Gaming's most difficult decisions

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

The choice: Dual Strike's finale sees the fresh-faced hero, Jake, facing down the game's chief antagonist: Von Bolt, a septuagenarian ne'er-do-well who survives inside a vampiric life-support system. It's fairly easy to isolate the exact point at which the Advance Wars games tipped from “jolly tactical adventure” into “grim Kojima-esque rumination on the horrors of war”: it's the moment when Jake is forced to choose whether or not to put a bullet in Von Bolt's withered old head.

The stakes: To stave off the inevitable embrace of the reaper, Von Bolt does what any cornered villain in any hastily-written Star Wars pastiche would do: deliver a speech to Jake about how you're not so different, you and I, if you were in my position you'd do exactly the etc etc. The stakes aren't so much “who is going to kill this horrible old buzzard” as “how can the process be expedited to cut his soliloquy as short as possible?”

Above: Worst henchman ever

Your best bet: The actual choice here is, “exactly how much of a bastard do you want Jake to be?” Opting to kill Von Bolt sees Jake destroy his life-support system, condemning him to a slow death while conveniently avoiding the guilt of directly shooting an old man in the face; choosing mercy, meanwhile, sees Von Bolt's subordinate shoot the old man, again absolving Jake of any direct responsibility. Whatever you choose, Von Bolt's going down; and either way, Jake is kind of a dick.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent

The choice: Undercover with a domestic terrorist cell, tarmac-voiced hero Sam Fisher's allegiances are put to the test when his long-time mentor Irving Lambert is captured by the villains. Fisher has to choose between killing his buddy to maintain cover, or shooting his closest contact within the terrorist cell and being revealed as an infiltrator. Fisher is surprisingly perturbed by the choice: surely “agonizing gunpoint decisions of loyalty” is the first class attended by anyone wanting to graduate with a degree in Being a Tom Clancy Character? It's not exactly a one-off dilemma is all we’re saying...

The stakes: No game with a colon in the title will ever offer the character a genuinely open-ended choice with genuinely far-reaching consequences, and this is a perfect example of that seemingly ridiculous rule. As an installment in a highly successful franchise, Splinter Cell can't offer any momentous choice without later redressing the outcome of that choice to preserve continuity: either Sam kills Lambert and lives to kill the scoundrels who forced him to make such a decision, or Sam kills the scoundrels and his friend dies later in the game anyway. They can't release two versions of the next game depending on what decision you made in this one, after all. Again: colon in title = deceptively non-linear story.

Your best bet: Armed with the knowledge that your decision won't do a damn thing in the game's larger context, the choice becomes one of simple pragmatism. If you shoot your terrorist handler, will your path through the game's next sequence be immeasurably more difficult? Yes it will. Does that path end in Lambert dying anyway? In fact it does! Machiavellian survival instincts FTW.


The choice: Like plenty of games with continual sliding scales of good and evil (Black and White, Fable, Fallout 3), inFamous is constantly offering you little moral decisions that actually matter, interspersed with larger moments of apparent importance that are secretly inconsequential. One such moment occurs late in the game, where you have the choice of saving your girlfriend Trish or rescuing six doctors who can help cure the pandemic threatening the city. (This is known among ethicists as the trolley problem.)

The stakes: It seems like you can either save your girlfriend at the expense of the city's health, or sacrifice a loved one for the greater good – but the game plays dirty. Choosing to save Trish reveals that the girl is a dummy, and the actual Trish dies with the doctors; whereas if you decide to save the doctors, the real Trish falls to her real death. This tangled variation on the Schrödinger's Cat paradox is halfway solved by the game's adoption of a complicated time-travel subplot... making it only half of a really shitty plot twist.

Your best bet: Now that you know that the game's bent on making you save the day while becoming a miserable bastard, you might as well let the girl die while resolving to beat the tar out of the chicaning cad that forced you into such a thankless position in the first place. Lamentably, the game's writers themselves never make an in-game appearance, so beating up the villain will have to do.

Apr 20, 2011

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  • projecd843 - April 24, 2011 4:38 p.m.

    I remember when my dog on fable 2 died...I was kinda sad for a second but i tried not to be selfish and picked to save the people.. but i regretted it later. lol
  • buminyaface - April 23, 2011 11:32 a.m.

    the ending to singularity is quite the tough decision, although since im one of the 7 people to play that game, im not surprised it isnt on the list
  • elchamber - April 23, 2011 9:43 a.m.

    Fallout 3 had some, but I know that there was one that, no matter what I choose to do, it sucked. It was at Tenpenny's place. Help the zomb... ghouls(smart) get into Tenpenny's Suites. Eventually, the ghouls eradicated everyone, the good and bad. If I decided to let them in though the backdoor, the human people would be attacked with no mercy, but I got a ghoul mask. The third option was to just take out the Ghouls. I get money and, at least, another place to kick-back and sell for more stuff.
  • ViolentLee - April 22, 2011 7:36 p.m.

    Trish was an annoying bitch. My wife agrees. I didn't want to save her, but ended up "choosing" her by accident because the game gives no indication which building houses which group to save. I quickly reloaded and let the bitch die.
  • therawski - April 22, 2011 6:19 p.m.

    In FF VI you gotta wait for Shadow!
  • punkmetalmage - April 22, 2011 4:48 p.m.

    @mrm1138: I stopped reading the article after he said that if you listen to Maynard you will most likely kill the little sisters which is UTTER BULLSHIT! Anyone with half a brain cell can hear the great compassion Maynard has on the world around him. Clearly you do not listen to music (I'm not insinuating that if you don't listen to Tool or APC you don't listen to music but that if you don't take the time to understand the music you're listening to what does that say about you?). Next time you're going to talk about something that's out of your element (Donnie), maybe research it first. I'll probably just skimp through this article now.
  • JayBeat - April 22, 2011 9:51 a.m.

    very well written article, with interesting links (the trolley problem!). For me, when i read the headline the choice in mass effect 1 of saving the rachni race on noveria instantly came to mind, its a doozy.
  • CitizenWolfie - April 22, 2011 8:45 a.m.

    I'm sure you guys only think of these articles to talk about Bioshock some more. Nice to see FarCry 2 get a mention, I was among the few who enjoyed it I think. I went for the explosives in the end as it seemed the right thing to do. As for inFamous (and why so harsh?), I was playing through the "evil" route so I went to save Trish. Only problem was I hadn't been paying much attention at the time and climbed the wrong building. Autosave and bang - one "good" trophy to all the other "evil" ones. D'oh!
  • Siion - April 22, 2011 3:14 a.m.

    Good article, thanks.
  • TriforcePlayer - April 22, 2011 12:45 a.m.

    I find your lack of Fallout 3 disturbing
  • Sleuth - April 22, 2011 12:42 a.m.

    Without choices from the Mass Effect series and Kotor series, this list is critically incomplete.
  • mrm1138 - April 22, 2011 12:10 a.m.

    Hmph. I don't have any They Might Be Giants or Primus on my iPod, but I do have Tool, A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails. Despite this, I saved all the Little Sisters in both BioShock games. Your reasoning is flawed.
  • Skykid - April 21, 2011 8:46 p.m.

    About my previous post: Both of those guys screwed with your life big time, it was all down to who did a better job f*cking it up.
  • DizzyDial - April 21, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    FVDub - 17 hours 32 minutes ago Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Hardest decision of my life in grade school. This.
  • Skykid - April 21, 2011 8:34 p.m.

    @bigwill1221 Heavy Rain is a whole GAME that is based off your decisions. Ohhh, I remember Force Unleashed 2's decision: Let Vader live or get stabbed in the back by your evil twin. Not really ethical in the decision. Force Unleashed: Kill Vader or Kill Palps? either way, Starkiller got f*cked up, living or dead.
  • kyle94 - April 21, 2011 7:40 p.m.

    Did no one play Alpha Protocol? Or was it just me who thought those were some of the better decisions in games? Yea, the game wasn't that good gameplay-wise, but those were the toughest decisions I had. Actually, I think the reason why I liked those choices is because *spoiler* in most cases, no matter what you chose, the bad guys win. All you can do is decide what might be the lesser of two evils. Do you let the president of Taiwan die, destabilizing the entire region, or do you let the Chinese be blamed for starting a pro-Chinese riot that kills several people and also destabilizes the region. That's why I liked that game. Most games let you gain power at the expense of others or be kind and give up that power, or choices like that. In Alpha Protocol, no matter what you did or what you chose, the bad guys get their way. Even if you ruined their original plan, the consequences still increase their power. In fact, Alpha Protocol was one of the few games that had me say "I wanted a longer story and game!" after I beat it.
  • FauxFurry - April 21, 2011 5:46 p.m.

    It seems as if a lot of people missed the point that the choices presented here either lacked any real weight, palpable sense of benefit or consequences or were harder for the writers to make than for the player. Not to be left out, I shall make a complaint,too. Why is there no mention made of choice of gender or race in the games where it has no bearing whatsoever on the story?! Those choices are even more frivolous than any of these at their worst!
  • FOZ - April 21, 2011 5:25 p.m.

    The Pitt decision was ridiculous. But I don't see why the baby would die, if the kid dies they're just as screwed as ever. There's no reason for them to kill the baby.
  • Evernight57 - April 21, 2011 4:42 p.m.

    I felt The Pitt DLC for Fallout 3 had one of the best decisions in gaming: Kidnap infant who will be more than likely killed to (potentially) save a bunch of slaves (led by a jackass) or spare the infant but screw the slaves in two ways (by crushing the rebellion AND letting them die of disease) and also keep the dictator in power. Its obviously more complicated than that, but I suggest playing it out to get the whole story
  • MancisFrorkYorgan - April 21, 2011 4:38 p.m.

    I had absolutely no problem with killing the Little Sisters in BioShock. Does that say something about me?

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