The Top 7… 'Whoops, you're evil!' moments

What you thought you did: Traveled back in time to rescue (or at least make amends with) a princess after destroying your relationship with her through poor decision-making.

What you actually did: Frightened a sleeping woman into fleeing for her life as you pursued her relentlessly, because you’re her deeply troubled stalker.

On the surface, at least.

Wait, what!? For the moment, let’s disregard all talk of nuclear weapons and “what Braid really means.” On the surface, what we have is the story of a man named Tim, who’s searching for a princess after he fails, upsets or otherwise alienates her. It’s not clear what he’s done – only that he’s done something that’s made her sever ties with him. And as he gets closer to finding her – by unlocking the game’s first level and effectively traveling back in time – it becomes increasingly apparent that something’s not quite right here. The biggest hint comes during the prologue of Level 1: Tim seems to “live oppositely” from other people, we’re told. And then there’s this weird tidbit, which might hint that Tim suffers from schizophrenia:

When Tim finally reaches his princess, however, all that seems to be moot. She’s carried down a rope by an evil-looking knight, only to escape his clutches and scream to Tim – who’s trapped in a cave underneath them - for help. Furious, the knight jumps up and down, causing a near cave-in just before an enormous wall of flame moves toward Tim and the princess, threatening to consume them.

Over the course of the level, they flee from the wall of flame and work together, with each flipping switches so that the other can pass through. It’s a beautiful, desperate moment, right up until the princess comes close to the house at level’s end. Here, something weird happens: she climbs down a ladder and causes a broken chandelier to fall in reverse, which isn’t something that would… help Tim, necessarily.

It doesn’t seem to bother Tim, though. Racing against time, he climbs up a lattice wall to the princess’ balcony, eager to be reunited with her, and then…

There’s a blinding flash, and the flames are gone. The princess is asleep in bed, and there appears to be nothing you can do.

Except that Tim, for the first time, moves left when you tell him to move right, and vice versa.

Remember what the game said about Tim living oppositely from other people? Only by using Tim’s ability to rewind time can you see events as they actually occurred: Tim climbed to the princess’ balcony, at which point she woke up, terrified to see an intruder at her window. She ran, with Tim in hot pursuit, vainly flipping switches to throw obstacles into his path. She’d dropped the chandelier in an attempt to crush him. And as for the “evil-looking” knight, well, he was actually just there to rescue the princess.

From Tim.

What you thought you did: Destroyed 16 towering monsters so that a god would repay you by bringing your beloved back to life.

What you actually did: Restored power to a bloodthirsty demonic force, thereby releasing it into the world and damning yourself to become its host.

Wait, what!? Unlike the other games on this list, it’s possible that the hero in Shadow of the Colossus knows full well what he’s getting into – but you sure as hell don’t. Not at first. No, at first this is nothing more than the story of a typical boyish hero – Wander - who wants to resurrect his dead love interest, and has to take on the Herculean task of destroying 16 ginormous horrors in order to bring her back. It’s a beautiful statement on the lengths to which we’re willing to go for love – or is it?

You probably won’t have any doubts in the beginning. Early on, the Colossi are fearsome, melancholy beasts, and the sheer unfairness of the you-to-them size ratio should be enough to convince you that killing them is the right thing to do.

But as you forge ahead with hunting down and killing the Colossi, something will start to gnaw at you. While some of the Colossi are clearly trying to kill you, others are indifferent, even harmless. Some are so beautiful that killing them leaves you feeling like you’ve just smashed a stained-glass window. And the only reason you’re doing any of it is because a voice from the heavens is telling you to.

Even if none of that triggers alarm bells, the tendrils that stab into Wander after every execution can’t be a good sign.

Neither can the gradual deterioration in Wander’s condition after each battle, which happens so slowly that you might not even notice it until you’re about to fight the 16th Colossus.

Above: Note the change in stance between the game’s beginning and its end

Above: Not to mention the junkie-like decay in Wander’s face

At any rate, you know someone from your village is coming to try and stop you, so you need to hurry, but in all likelihood they’re just small-minded primitives coming to enforce a taboo on the “cursed” land in which you’re hunting Colossi. And when they do, they’ll take away the body of Wander’s dead lover Mono, and it will all have been for naught.

However, it turns out that the “primitives” are a band of warriors headed up by the high priest Lord Emon, and they’ve come to stop you from doing something horrible. Of course, you were so diligent about your task that they came too late: after killing the final Colossus, Wander was firmly under the control of Dormin, the demonic “voice from the heavens” whose essence had been sealed away within the 16 Colossi.

By killing the Colossi, Wander released Dormin’s spirit into the world, where it quickly decided to take over his body and morph into a monstrous horned shadow. You then got a chance to control the shadow creature as it attempted to kill Emon and his men – not that it did any good, as Dormin was way too slow to stop Emon from escaping.

Did Wander know what his fate would be from the beginning? Did desperation drive him to sacrifice himself to a demon in the hope of bringing Mono back to life? It’s hard to say, but the ending’s twist forced us to completely revise our view of what up until then had seemed like a fairly standard boy-hero-saves-sleeping-princess story, and turned it into something dark and tragic. And then, just as we were coming to grips with that, we were confronted with the heartbreaking sequence in which Wander tries futilely to run to Mono while Emon’s containment spell sucks him toward a shimmering pool.

Above: Fight it, Wander! No, don’t fall over! Aww… aw, hell

It all still has a happy ending, of course; just not the kind you might have expected. But the bizarre twist that precedes it – along with the revelation that young, tragic Wander is actually the story’s de facto villain – is a big part of why Shadow of the Colossus is one of the PS2’s greatest games, as well as its most surprisingly evil.

Mar 2, 2009

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Top 7


  • Egonor - December 3, 2010 7:07 a.m.

    No KotOR?
  • nathankurt - November 23, 2010 1:44 a.m.

    what about assasins creed
  • EvilInkarnate - July 16, 2010 9:52 a.m.

    A Captain Dynamic: When I beat MGS 1 after the ending I just sat the on my bed, staring at the TV repeating "Wow". Bioshock 1 is still my favorite game of all time I think. However, reading the SoTC thing makes me really regret not having played it. reCaptcha: bear President-elect. Sounds like Soviet Russia.
  • gilgamesh310 - July 14, 2010 10:59 a.m.

    A brilliant article. Some of my favourite games of all time are on this list. The ending to shadow of the collosus is gut renching, it really does make you feel like a proper evil bastard and regret everything done up to that point. That's why I could never play through the game a second time.
  • Chippie17 - October 26, 2009 7:57 p.m.

    Completely saw the Haze one coming
  • Chippie17 - October 26, 2009 7:56 p.m.

    Completely saw the Haze one coming
  • Satanshadow94 - May 6, 2009 8:18 a.m.

    Come on guy's about the haze one you could have figured this out by whatching the video the only time you are in a futuristic millitary and aren't being munipulated is Halo and look how that worked out for bungie it will be one of the many type's of stories that you want to stab a bunny
  • rezapoc - April 30, 2009 7:24 p.m.

    what about half life where you go to xen and are filled in on what evil deed you've done by the g man at the end.
  • ballplayer27 - April 4, 2009 12:40 p.m.

    Before anyone else comments: I know I misspelled your. It was a typo, not an actua "misspelling".
  • ballplayer27 - April 4, 2009 12:38 p.m.

    As always, awesome article. Problem: Some (many?) of yor readers are, in fact, fratboy douchebags. I am personally a member of a fraternity and I enjoy playing videogames and reading your articles. I know the stereotype that you are talking about, and have met many of them, but I do not think that the majority are like that. Do not get me wrong, I am not going to stop reading your site because I am offended. It is just slightly irritating that we all get cast in that light. Like I said, great article, that was just annoying. Keep up that good work, and if possible, lay off the fratboy stereotype if you can. Thanks, Brad
  • Gotxxrock - March 14, 2009 12:43 a.m.

    I almost wanted to weep at the end of Braid. I sat in front of the TV (after playing the game for several hours) for about 10 minutes when it reverted back to the "In Game" title screen, and had no idea what to think. One of those defining moments in life... from a god damn video game no less (not to degrade the value of good old interactive electronic visuals!!)
  • gmilf71 - March 7, 2009 7 a.m.

    even in the end of haze. i first felt sorry for poor merino. then when i heard: "do not fear. these emotions, they are just chemical reactions in your head..." and "you worry to much, my friend! they were just animals!" , i was like, oh damn. this guy's evil to. i think that was the real twist.
  • snipes98 - March 6, 2009 8:56 p.m.

    Bioshock had a surprising twist but SOTC made you think the most, killing those creatures just got harder and harder...
  • GamesRadarMikelReparaz - March 6, 2009 8:55 p.m.

    We discussed KOTOR in the office, but decided it didn't really fit the concept of the article, which is well-intentioned protagonists (or players, at least) suddenly finding out they'd actually been doing evil the whole time. Meanwhile, KOTOR's big twist (SPOILER ALERT) is about finding out that you were evil before the game even began, and that you've been manipulated into doing the right thing when all along you thought you were... doing the right thing. Again, it doesn't quite fit. As for Crackdown, Assassin's Creed and MK: Deception, those were all considered, but in the end this is a Top 7 and we felt the entries that were included were stronger. Just assume that your favorite is #8.
  • Vallanthaz - March 6, 2009 7:51 p.m.

    No KOTOR Darth Revan realization?! Fail! =P
  • speedyrel - March 6, 2009 1:15 a.m.

    What about assassins creed?
  • Gilbert_pwns - March 5, 2009 11:36 p.m.

    They should have included the story mode in Mortal Kombat Deception. Another one of those twists the big thing is you spend your whole life until you finally realize what youve done.
  • key0blade - March 5, 2009 12:18 p.m.

    nice one GR! i didnt realize how evil Braid was...
  • TriLun0r - March 5, 2009 12:42 a.m.

    Umm...sorry, but what about Crackdown? It caught me off guard at the end, because I was already killing civilians...didn't think it got worse that. Fine, maybe #8.
  • deadgeeks - March 4, 2009 8:02 p.m.

    dude wheres ninja gaiden? and darkwatch? and just for the fun of it why not darth vader?

Showing 1-20 of 84 comments

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