What are the absolute best stories in video games?
There are so many amazing video game stories, games with storylines that keep you playing right to the very end. From Uncharted 4 to Metal Gear Solid to Day Of The Tentacle, game developers have created some truly memorable stories.
But there are good stories and there are great stories. This list is about the latter.
In this list we’re going to be taking a look at games with stories so good they make Shakespeare sit up in his grave. Stories so good George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wish they could create movies like them.
From Bioshock to Half Life to Silent Hill, these are the best video game stories of all time.
With the Uncharted series, Naughty Dog intentionally set out to create a game that felt like a Hollywood movie. They succeeded in this aim with every Uncharted game. In the Uncharted stories, Nathan Drake sets off around the world looking for some piece of treasure or other which he invariably finds. Simple enough sounding story, right?
What makes Uncharted one of the best stories in games–and also makes Nathan Drake one of the best characters in games, is the voice acting.
Voice acting can often be pretty dodgy in gaming, but not so with Uncharted and Nathan Drake. Played by Nolan North, Nathan Drake’s character finds a great deal of depth and believably thanks to excellent acting. Because of Nolan North’s work, the gamer believes in Nathan Drake, and when you believe in a game’s lead character, you believe in its story too.
Metal Gear Solid and Solid Snake 9th place in our list of the best stories in games. (Image from Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes)
Metal Gear Solid’s story is one that is met with as much criticism as it is praise. Most of the criticism stems from Metal Gear Solid’s abundant amount of cutscenes that can tend to interfere with the action. While that can negatively effect gameplay, however, it can only be a good thing for the story.
Metal Gear Solid has one of gaming’s most complicated stories, with an intricate plot that keeps you hooked right the way through. It helps that Solid Snake just so happens to be one of the best characters in the world, too.
What separates Metal Gear Solid from other war games is the fact that the enemies Solid Snake fights usually aren’t outright evil; they’re realistic characters with their own morals and principles that just happen to be at odds with Snake. This realism captures the complexity of war and makes Metal Gear Solid one of the deepest and most interesting of stories.
Dead Space comes 8th in our list of the best stories in video games thanks to an excellent narrative full of subtext. (picture is of Deadspace 3 Awakened’s Ending)
Dead Space is one of all too few games that actually understands how to tell amazing narrative without breaking up the flow of the action.
Dead Space has excellent narrative with highly intelligent use of subtext. In the original Dead Space game, when you start playing you don’t know that you are an engineer, nor do you know that you just so happen to be on course to a ship full of alien life. All you see in the beginning are images of your girl and videos, which create a believable character that we actually care about.
Dead Space’s story, overall, is about humanity. Dead Space asks us the question: what is it to be human? As Isaac gradually loses his sanity and as monsters tear through human life one after the other, we see the fragility of humanity.
Very few games create as deep a sense of horror as Dead Space does.
Bioshock finds its way to number 7 in our list of the best stories in games (picture is of Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite)
Bioshock is another great game full of excellent subtext which is used to tell a story of humanity, full of philosophy.
Not only does Bioshock take a believable idea as its main set-up, it also tells a unique story, full of morality, philosophy and deep questions that truly make the player think. Of course, at the heart of the entire story of Bioshock is the philosophy of Andrew Ryan’s objectivism.
The philosophy of Objectivism preaches that a man makes his own life, that all forms of charity are ultimately immoral, and that an individual is owed absolutely nothing. It is with this philosophical outlook that Andrew Ryan builds the city of Rapture. Perhaps, then, it’s little surprise that rapture ends up in ruin.
Andrew Ryan’s philosophy is only one of the many philosophical views offered by Bioshock in what is one of gaming’s deepest and best stories to date.
Silent Hill 2 comes in a respectable 6th place in our list of the best stories in video games.
While there can be little doubt that Silent Hill 2’s protagonist Justin Sunderland is far from the best of lead characters, with dodgy dialogue and bad voice acting, Silent Hill 2 still manages to create some of gaming’s finest narrative.
The key element making Silent Hill 2’s story so phenomenal is the character arc. As you play through Silent Hill 2 you gradually get to discover more and more about player-character Justin Sunderland, a most mysterious and complicated character.
A decent character arc is imperative to good storytelling in game because it enables the game to develop, like a living, breathing story, as you gamer progresses through the game. We also get to witness how a character, as a person, changes over time. Silent Hill 2 is a classically told story, and works very well because of it.
System Shock 2 is one heck of an over the top game, but it uses a storytelling technique that is too rarely found in games: telling the story through exploration.
As you play through System Shock 2 you find logs that were written by the crew. These logs contain the information you need to know in order to progress, and also fill you in on the game’s story.
The logs left by the crew create a palpable sense of atmosphere, giving you a sense of the world you find yourself in.
Even though System Shock 2 is far from a believable story, it is a compelling one that keeps you hooked from start to finish.
Half Life 2 captured the hearts of gamers in a way very few games do, and a large part of that is thanks to its story.
In terms of storytelling, Half Life was one giant leap for gaming. The story of Half Life tells of scientists who open the space time continuum, which accidentally allows a load of evil aliens to enter earth and make people their slaves. Science. . . NO!
Anyway, Half Life is a complex and utterly compelling story, and what makes it so compelling is the way the storytelling flows with the game’s action.
Action never stops in Half Life. There are no cutscenes, so as to allow the game to flow, and the story is told as you play the game, creating a deeper sense of immersion. Playing Half Life, you truly feel as though you are involved in the fight against the aliens. You actually get to believe that you are Gordan Freeman.
Most game create a vague sense of believability Half Life leaps out of the screen and invades your very soul.
Despite the fact that Portal only has a shallow narrative, the quality of its storytelling makes it one of the best stories in games.
Portal is a game that isn’t about dialogue or narrative but is rather about exploring the world and discovering aspects of the game design. As you progress, you discover secret areas, graffiti and writing that hints that GLaDOS might have a sinister motive.
There is a genius to the characterization in Portal. The character development of GLaDOS, who goes from being a friendly robot to a diabolical force bent on destruction, is masterfully portrayed. She even manages to show some great sarcasm, at one point pretending that her attempt to murder you was a test.
Portal has a fantastic sense of pacing that keeps the gamer hooked, and thanks to its unique manner of storytelling, it becomes one of the most memorable games of all time.
With one of the most complex plots and some of the best character ever, Deus Ex has the best story in any video game.
There was a time when the AI in Deus Ex seemed out of this world, the gameplay sublime and the graphics stunning. Now, all these aspects look dated. The one element of Deus Ex to maintain its quality is the storytelling.
Deus Ex tells of a conspiracy, but it’s not the conspiracy itself that makes the game amazing, it’s the way the story unfolds. Because you slowly get to discover more and more of the truth of the conspiracy as you play the game, you constantly feel completely hooked to the narrative, unable to stop playing.
The way you discover about the story in Deus Exis through exploration, much like in Portal. Conversations and text fill you in on the details and it’s important that you converse with all the NPCs to know exactly what’s going on.
Because the story is told through exploration, narrative and gameplay are combined and run smoothly together–you’re constantly performing actions to discover the next part of the story.
No game in history has ever united storytelling and gameplay as smoothly as Deus Ex. For this, it finds its spot as the number one best story in any video game.