Top Ten Narratives of the Last Generation


Top 10

Remember when video games were just about chubby plumbers saving kidnapped princesses from killer turtle people? I do. Since the creation of video games the medium has been evolving with better graphics, hardware, gameplay, and of course, narrative. Games slowly evolved into strong medium for story telling, and they seem to be getting better every year.

Now that the new console generation is slowly moving forward, I would like to take the time to honor some of the video game narratives of the previous generation. Keep in mind that these are my personal choices and do not reflect the opinions of the website’s other writers.


#10 The Darkness Series

One of my favorite series from last generation is also one of the most underrated and forgotten. The Darkness puts players in the shoes of Jackie Estacado, a mafia hitman who discovers he is the host for an ancient and powerful demon. Jackie receives various powers from the creature, but is constantly fighting the beast that tries to control his body and influence his actions.

Even though the games do not have substantial plots, the characterization shines. Like in most mafia stories, the characters are all scumbags, but they manage to be likeable scumbags. Jackie is a fascinating protagonist; he is both loyal and protective of his family, which leads him into morally questionable actions that occasionally flirt with sadism. Players can tell the protagonist has a good side that is constantly trying to get out. Unfortunately, the demon’s influence and Jackie’s tragic upbringing get in the way.

The characters and the events make for a unique experience; plus the collectibles found in the second game only expand the story in crazy ways.  Here’s to hoping a third game is in the works.


#9 Red Dead Redemption

Personally, and I know many will find me crazy for this, but I am not a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series. But, I am glad of its existence because the money made from it allowed Rockstar to do different projects such as this. Red Dead Redemption is the character-focused drama of former outlaw and family man John Marston.

Marston is tasked with either capturing or killing the members of his former outlaw gang in exchange for his family’s safety. Marston, and most of the characters, are the product of a different time who must cope with the end of an era. Even though he wishes to put the past behind him and adapt to oncoming changes, John finds this to be very difficult despite being used as a tool to help tame what remains of the Wild West.

Sadly, Red Dead Redemption is not perfect. The middle of the game tends to be rather boring. Towards the end, the pacing drops like a rock because the game never fully establishes John’s family which leads players into boring missions as a means for lost time. This isn’t a deal breaker though, especially thanks to the superb and powerful finale.


#8 Portal Series

This is probably one of the most quotable video game series ever created. Even people who have never played the game know of the infamous line, “The cake is a lie”. While the Portal games may not feature a complex plot or protagonist, both games make up for it with hilariously witty comedy from start to finish.

Unlike the other games in the list, I find it relatively difficult to sell the game based solely upon the story; Portal’s charm comes from its gameplay. It’s smart, charming, and manages to be hilarious with its relatively clean and dry sense of humor; which is refreshing in a world where most comedy games get their deserved M-rating within the first five minutes.


#7 Bioshock

Bioshock was one of the first narrative-focused games on this console generation to take the world by storm thanks to its deep story, fascinating setting, and a superb twist that still pisses off M. Night Shyamalan to this day.

Set in the underwater city of Rapture, or the remnants to be exact, players control the survivor of a plane crash who must uncover the mysteries of the once prosperous city. Surviving Rapture is quite difficult since the remaining citizens have become genetically distorted and, in the process, completely lost their humanity. Finding out how both the city and its people ruined Rapture makes for an interesting and thought-provoking experience.

Despite the deep and philosophical story involving the setting, people, and main characters, there is a reason why it is only number seven on the list; the game runs out of steam about 3/4 of the way in. After the twist, the game runs out of stuff to throw at the player with the only thing to look forward to being one of the two relatively generic endings. Other than that, it is a great story worth experiencing.


#6: Metro: Last Light

Developers often forget that an FPS can be an extremely immersive experience when they are too busy working on fish A.I. and making every in-game object explode. 4A Games understood this and created not only an immersive and competent shooter, but easily one of the best post-apocalyptic stories ever created.

Unlike other end of the world stories, this one tends to be relatively positive whereas others abide by the ‘glass half empty’ mentality. The remaining citizens of Moscow may be forced to live underground infested with mutated monsters, but they don’t just survive, they live their lives as best as they can. Metro’s world is one filled with characters that are believably human and even the monsters are just animals trying to survive the harsh wastelands.

Last Light is a great tale about the indomitable nature of the human spirit, along with being an interesting take on the apocalypse. Unfortunately small issues persist such as the cartoony antagonist, and the absurd River of Truth level. But these are the only noticeable blemishes in the story.


#5 The Last of Us

Remember how I referred to Metro: Last Light as a ‘glass half full’ type of apocalyptic story when the rest are the opposite? Well, The Last of Us is neither. This game’s glass is completely empty and it is looking to take it out on the closest person. If this wasn’t apparent, The Last of Us isn’t exactly a happy tale, but it is a unique take on the zombie genre with a superb character arc.

Protagonist Joel, a cold, uncaring, empty shell of a man, finds himself forced to escort a young girl named Ellie across the U.S. because she may be the key to curing the infected (i.e. zombie) outbreak. While their journey is perilous and traumatizing, especially for Ellie, when coupled with the relationship that builds between Joel and Ellie, it manages to bring back Joel’s humanity while inadvertently stealing Ellie’s.

While this may be everyone’s favorite game of 2013, the character arc is the story’s only strength as the writers are very quick to vilify any other human character, especially the enemies in the game. Unlike a certain game in this list (*wink* *wink*), enemies are less like rival survivors and more like the world’s largest congregation of death row inmates making it very easy to slaughter them without remorse; in other words, it’s safe.

My other complaint occurs about 3/4 of the way in, there is a significant character development that would have been a hell of a lot more powerful and emotional, had it have not been interrupted by two different bandit firefights. With that being said, great, well-written characters arcs, unique zombies, and a shockingly human ending kept this one at #5.


#4 Mass Effect Trilogy

Here are three things that don’t normally rock me in the right direction: science-fiction, trilogies, and EA in general. Naturally, this series took me by surprise and managed to hook me into the complex and surprisingly believable, or easier suspension of disbelief, world of Mass Effect.

The reason Mass Effect is so good lies in the wide range of characters that are well-written, believable, and attuned so perfectly that at least one of them will appeal to the player. Mass Effect is great because it is easy to become invested in its characters and its world, making the audience care about what is happening.

So what if the plot is a somewhat generic sci-fi plot?  So what if the original ending of the trilogy is bollocks, and yes, Satan’s game publisher loomed over the developers?  But, if these are the only problems found within a trilogy’s story, that’s a win.  Considering most titles turn out to be trash in comparison to their predecessors, Mass Effect 3 will go down in gaming history… right next to its infamously crappy ending.


#3 The Walking Dead Season 1

At this point in time, zombies are cliché, generic, and over-saturated within entertainment media; and The Walking Dead franchise is probably to blame for that. With various stories told across multiple mediums, the writers involved with The Walking Dead franchise have shown the world how a proper zombie narrative is done, especially Telltale Games’ interpretation.

By using an episodic format, Telltale Games kept players on the edge of their seats and wanting more by using the same techniques used in TV. Of course, this wouldn’t be effective if the story wasn’t worth coming back to, and it was well worth the wait. Much like the show or comic, the story focuses on a group of characters who must try to survive in a cruel, dying world. The story is also unpredictable, emotional, and paced perfectly.

Unlike many games that give players choices, the options are not black and white; and what may seem to be the right decision may lead to unforeseen consequences. The final episode in particular actually makes the player think about the choices made and then either justify or vilify the decision which is both unique and gripping.

Last, but not least, the character Clementine, who is arguably the protagonist of the story, is a superbly written character who really grabs the player’s heart and makes them care for her well-being. Considering that Season 2 episodes are coming out, anybody who has yet to play this should definitely catch up on this superb series.


#2 Bioshock Infinite

If anyone has proven to be a true artist, it would have to be Ken Levine. Since his early beginnings with the System Shock games, he has consistently grown and perfected his craft with every game (Bioshock 2 is the exception, but nobody is perfect right?). Bioshock Infinite has a complex and deep story, possibly even deeper than Bioshock’s philosophical story, with one of the best female characters ever to grace the small screen.

While Bioshock (1) was consistently dark since it leaned more towards the horror genre, Infinite relies on contrasts, as it tries to balance out the dark themes and tones with some lighter moments that can be touching or even beautiful. Speaking of dark themes, Infinite voluntarily walks into rough territory by introducing themes such as racism, xenophobia, and religious extremism in ways that are relevant to the story.

The unique supernatural element to the story does make the plot extremely convoluted, but the superb and surprising ending actually manages to clean it up and entices players to restart to get a better handle of the story. Bioshock Infinite is a near perfect story that will draw players in instantly from start to finish; this is one that should not be missed.


#1 Spec Ops: The Line

Here is a game that will make players thankful for all the stupid, Hollywood-inspired military shooters because Spec Ops: The Line is all about the horrors of war and the terrible things that man is capable of doing to his fellow man. While it isn’t necessarily a great game in terms of gameplay, it contains one of the bravest and downright unapologetic narrative seen in a video game.

While somewhat contradictory to the medium, Spec Ops makes players not want to pull the trigger. Are the enemies murderous rouge soldiers or are they just defending themselves? Is the protagonist a stalwart soldier who is trying to overcome his demons or a psychopath with delusions of grandeur and heroism? If the protagonist is insane, then what is truly real, and what is just a figment of his broken psyche?

Spec Ops Gives players many questions and allows them to interpret them, but the anti-violence message is clear as day which is, as previously stated, a little contradictory. This game isn’t for everybody as it is a disturbingly haunting tale that will chill players to their bones making them hark back to a simpler time of shooters like Doom and Goldeneye where there was no morality, just mindless running and gunning. Truly a great narrative, if you’ve got the stomach for it.