Top 10 Video Game Narratives Of The Current Generation | The Portal

Top 10 Video Game Narratives Of The Current Generation

As technology has expanded over the past decade, we've seen video games become incredibly sophisticated, complicated forms of entertainment. The tuned precision and extreme responsiveness of the controls makes them work like life, while the opulent landscapes of the varied in-game settings make them look like reality: artistic and stylized, or gritty and real.

But those pieces of the program are not what gives a game life. For a game to exist as a living, breathing entity, rather than an exercise in mechanics, it must operate by telling a story. In many games, even some of the most critically lauded, the importance of the narrative is shelved in favor of the action-movie gameplay and jaw-dropping visuals. But, for many of the gamers out there, those are only small facets. The beauty lies in what is communicated to us from the game, and in how we respond to its resonance. They don't need to be complicated or elegant, but they must introduce characters and ideas that stir us, tied into a story that has something grander to say. We look at this unique and bounteous generation of gaming to find the most brilliantly told stories. And we celebrate them by putting them together in a best-of list. Enjoy!

DeadSpaceList (570 x 428).jpg

 Dead Space
 Survival-horror games have never been at the forefront of storytelling. But Dead Space awed the gaming community when it came out with its deep story, narrative twists, and drenching atmosphere. The game with all the monsters quickly began gaining a following because of its richness -- the characters, plotting, and events within the game are all very surreal and totally frenetic, dealing with loss, religious indoctrination, and the supernatural.

But what was most surprising about the game was how deeply it involved us emotionally. The main character, Isaac Clarke, was tasked with repairing and investigating a ship deep in the reaches of outer space, but that wasn't his main goal. Instead, the search for his wife was of paramount importance, and her disappearance weighed on him heavily throughout. In the long journey of discovery in the tight corridors of the USG Ishimura, Clarke wasn't driven by a need to stay alive -- instead, it was to ensure the safety of the one he loved dearest.

Portal (570 x 321).jpg

9. Portal
Portal is a rare game. Besides being one of the most intriguing and innovative puzzlers to come from the 7th gen, it is a masterful display of storytelling. For each level we complete, a bit more of the story is revealed to us. Not in any tangible way, but in simply understanding the way the virtual world responds to our being there, and how we navigate through it. That is the truest video game narrative delivery system. 

As we follow Chell, the unfortunate Aperture Science Labs test candidate selected for a series of dangerous tests, we meet an arch-nemesis, GLaDOS. We must use our cunning to survive the many traps GLaDOS sets in our paths, and rebel against the machine that is so obviously trying to limit our potential as living beings. Probably most wonderful of all, the story is delivered by the narration of GLaDOS herself -- a humorous, catty series of commands that are witty and strikingly well-written.

Deadly_Premonition_cover_art-01a (570 x 276).jpg

8. Deadly Premonition
Deadly Premonition is a bizarre amalgamation of pop culture references, supernatural horror, and a sometimes serious meditation on mental illness. It has a simple, tame feel to it -- the monsters bleed purple liquid and the dialogue is extremely corny -- but the content is strikingly, gut-wrenchingly severe. And the climax it is delivered with one of the sharpest twists in recent memory.

The real victory with Deadly Premonition's arc lies within its multilayered characters. At the start of the game, everyone seems steely and unlikeable. But as you progress through the trying narrative, you discover the characters are all unique and driven by different motivations and histories. Some are faithful and caring, while others are duplicitous and malevolent. Each atypical persona plays a pivotal part in the game's overall story, which explores relationships, loss, and coping. And that storyline, which seems initially convoluted, is actually one of the most heartening, deepest storylines around -- one that we comprehend more and more as we think about its many curious parts.

Metal Gear Solid 4 Art (570 x 321).jpg

7. Metal Gear Solid 4
In Solid Snake's opus, we are thrust back into the world of espionage, violence, and the constant threat of nuclear catastrophe. He is a reluctant problem-solver; a man whose greatest attributes -- stealth and ingenuity -- are put to task in a challenging, high-stakes mission. With his increasing age, he must be his most potent.

But the plotting is merely a vehicle for the great, climactic character reveal. We learn about his true character and his fate by the end, as well as those legendary characters that he is surrounded by. Familiar faces dot the cast list, and each are outed as the story unfolds. MGS 4 is the beautiful, harrowing end of a franchise hero, and all those he's fought against and along side.

GTA4 (570 x 356).jpg

6. Grand Theft Auto 4
Grand Theft Auto 4 is among the gentlest titles in the franchise. The main character, Nico Bellic, isn't a cutthroat, but rather a small-time gangster rebelling against the broken institutions that have left him poor and desperate. He is fleeing war and betrayal, expatriating to a country with limitless opportunity, one that is bred with limitless strife. He is a man without a country.

On our journey with Nico, we face deceit and greet loyalty on every corner. We rise through the lowest rungs of society fully reliant on those around us, while being challenged by others pushing against the law in the same way. It is a realer America than we typically see in video games, and the story tells one that, while not common to the poor and disenfranchised immigrants that come our way, certainly rings pertinent in small enclaves of society.  And by the end, as we must decide our due course of action, we ameliorate a fictional life that had once, long ago, been broken. 

new-mass-effect-2-concept-art3 (570 x 321).jpg

5. Mass Effect Series
Role-playing games have always been the go-to genre for robust, full-blooded storylines. They are complicated and layered, with tons of content and characters that we can adhere to very closely. The Mass Effect series exemplifies this -- to a level unreached by any other RPGs of the seventh generation. And it looks to only get better.

We'll need to see the third game before commenting on its place in the greatest narrative arcs of all time, but what we already have is beyond impressive. The universe is totally realized, with dark and political plot threads coalescing into an epic narrative that puts humanity along side frenetic, unpredictable alien races that seek to control or disrupt order within the galaxies. We've followed Commander Shepard for hundreds of hours now, and the tension now is just beginning to come to a head. It is about to get far grittier, and possibly much more personal -- which is precisely how these kind of games manage to be so successful.

Limbo (570 x 390).jpg

4. Limbo
Limbo is unique because of its total lack of narrative structure. There is nothing concrete to base the events of the game on. There is nothing to explain the occurrences of the world around 'The Boy.' But there lies its strength: the game is totally up to however the gamer wants to interpret it. It can be a horrific series of obstacles, or a fairy tale meditation on death and coping.

"The Boy" lost his sister, and now resides in limbo. We can't grasp the meaning of 'limbo' with such a small amount of information, but we do know that is isn't meant to be distinctly real. It is somewhere between Hell and Heaven, or between sanity and insanity, or between sleeping and waking. But the whole time we are riveted by its brutality and imagery. Because those two pieces together make up its considerable, difficult story. We just don't know what it is.

Red_Dead_Redemption_HD_3_by_SkiddMcMarxx (570 x 321).jpg

3. Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption tells a story of ex-outlaw John Marston as he reluctantly hunts down his old gang to turn in to the police. While a fairly typical Old West tale superficially, it is full of ideas and atmosphere that makes it unique, and certainly puts it far above the competition. The world around Marston is simultaneously dying and growing -- and he has no home in either realm.

The early 1900s ushered in new technologies and civilization that the old, lawless West couldn't compete with. On our redemption tour with Marston through the dry, stiff deserts and craggy mountains, we meet thousands of souls lost on this cultural phenomena. Some are trying to find their way, while others are regressing into a primitive violence that disrupts all those around. And Marston is in the middle, coping with his own personal issues, all the while trying to assuage the pain and suffering of those around him. 

Half_Life_2_Wallpaper2_by_SxyfrG (1) (570 x 356).jpg

2. Half-Life 2
Though fairly straightforward in terms of core plotting, the Half-Life 2 series has some of the most emotionally impactful moments in recent gaming. We invest ourselves in the characters, and as we see them drop off, or meet great harm, we feel a bit of loss -- maybe not real, but a very realistic manufacture, at least. As they succeed, or are moved in a substantial way, so are we.

And that is attributed to the catchy, involving story that we follow our hero on. Gordon Freeman, an everyman who rises to the occasion, leads a rebellion against a totalitarian evil. We see the small, fractured forces begin to overturn the large, repressive blanket and be swatted back down again. People very close to us are casualties of the brutality. It is a very grimy, real tale that is swaddled in a science-fiction setting. And there are sweet, brilliant moments throughout that slip very deeply into surreality. And they are beautiful.

BioShockpic (570 x 356).jpg

1. BioShock
BioShock has a narrative that is unparalleled in video gaming. Every part of the game -- from even the tertiary characters, to the crumbling walls, to the blood splatters on the ground -- they all tell part of the story. The walls read like pages of a book. The velvety rooms of the 1950s ooze jazz and the American dream. But it has been condemned by a great horror.

The story BioShock tells is one of literary magnitude -- a dystopic city spawned of Ayn Rand's wet dream become her nightmare. It is a land of unbridled capitalism, with a ruthless genius as puppeteer, and run by narcissism and sin. Each character's distinct voice conveys small parts of the goings-on within the city, and only enough to allude to the great fall of the place. And you must discover what was is amiss in the sprawling land of Rapture, why you're there, and how you fit into the epic, obscured tale.

Honorable Mentions: Braid, Assassin's Creed, StarCraft II, Uncharted Series, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Like this story?

Share it on Twitter:

Connect with me on Twitter: Follow Rasy3000 on Twitter


Via BuzzFeed