Looking For Rich Stories? Top Story-Driven Games Out There
EA, Activision, and Ubisoft want you to think that single-player is dead. But for every generic, heartless multiplayer cash grab and dubious “surprise mechanic” implemented to prey on children, there’s a great single-player game with a fantastic story proving that there’s a vast audience waiting for the next well-written campaign. Here’s a quick look at some of the top story-driven games we’ve seen so far.
Bioshock is a clear shoo-in for a list like this. Not only is it an excellent example of how story drives player action, but it's also one of the first commercial hits to do so.
Bioshock is one of the first generations of games produced by video game auteurs, products built from the ground up around the creative vision of a single person. It's set in the crumbling ruins of a jaw-droppingly gorgeous underwater city called Rapture, built in the 1940s as a unique society for the world's social elite. When the player first visits Rapture, it's in its death throes. Most of its residents are either dead or driven mad by an addiction to plasmids, strange concoctions that allow anyone who consumes them to gain superhuman abilities.
Walking through the dripping hallways with their faded art deco facades, you gradually learn about the moments and figures that led to the destruction of Rapture. You'll also discover the important role you will play in dealing with the killing blow. Bioshock is a clear shoo-in for a list like this. Not only is it an excellent example of how story drives player action, but it's also one of the first commercial hits to do so.
Bioshock is one of the first generations of games produced by video game auteurs, products built from the ground up around the creative vision of a single person. It's set in the crumbling ruins of a jaw-droppingly gorgeous underwater city called Rapture, built in the 1940s as a special society for the world's social elite. When the player first visits Rapture, it's in its death throes, most of its denizens either dead or driven mad by an addiction to plasmids, strange concoctions that allow anyone who consumes them to gain superhuman abilities.
Walking through the dripping hallways with their faded art deco facades, you gradually learn about the moments and figures that led to the destruction of Rapture, and the important role you will play in dealing the killing blow.
Nier: Automata doesn’t just tell a great story, but it shows it in a manner only possible in this medium. Sadly, there’s no real way to discuss how it utilizes the unique elements of an interactive medium without delving into spoiler territory. And, if you’re at all interested in story-driven games, this is one you’ll want to go into completely blind.
It’s a game that thrives on subversion, leading you in one direction before suddenly hitting a hard left through a brick wall. It’s about nubile anime robots, but it also explores themes like death and the permanency of digital life. It’s a hack-and-slash action brawler, but it’s sometimes a sidescrolling platformer or a top-down shoot-em-up.
And it’s also the kind of game that takes life in your mind when you’re in bed, alone with your thoughts. It takes root there and stays for weeks. What more could you ask from a single-player campaign?
The Beginner's Guide
It’s a bit of a stretch to call The Beginner’s Guide a game. We’re not entirely sure what you’d call it. It’s a first-person experience that takes the player through a series of experimental video game concepts and level designs, narrated by the game creator himself. It relies on a certain level of familiarity with video game language, and you navigate the world with your keyboard and mouse. What it is, though, is an interactive art piece that’s about video games, and, perhaps more importantly, about authorship in video games.
The Beginner’s Guide touches on obsession and self-fulfillment and even virtual companionship. It’s artsy and ponderous – if you don’t have the patience to let it build, you won’t get much from it. However, those who are willing to dedicate their hours through its slow start will find it’s expertly written and narrated, and the payoff is enormous.
Suikoden II is a criminally underrated JRPG classic from the Playstation era. It follows the player character and his best friend Jowy Atreides on an epic, continent-spanning adventure that touched on some surprisingly mature themes for its time.
The tale it weaves is one full of political intrigue and intense personal drama. Relationships are formed and tested, and the cast of characters are astonishingly well-developed. None of the main cast is one-dimensional, the standout being the main villain, Luca Blight, a man with a tragic past that fostered an insensible hatred in his heart that leads to his rise and ultimate downfall.
Suikoden II is a game that suffered from being a 2D game in the first generation of 3D consoles. It has since developed a strong cult following. It’s two poorly received follow-ups, Suikoden 3 and Suikoden 4, pretty much put the last nails in the coffin for the series, leaving the franchise to be largely forgotten by history. If you’re a fan of JRPGs, don’t pass up the chance to play this one.
The Last of Us
Putting The Last of Us on this list almost feels like cheating. It’s the first example people point to when they want to talk about excellent story-driven games, and it remains the golden standard to this day.
The Last of Us follows Joel, a grizzled father getting over the loss of his only daughter, and Ellie, a young teenager who may be the key to a cure that will save mankind from the disease that brought society crashing down. It’s a harrowing tale about love and loss and sacrifice brought to life by some magnificent motion capture and voice performances.
The Last of Us took the narrative-driven single player to an entirely new level of artistry, and the game was rewarded with immense commercial success. If you haven’t played The Last of Us, you should do something about that right now.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
You play as the infamous B.J. Blazkowicz, a blond-haired, blue-eyed brick wall of a man, Hitler’s ubermensch personified. The United States has lost World War II, and the Nazis now run America. Blazkowicz is a one-man wrecking machine, and you spend much of the game tearing Nazi goons apart with an assortment of impractical weaponry.
But for all its mindless action packaging, the story it tells is unexpectedly complex. Blazkowicz, despite his role as the generic super-soldier protagonist, is surprisingly well fleshed-out. He’s the son of a racist white businessman and a Jewish immigrant who learned at a young age the kind of destruction hate could bring. Blazkowicz is a shining example of male masculinity for a more socially conscious age; he’s kind and generous, physically imposing but gentle, a natural leader, but unafraid to step back and be led. And he’s joined by an eclectic cast of people from all walks of life, each with a personal story and history that’s worth exploring.
There will always be an audience for the developer that has a story to tell. What’s your favorite story-driven game? What would you add to the list?