Ranking the 5 Best Video Game Plot Twists of All-Time
When done well, a clever and well-executed video game plot twist is one of the most satisfying elements of fiction. Whether it’s the now-trite O. Henry-style dramatic flourishes that end many of his short stories or the final reveal in a whodunit detective story – a la Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories – a plot twist can make for unforgettable fictional moments across any medium.
In a video game, plot twists may be employed (and sometimes abused) by the developers, with varying degrees of success throughout the years. While books, films, and television shows often use plot twists to generate interest and engage viewers for an upcoming episode (for TV) or to generate positive word-of-mouth (for films and books), video games already have the user hooked since the game has already been purchased (and hopefully) its characters and game have already been invested in.
As such, any video game with a truly terrific plot twist deserves special credit – especially to the game’s writers (obviously).
The five following titles will go down in history as having some of the best video game plot twists of all time. Also, this should go without saying, but still… since this article is solely about major plot twists in gaming, it is absolutely chock-full of spoilers. Hopefully, that’s obvious. On we go!
#5 – Shadow of the Colossus
This classic game, originally released for PS2 but sumptuously remastered for PS4, was developed by famed Japanese developer Team Ico – who are responsible for its eponymous title game and 2016’s long-awaited The Last Guardian, in addition to the game we’re talking about here.
Team Ico creations are known for being mysterious, atmospheric, and beautiful – with hefty doses of menace and suspense underpinning the entire experience.
Shadow of the Colossus, in particular, places the player character – known as Wander – in a vast expanse in which he must defeat 16 colossi spread out across the land in various different terrains and areas in order to revive a girl called Mono.
His only companion is a horse named Agro, and the game’s minimalist aesthetic and color palette – combined with the ingenious way in which each colossus must be defeated – made this one of the greatest games of the PS2 era. Its remastered version is equally breathtaking, if not more so, especially if coming at it with the fresh eyes of someone who’s never played the original.
After defeating the final colossus, Wander races back to the temple where Mono is entombed… only to find that his defeating each colossi freed the essence of a being called Dormin, which were scattered long ago to render the entity powerless.
Throughout the game, Dormin had been communicating with Wander about each colossus, so this enormous reveal is utterly shocking to players who had been forced to defeat all of these massively powerful and gargantuan beings in order to– they believe – save Mono.
Ultimately, Wander turns out to be the bad guy, making this an extremely impactful and memorable gaming plot twist.
#4 – BioShock
“Would you kindly?”
This iconic phrase will forever be remembered by those that played the transcendent gaming masterpiece BioShock upon its release in 2007.
This game, whose lead designer Ken Levine is also responsible for another tremendous plot twist in gaming (the SHODAN reveal in System Shock 2), crafted one of the best twists of all time with the reveal near the end of BioShock.
In this twist, we find out that the main character, Atlas, who has been guiding the game’s protagonist, Jack, the entire time is actually the villainous Frank Fontaine. Atlas/Fontaine’s voice has been omnipresent throughout the game, but he has been using the phrase “would you kindly?” as a trigger to get Jack to do his bidding throughout.
Then, soon after that reveal takes place, the player-character must defeat Atlas/Fontaine in a rather subpar and anti-climactic boss battle.
Still, though the reveal is tremendous, and the incredibly rich game world and vastly entertaining plot make this reveal all the sweeter. A classic video game plot twist for a truly classic title.
#3 – The Wolf Among Us
Telltale Games, which was shuttered and then quickly reborn (thankfully), are known for their excellent writing and use of cliffhangers and plot twists to keep gamers engaged throughout their episodic releases.
While any number of different reveals across Telltale’s games could’ve been mentioned here (Batman, The Walking Dead, and Borderlands just to name a few), the one that stuck with us the most was 2013’s The Wolf Among Us.
This game is set in the world of Bill Willingham’s comic series Fables – in which mythical beings of all stripes live in present-day New York City and hide their true nature from the “mundanes” (aka normal people).
In particular, the cliffhanger ending at the end of Episode 1 – in which it is revealed that major character Snow White, a romantic foil for player-character Bigby Wolf (Big Bad Wolf, get it?), was killed exactly the same way as another character earlier in the game.
Of course, while gutsy, there’s no way they would kill off such an important character, so it’s revealed that her body was actually just “glamoured” (magically altered) to make it look as if it was Snow White.
This reveal is truly shocking, however, and it really hooks players for the rest of the game. While The Wolf Among Us 2 is still (apparently) being worked on by Telltale, this reveal in the first game still hits quite hard – nearly eight years later.
#2 – Halo
While some might quibble with this one, this writer remembers being absolutely floored by this reveal when first playing through this landmark first-person shooter way back in the very early 2000s.
When Master Chief crash-lands on Halo for the first time, the sense of alien “otherness” is palpable, and one couldn’t help but want to know as much as possible about these enormous structures, which are full of all sorts of fascinating flora and fauna in their disparate biomes.
When Master Chief finally encounters 343 Guilty Spark well into the game’s playing time, we think the jovial and idiosyncratic robot is helping us to eradicate the Flood once and for all… that is until Guilty Spark reveals that the only way to defeat the Flood is by activating the Halos, which are actually a weapon that will wipe out all life as we know it.
Of course, the heroic Master Chief can’t let that happen, so other methods must be adopted, but the reveal of Guilty Spark’s plan as well as finding out exactly what the Halos are for is a truly spectacular plot twist in gaming that helped launch a franchise – and a brand-new console to boot (the Microsoft Xbox)!
The Best Video Game Plot Twist – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
In the category of saving the best for last, it seems unlikely that any game – forevermore – will be able to match the sheer audacity of this last plot twist.
BioWare’s unparalleled Star Wars: KOTOR remains the best game they have ever produced and also stands as the best Star Wars video game, bar none… though that discussion can be saved for another time.
In KOTOR, you play as a recently assigned soldier for the Republic that can’t remember much – if anything – about his past or why he was assigned on an important mission alongside talented Jedi Bastila Shan as well as crack pilot Carth Onasi.
Early on, after you land on the planet of Taris, Onasi questions your presence, and mentions that The Force is a dangerous thing that can alter memories and even implant new ones into people that are pliant to it.
This incredible foreshadowing is not played up in the slightest, in fact, it is almost tossed off as the throwaway concerns of an overly cautious Republic veteran… until this tidbit of dialogue is replayed at the climax of the game when it is revealed that the player-character is, in fact, Darth Revan himself – the Sith’s main strategist and one of the most powerful beings on the planet.
“What happened to Revan?” is a major plot line throughout KOTOR, so finding out that you, yourself, as the player-character, are actually Revan still hits hard close to 20 years after this game was first released.
So many things add up after this reveal, but it would be folly to list them all here. The utmost care was taken by the gifted BioWare writing team behind KOTOR in crafting this plot twist, and many of those writers would later work on another massive sci-fit hit by the studio: Mass Effect.
Though Mass Effect and its sequels were all great, as was Dragon Age: Origins, nothing will ever compare to the sheer scope of this plot twist – whether it be a BioWare game or any other game. As such, it stands as the greatest video game plot twist of all time.