SPOILER TO END ALL SPOILERS: We'll be spoiling 30 incredibly well-known games, endings and plot twists included. If you see the title of a game you're planning to play and want to go in fresh, for the love of all that is holy DO NOT READ THE ENTRY. You have been warned.
Life is short, and we're always busy. Given how stacked your never-ending backlog has likely gotten, it's ok that you don't make time to go back and play every classic game ever made. But that doesn't mean you have to sit there feeling like a chump whenever an influential game comes up in conversation, forced to meekly admit that you never played it and suffer through all the judgmental stares and gasps that follow.
Just like we told you , we've prepared an exhaustive bluffer's guide to all those games you never made time for or simply have no interest in, despite the fact that everyone's always yammering on about how important they are. From basic premises to alternate endings, widely recognized scenes to obscure yet relatable tidbits of gameplay, these breakdowns will give you all the tools you need to feel like part of the conversation before nodding your head like you're deep in nostalgic thought.
Also, it bears repeating: you're about to enter full-on spoilers territory, so be prepared.
Half-Life 2 (2004)
Format(s): PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, PC
You play as Gordon Freeman, an MIT-educated physicist who inadvertently knocked humans off the top of the food chain by opening a portal to another dimension filled with ravenous monsters. It's ok though, because you helped save the world again right after. Unfortunately, stuff didn't stay saved, and while you were being held in stasis by a probably-alien, definitely-super-pale dude in a business suit, the whole thing went to hell. Two decades later he lets you out of stasis to help a dwindling Resistance overthrow the new totalitarian order that's been established by the Combine, an extraterrestrial group that conquered Earth in a matter of hours after you disappeared. There's a bunch of stuff in the middle that isn't particularly important from a plot standpoint, but by the end you and your new friend Alyx Vance strike a decisive blow against the Combine by destroying their Citadel headquarters and killing the human leader of their puppet government.
Key things to mention: You've got to mention the Gravity Gun, but don't overdo it - everybody knows about launching toilets at guards and playing scrap basketball with a giant robot dog by now. To really sell it, talk about how much you enjoyed smashing Combine grunts by swinging around metal beams attached to a giant magnetic crane.
The most memorable scene: "We don't go to Ravenholm." Just say those words and your conversation partner is almost guaranteed to let out an involuntary shudder as they remember the moment that Half-Life 2 went from physics-enabled shooter to terrifying zombie survival game. Connor Sheridan
Final Fantasy 7 (1997)
Format(s): PS1, PS4, PC, mobile
Take a deep breath before you attempt reciting this: you are a young mercenary named Cloud hired by a band of eco-terrorists fighting an omnipresent corporation draining the lifeblood of the planet with zero concern for all natural life. When your ragtag group of heroes - including magic pixie dream florist Aeris, Mr. T clone with a gun for a hand Barrett, kung fu cowgirl bartender Tifa, drunk astronaut Cid, Frankenstein goth heartthrob Vincent, klepto ninja in booty shorts Yuffie, a robot cat in a crown riding a stuffed animal remote controlled by a corporate executive, and what appears to be a Navajo wolf lion named Red XIII - find out that the evil Shinra company is trying to harness the superpowers of a monster alien called Jenova and your florist, who happens to be the last surviving member of an ancient mystical people, you naturally try to blow their biz right up. Turns out that a hunky leather daddy warrior named Sephiroth is already trying to destroy Shinra and the entire planet because he’s a little angry about his birth. Turns out Shinra made Sephiroth from scratch using Jenova’s cells - Cloud is also the result of their genetic tinkering - and he’s none too happy about it.
Key things to mention: If you really want to keep people thinking you’ve played all of Final Fantasy 7, don’t talk about the big beats that are part of general gamer culture. After 20 years of memes, Aeris’ death has become the “Luke I am your father” of video games. So stick to talking about your favorite secondary characters and locations. Then say Sephiroth is an overrated villain to really drive it home.
The most memorable scene: The ending is a key moment to highlight. After a descent into a violently glowing pit full of the game’s toughest monsters, you face off against Sephiroth’s alien mom before taking on the big cheese himself. Once you defeat him in a dramatic three part battle where he takes the form of a one-winged angel, you’re treated to a scene of your team trying to escape as a moon-sized meteor crashes to the planet’s surface only to be repelled by the sentient life force of the earth itself. Anthony John Agnello
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Format(s): N64, GameCube, 3DS
1998's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time basically set the overworld-to-dungeon-and-back formula Nintendo would follow for nearly every Zelda game to follow nearly 30 years - right up until 2017's Breath of the Wild. A young boy named Link leaves his humble village in the forest to seek out Princess Zelda, gather a handful of Spiritual Stones to restore power to the Master Sword and claim the Triforce, an artifact of immense power that will grant its owner a neverending supply of wishes. In doing so, he unwittingly launches himself into the future, where the evil Ganondorf has succeeded in his mission and brought ruin to Hyrule. With the help of a mysterious figure named Shiek, Link seeks out and frees five temple sages, learns that Shiek is actually Princess Zelda, and together, they defeat Ganondorf and restore peace to Hyrule once again. You can also play Smoke on the Water with your ocarina if you want. It's great.
Key things to mention: You could go one of two ways on this. You could go the 'masterpiece' route, and talk about how Ocarina of Time cemented The Legend of Zelda as one of the foremost adventures in video game history, how Nintendo has been chasing its unrivaled scope, ingenuity, and array of items ever since. Or you could go the 'hipster contrarian' route and talk about how Ocarina of Time is far too bloated compared to the leaner, more densely packed Link to the Past, and how Nintendo ruined the series by chasing its scope, ingenuity, and array of items ever since. Either way you go, always mention how the water temple is some convoluted bullshit.
The most memorable scene: Finally getting to the master sword, pulling it out, and finding yourself launched forward in time seven years, and slowly realizing how badly Hyrule has gone to hell in your absence. This totally blew your mind when you were a kid, remember? David Roberts
Persona 4 Golden (2012)
Format(s): PS Vita
You’re a high school student stuck living out in the boonies with your uncle and cousin while your parents travel abroad for a year. Shortly after you arrive, a string of murders begin, all apparently tied to the “Midnight Channel,” a TV station that broadcasts the next victim. You make new friends at school, and together you accidentally gain the ability to travel between the real world and the TV world, where reality warps and monsters called shadows attack you constantly. Each of your companions must defeat their literal inner demon in order to be safe, and the exploration of their doubts and fears is immensely relatable. Your weapon of choice against the shadows are personas, which you use in battle like large, angry Pokemon. Though your companions can only use a sole persona, you can command several, swapping them in and out of fights to best suit the bizarre creatures you must defeat. And man, are they bizarre. Police gorillas with keys where their stomachs should be. Enormous dice. Zebra-striped balls that lick you with huge tongues. It’s kind of a relief when the table set for dinner attacks you, because it’s at least kind of normal? Ok, no, not really. Look, Persona is weird, very weird. In addition to working your way through dungeons and finding a serial killer, you also have to manage your social time, build strong bonds (be ready to drop the phrase “social links” into conversation) with your friends, do well in school, and work a part-time job. The balance between over-the-top dungeon crawls and mundane everyday life makes Persona 4 a fascinating blend of priorities, with an unforgettable soundtrack and unique visual flair.
Key things to mention: If you’re going to bluff your way through a Persona conversation, you have to decide who is best girl. You can romance several of the girls in the game, but most people either come down on the side of Rise, the pop idol, or Chie, the tomboy. Rise is sexy and bubbly, Chie likes to eat a lot of meat and practice martial arts. You’re also going to want to have an opinion on Teddie, who is a boy in a bear suit. Well, first he’s just an empty bear suit, but then he grows a boy...look, it’s complicated. You can say he’s cute or annoying - you’re right either way. Be sure to mention how admirable Persona 4 is for dealing with questions of personal responsibility, jealousy, family expectations, and sexuality in an intelligent and thoughtful way, as opposed to treating teenagers like their feelings don’t matter.
The most memorable scene: Your young cousin Nanako, who loved to sing the Junes jingle, dies. It’s beyond heartbreaking. It’s the kind of thing that makes grown men cry in public. Susan Arendt
Format(s): PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
Would you kindly pay attention, because BioShock’s tale is tricky to follow. A plane crash-lands into the ocean, and as its sole survivor, you swim to a nearby lighthouse. There you find a submarine which takes you down to the underwater city of Rapture. Looks pretty, but everything has gone to shit. Genetic experimentation messed up the citizens’ heads, turning them delusional and aggressive. Atlas - one of the survivors of the city’s civil war - contacts you, claiming he can help you escape. After Rapture’s creator Ryan kills Atlas’ wife and child you’re sent on a mission to kill Ryan. Confronting him in his office, he reveals that you’ve been a pawn all along. You’ve been conditioned to obey the ‘would you kindly’ phrase. What the fuck. Atlas is the disguised crime lord Frank Fontaine, who faked his death to throw off Ryan. Time to get revenge on Fontaine. You fight and kill him, then depending on your choices throughout Bioshock you either leave Rapture with its innocent Little Sisters, or return with a nuclear submarine and a band of splicers to claim the city as your own. The end.
Key things to mention: As well as the ghastly Little Sisters and their protectors, the Big Daddies, Sander Cohen, the insane artist, who has an obsession with rabbits and has drawn them all over his theatre. Also Dr. Steinman, a similarly insane surgeon who is obsessed with beauty - Picasso’s cubist beauty, that is. He messed up his patients trying to make them look like modern art.
The most memorable scene: Don’t mention the twist at the end - everyone knows that. Instead go for level where you walk around papier-maché splicers who pretend they’re statues, remaining stone-still until you get close. They also happen to be indistinguishable from the real killed-and-then-dipped-in-plaster splicers. Fun. Zoe Delahunty-Light
Dark Souls (2011)
Format(s): PS3, Xbox 360, PC
First off: decide how much of a bullshitter you are. Everybody lies about Dark Souls boss fights. When someone tells you how long it took to to defeat Ornstein and Smough, Dark Souls’ most iconic boss fight, you can either take the light path (“Well done! That took me all evening!”) or the dark (the number of attempts they took, minus one). After that, you need to chose your weapon. You used a spear and a massive shield on your first go, didn’t you? It helps here to mime hiding behind a tower shield while looking frightened. Finally, for extra authenticity, you can allude to another weapon you might have used - “I tried a cool sword at one point - long, pointy one - but didn’t get on with it” - and then nod vigorously when the person you’re fooling tells you what it's called. Praise the sun! You’re a Dark Souls pro now.
Key things to mention: How much you hate Blighttown. You don’t need to be too specific - a simple, “I got invaded in Blighttown! Screw that place” will suffice.
The most memorable scene: Seeing the tiny head of the Gaping Dragon, and thinking ‘maybe this won’t be so bad!’ And then it gets bigger. And bigger. And bigger. Matt Elliott