One of the great things about storytelling has always been the ability to evoke emotion.
Films and TV series have done it for decades. To tell a story that can really mean something, even if the characters aren’t real, is no mean feat. The games industry may not have been around for as long, but it has come a long way very quickly. The quality of writing, direction and acting has improved consistently over the years, leaving us with games that have moved us, and dare I say, made us cry.
Here are some of the finest examples to have been released on Xbox consoles… along with a MAJOR SPOILER warning for all the games in the list.
5. The Walking Dead Season 1
Nowadays, Telltale Games are widely known among the community. Morally complex decisions. Exciting twists and turns. Well written dialogue. Fantastic voice acting. But when this game came out, these hallmarks weren’t well known. And despite all the games they have released since this opening season of The Walking Dead, this effort stands out as arguably Telltalle’s finest.
Assuming control of former convict Lee, you attempt to survive in the zombie infested wasteland that America has become, while taking care of orphaned child Clementine. The bond the two strike up is unbreakable, and plays into the games heartbreaking final moments as Lee is fatally bitten by a zombie, and Clem says her tearful goodbyes. You’re given the choice for Clem to either shoot Lee to put him out of his misery, or to leave him chained to a radiator where he’ll inevitably turn in to the very creature you’ve spent the whole game killing.
It’s a crushingly sad twist of fate, and you can hear the pain in their voices as they part ways. This is a game always near the top of the list of tear jerkers, and it’s unlikely that its position will ever shift.
4. Red Dead Redemption
If you had said to me two hours before I beat this game that it would have appeared on this list, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. While Red Dead Redemption had a superb narrative with rich, complex characters, it wasn’t a game that I found tugged on my heartstrings a great deal.
Then the ending happened.
The “final” mission occurs a good couple of hours before the end, where the main antagonist, Dutch Van Der Linde, finally meets his fate, which also releases John Marston from his deal with the government. John returns home to his farm, where you spend time completing work on the farm. The missions seem trivial compared to what comes before, with gunfights now replaced by more menial tasks, including preventing crows from eating corn and rounding up horses.
It helps establish John as a kind, caring family man, and casts him in a even more sympathetic light than the game has done already. And then in a cruel twist, the government turns on John, and an overwhelming number of agents swarm the farm. John gets his family to safety, and then walks out of the barn to his inevitable doom, a hail of gunfire and bullets from all angles.
He dies in a bloody mess, and the knife is twisted even further when his wife and son return to find his lifeless body. He kept his family safe, but at the cost of his own life.
And of course, after that, we had Red Dead Redemption 2…
3. Bioshock Infinite
The first Bioshock is easily one of the greatest games of its generation, and quite possibly one of the best ever. But it’s a very cold game; detached, but deliberately so.
Despite retaining the former games’ nasty brutality, Bioshock Infinite does possess a beating heart driven by the dynamic between protagonist Booker and the girl he’s sent to rescue, Elizabeth. Early interactions between the two are tense, with Elizabeth expressing confusion as to why Booker has come to rescue her.
But as the two struggle through the maze of Columbia’s insanity, they begin to rely on each other, and they establish a touching father daughter relationship. Booker becomes fiercely protective of her, which only makes the games shocking revelation that Booker is actually her father more resonant. But the kicker here is the games iconic ending, where Elizabeth murders Booker to prevent him from becoming the games villain, Comstock, in an alternate timeline.
It’s a brutal twist, made even crueller by the shared experiences the two have just suffered through.
2. Halo Reach
Halo. This flagship franchise has no shortage of emotional moments, but Halo Reach may be the most poignant of them all. This prequel, set before the original, tells the story of Noble Team battling against the Covenant on the planet Reach, one of the last remaining human colonies.
As the story unfolds, the writing does a good job of making each of the team members distinctive and memorable, which makes their sacrifices all the more emotional. The game comes full circle beautifully, as the ending is shown first, before flashing back to show the events that preceded this. The emotional weight is enhanced by the way the story ties into the original, as Six’s sacrifice makes the events at the beginning of Halo Combat Evolved possible.
A nice feature is the post credit sequence, which sees you play as Six during his final stand, as he is eventually mowed down by relentless waves of Covenant. You can hold on for as long as you want, but you always lose. Its impressive that a group of characters who only appear in one game can evoke such a response, but it’s a testament to Bungie’s excellent work.
1. Mass Effect Trilogy
Yes, I know, the whole trilogy. But the others are all individual games, I hear you ask. Well that’s true, but more than any other franchise on this list, this trilogy really does have to be taken as one.
When Bioware launched the first instalment in 2006, I’m not sure many could have predicted the seismic impact this spacefaring franchise would have on games, especially the nature of storytelling within the medium. The most critical element is choice, as your decisions ultimately shape the story you guide your Shephard through. Mass Effect’s greatest strength was its characters, and their development as the series progresses. The writing was always sharp, with top notch voice acting bringing them to life. And many of the series’ great emotional payoffs come in the trilogy capper, which built on the developments of the previous two games to tug on players heartstrings.
One example is the character of Mordin Solus, arguably one of the more popular characters, not only cause of his razor sharp wit and frantic tone of speech, but because his arc completes itself so wonderfully. When we first meet Mordin, he believes he made the necessary decision in creating and unleashing the Genophage, the biological weapon unleashed against the Krogan to prevent them from breeding any further. But the nature of what he’s done has clearly taken an emotional toll on him, clearly highlighted during his loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2. The guilt of the deaths he created weighs on him so heavily that he eventually decides to reverse his decision, leading to one of the series most emotional deaths.
While heartbreaking, it’s emotionally satisfying, and exemplifies one of Mass Effect’s greatest strengths, giving you characters you care about, and then placing them in impossible situations. What fun.
So, there we have it. 5 true tearjerkers from the Xbox library. Did any of these make you emotional? What are some of your favourite emotional roller coasters? Let us know in the comments below.