Deus Ex (2000)
Format(s): PS2, PC
This influential first-person thriller set the stage for games like Dishonored and Prey: 'immersive sims' where every problem has multiple solutions, and you're free to pursue stealthy, aggressive, or straight-up inventive methods for achieving your primary goals. Deus Ex follows J.C. Denton, a cybernetically enhanced agent working to police the free world on the behalf of UNATCO. You're ordered to dismantle the NSF terrorist organization - but things take a turn when your similarly bioengineered brother Paul defects to the NSF after UNATCO oversteps its bounds in the effort to maintain order. What starts as a tension between what constitutes a 'terrorist' versus a 'freedom fighter' spins into a string of conspiracies-turned-true: robotic Men In Black as government goons protecting secret testing facilities in Hong Kong, visiting the home base of the still-active Illuminati in Paris, and raiding the Area 51 bunker of power-hungry media mogul Bob Page before he can fuse with an omnipotent AI. J.C.'s actions lead to three possible endings: you destroy the Internet and plunge the world into a new Dark Age free from government, restore the Illuminati to power and guide politics with an invisible hand, or merge with the Helios AI yourself to become a wholly new kind of leader.
Key things to mention: The art of 'save-scumming', where you quick save, carry out a plan, then quick load if you don't like the outcome, adds a lot of mileage to Deus Ex, where your approach is only limited by your imagination. Spin a yarn about the time you gunned down droves of armed guards or sliced them up with your lightsaber-like Dragon's Tooth sword, then reloaded to ghost past those same enemies and slipped by security unseen after hacking terminals left and right.
The most memorable scene: J.C. spouts some pretty choice lines depending on your playstyle, all delivered with a great deadpan coolness befitting a souped-up secret agent. What really stays with a lot of players is when you finally get your revenge on fellow UNATCO agent Anna Navarre, who's constantly criticizing your methods until the two of you fight to the death. Lucas Sullivan
Gone Home (2013)
Format(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
You’re back home after a long semester abroad. Your parents and younger sister Sam is supposed to be there to greet you, but they’re not. As a storm begins to rise, you take shelter inside and set about figuring out where the hell everyone is. Your sister Sam is slowly falling in love with her friend Lonnie, a Junior Army Reserves cadet - leading her to realise she’s gay. Everything is swell until Lonnie gets called up by the army after graduating High School, leaving Sam behind. At the same time the parents are going on “holiday” (really a couples’ counselling camp), Sam is left alone in the house. Her thoughts turn...dark. But - thank god - her last journal entry reveals that she got a call from Lonnie, who got off her army reserves shuttle and wants them to be together. Sam has run off to start a new life with her. *Holds back tears*
Key things to mention: Considering Gone Home isn’t meant to be a horror game, walking around the empty house is surprisingly scary. With a raging storm outside, rain lashes at the windows, and claps of thunder suddenly disturb the silence, making you jump out of your skin. Also, the secret passages below the foundations are creepy as hell - mention the heart-thumpingly tense sound of the TV’s blaring static for extra brownie points.
The most memorable scene: Climbing up the twisting path to the attic, your heart thumping. From the tone of Sam’s journal entries it sounds like she was going to kill herself - so using the word “relief” to describe precisely how you feel when you don’t find her body doesn’t even begin to cover it. Zoe Delahunty-Light
Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
Format(s): PS2, PS3
A young man named Wander arrives on horseback in a forbidden land, carrying the lifeless body of a maiden named Mono with him. He places her on an altar, and is greeted by the booming voice of Dormin, who informs him that he can restore Mono's soul if he finds and kills each of sixteen colossi who roam the land. Dormin also warns Wander that completing this task will force him to pay a heavy price. Wander, filled with resolve and armed with a mystical sword and bow and quiver full of arrows, sets forth toward every corner of this desolate place, methodically climbing and defeating every single monster by stabbing his sword into specific glowing runes on each of their bodies. Meanwhile, Wander's fellow villagers are racing toward this temple to stop him - but it's too late. Wander has completed his task, and his body is now inhabited by the evil Dormin. One of the elders casts a spell, sealing Dormin and Mono inside, the bridge leading to this accursed land crumbling behind them as the villagers escape. Mono awakens to find a young baby with horns where Dormin was defeated, and she picks him up and carries him into a secret garden within the shrine.
Key things to mention: There is a palpable sense of desolation and loneliness in Shadow of the Colossus. There are no other enemies to fight besides these colossi, and no one else to talk to other than your horse, Agro, and the occasional message you get from Dormin. Many of the colossi are peaceful creatures until provoked, and you get the sense that you're doing something you really shouldn't be doing by the time you've felled your first beast. Each colossi offers a unique challenge; some of the more memorable ones include a giant that carries you into the sky as you cling to its back for dear life, and the very last one, which is a massive, screen-filling tower of a beast with multiple levels to climb and immense strength.
The most memorable scene: The bit when your horse bucks you off its back to save you as it falls into a ravine right before the final fight. Agro ends up ok in the end, but you totally cried in the moment. David Roberts
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim (2011)
Format(s): PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
You’re the Dragonborn, i.e., you’ve got the soul of a dragon (just go with it). You’re also a prisoner of the Imperial Legion alongside the King-killer Ulfric Stormcloak, leader of the anti-Imperial Stormcloak rebellion. But just when you’re about to be executed a dragon starts causing havoc. You escape, and can either join the Stormcloaks or the Imperials. Oh, also: the thought-to-be-long-dead dragons have returned to Skyrim. Luckily as you’re dragonborn you can kill these monstrous reptiles, absorbing their soul to make sure they don’t rise again. Your main mission (apart from helping either the Imperials or Stormcloaks win the civil war) is to kill Alduin, the massive dragon who’s thought to be the harbinger of the apocalypse. Needless to say, you manage to do so. But there’s also plenty to do in Skyrim. Get ready to kiss the outside goodbye.
Key things to mention: The ‘I used to be an adventurer like you until I took an arrow in the knee’ is an old favourite, plus - for extra cred - mention the brilliant drinking competition quest in Whiterun, where you eventually black out and then have to go back and find out what you did that night, Hangover-style.
The most memorable scene: Oh god, which one to pick. For a rather left-field suggestion, I’d day go for when you enter Sovngarde’s stunning landscape. Northern lights and bright galaxies wind through the sky, a giant meadhall stands before you filled with huge beer barrels inside, and to get there you cross a bridge made of a giant monster’s backbone. It’s magnificent. Zoe Delahunty-Light
The Last of Us (2013)
Format(s): PS3, PS4
A post apocalyptic zombie story where zombies aren’t the worst thing left behind. It’s about fragments of civilization, hanging on by its fingertips in a world full of ambushing, murderous survivors, far more dangerous than the monsters. In this Joel, a black marketer, is thrust into a difficult relationship with a young girl called Ellie. The two embark on an emotional and traumatic journey across a savagely uncaring America. It’s grounded, earthy and raw in a way few games get right and pulls on emotions in an almost abusive way.
Key things to mention: While the real bad guys here are ‘other people’ the stars are ‘Clickers’, twitchy infected humans ravaged by parasites with fungal growths bursting from their faces. With no eyes they stumble around using a guttural rattle to echolocate victims. Absolutely the stuff of nightmares.
The most memorable scene: The opening, where the zombie outbreak happens and a young Joel’s teenage daughter is killed by a triggerhappy soldier. It doesn’t hold back with the kind of snot-bubbling, raw throated anguish that can only come from inconceivable loss. Worth mentioning ‘Winter’ as well, as Ellie takes over as a playable character, hunting deer and confronting a cannibal called David, played to creepy effect by Nolan North. Leon Hurley
Silent Hill 2 (2001)
Format(s): PS2, Xbox, PC
Konami’s horror sequel follows the journey of James Sunderland, who receives a letter from his dead (yes, dead) wife, Mary, begging him to return to Silent Hill, where they spent happy times as a couple. The rest is his pursuit of the truth behind the letter, which leads to him meeting Mary’s uncanny doppleganger, Maria, being chased by a weird creature with a pyramid for a head, and a shocking revelation about who and what James actually is. See, we discover that James actually killed his wife, and the horrific creatures that inhabit Silent Hill are physical manifestations of his - and the rest of the people he meets - darkest thoughts and desires. It’s a nightmare of his own creation. The ending you get depends on how you play, but the very happiest one sees James leave town with Maria, only for her to show signs of the disease that was slowly killing Mary. Y’know, before James did for her himself.
Key things to mention: Maria is a physical manifestation of James’ sexual frustration with Mary, as are the horrific shambling nurses he meets. There’s a dead man in one of the apartments who looks just like James - it isn’t a coincidence. Yes, there’s one possible ending that shows the whole series of events was being controlled by a dog in a secret room.
The most memorable scene: Probably the bit where James sees Maria die, then meets her - alive and well - impossibly deep underground in a prison cell, where she messes with the mind of both James and the player. Andy Hartup