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Top Ten Interactive Stories

Top Ten Interactive Stories

Videogames have a long history of telling compelling stories that bring players into unique worlds of mystery and suspense like no other medium can. Story-rich videogames don’t just tell you a story; they make you - and your decisions - part of it. This is a list of my favourite stories told in recent years that I think you should definitely play. This is a spoiler-free list, but I’ll give a brief plot introduction for each game to let you know what you’re getting into.

10. The Beginner’s Guide

The Beginner’s Guide is probably the most unusual game on this list, since it doesn’t tell anything resembling a traditional story. That isn’t to say it has no narrative, but it is one that takes a more meta turn, telling the story of a level designer who never released their levels. The game is narrated by someone who has taken these levels and put them together into a single game, with their “Director’s Commentary” explaining the creator’s story as best they know it. It’s a fascinating look into the background of the faceless community map creators, even if it might not be a true story.


9. Kona

A mystery set in rural Canada, you play as detective Carl Faubert trying to unravel the mystery of a small town’s disappearing populace. Kona features the most open story on this list, told through a series of clues and flashbacks as you discover them in the world. These are meticulously crafted, so you can only get to the ending when you’ve collected enough of the story. Kona also features survival mechanics, with the cold changing the way the story is told massively in a way that only improves it.


8. Gone Home

One of the originators of the “Walking Simulator”, Gone Home is another mystery where everyone has gone missing, though this time it is restricted to a single house. Despite looking like a horror game with dark corridors and long shadows, the game is all atmosphere and instead has a story centering around family and loss - with no jump scares. Gone Home managed what many others at the time had struggled with, and used small environmental puzzles to create a layer of challenge for the player and gate content from those not wanting to put in the effort.


7. Firewatch

A perfect example of showing the player a setting they won’t normally see, Firewatch takes place in an American National Park in the late 80s. It focuses on the relationship between the player character, Henry, and the only other person he has any meaningful contact with, his supervisor Delilah. Their relationship slowly improves over the course of the summer, and becomes subjects to stresses and strains as something doesn’t seem quite right in the park. This game is visually spectacular, and the audio design will transport you out to the middle of a forest, but the only reason that it isn’t any higher on this list is I felt the story didn’t end particularly well, and I’d have liked to see the characters developed slightly more.

firewatch screen 05 us 15jun15

6. Tacoma

From the same team as Gone Home, Tacoma has learned a few lessons in the intervening years and comes out as a much stronger, more developed game. Set in an abandoned space station, you can explore the echoes left behind by the crew in their last few days aboard via the station’s AI. These six individuals are just that - they are fully developed characters who have distinct strengths and flaws. As the player, we get to see them interact with each other, and see how they deal with disaster. Tacoma takes a slice of life - albeit a futuristic one - and displays it to the player in such a way that it feels like we’ve known these characters for ages.

Tacoma CrewMeeting

5. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

When I first played Ethan Carter, it felt like taking a holiday into a beautiful world I could just walk around. There’s some understated tranquilness in this world of magic and mysticism that makes the rather confusing narrative fit together perfectly. Ethan Carter only got prettier with the release of the Unreal 4 Engine version Redux, and you get both when purchasing the game on Steam. Tie that together with the spectacular soundtrack, and you have a wonderful experience that will sit with you for a long time afterwards.


4. Tales from the Borderlands

The only Telltale game on this list, and with good reason - I personally find Telltale’s games very limiting, with poor optimisations and animations. TftB still suffers from this to some extent, but the incredible story and design carries the game into the high point of this list. Building on the preexisting Borderlands universe, TftB introduces an all new main cast with cameos from some old favourites, and does so better than any other game in the series. I personally think that TtfB is the best game in the series, and all of this comes from a skeleton crew of developers as Telltale lost faith in the project halfway through development.


3. The Stanley Parable

A look inside the mind of a crazed madman, The Stanley Parable is the result of what happens if, instead of just blocking off alternate routes, you build them out. There are lots of different endings, all written with the nonsensical humour reminiscent of Monty Python. Stanley Parable features so highly on this list because it knew that its gameplay and story are shallow, but ran with it in such a way to make both memorable. This game does no one thing better than any other game on this list, but its combined package is so consistently good it beats out almost all the competition.


2. What Remains of Edith Finch

My personal Game of the Year in 2017 - and one I vouched for repeatedly on the Grincast GOTY specials to mostly deaf ears - What Remains of Edith Finch is a truly incredible experience. You play as the titular Edith, returning to your ancestral home to answer a few questions about your unlucky family and discovering how each of the last couple generations died. That sounds dreadfully morbid but Edith Finch tells each tale in such a way as to not only convey each character’s last moments, but also the general feel of their life. Each short segment of the game breathes life into characters long since dead, and I have never felt so attached to a group of characters who technically don’t actually feature in the game at all. I will go to bat for Edith Finch until the cows come home, only to discover that each of their family members have died in tragic but somehow artistic manners.


1. Life is Strange

Technically, this is probably cheating because I’m including two games as one here. Life is Strange could easily take a high position on this list on its own, with the incredible writing and acting that brings the main characters to life like few other games have managed. The decisions and repercussions of Dontnod’s masterpiece create a world that feels all too real, despite the fact the central mechanic is time travel and manipulation. They blended the sci-fi into their story so elegantly, it is indistinguishable from the main focus of teen angst.

However, it was Deck9’s prequel Before the Storm that landed this series the number one spot on my list. Now focusing on the protagonist from the original’s best friend and her story of betrayal, young love and revenge, it develops on the groundwork Dontnod laid to create a true character arc for one of the most complex characters in videogames. The icing on this cake of feelings was a special episode that links the two games even tighter, an hour of gameplay that bids those characters, that setting, Farewell in a way that blew me away.

Life is strange ep1

So there we have it, my top ten interactive stories. Let us know in the comments below if you disagree, or think I’ve missed a game that deserves to be on this list.

Jinny Wilkin

Jinny Wilkin

Staff Writer

Reviews the games nobody else will, so you don't have to. Give her a bow and arrow and you have an ally for life. Will give 10s for food.

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