30. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – 2009 – Naughty Dog
Nathan Drake has been around for years, and for good reason. The action-packed gameplay with tons of stunts and climbing is there, sure. However, the story is what makes the game great. The opening train wreck scene, the complicated love triangle and the awesome villains and monsters are just parts of it. Last but not least, all the twists and turns will make you feel exactly like Indiana Jones.
29. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – 2007 – Infinity Ward
For the younger generations who sadly only received newer games with short and awful stories, this may seem odd. Believe us when we tell you that a Call of Duty game with a great story does exist. The first installment in the legendary Modern Warfare trilogy has one of the best FPS stories ever. CoD had great stories before this as well, but the fourth game knocked it out of the park. Although it employed the normal game trend where the Russians are the baddies, it is not as straightforward, as you fight against a powerful movement known as the Ultranationalist Party. They wish trying to overthrow the Russian Federation, and the British SAS helps them to fight them off. The game even gets emotional, has twists and flashbacks. It is a game everyone should play.
28. Hotline Miami – 2012 – Dennaton Games
This is a gory mobster killing game that has an awesome story. You live the experience through the hazy eyes of a silent, unnamed protagonist. His life in 1989 Miami involves waking up, checking the answering machine filled with cryptic messages, driving to mob hangouts and murdering everyone in sight. He wears an animal mask as well. The plot of the game thickens when you lose the grip on reality and reach a psychedelic state. The story is not even over after the credits appear.
27. Final Fantasy 6 – 1994 – Square Enix
Following Final Fantasy games improved the graphics, but the story never got better after their sixth entry. The game tells a tale of the death of magic caused by an unethical progress, and has an unreal number of characters. You get to control more of them. Iconic moments like the impromptu opera performance, discovery of the hidden lineage, and the heroic sacrifice are just some of the great examples. Kefka, the main bad guy, steals the show, and is one of the most compelling villains ever created. He is backed by a script that does an amazing job of building him up.
26. Alan Wake – 2010 – Remedy Entertainment
A game that stars a novelist has to have an awesome story. The game is inspired by the works of Stephen King and David Lynch, and sends a troubled writer accompanied by his wife to the Pacific Northwest. They are searching for peace but end up finding horror. The game gives a naturalistic world that feels alien, as Alan looks for his lost wife and runs into a number damaged people who want to harm him. Light battles the shadows and floating words become enemies as the intriguing story unfolds. The quality of writing is just superb.
25. Undertale – 2015 – Toby Fox
Undertale is a very weird game featuring monsters, goat-people, and magic. It is hard to describe the story of this wacky game, but it is worth saying that beneath its peculiar and scrappy surface, there is a heart made of pure sweetness. One of the most important mechanics is that the players’ actions actually impact the narrative. Undertale also has many alternate endings, and each of them manages to pack a serious emotional punch.
24. Chrono Trigger – 1995 – Square Enix
Time travel is never a good narrative tool. Chrono Trigger however, uses this device as a source of awesome storytelling. The story starts at a town festival, when Chrono and his friends are forced into a massive adventure. He then makes friends with cavemen, cursed knights, and robots who are searching for humanity. The ever-changing world has a lot to teach about human condition. Technology changes, but people are equally in love, greedy, devoted, hateful, and honorable, no matter the era. The storytellers knew exactly when to create quiet moments and let players get close to the characters.
23. Soma – 2015 – Frictional Games
This is a science fiction tale that follows Simon Jarrett who has to figure out how he ended up in a research facility where everything is very wrong. Instead of combat, the game uses stealth and puzzles. The less you know about the plot, the better. You should however know that instead of creating tension by introducing more powerful opponents, Soma builds suspense entirely through the story and how it is told. Sometimes, no enemies can be more scary than staring down the meaning of consciousness and life, and what makes us human.
22. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – 2004
In GTA games, your character goes form rags to riches in compelling and elaborate stories. However, San Andreas did it much better than the rest. During the epic story, our beloved CJ goes from a penniless thug to a respected and wealthy San Andreas mogul, with a house in this world’s equivalent of Hollywood Hills. You start out beating up thugs in a bad Los Santos neighborhood, but by the end, you will hijack jets off aircraft carriers. What really drives the story are the masterfully written characters. Carl is the most moral character the series has ever produced. His friends and gang leaders Wu Zi Mu and Cesar are genuinely likable, and Mike Toreno steals every scene. Officer Tenpenny, the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, is cartoonish and evil, which makes the final firefight satisfying.
21. Grim Fandango – 1998 – LucasArts
Grim Fandango a rather old game. However, it still stands strong again father time as a brilliant and unique video game. Here, the afterlife is just a purgatory, not unlike our own world. You are in charge of Manny Calavera, a Grim Reaper who works as a travel agent, planning trips around peaceful Ninth Underworld. You meet many heroes and villains and all of them influence Manny’s passage through the Land of the Dead. Classic elements like femme fatale, a gaudy crime lord, and smoking are all present, but the game brings new stuff, like the inspirations from Aztec and Mexican mythology and culture.
20. Gone Home – 2013 – The Fullbright Company
In this game, you play as a girl returning home after a semester abroad. She expects her parents and sister at home but finds nothing and everything is different. Through letters, notes and other objects, you must find out where everyone is. Both emotional and a bit terrifying, it is an interesting premise
19. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – 2003 – BioWare and LucasArts
Sith Lords can be heroes in this one. The game has the necessary elements to build a huge Star Wars experience. It is one of the best RPGs ever, a game whose story sucks you in, allows exploration, offers rewarding backstories and fascinating side characters, and then hits you with twists harder than the movies. You start as a crewmember in the Republic Fleet and must find the Jedi Bastila Shan on the city-planet of Taris. On your further missions, you will go deeper into the rich SW lore than ever before.
18. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain – 2015 – Kojima Productions
Hideo Kojima is a legend, and so is his Metal Gear series. The newest installment is a bizarre narrative Kojima is famous for in the gaming world. Boss wants vengeance and uncovers a plan for world peace through annihilating all English speakers and creating a nuclear stalemate between the rest. This epic novel of a game gives you the story through the gameplay, not just with cut scenes.
17. Mass Effect 2 – 2011 – BioWare
With sci-fi, gathering a crew of sidekicks and saving the galaxy is nothing new. The game even borrows the element of unlikely odds against an overwhelming enemy. Still, it is one of the best space stories in video games ever. You fight against ancient titanic machines, ending emotionally when Shepard and his crew complete their suicide mission. Few games make you so close to the supporting cast, as every member has a deep back-story.
16. To the Moon – 2011 – Freebird Games
This is an emotional tale about a dying man whose last wish is to go to the moon and follows two doctors who want to fulfill Johnny’s wish through technology for artificial permanent memories. However, they must navigate through his real memories. They must implant the moon wish in his childhood so that he can create a new life in his mind. On the travels, you learn about River, his deceased wife, and happy memories are emotional, to say the least.
15. Horizon Zero Dawn – 2017 – Guerilla Games
This game has a fantastic story for several reasons. A team behind Killzone games made it, not famous for stories. The female protagonist Aloy deals with strong themes of femininity and matriarchy. The story offers an end of the world that is not terrible. The action with sci-fi robot dinosaurs and tribal humans is icing on the cake.
14. Life is Strange/Life is Strange: Before the Storm – 2015/2017 – Dontond Entertainment/Deck Nine
The two parts go together. The original is about Max Caulfield and her friend Chloe Price, who face adolescence, love, and a supernatural storm. In the episodic form, you find a secret about a missing girl, Rachel, who was important to Chloe. Your words and actions matter at each step. The prequel is about the relationship between Chloe and Rachel before the first game. Another powerful narrative about growing up, loss and emotions, it is more to the ground, and nothing is supernatural.
13. Firewatch – 2016 – Campo Santo
This walking simulator game is one of many popular ones as of late. Henry, the protagonist, works as a ranger in Wyoming in summer. He just wanted to get away from his thoughts and life, but ends up building a chatty relationship with his boss through conversations on the radio. The surroundings are gorgeous, and the suspense is real. The story will glue you to the screen.
12. Portal 2 – 2011 – Valve
After the brilliant and minimalist narrative from the original. Valve had to follow it up with a full retail release. What can top GLaDOS? However, new heroes added character to the world. Curious Wheatley and charismatic Cave Johnson fit perfectly. Exploration of the derelict business introduces new lore, proving the facility itself is the main character. Aperture’s backstory and GLaDOS’s history is touching. Chell’s story concluded well, too, and the complete two-game story is more than satisfying.
11. NieR: Automata – 2017 – PlatinumGames
Sure, other games have more endings. This game has 26 different endings. The first time you hit credits, it is just the beginning. Your death is not a “Game Over” or a respawn. The game escapes traditional constructs of game endings, deaths and rebirths. The themes of automatons, fourth-wall breaking, and a great narrative make the game one of the greatest storylines ever.
10. Half-Life 2 -2004 – Valve
Almost 14 years after the game, no conclusion came. Still, the second installment is one of the best stories ever, anywhere. Several years after the first game, Gordon Freeman teams up with Eli and Alyx Vance to fight the Combine, a tech multidimensional empire that conquered Earth in seven hours. You have no idea what is going on, and nor does Gordon. The set-pieces, story developments, and action-escalation are carefully orchestrated to give a sense of empowerment and one of the best narratives in the sci-fi genre.
9. Red Dead Redemption – 2010 – Rockstar Games
The old Westerns may be dead, but their premise is not, and Red Dead Redemption proves it. John Marston is a man out of time who wants a home life. However, government agents who condemn his outlaw past throw him back into the saddle. He must hunt the old gang killing off the remains of his old life. On your way, you meet likewise individuals who came to terms with the end of the West. Marston himself wants to leave the past, which makes him easy to connect with than usual Rockstar heroes.
8. Persona 4 – 2008 – Atlus
The protagonist’s days play one day at a time for a year, in a quiet town, Inaba. You investigate a murder mystery while attending high school, work part-time jobs, and bond with new friends. You can enter a world of dungeons and monsters, but your new companions make you feel so great that a small moment in the park which has more impact than intense boss battles. It takes 80+ hours to experience, and never feels drawn out. Teddy, Kanji, and Chie are well-defined characters, and you express unique feelings towards them through dialogue choices. In the climax, you feel like you lived a life-changing ordeal with best friends.
7. The Walking Dead – 2012 – Telltale Games
Telltale games are emotional, and The Walking Dead world is a great premise for it. This is proven with a gut-wrenching story of Lee Everett, a man going to prison as the hero. He stumbles upon a young girl, Clementine, whose parents were away when the dead arrived. Their journey takes them to Savannah, looking for the parents. Along the way, you meet many characters who you grow to love or hate. Your choices affect their stay in your group. The strengths are the dialogues and character development, as well as the feelings of sadness, guilt, or anger. It is a standout game worth completing.
6. The Last of Us – 2013 – Naughty Dog
Most stories like this have good and bad guys, heroic challenges and redemptive resolutions. This game has nothing else but reality. Joel is not a hero, and neither are his friends. They start as unlikable, as broken people trying to survive by any means necessary. Joel gradually changes thanks to the relationship with Ellie, and various remnants of humanity and brutality discovered along their journey. The two have delicate, fragile interactions with each other, subtly supported by gameplay. They change and evolve and the relationship is completely unrecognizable at the end. The apocalyptic scenario with a small human story. It works so well.
5. What Remains of Edith Finch – 2017 – Giant Sparrow
This one is hard to describe without spoiling it, and you will have to try it to see. The less you know the better. You can play it in one sitting. You will not regret it. This is a collection of strange stories about members of a family. Each one employs a different gameplay style. This game offers interactive storytelling at its finest.
4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – 2015 – CD Projekt Red
Geralt is back and searches for Ciri, his young ward. The game draws inspirations from Eastern Europe and is a different flavor to average fantasy RPGs. The third game transcends expectations for the genre. The characters are fully realized, relatable, and their interactions matter. The writing is impeccable, and the mechanics masterfully develop the story. It is for any one of the best adventure, action and adventure games ever created.
3. BioShock – 2009 – 2K Boston (Irrational Games)
You must have heard of BioShock. It reinvented games beyond headshots, warlocks, and Italian plumbers through repurposing of Ayn Rand’s objectivist allegory, Atlas Shrugged. In it, the diatribe against socialism leads to a perfect world built by the perfect man. In the game, however, developers offer a tale that shows the hubris of Man. Andrew Ryan believed he found The Way but created a society fueled by hedonism, unchecked ambition, and extreme moral ambiguity. The complete corruption of the city comes to light beautifully through new narrative devices like audio-logs. The ending is too predictable, but the ultimate contribution to video game stories is iconic.
2. Her Story – 2015 – Sam Barlow
This game is about finding a killer and you watch clips of testimonies from the prime. Soon you realize not everything is as it seems. This indie game tells the story through player choice, but decisions are more than selections on a wheel. The story is different every time. It is told completely in short videos and keywords from the police database. Find alibi holes, question everything, and find the truth.
1. Silent Hill 2 – 2001 – Team Silent
Storytelling of this game is sinister and genius. It is first a mysterious love story as James Sunderland searches for his wife after getting a letter from her after her death. It becomes a far darker and more complex story and tells it on multiple levels. The spoken narrative shows what kind of man James Sunderland is, but how you interact with the world has a big impact. If you spend the game on half health and the ending will be different because of your lack of regard for the health. His health tells the game that you think James is suicidal. Symbolism is big, creatures are the manifestation of James’ psyche, and are physical representations of his sexual hang-ups and guilt. By the end, you will hate the character as he is the monster.