Note: This article contains huge spoilers for some games, so read at your own risk!
Sometimes, when you’re playing through a game, you’ll come to a point when you’re simply sat on your sofa staring wide-eyed at your TV with your jaw placed firmly on the floor. To save our brains from melting after witnessing such moments, these occurrences only happen once in a blue moon - and that’s what makes them so memorable.
Many developers fall into the trap of trying (and failing) to create such wondrous events, but thankfully, there’s also a large pool of great examples to choose from. Over the years, an eclectic amount of them have been and gone on our screens but stayed firmly in our minds as standout events in video games. These are my own personal, most memorable ‘WTF moments in gaming’.
Halo - The Flood
You could call this entry surprising and not necessary, but if you were old enough to remember Halo when it was originally released (god damn that makes me feel old), you’ll also remember the introduction of the interstellar version of locusts. Crash landing on the titular forerunner creation, Master Chief and Cortana fight their way through the alien Covenant to rescue the crew of the Pillar of Autumn. It transpires that the ring-shaped worlds are actually ancient weapons designed for a single purpose, to eradicate all sentient life in the galaxy - a certain type of life anyway.
Believing the Covenant to be the only threat makes the introduction of the Flood all the more disturbing. Hearing the muffled screams over your radio and the mutilated corpses of Humans and Covenant alike, you’re soon overcome by small green blobs that trickle out of every dark corner, revealing the true evil of the Halo series.
Red Dead Redemption - The Ending
GTA’s equally accomplished western brother saw Rockstar’s storytelling abilities flourish. As John Marston, a former gang member and thief, you’re blackmailed by the now civilised American government into bringing down your old partners-in-crime. With life as a free man on the line, you make your way across the dying Wild West to hunt each one down. The authenticity of Rockstar’s old west is unparalleled, and when you finally receive your pardon for your service to the men in suits, you’re rewarded with a calm, quiet life back with your family on the farm.
With all debts paid, it should be over, and for a while, it is. Marston is content to live out the rest of his life at home without further trouble, but as the player, you know it won’t, and can’t end happily ever after. The government cronies won’t let Marston go, and the gunslinger won’t go quietly. When you walk through those barn doors, resigned to your fate, you can’t help but shed a tear for the poor bugger.
Killer7 - The Handsome Men
For a game as twisted and insane as Suda 51’s Killer7, it’s hard to pick a single moment of WTF that rises above the rest of the wackiness. Cue the handsome men, a deranged parody of Japan’s popular Sentai Rangers and the subsequent inspiration for a little-known 90s TV show - Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The handsome men take the form of an end-of-chapter boss fight… of sorts. Each of the seven playable assassins goes head-to-head with a single ranger, in a style that can only be described as a highly Japanafied version of a Mexican standoff. Try as you might, you can’t decide the outcome of each battle - each one is scripted - but even so, watching the hitmen go up against spandex-clad enemies will always bring a bizarre smile to my face.
Assassins Creed II - Minerva
Assassins Creed III was pants. Not because Desmond was such a whiney bitch, but because Ezio had been retired and the overarching sci-fi plot had grown to ridiculous proportions. Fighting the pope inside the Vatican as the Italian badass was enough in itself. But when you enter the hidden vault beneath the holy city and discover the futuristic architecture, you begin to realise some pretty crazy shit is about to go down.
Cue the appearance of Minerva, an ancient deity-like woman who reveals herself to be part of a species that created the human race. We knew before this point that the AC series had sci-fi elements - Subject 16’s demented scrawling of weird symbols on the walls in the first AC - but we didn’t know until this point just how deep the rabbit hole went. What made it all the more crazy was Ezio not realising that Minerva was talking to Desmond in the future through him - a manifestation of a memory inside a computer.
BioShock - Would You Kindly?
Well, time to close the article. As much as it pains me to put this entry on the list, there’s just no way that it could be avoided. Had it been absent, the avalanche of comments would be unfathomable. Truth is, the legendary plot twist from the first Bioshock will forever be one the greatest moments in gaming history.
It’s easy to forget the event and just remember the media attention that Atlas’ deception received, but when you actually think back to how you felt when the truth was revealed, it felt like someone had just smashed you round the face with a bag of bricks. There’s no way anyone could have seen the event coming, and not since has any developer managed to surprise players by playing on the conventions of storytelling in gaming.