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In Metroid you play as a girlvIt’s a classic so it has to be in there. If I said to picture a Doctor with a white coat and a stethoscope, how many of you would imagine a woman? In the same way, Samus is important because her gender affects our preconceptions. The ending of Metroid showed us that (for most of us at least) if a developer, writer or director doesn’t suggest a gender then we assume male. As surprising as it was ahead of its time, it was a landmark moment in the lives of male and female gamers everywhere.
In Call of Duty 4 your character gets nukedvThe moment that pushed COD4 from being a good single player game to a great one, this scene completely pulled the rug away from under the player. Brilliantly, despite everything happening around you the developer made you think that you had survived. Only when the satellite map zoomed out and you were marked KIA did you realise what a brilliant, brave plot twist Infinity Ward had achieved. What seemed like a by-the-numbers military shooter took on new life. In that perfect, emotionally charged scene you realised that the stakes had been raised and FPS’s would never be the same again.
In Metal Gear Solid 2…well just WTF generallyvSo many moments in Metal Gear Solid were confusing, frustrating or simply downright bizarre. Before the ending devolved into complete lunacy, there was a genuine revelation as you realised the man you were communicating with on your codec was not a man at all. Roy Campbell was in fact the antagonist GW-super computer and as a virus affected the system, Campbell’s behaviour became by turns comical then genuinely disturbing. Kojima goes on trying to surprise the player layering up conspiracies and twists, but none of them compare to the cleverness of this moment when the player is left both surprised and unnerved.
In Bioshock “would you kindly” get brainwashedvSimilar to the previous entry, in Bioshock you are manipulated by the man who is secretly your enemy all along. This kind of twist is clever in that it alludes to free will and the nature of gameplay. In every game we experience, we are given instructions on screen and by NPC’s who ask us to do things to progress the story, but we rarely question our motives or the results of our actions. In Bioshock, the danger of blindly following instructions is exposed, and the whole thing falls apart faster than an Ayn Rand philosophical debate.
In inFamous you fight your future selfvThe storyline of inFamous is solid, a re-imagining of the comic book hero complete with a comic-inspired art style, it tells the story of a young courier coming to terms with his new found abilities. Throughout you are confronted by a seemingly invincible opponent whose powers dwarves yours known only as Kessler. During a traumatic scene, Kessler kills your girlfriend who had been up until that point a key character throughout the game. It’s only during your final fight with you ultimate enemy that you learn the truth. Kessler is you from the f*ture. He came back in time and created the Ray Sphere (the source of your powers) earlier in the timeline so that you would be stronger than he was. He did this to allow you to defeat an even more powerful foe known as The Beast, who he had been unable to destroy himself. To make you mentally strong enough to stop this world-ending threat he had put you through hell. Only with the arrival on inFamous 2 will you have a chance to face your true enemy.
In Knights of The Old Republic you are RevanvOne of the better known twists, KOTOR has a pretty standard RPG set up. You have amnesia at the beginning of the game and have recently been rescued from certain death. You are trained to fight against a terrifying Sith enemy known as Malak, who is only marginally less fearsome than his former, deceased master Revan. Only at the end of the game do you realise that you ARE Revan. The twist works so well because it is obvious in retrospect, but carefully disguised during gameplay. The story of KOTOR is more nuanced than anything else in the Star Wars canon. Simple good and evil, light and dark are harder to distinguish when the "good" guys have manipulated you, lied to you and brainwashed you to betray your former friends. Unlike other games with a morality system, in KOTOR either choice seems like the right one. Whether you choose the light or dark path, you will feel satisfied that the story and the twist are brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed.
In Crackdown you are the bad guyvCrackdown is relatively light on story. You jump around a city throwing cars, collecting orbs and kicking your co-op partner off of buildings. Despite the relative paucity of storytelling, the game very cleverly twists your actions and the motivation of your employers to show them in a different light at the end. You come to realise that rather than working for a benign police agency, you have been helping to instigate an Orwellian police state. The success of this twist lies in the fact that you don’t expect much of the storyline considering how little it has impacted your previous twenty hours of play time. Who would have thought throwing tramps off the end of a pier would be something the bad guys would do?
In Jade Empire, Master Li was more Darth Vader than Obi-WanvJade Empire was the game that Bioware made after KOTOR, but it borrowed a great deal from the Star Wars universe even if it did not have the license. This made it all the more surprising that despite hitting many of the same plot points as Star Wars, your teacher know as Master Li turned out to be very different to old Ben Kenobi. Having taught you a near perfect martial art with a noticeable flaw which no one could seem to exploit, it was only when you faced him in combat that you realised that he had taught you this way so that he could defeat you with a secret strike. Only a quick trip to hell and back would allow you to return and show who’s kung fu was stronger.