When a game is done right, when the story and the action is just so, the emotional impact of the experience can be real.
With that in mind, I’m going to attempt bring this together in one article, documenting the games that have had a lasting effect on me – whether for good or bad.
So, in no particular order, these are the games that have stayed with me, long after completion and even deletion from my consoles. Unavoidably, there may well be spoilers for stories ahead, so please consider this your [Spoiler Alert!]
6The Walking Dead : The Telltale Series
I’m going to include both Series One and Series Two of The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series in this, as it’s the story of Clementine.
Not badass Clem from the A New Frontier game, but young, innocent Clem, who has to grow up on the road with a succession of helpers.
Seeing what she has to go through choked me up a couple of times. I mean who can forget being forced to choose to either shoot Lee, or let him turn? Going from that, to being responsible for a baby when she was only a child herself, to then losing him… I was a wreck by the time I’d finished these games, and I was on the other side of the electric fishbowl!
Trying to put myself in Clementine’s shoes was a step too far, if you’ll pardon the pun. I’ve always enjoyed the Telltale games, but these two, and The Wolf Among Us, stand out as storytelling masterclasses.
5Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was a beautiful game; two brothers working in harmony to overcome all the obstacles in their way to find and recover the medicine their sick father needs.
Having gotten right to the end, and then having – major spoiler alert! – one of the brothers die, and there I was in bits. As the younger brother made his way home, having to use the dead brother’s action button to help him swim for instance was an inspired piece of design, and scraped a wedge of lemon across the still raw wound of the shock of losing the bigger brother.
The very end, after the father was better and the two of them were stood looking at two graves, with the son comforting the grieving father… I’m never going to forget that scene.
4Spec Ops: The Line
This was a game I played back in the day on the 360, but it has just been made available on the Xbox One Backward Compatibility list, so it’s even more of a legit entry.
Spec Ops: The Line is a standard run and gun military shooter, so I played it as such – charging around, shooting bad guys hither and yon. Right up until I came to a point where I had the chance to use napalm against an enemy position.
In full-on macho military mode, I of course launched the strike, and after it was all over, my squad and I moved into the area; where we discovered that what we had just napalmed was a load of refugees, women and children… As it became clear, I remember rounding a corner and seeing a mother shielding her child with her own body, but the fire had been too fierce, and both had died. As the camera played across what I had done, I remember just turning the game off and I’ve never gone back to it.
Whether it was because I had just become a father and saw my child, my baby, in that awful scene I don’t know, but to this day I haven’t been able to play the game again.
That is some truly powerful imagery, and a truly long lasting effect.
3Dead Space 2
Emotions come in many flavours, and disgust is an emotion, right?
Rather than being turned off by the way the Necromorphs looked, the way you had to dismember them in order to grab a kill, or even the new baby Necros, the moment that sticks in my mind has to do with Isaac’s eye.
For one reason or another – reasons that I’m sure made sense at the time – Isaac has to strap himself into a machine and insert a probe into his own eye… which you have to control. If you get it wrong, it’s very messy, but getting it right is even worse. Seeing the long thin needle/drill going into the iris of Isaac’s eye gives me cold chills even just thinking about it.
2Final Fantasy VII
Yeah, okay. So we’re not looking at an Xbox game, but this was the first time that it was ever brought home to me that a game could have genuine emotional impact.
Towards the end of disc one, as I was taking Aeris to where she could save the world, suddenly seeing Sephiroth coming sailing out of the sky and plunging his sword right through Aeris was a jaw dropping moment. As the materia rolled down the stairs, the piano music that played as it bounced down the steps makes me teary eyed even today – even as a cynical game playing journalist type person.
Just the music can have that effect, and the whole cutscene can ruin me. The rest of the story is outstanding in Final Fantasy VII, but nothing holds a candle to Aeris and her death.
1Ori and the Blind Forest
This entire game is just one gigantic punch in the feels. For a title with no language, this has absolutely no trouble getting across the emotional message it wants you to experience.
From the death of Ori’s “mother” to the revelation that the bad guy isn’t all bad, to the heartbreaking animations when Ori dies, I needed a long lie down after playing and finishing Ori and the Blind Forest.
It is truly a gem of game design.
There are a lot of games that could make the almost ran list, as I’m sure you can imagine. The LEGO games generally leave me feeling happy, as I love the way that they re-imagine the films into a form that just oozes joy, whether it be Batman, Captain Jack Sparrow or Han Solo that you happen to be controlling at the time. Lost Odyssey is another nearly ran – the memories that can be unlocked as you play through are an emotional read, mainly reflecting on the sadness of an immortal when his loved ones die and he is forced to walk his lonely road forever.
Dear Esther is all story, telling how someone who caused a car accident travels to an island to try to find redemption, and has the single most depressing ending I’ve ever seen in a game, where you have to climb a radio mast and fling yourself off onto the waiting rocks below. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, as Talion has to watch his family being killed before eyes, and the pure joy of squirting an elephant with water in Zoo Tycoon bookend each other nicely.
So, as with all articles of this type, we want to hear about your thoughts and experiences. What games have touched you? Let us know in the comments below.