The first game I plan on looking at in the new Interactive Narratives series is quite possibly my favourite game of all time, and one of the finest RPGs ever made. As much as I admire the work that BioWare did with the Infinity Engine, and the slew of outstanding RPGs that came into being throughout the 90s, my favourite game of theirs will almost certainly be Knights of the Old Republic -- a game that somehow managed to lift Star Wars out of the mire of mediocrity into which it had sunk under Lucas' hands over the preceding few years, move the action thousands of years into the past, and deliver what is to this day one of the finest narrative twists we've seen in this medium.
With that in mind, and in honour of tomorrow's first look at Knights of the Old Republic, here are five of the best and five of the worst video game plot twists.
Just in case you hadn't guessed, there will be spoilers. You have been warned.
Five of the Worst
He can't be the killer, he wasn't in the room! (Heavy Rain)
What should have been a gasp-worthy moment in Heavy Rain is fundamentally undermined by one of the biggest plot holes we've ever come across.
Scott Shelby is good with babies as well being a portly, asthmatic private detective. Oh, and he's apparently the Origami Killer. Sure.
That would have been a great twist -- the killer being the detective determined to find the killer -- minds would have been blown. Except during Manfred's murder, we know Shelby's in a totally different room. But then in the flashback, he's the one doing the killing. How did no-one spot this! Is there a twin? Has he been cloned? Does he have a robot replica? *facepalm*
Celeste did it (Mirror's Edge)
Mirror's Edge was awesome, apart from the annoyingly forced combat bits. Faith Connors is a free-running courier hounded by the Government because... erm... reasons. Anyway, along the way, her sister gets framed for murder, and Faith has to find a way to clear her name, all the while being hunted down by another runner -- a mysterious woman who can seemingly do everything that Faith can do. Who on earth could she be?
Oh, that's right. The only other runner we've actually been introduced to: Faith's BFF Celeste.
It's sort of framed in the story like it's supposed to be a surprise, but it's easy to be disappointed when there's only really a suspect shortlist of one person.
Besides, Celeste constantly looks like Faith's just slapped her in the face. It was obvious.
Raiden is the main character (MGS 2)
Love it or hate it, there's something absolutely brilliant about this twist. You could consider it trolling, but it would be churlish not to doff the cap to Hideo Kojima for this one.
Nearly all of the promotional material for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty featured Solid Snake. We liked Solid Snake -- he was the face of an exciting new series that had revolutonised stealthy gameplay and awesome storytelling in games. For many, he was the face of PlayStation gaming, and we couldn't wait to see what misadventures he'd be getting up to in his second outing, this time on the PS2. A new console, a new Metal Gear Solid, a trailer featuring Snake hurling himself off of a bridge and onto an oil tanker.
Then the game itself arrived, and we were doing it. We were Solid Snake once more, and it was awesome, and then... what? Who the hell is this scrawny, androgynous, whiny rookie? Why are we now controlli... Nooooooooooo! (See also: Assassin's Creed 3... I'm a Templar James Bond. Wait... why am I now a cardboard cutout? Noooooooo!)
Still, Revengeance helped make everything better.
It was all a dream (Final Fantasy X)
There are no circumstances under which "it was all a dream" can be considered a good plot device. Ever. EVER!
Phoning it in (Mass Effect 2)
Putting Mass Effect 3's ending on this list would be too easy. Star Child tries to stuff in as many weird plot-related somersaults into his incoherent monologue as can possibly be, and it's dreadful. Mass Effect 2, however, had a legitimate plot twist, and a damn good one at that. But it was completely and utterly wasted.
The revelation that Collectors are in fact the same Protheans that everyone in the known galaxy has been borderline worshipping up until that point should have been a cataclysmic revelation. Wait... you mean to tell me that the Protheans are in cahoots with/have been enslaved by the mechanical race of superbeings that wants to wipe out all life in the galaxy?!
That's a big deal!
Instead, however, the revelation is literally phoned in by EDI, at which point Shepard's reaction is basically, "F**k it, they're in the way."
Five of the Best
The car full of food (The Walking Dead: Season One)
It's everyone for themselves in The Walking Dead. So when you come across a car full of supplies, I reckon it's safe to assume that you can go ahead and steal the stuffs. Sure, they might belong to someone else, but that someone else might be dead or, worse, now reanimated and shambling towards you with a slavering horde of undead beasts.
In short: get snacking.
Except don't. Because it'll turn out that the food belongs to a family, the wife will take the kid and run, the father will be left to find their reanimated corpses days later after nearly starving to death, he'll kidnap the only person you really care about in the whole world to replace the hole his dead family has left in his life, and he'll blame you for everything, you sick, thieving, sack of...
Oh, and that's not a bowling ball in that bag.
This is all your fault.
You are Revan (KOTOR)
It's so obvious looking back on it. It seems so simple. It's telegraphed in numerous cutscenes, with supporting characters dropping heavy hints. Years on from when I first played Knights of the Old Republic, it seems ludicrous that I didn't spot it. But I'm thankful that I didn't. I'm glad that I let the story carry me to that point, because when the reveal happened I was thunderstruck.
It's like waking up, looking in the mirror, and seeing Hitler staring back. That's how evil Revan was.
But unlike Mass Effect, where you're always the hero even if you're a bit of a renegade maverick, KOTOR allows you to make some seriously horrible decisions, choosing options that are hideously cruel. The twist works however good or bad you've been, but it almost makes more sense if you've been screwing everybody over up until that point. You can become truly evil after that. You can choose redemption or actually opt to become the villain, embracing that hideous legacy and the power that you've rediscovered, and you can get to see the consequences of that and force your companions to choose or die.
It's bloody brilliant.
You killed your wife (Silent Hill 2)
To this date, Silent Hill 2 is probably the game that has creeped me out the most. It's unflinchingly scary, and it stayed with me for hours every time I put the controller down, just trying to process the horrors I'd seen and piecing together the context of it all. Just as you wonder if you're ever going to find Mary, the game throws a massive curveball for the player by revealing something that James already knew, but we didn't:
He killed Mary.
Suddenly the patterns of the enemies, the sick logic of this version of Silent Hill, the endless search, all of it begins to make sense. The town is James' punishment, and Silent Hill 2 unfolds as a brilliantly worked, horrific study on grief and guilt and mental illness, and I remember being shocked and appalled and sympathetic. It's masterful stuff.
Jackson's Death (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)
There was a time when the player character dying at the end of a shootybang campaign wasn't terribly hackneyed. The rouble is that when you do something brilliantly, it tends to get flogged to death. Back when Modern Warfare first came out, it's Act One finale proved an absolute stunner. There you are as Sgt Paul Jackson, helping to rescue a band of marines, when all of a sudden a nuclear warning comes in, followed by confirmationb, followed by a massive explosion that takes out your chopper, not to mention several tens of thousands of soldiers too.
Generally, the nuke rarely goes off in this scenarios. Someone comes in at the last minute, the heroes survive against all of the odds, right?
Not this time. Crawling around in the dust and seeing the piles of bodies before the screen fades to black and the satellite reads KIA is heart-wrenching and shocking and dramatically shifts and undermines everything that felt familiar before.
A slave obeys (Bioshock)
Up until you actually meet Andrew Ryan it seems as though you have choices when it comes to Bioshock, perhaps best typified by the option to save or destroy the game's Little Sisters. But no, instead you are the final nail in Rapture's diseased coffin, a dupe controlled by Frank Fontaine, manipulated into killing off his enemies by three simple words.
When the twist comes, everything that came before changes, your entire appraisal of the game changes. It's so skilfully worked into proceedings, subtly commenting on our actions as players -- sent here and there, instructed to do this and that -- that it really sent me for a loop. Only you don't really have time to think about that. Your father is kneeling in front of you begging you to kill him, and you've just realised that you don't have a choice.