightmare, the game chronicles Joel’s survival beyond that initial four-month assessment, and how the parents dealt with the constant reassessments and hope that was always dashed at the last moment.
There’s a lot of media which attempts to shed light on the wide-reaching effects of cancer, but this title puts you directly in control of the impossible situations these parents had to face, as you attempt to navigate the same emotional turmoil, as well as enjoy the small moments of respite.
Those parental struggles aren’t easy to admit, and That Dragon, Cancer isn’t easy to play, but it’s a human story which showcases the full empathetic power of the medium.
2. The Last Of Us
2013 was the year the whole “are video games art?” debate hit its peak… and was also put to bed, thanks to phenomenally written, emotionally-charged works like this.
Naughty Dog’s Last of Us is easily one of the best-told stories in gaming history; a personal tale of father Joel first losing his daughter, and being forced into surrogate parenthood after he’s saddled with Ellie; a girl who appears to be immune to the current zombie outbreak.
The latter is purely there to give Ellie some stakes outside of this burgeoning relationship, but come the end of the game, Joel straight-up murders an entire facility of scientists and forward-thinkers, just to keep Ellie all to himself.
The flip-side of Spider-Man’s final moments, you’re left asking yourself: Would I have done the same? Is it ‘okay’ for Joel to prioritise one life over millions of others?
Attempting to answer that, is precisely why The Last of Us will remain timeless.
1. To The Moon
Okay, into the emotionally-scarring stuff.
To The Moon is coder Ken Gao’s gorgeous little title about two scientists who specialise in letting people believe they’ve accomplished their life’s wildest dreams, just before death. It’s essentially Inception, only in this story, you’re delving into the mind of elderly man Johnny, who wishes only to go the moon.
Figuring out why takes you on a tear-jerking journey through Johnny’s marriage, as you see him and wife River struggle with the latter’s development of autism. Because of this, both scientists realise that it was Johnny’s devotion to River that stopped him reaching for the stars, ergo resulting in the “deletion” of River from his psyche.
This is obviously sad in itself, but cut to the new digitised scenario of Johnny getting ready to leave for space, and who should walk through the door?
Turned out the love of Johnny and River went across any reality we could imagine, and the final image of the two of them holding hands as the shuttle departs is just about the most purely emotional thing you can ever witness.