ClassicRadar: The Best Videogame Stories Ever

Silent Hill 2

(PS2/Xbox/PC, 2001)

The Story:
James Sunderland receives a letter from his wife asking him to come to their "special place." Trouble is, his wife Mary has been dead for three years. He's drawn to Silent Hill, a quiet town that they had visited in the past, before the sickness finally took her. Upon arriving, James runs into meaty skin-walls, gruesome monsters and precious few humans at all. And the people he does meet all seem to have their own problems, like a dimwitted man who's killed someone, a teenager searching for her mother and a little girl who doesn't even notice all the awful things happening around her. Then there's Maria, who's a spitting image of Mary, albeit sexed up far beyond his wife's more subdued behavior.

After countless close calls with Pyramid Head, a masked killer brandishing a sword so large he has to drag it, James finds more and more clues about his wife, her letter and what's happening in Silent Hill. The more he understands, the less fearsome the town becomes, and it turns out that everything you've seen is a reflection of James' inner torment over killing his wife. Yes, it turns out you murdered her and have hid from that fact all along, creating the constant purgatory known as Silent Hill.

Why it's the best:
Holy Christ, is this game intense. The premise alone - find out how your dead wife sent you a letter - is terrifying, and when coupled with the horrific setting and creepy denizens of Silent Hill, it becomes a near-unbearable level of dread. Every hallway, every door could contain another awful monster or suggestive conversation about James's past, but it usually doesn't. You're constantly on edge, wondering if the worst is about to come... or just another empty room. It's a slower burn than Resident Evil by far.

Silent Hill speaks in metaphors, not bats in the hair or dogs crashing through windows. Plunging deeper into the town symbolizes his inner conflict, and as you hack away monsters, you're also hacking away his mental blocks that hide the truth. The further you dig, the more you question him - is he really an innocent man who unjustly lost his wife or not? The other characters have just as much to add to the story too - Angela, the teen searching for her mother, apparently killed her abusive father and fled to Silent Hill. She tries to kill herself, but James intervenes, setting into motion her final moment near the end.

She can't forgive herself for the murder, but can't go on either. The flames are her own prison, James doesn't even notice them. For a brief moment, you actually get to see Silent Hill through someone else's eyes, opening your mind to the fact that James must confront his past as Angela just did or suffer a similar fate. Laura, the little girl with no knowledge of any monsters or Pyramid Head, freely roams the town because she's innocent, and was also a friend of Mary before she died. Maria, it turns out, is another manifestation of James's repressed guilt - she's a promiscuous double of his sickly wife, neither human nor hallucination.

Maria and the other monsters, like the busty no-faced nurses and the mannequin legs tied to other mannequin legs, aren't there just for shock value; they're representations of James's repressed sexuality due to Mary's long sickness. He took care of her at first, but eventually came to hate his life and smothered her, supposedly freeing him from a tortured life. Instead it forever trapped him in a no-place hell, where the only way out is to confront your worst personal demons and even that might not be enough. It's a punishing tale not easily matched, daring to tell a story that touches on murder, suicide, personal hell, child molestation, redemption, acceptance and trying not to lose yourself to something outside your control. There are several endings, but the best has to be "In Water," a fitting end to a story leaps and bounds above other games, horror or otherwise.

Fallout 2

(PC, 1998)

The Story: 
It’s the year 20XX and the world is in ruins after America and China’s nuclear World War. Some have survived in underground Vaults, protected from the radiation and horrors of the wasteland. You’re the descendent of the original Vault Dweller, a hero who left his vault to save its inhabitants, and it’s up to you to find a miracle machine that will save your tribal village. Upon finding the machine you return to find your village has been kidnapped by the sinister Enclave to be experimented on with a virus designed to ‘purify’ humanity. You infiltrate the Enclave’s offshore headquarters on an oil tanker and free your village, destroying the base in the process.

Why it’s the Best: 
Fallout 2’s amazing opening scene mimics its predecessor, explaining the nuclear holocaust in simple terms, as something we all knew was inevitable, a battle for resources and two super powers finally losing their cool and utilizing nuclear weapons. “War, War never changes.”

As a simple tribesman who has never left your village you have almost nothing but a name and a city to go on. The huge void of Northern California that is your map is completely unrestricted - you can go anywhere from the very beginning, though you do so at your own peril. A tribesman with little but a jumpsuit and a spear is no match for the brutal reality of the wasteland. Fallout 2 creates a vivid post apocalyptic world that captures the feeling of chaos and anarchy after disaster.

When you enter small villages, you feel their sense of desperation, a small group of people struggling together for nothing more than survival. As you arrive in the larger settlements of New Reno and San Francisco you find more organized but no less dangerous places, where black markets and criminals operate openly and the streets are littered with addicts and prostitutes.

Fallout 2 was unlike any other game before it in that aside from a few mandatory plot points, getting to the end of the game could literally be a different experience every time. Because of its open format there was a beginning, middle, and end but it was up to you to fill in the rest. Depending on how you created your character, the story could be a smooth talking con man who manipulates people to his own ends, a scientist who hacks into computers and builds robots to fight for him, or even a mentally deficient brute who’s too stupid to converse with anyone and just pounds his way through the wasteland. Such true player freedom had never been delivered like this, letting you push the story forward any way you wanted.

While the game’s main story involves your battle against the Enclave and other corrupt institutions, the history behind them and the wasteland at large are hidden all throughout the world, in abandoned computers and in the minds of survivors. This makes the story as deep, or as vague, as you want it to be. The way the Fallout 2 lets you discover the story on your own adds to its mystery, drawing the player into the game.

Ultimately Fallout 2’s story is the best ever because of its realism, freedom, and fantastic writing. While many games now have open worlds and plots, Fallout 2 manages to do both yet still maintain its doom-filled ambiance. All the side quests and plot tangents feel like they’re still part of a whole, and not just tacked on to bump up the play time. When the bombs finally drop and the world is reduced to nothing but ash and marauding mutants don’t be surprised if it looks a lot like Fallout 2.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

(PC, 1993)

The Story:
The city of New Orleans is terrorized by a rash of voodoo-style serial murders and Gabriel Knight, a local mystery writer, plans to spin the tragedy into a profitable new book. What he discovers during his investigation, however, is far more terrifying - and far more personal - than he ever expected. The gruesome killings have been committed by a supernatural cult that just happens to be led by Gabriel's demon-possessed lover. Worse, his hidden destiny - a previously unknown fate determined thousands of years ago by the choices of his ancestors - is to hunt and destroy all the evil of the world, which now includes her.

Why it’s the Best:
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is not suitable for children. In fact, this is one of the only games in the history of our hobby that is truly, and unequivocally, designed for adults. The themes are dark. The characters are haunted. The storytelling is pierced with violence from beginning (when Gabriel dreams of corpses hanging in trees) to end (when a key character rips their own beating heart out).

Blood and guts, however, are a staple of juvenile entertainment. What lifts Sins of the Fathers to a higher level is the maturity of the storytelling. Take the protagonist. Gabriel is a flawed and complicated man who was written to feel real, not to sell action figures. He drinks. He smokes. He womanizes. He's a sometimes lazy, often irresponsible ne'er-do-well that mocks his best friend, toys with the infatuation of his female assistant and forgets to visit his grandmother. His slow and reluctant transformation into a Schattenjager, or "shadow hunter," is not a tale of comic book cliches, but of a man realizing his potential and finally seeing beyond his own needs.

The game also features heavy doses of history and romance - two more elements sure to scare away the kiddies. There's a love quadrangle that plays out too subtly, honestly and tragically to be annoying. And Gabriel's journey is so intrinsically woven with the past of New Orleans that, by game's end, you'll feel as if you grew up in the place.

Sins of the Fathers features murder, suicide, torture and mutilation, but the horror is not played for shock value alone - it is the gateway to a deeply significant, fiercely intelligent mystery that spans continents, merges fact and fiction, blends dreams and reality and confronts both love and death. The next time someone complains that gaming is for youngsters only, introduce them to Gabriel Knight.

Originally posted: Apr 17, 2008

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  • CataclysmicBane - May 30, 2011 9:43 a.m.

    Legacy of Kain...nuff said
  • DreamWeaverPL - March 18, 2011 7:26 p.m.

    GOD OF WAR? ASTROBOY? SAN ANDREAS? Seriously guys, come on! That's not even funny, those are lame excuses for a storyline. _^_
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - March 18, 2011 1:31 p.m.

    San Andreas is my favorite GTA, glad it's in there. As for any new games, I think that Assassin's Creed II had a really good story. As long as you leave out that crazy stuff about the gods or aliens or whatever they are, there's really nothing wrong with it. There's always something to do, and the plot was really compelling. Red Dead Redemption also deserves to be on here. I still remember the end like it was yesterday...
  • Gene - March 18, 2011 9:24 a.m.

    @ happymasksalesman I approve of your username. Also, I believe Gamesradar will be with me on this one: Braid. The story in Braid, and the way it links with the gameplay is of a rare quality.
  • Yeager1122 - March 18, 2011 1:05 a.m.

    Ah KOTOR love that game my first pc game and one of my favorites actually playing it again right now.
  • gilgamesh310 - March 17, 2011 11:07 p.m.

    Okay, something that needs to be pointed out here and much elsewhere besides is that the story in Bioshock is a carbon copy of Irrational games earlier and superior System shock 2. It's 95% similar, with mainly just different characters and a different setting. It's an outrage that Bioshock's story is celebrated and the game itself as well when SS 2 had the same story and done the game itslef was much better too. System Shock 2 should be on this list and every other list like it and NOT Bioshock. Secondly, where is Deus Ex? Thirdly, why is Portal here but not Half Life 2? God of War gets a mention here but not either of these games.
  • LordZarlon - March 17, 2011 9:09 p.m.

    What about any of the Wing Commanders, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Warcraft 3, Full Throttle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Monkey Island 1 or 2 or Halo. There's too many to choose from.
  • FrozenImplosion - March 17, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    Well put together list! Also, the piece about Bioshock was superb, couldn't have said it better myself.
  • CandiedJester - March 17, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    You know, I came in here thinking I was gonna have to berate you for neglecting Planescape: Torment and the old Fallout games, but I was wrong! I am surprised!! Well done. I can still berate you for including a grand theft auto game, though...
  • happymasksalesman - March 17, 2011 8:42 p.m.

    @Gene I read your comment, and thought to myself "is that me?" You nailed all of the great things about Majora's Mask, my personal favorite game of all time. Also, I too was hoping to see Chrono Trigger on this list.
  • scsmith1 - March 17, 2011 8:08 p.m.

    1998 was a great year for the PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox, apparently...
  • acehard - March 17, 2011 6:40 p.m.

    um halo? its pretty deep with a shit load of books and background stories, and all the games follow a good steady storyline. And i would say gears, dead space, and mass effect would be good contenders too pretty
  • MancisFrorkYorgan - March 17, 2011 5:36 p.m.

    Deadly Premonition. I'm a massive fan of the game, so it probably seems like I'm plugging it, but the story was absolutely stellar.
  • CAPST3R - March 17, 2011 5:19 p.m.

    Any game where a dog dies. Especially if it had a name.
  • ArPi - March 17, 2011 4:53 p.m.

    ehmz, where the heck is Diablo? or Vampire The Masquerade/Bloodlines? also Warcraft.
  • Clovin64 - March 17, 2011 3:53 p.m.

    Awesome article guys. Final Fantasy VI and Silent Hill 2 are two of my favourite games ever, and SH2 in particular has my favourite story of any game. You guys should do a new updated list sometime that includes stuff like Bioshock 2, Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption, and also Enslaved (the ending was a bit out of the blue, but until then the story and characters were fantastic).
  • Tasty_Pasta - March 17, 2011 3:52 p.m.

    Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne would have been good additions to the list.
  • dcbernman - March 17, 2011 2:18 p.m.

    Ah, stories. They may be the main reason why I love games. Definitely agree with what was said about Majora's mask. I remember reading this article and thinking to myself "wow, I have hardly played any of these, and they all look awesome!" And so, two years ago, I began playing through as many greats on as many platforms as possible since the snes era. And so far, it's been one hell of a ride. I'm hoping to get started on The Longest Journey soon and I can't wait! As far as stories go, for some reason, one of the ones that gripped me the most is one of the simplest I ever encountered... Grandia. I only played it a few months ago, and despite it being fourteen years old, I got super excited every time I went someplace new. Nothing in gaming up to this point has made me literally drunk on euphoria than the entire Ship to the New World segment of the story, among other great parts. I know the cast isn't the most... badass, and that there are more than a few anachronisms and plot holes, but hey, this was a FF7 rival, so it's no surprise it should suffer some of the same flaws. In any case, if I had to add stories to this list, I'd personally add Grandia and Starcraft (the original). I've still got a long ways to go on my own personal list (still have maybe half a dozen more titles I want to churn through from the SNES and PSX before continuing on to the PS2 and more PC games. Maybe in a year I'll be able to make a more educated addition to this Top 7.
  • h4wkrapt0r - March 17, 2011 12:17 p.m.

    Havent played a good few of the games on the list, but wheres mercs? Mass effect? Starcraft(love the starcraft story, i do)? Ace combat (4 was best imo with 5 then zero)? And PORTAL?! Are you $%~*! serious?! The mystery was good for the time it lasted (60 mins max? - to figure it out). The ending song was class, but jeeze.... Prey was better imo, I just got bored of portal towards the end (ok boss battle was fun-ish) No zelda game?!
  • philipshaw - March 17, 2011 11:50 a.m.

    Great list and I would add ME2 and RDR to this list

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