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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.


inFamous

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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60 comments

  • DannyBlaze - April 20, 2011 11:18 p.m.

    Great article.....I rememeber playing infamous and saving trish finding out she is a dummy and then going back playing it again and saving the doctors thinking trish was there....I was very confused at that point
  • bigwill1221 - April 20, 2011 11:19 p.m.

    Why isn't heavy rain in this?!
  • RicePuddingUK - April 20, 2011 11:19 p.m.

    How does Far Cry 2 make it on here? Yet Mass Effects Ashley or Kaiden decision or KOTOR's Lightside/Darkside doesn't? Boo!
  • ColonelKc - April 20, 2011 11:21 p.m.

    Wheres companion cube! I could have just quit the game and stop playing. But, i really liked portal and i *sniff* killed him/her!
  • JBizFoShiz - April 20, 2011 11:25 p.m.

    I didn't read every game decision (because I haven't played every game), but I thought this was a very cool article. The trolley problem - I learned something new today! That being said, it really depends on the game universe I'm in. In Bioshock, I had no issues wanting to save the Little Sisters (even on Survivor difficulty), but in inFamous, I had no issues letting Trish fall to her death. Maybe it was because I never liked her, but the doctors just seemed like the more obvious choice (on the "Good" playthrough, of course) I mean, when you choose to save her (which btw, you have to go OUT OF YOUR WAY to do - the tower with the docs is right in front of you), she basically tells you off BEFORE she dies! Bitch.
  • p0wnd - April 20, 2011 11:31 p.m.

    Surprised Fallout didn't get into this list
  • The_King_of_Nothing - April 20, 2011 11:33 p.m.

    You forgot to mention at the end of GTA 4 if you choose the peaceful side and Roman dies, Kate won't ever talk to you again because you didn't listen to her. Makes the decision much easier, I let that bitch die. Bros before hoes.
  • spencertucksen - April 20, 2011 11:34 p.m.

    @DannyBlaze ...I felt the exact same thing, buddy. lol
  • tomthespesh - April 20, 2011 11:37 p.m.

    The dog in Fable 2!!! I almost cried when he died then chose the cash as I didn't think he would come back! Thank god for the knothole island DLC meaning I could kill someone to resurrect him. I would also do that in real life as my dog is more important to me than anything.
  • RedKirth - April 20, 2011 11:38 p.m.

    How about The Witcher? Every decision in that game left me sitting at my computer staring and debating for at least 15 mins. a piece.
  • S135 - April 20, 2011 11:41 p.m.

    @RicepuddingUK Mass Effect isn't on here because everyone knew right away to save ashley, because kaiden wasn't even half as cool.
  • FOZ - April 20, 2011 11:43 p.m.

    BioShock is hardly even a choice. If you save all of the Sisters, you are guaranteed not only free Plasmids, money, and items, but you will definitively have more ADAM by the end of the game. You can get an extra 40 right there, or wait 5 minutes and go to the next Garden to get... 200 bonus ADAM. Yeah, real hard choice there. On hard mode, you don't care about the plot because you've already seen it, so sure, harvest all of those kids. What did they ever do for you? According to captcha, somebody named Frafters has an issue with this post.
  • Overlord153 - April 20, 2011 11:54 p.m.

    Iremember a side mission in inFAMOUS it was either save the girl's brother or take the power crystals they hold. The girl got pissed when you let her brother die. But it was worth it.
  • FauxFurry - April 21, 2011 midnight

    Gaming's most difficult decisions are no decisions at all. Nicely done. Now I'm left wondering if I made the right choice to read that article. Branch 1. Avoid reading article which draws attention to the fact that most game stories are on-rails (which makes the reference to the Trolley Problem all the more apt) but in the process missing out on its observational humor. I eventually make the same observation without having read the article, anyway yet have no fun in doing so. Branch 2. Read the article and have a hearty laugh, shaking my head in disappointment all the while.
  • onewingedantista - April 21, 2011 12:02 a.m.

    Sorry to say this, but this has already been done: http://www.gamesradar.com/f/the-top-7-gut-wrenching-choices/a-2009050410717660001
  • NotBraze - April 21, 2011 12:04 a.m.

    I actually thought that BioShock 2 had much more meaningful choices than the first game did. Sure, Ken Levine and company came up with the idea, but Jordan Thomas and company fleshed it out and made it a much more difficult decision with way more impact on the story. I aslo think that the Mass Effect games, particularly Mass Effect 2 have a lot of tough decisions that should have been on this list. I seriously had to sit and think for several minutes before deciding what to do about the Geth in ME2.
  • D0CCON - April 21, 2011 12:16 a.m.

    Not a single Bioware game listed, huh? KOTOR, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, it doesn't matter which, but something by Bioware should have come up (probably Mass Effect though, imo). I was also expecting a companion cube reference, but that technically isn't a choice. You have to do it to keep playing.
  • Yeager1122 - April 21, 2011 12:29 a.m.

    I let Kate die in Gta 4 just so i could go Bowling with Roman or Play darts ahhhh good times.
  • angelusdlion - April 21, 2011 12:31 a.m.

    I had to laugh as my Itunes account is totally TMBG and OCremix and I couldn't bring myself to harvest little sisters in Bioshock. Good call.
  • BlitzIzDaShitz - April 21, 2011 12:49 a.m.

    Pretty good article, still can't believe you guys gave Infamous a 7. One of the best PS3 exclusive games out there.

Showing 1-20 of 60 comments

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