Some play a video game for its rewarding and addictive gameplay. Others play video games to admire our technological gains and brag about how realistic the graphics look on a particular console. Then there are those who couldn’t care less about gameplay or graphics and would rather invest their time in a compelling story that makes putting down the controller a near impossible task. These games, unfortunately, are often overlooked as some would rather spend their leisure time button mashing or strategically forming a plan of attack in a lengthy RPG—in which the story can sometimes drag.
The elite games can accomplish all of this, of course, but that shouldn’t undercut the importance of a strong narrative. While a subjective matter, games that offer little besides gameplay often fail to keep our interest. A well-written plot can transcend gameplay or graphics, while it doesn’t quite work the other way around. It’s what keeps many of our behinds glued to the couch and the controller firmly gripped in hand. If a story is compelling, one could even argue it makes the gameplay that much better.
With that in mind, the following list will countdown the 10 best storylines in gaming and what has made them such memorable experiences. If you believe certain games have been slighted, drop a comment below and give us your own selections for the 10 best storylines in gaming. The magic of video games is they connect with us in personal ways, whether it’s engaging gameplay or a storyline that hits close to home.
10 Mass Effect
Mass Effect is one the most successful gaming series, and for good reason. The sci-fi open-world exploration game is first and foremost tons of fun and offers players boundless freedom in the form of dialogue choices and tackling missions in random order. The design not only adds hours of gameplay but it also forms a personal experience for the player. While the core story remains intact, your companions who accompany you along this epic journey and whether they live or die is totally up to you and the actions you take. It’s a well-oiled tactic in exploration games, but it pays off time and time again.
Welcome to the Rapture. Bioshock is another series that has garnered critical acclaim. For my money, the first entry in the trilogy boasts the strongest story, but many point to Bioshock: Infinite as the crown jewel. There was an eerie sense upon first emerging from the water in the opening sequence of Bioshock. Something is amiss, and it becomes progressively clear that this underwater utopia is bursting at the seams with colour and history the further the player delves into the Rapture. The gameplay reflects the game’s deep story with gameplay elements taken from the likes of survival horror, first-person shooters, and RPGs.
8 Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 is one of gaming’s brightest treasures. It’s scary as all hell, for one, and it has a great story to make it a memorable and integral part of gaming’s history. Players control James Sunderland, who enters Silent Hill after receiving a letter for his wife Mary, who died of an illness three years prior. Some crazy-pants stuff happens along the way and there are twists at every turn, but if you’re willing to sink some time into the game, there’s also plenty of interesting tidbits on the backstory of Silent Hill. The game also has the iconic Pyramid Head, who is both terrifying and badass as he hunts you down.
7 Portal 2
Bursting with wit, intelligence, and rewarding gameplay, Portal 2 remains a prized possession among many gamers today. The game’s story is revered for its comedy and smart writing, mostly revolving around GLaDOS and Wheatley. It’s a tale of betrayal and competing minds, but also a platform on which to display the colourful personalities of the characters in the game. It’s a prime of example of placing story before gameplay, and having it pay dividends. But make no mistake, without its comedic achievements, Portal 2 would likely lose much of its charm. It is the comedy and memorable characters that remain seared into our minds.
6 Red Dead Redemption
We waited for what felt like an eternity for a Western video game boasting gun-slinging, horse-riding, and lasso-tying cowboys and outlaws. And boy, did Rockstar Games ever deliver with Red Dead Redemption. The game centers on John Marston, an outlaw-turned-farmer who is threatened by the government unless he tracks down his old gang and brings them to justice. He agrees, and so starts one of gaming’s best stories. It is a tale filled with betrayal, government corruption, self-reflection, and emotion. That the gameplay is equally rewarding only makes this a perpetual contender for one the best games ever made. It’s time to have Red Dead Redemption ported to next-gen consoles or to announce its much-needed sequel.
5 Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid is a series that spans several games. Its plot is convoluted and quite frankly makes almost no sense. And yet, that remains one of Metal Gear Solid’s best traits. It’s a wacky, crazy-pants story about government corruption, international affairs, and cloning. It shifts between Solid Snake and Big Boss, or Naked Snake, who is essentially the former’s father. Add in a clone brother, a rag-tag group of mercenaries, a one-handed gunslinger named Revolver Ocelot, a cyborg ninja, giant mechanical machines capable of nuclear destruction, and you’ve just begun to scratch the surface of what makes Metal Gear Solid one of the best series ever in gaming.
4 The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead video games, by Telltale Games, spawned many more of its ilk within established franchises, such as Game of Thrones, Borderlands, Sons of Anarchy, and others. The gameplay is anything but complex, it is quite simple in fact, as the player essentially follows button prompts and controls the flow of the story. And that’s what Telltale games are all about: the story. The game weaves an engaging narrative that compels you to become invested in the characters, only to then decide their fate. The Walking Dead is an emotional and personal experience that accentuates the importance of a strong narrative.
3 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Originally released on the Nintendo DS handheld, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors took critics and gamers by storm with its complex story and engaging gameplay. Players control Junpei, who is abducted and planted onto a sinking cruise ship with eight other passengers, one of whom he knows. They each have a bracelet with a fixed number and must pass through numbered doors in groups to match that number, or else the bracelet detonates and they suffer a gory demise. Players must solve puzzles and peruse numerous rooms to work their way to the ending, which has six possible outcomes. Prime suspects are frequently accused and the passengers soon lose their minds as they must form reluctant alliances and put aside their differences.
2 Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain is one of the best games to ever grace the Playstation 3. The story revolves around four playable characters, each controlled at various times to progress the narrative. There are a plethora of endings that could occur, each depending on the choices the player makes throughout the game. What makes this especially tense if you find yourself attached to any of the four characters, and you will, is that they could be killed in the game’s conclusion by simply failing to press a button in time. There are no do overs. That’s it. There are consequences for every decision you make, whether you like it or not. This allows the game to play out like your favourite TV series, with little control of what will happen next.
1 The Last of Us
A gaming masterpiece. The Last of Us doesn’t offer a convoluted plot full of twists and turns. It’s simply a tale about a despondent man reluctantly partnered with a young, vivacious girl in a post-apocalypse setting. Ugh, I know, another post-apocalypse story. But what sets The Last of Us apart from the rest is a story centered on its two leads. It grabs hold of your heart from the opening sequence and leaves you no choice but to invest in the characters in this poignantly realistic world. But even during the darkest times, the game lets its breathtaking settings instill a sense of hope amidst the chaos, juxtaposing the fall of society with the perpetual beauty of nature. The banter between Joel and Ellie only increases in volume and meaning as the game progresses, strengthening a flawless story that leads to one of the best endings in gaming history.