There are plenty of popular games with fantastic stories – from the epic western of Red Dead Redemption to the Greek tragedy of God of War. Although gaming originally did not place too much importance on telling compelling plots, this has changed as technology has advanced. While many of these narratives have been talked to death about, there are some games with equally compelling tales to tell that have flown under the radar.
Whether this is because the game as a whole is underrated or simply because other aspects of the package overshadow its story, the narratives in these titles tend to not get the attention that they deserve.
10 Spec Ops: The Line
Inspired by the classic Hearts of Darkness novella by Joseph Conrad, Spec Ops: The Line follows U.S. Captain Martin Walker leading a team into a war-torn Dubai in hopes of finding a missing Colonel. Spec Ops: The Line is remembered for its harrowing look at the effect of war, and the portrayal of war in video games.
9 Mafia III
Mafia III isn’t exactly the greatest game ever made, due to clunky controls and repetitive game design. The innovative storytelling, however, is what makes up for all the game’s faults. Players follow the exploits of Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam war veteran who takes on work from the mafia to pay off a debt from his surrogate father.
What makes Mafia III stand out is the way it tells its story. While told through traditional cutscenes, it also includes documentary-like “interviews” with many characters, blurring the line between fact and fiction.
8 Her Story
Developers have been trying to implement FMV techniques into video games for decades, often with mixed results. One of the most creative uses comes from the independent Her Story, a game that many people have overlooked simply due to how little it resembles a game.
Players investigate a police computer, plunging into interviews in an attempt to find a missing man. The interviews are done in live-action, primarily featuring the fantastic performance given by Viva Seifert. The whole game gives players a feeling of actually being in charge of solving a mystery, something that many games attempt but few accomplish so well.
7 Mass Effect 3
The controversial ending to the Mass Effect trilogy often dominates most conversations surrounding the third installment. And while the frustration among fans has certainly been understandable, the massive achievement from BioWare has often gone underappreciated as a result. Mass Effect 3, for most of its run, is a worthy climactic finale to one of gaming’s most iconic franchises.
The ongoing tension leading up to Mass Effect 2‘s suicide mission is driven up exponentially as Commander Shepard’s fight against the Reapers seems absolutely hopeless from the beginning. Mass Effect 3 also helps provide closure for many of the trilogy’s characters and resolutions for unique storylines not all players unlock.
6 Grand Theft Auto IV
Out of all of Rockstar’s fantastic storylines, the fourth installment of its Grand Theft Auto franchise seems to be the most under-appreciated. Grand Theft Auto V took away a lot of the shine of its predecessor.
Following Eastern-European veteran Niko Bellic as he travels to Liberty City (GTA‘s version of New York) to find the man who betrayed him in the war, Grand Theft Auto IV‘s darker and more focused departure from franchise staples turned off many fans, even though the game was still very successful both critically and commercially.
While Grand Theft Auto IV didn’t provide players with the same light-hearted sandbox freedom as previous titles, its engrossing narrative is easily the most mature of the entire series. Filled with betrayal, twists, and double-crossings, Grand Theft Auto IV is a unique masterpiece of storytelling.
5 Gone Home
While “walking simulators” have now become a staple of gaming, not so long ago the subgenre was wildly controversial for its lack of gameplay mechanics. One such title was Gone Home, which many people mistook for a horror game and were disappointed by its romantic drama narrative.
Devoid of expectations, Gone Home is a beautiful bitter-sweet story. Players take control of a young woman returning home to find everyone gone, and she must explore the house to discover what happened. Aside from beautiful writing and a heart-breaking love story, Gone Home is a relatively early example of minimalist environmental storytelling that the indie side of gaming has now embraced.
4 The Walking Dead: Season Two
Coming off of the heels of one of the greatest video games of all time is no easy feat, so it’s understandable if the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead doesn’t quite live up to the original. That being said, The Walking Dead: Season Two is one of Telltale’s better games.
Players take control of Clementine, now slightly older and fending for herself amid the apocalypse. Torn apart from her guilt over the fate of Lee, Clementine grapples with her inner struggles while also dealing with a new cast of fascinating characters. The result is a powerful sequel to Telltale’s most iconic game.
2 Alan Wake
After the critically acclaimed Control from 2019, developers Remedy Entertainment have finally found their first big game since Max Payne. Newcomers to the developers may be pleased to discover their underrated horror title from 2010, Alan Wake.
The story follows the title character, an author suffering from writer’s block, vacationing with his wife in a small town in Washington. Soon, his wife disappears, and he comes upon a manuscript supposedly written by him that seems to predict the future. Things only get crazier from there as Alan Wake delves deep into mystery and horror.
1 Assassin’s Creed: Rogue
It’s somewhat of a surprise that of all the Assassin’s Creed games, that the one with the most well-written story is also the least talked about. Rogue has players taking control of Shay Patrick Cormac, an Assassin who becomes a Templar and vows vengeance against those who betrayed him.
Rogue notably changes things up as far as narrative goes, as the game is one of the few Assassin’s Creed games with tension driving the story. Assassin’s Creed Rogue unfortunately released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on the same day that Assassin’s Creed Unity debuted on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Most players gravitated to the Assassin’s Creed game on the latest consoles, as expected, even though Rogue has a far more intriguing story.