There was a time, many moons ago, when video game stories were simple affairs: rescue the princess, reach the monkey, shoot the aliens. That time has mostly passed. We now expect a video game story to be deep, thrilling, thought-provoking and to follow the exploits of complex and fully formed characters. In short, we expect these stories to be the equal of any book, film or graphic novel.
Of course, video games as a medium have their own unique challenges for a developer seeking to craft a compelling caper. The story has to work in tandem with gameplay mechanics; a plot that exists entirely separate from the interactive elements will rarely satisfy. Then there’s the increasingly lengthy runtime of many games; how exactly do you tell an interesting and engaging tale over the course of tens or even hundreds of hours?
Look no further than these following games as an answer to those questions.
God of War achieves what might once have been thought impossible. It manages to turn a two dimensional, violent psychopath into a believably flawed father. Kratos is a character who, despite his godhood, is eminently human. It also managed to make even the most ardent supporter of the original Kratos concede that these changes were for the better.
It tells a mighty fine yarn as well, deftly weaving together different stories of Norse Mythology and turning many of them on their head or getting back to their roots. The traditionally heroic gods are now tyrannical oppressors, whilst the once vicious giants are innocent victims, and mixing the Greek god of war into proceedings happens with comparative ease.
The basic story is deceptively simple: father and son must journey to the top of a mountain, but surrounding it is a well conceived and deep narrative that is a joy to uncover. There’s wonderful and emotional character moments to be had as Kratos fully realises his role as a father, there’s shocking twists that also, upon reflection, make complete sense, and most impressive of all, the end of the story leaves you hungry for a sequel.
God of War skilfully re-invents the ancient stories of Norse Mythology for a fresh and vibrant artistic medium. I’m certain Ragnar Lothbrok would have loved it.
Red Dead Redemption 2 – Runner Up
Prequels rarely work as well as you’d hope. Just look at Star Wars episodes 1 – 3, Fantastic Beasts, and the Hobbit films as fine examples of this. After all, how can there be dramatic tension when the viewer already knows the ending? Often prequels are nothing but tedious narrative exposition culminating in the film you’ve already seen. Red Dead Redemption 2 turns this convention on its head by focusing on character over endless plotting.
Critics will claim that the story is simply the same repeated loop of events, but I think they’re missing the point. What we are witnessing is the effect that these events have on the characters of the story. Like the best Western films, RDR2 takes the opportunity for serene moments of world and character building, and then peppers it with explosive violence that leaves both the characters and the player reeling.
Ultimately this is not really the story of lead protagonist Arthur, but he instead gives us a front row seat to observe the decline of a man into devilry. How does the altruistic, honourable and compassionate Dutch Van Der Linde become the monster we know in RDR? The story that links the men together is one that is cruel and painful, yet is also deft enough to feature the moments of humour and levity that Rockstar is known for.
RDR2 is a prequel that works thanks to a simple narrative choice of putting character over execrable exposition. That Rockstar are able to maintain so compelling a tale over such a long run time is the sign of a developer at the top of their game.
Spider-Man – Runner Up
Despite the daunting task of concocting an original, gripping tale around one of Marvel’s most widely known characters, Insomniac Games still managed to web zip their way to success. Marvel’s Spider-Man reconciled numerous aspects spanning all eras of the franchise to form an utterly compelling narrative, hitting countless notes of emotion and holding you like bait in a spider’s web from start to finish.
Even in the shadow of the many existing adaptations of Spidey’s story, Insomniac’s rendition remained unpredictable. It invoked a sense of drive that saw us promptly swing back into the story time and time again despite the many distractions that taunted us from the open world. In conjunction with a well-cast string of characters and celebratory vibe that rings true throughout, Insomniac brought to life the highly anticipated, quintessential superhero story players have sought after for years.
– Nicole H
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
- Return of the Obra Dinn
- Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
So, that’s what we think. But what do you think? Be sure to let us know in the comments below and we’ll see you tomorrow for the next exciting instalment of the Game of the Year awards.