Videogames are an incredibly powerful storytelling medium, because you don't just sit back and passively absorb the narrative—you live it. The following games are all wildly different in tone and genre, but they have one important piece of connective tissue: they tell a killer story. From Disco Elysium's tale of a dangerously hungover cop trying to crack a murder case, to the quietly devastating apocalypse of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, these are stories that will linger in your mind long after the credits roll.
Black Isle Studios / 1999
In this wonderfully written RPG you play as The Nameless One, a man cursed with immortality. He wakes up from one of his many deaths with no memory of his past, and must piece it together while adventuring through the bizarre Planescape multiverse. It's functionally similar to games like Baldur's Gate, but with a greater focus on dialogue—of which there is a lot.
Read more Planescape: Torment review (opens in new tab)
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Obsidian Entertainment / 2018
This seafaring fantasy RPG is set in the mysterious Deadfire archipelago, a chain of islands rich with fascinating, vividly painted history and culture. In terms of world-building and storytelling, it's arguably Obsidian's finest work yet. Every island tells a compelling tale, and seemingly innocuous encounters with NPCs can lead to twisting, sprawling quests with many outcomes.
Read more Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire review (opens in new tab)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
BioWare / 2003
Set thousands of years before the original trilogy, this Star Wars RPG is one of the most unique stories ever told in this universe. As the Republic and the Sith go to war, an amnesiac joins the Jedi Order and learns a shocking truth about themselves in the process. A huge, sweeping epic, but in true BioWare style, also filled with small, memorable character moments too.
Read more Now more than ever, KOTOR is a refreshing take on Star Wars (opens in new tab)
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt Red / 2015
When you pluck a bounty from a village notice board in this massive open world RPG, you never quite know what kind of wild story you're about to get tangled up in. Almost every quest in The Witcher 3, including its smallest sidequests, feels weighty and worthwhile, with memorable, unpredictable stories inspired by some of the strangest tales from Slavic folklore.
Read more How The Witcher 3's best quest was made (opens in new tab)
ZA/UM / 2019
This astonishingly deep RPG is a role-playing game in the truest sense. Through dialogue and decisions, you can shape every facet of your character's personality—which in turn determines what kind of detective he'll be. There's a murder to solve, but numerous ways to do it, and how you interact with the world (and the people in it) can steer the case down many winding paths.
Read more The voice acting in Disco Elysium: The Final Cut makes the best RPG on PC even better (opens in new tab)
Mass Effect 2
BioWare / 2010
As a fleet of civilisation-devouring aliens heads for the Milky Way, Commander Shephard embarks on a mission to round up a motley crew of scientists, mercenaries, and bounty hunters to fight them. This is BioWare's greatest sci-fi yarn, with a cast of eccentric, memorable, and likeable characters—all of whom can die horribly if you make the wrong decisions.
Read more Great moments in PC gaming: The suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 (opens in new tab)
Toby Fox / 2015
Solo developer Toby Fox gave players a simple choice in Undertale—kill or show mercy—and with that simple choice, turned one of the RPG's biggest tropes on its head. It's a decision deeply woven into the game's narrative, and underneath all the puns and puzzles is a story that carries out the natural consequences of your actions with emotional and horrific results.
Read more The making of Undertale (opens in new tab)
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
BioWare / 2000
This sprawling high fantasy RPG is absolutely heaving with interesting stories, taking full advantage of its Dungeons & Dragons setting. As you explore Amn and its capital city, Athkatla, you encounter all manner of bizarre characters and get tangled up in deep, complex quests with surprising outcomes and consequences that can permanently affect your party.
Read more The history of Baldur's Gate (opens in new tab)
Inkle / 2014
In this loose adaptation of the Jules Verne novel, Phileas Fogg and his loyal valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. This is arguably the best interactive fiction game ever made, with sublime, evocative writing that brings its alternate history setting to life, underpinned by compelling systems that make achieving the titular feat genuinely challenging.
Read more 80 Days review (opens in new tab)
To the Moon
Freebird Games / 2011
In this laid back sci-fi adventure game, two doctors travel through the memories of a dying man and relive his past. It has the appearance of a SNES-era RPG, but is essentially a piece of interactive fiction. The voyage through the dying man's life is incredibly moving, and the ending will have all the but the stone-hearted quivering at the lip. It's a real emotional gutpunch.
Read more To the Moon and back: A journey of connection (opens in new tab)
Sam Barlow / 2015
This game tells a story in a way only a videogame could. It's a subdued police procedural, told entirely out of order. You piece a suspect's story together by digging through a fragmented archive of video clips, tapping keywords into an old PC to uncover clues about what her story actually is. And the order you find the clips can reshape the narrative dramatically.
Read more Her Story review (opens in new tab)
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
Capcom / 2019
If you love a good mystery, this trilogy of brilliantly funny visual novels is full of 'em. Split between crime scene investigation, interrogations, and tense courtroom battles, the trilogy's large selection of dastardly crimes are all superbly constructed—and very weird. Spotting contradictions in a suspect's statement and exposing their lies is incredibly satisfying.
Read more Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy review (opens in new tab)
LucasArts / 1998
There are better LucasArts adventures in terms of puzzle design, but Grim Fandango’s stylish fusion of Mexican folklore and hard-boiled noir is superbly done, with a mystery-filled story that spans years of hero Manny Calavera's life. It’s a game stuffed with funny, memorable moments, including performing freestyle poetry at a club filled with skeletal beatniks.
Read more The secret history of LucasArts (opens in new tab)
Night in the Woods
Infinite Fall / 2017
Mae Borowski drops out of college and returns to the rural town she grew up in, but it’s a bittersweet homecoming. The collapse of the coal industry has left the town in a state of steady decline, and her friends have matured in ways she hasn't. A hilarious, heartfelt coming of age story that says something about life, but manages to crack a few jokes in the process.
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Over the Alps
Stave Studios / 2020
A wonderfully tense, twisting interactive spy thriller set in Switzerland in the days leading up to World War 2. The story is told through postcards sent by the main character to a friend back in England. He recounts his adventures as a British agent and you decide what he writes—determining the route you take through short, but perfectly formed, stories.
Read more Over the Alps is a classy spy adventure full of twists and turns (opens in new tab)
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
Revolution Software / 1996
Broken Sword is a game that knows every great mystery needs a killer premise to hook you in. American tourist George Stobbart is on vacation in France, sipping coffee outside a Parisian cafe. Then a guy dressed as a clown blows it up, inspiring him to play detective and get his revenge. A classic of the genre, mixing fascinating real-world history with a taut conspiracy thriller.
Read more Broken Sword is still point-and-click perfection (opens in new tab)
Night School Studio / 2016
A supernatural adventure game about a group of teenagers who unwittingly disturb something ancient and evil on a remote island. It's the familiar premise of countless horror films, but Oxenfree is no clichéd homage to teen slasher flicks. It's a game about people, relationships, and growing up that cleverly uses its horror movie setup for something much greater.
Read more Oxenfree review (opens in new tab)
The Lion's Song
Mi'pu'mi Games / 2016
It’s the subject matter that makes The Lion's Song stand out. It’s a game about inspiration, trying to make something of yourself, overcoming self doubt, and the struggle of turning an idea into something wonderful. It’s an ambitious concept for a game, but developer Mi'pu'mi makes it work with strong characters, beautiful art, and confident writing.
Read more The Lion's Song is a thoughtful and beautiful point-and-click game (opens in new tab)
Campo Santo / 2016
A man takes a job at a firewatch tower to escape his past, and develops a relationship with a woman in a neighbouring tower. The over-the-radio banter between protagonist Henry and his distant friend Delilah is wonderful. Warm and witty, the conversations between the pair as you wander the beautiful forest setting have genuine heart, and the ending is a tearjerker.
Read more Firewatch review (opens in new tab)
Fullbright / 2013
Gone Home is a rare example of a game that tells a small story. As you poke through the eerily empty house at 1 Arbor Hill, listening to a storm rumbling outside, you uncover it piece by piece—through letters, notes, and diary entries. And when you reach the end you can't help but fall victim to that moving final reveal. An unforgettable, bittersweet experience.
Read more Gone Home review (opens in new tab)
Variable State / 2016
An FBI agent investigates the disappearance of a boy in the rural town of Kingdom, Virginia. Her partner is leading the case, unaware that the agent has been assigned to keep an eye on her. The most striking thing about Virginia is how it uses subtle character animation, artful cinematography, and a stirring orchestral score to tell its story without a single line of dialogue.
Read more Virginia review (opens in new tab)
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture
The Chinese Room / 2016
Games don’t often venture into rural England, which makes Rapture such a rare delight. The sci-fi story is great (and creepy), but, it's the interactions between the villagers—or at least their ghostly echoes—that really shine. Understated and natural, you feel like you're eavesdropping on real people, which gives the tragic end of each character's story extra resonance.
Read more Everybody's Gone to the Rapture review (opens in new tab)
What Remains of Edith Finch
Giant Sparrow / 2017
As you trace the lives and disturbing deaths that rupture the troubled household at the heart of What Remains of Edith Finch, a little piece of you stays with them. It's a haunting anthology that's restlessly inventive, ingeniously playing with perspective to paint an intimate portrait of each family member as you relive, and learn the sad truth about, their tragic final moments.
Read more The making of What Remains of Edith Finch (opens in new tab)
Fullbright / 2017
Tacoma is a compelling and moving sci-fi mystery from the creators of Gone Home, set on an empty space station. Drifting somewhere between the Earth and the Moon, the lunar transfer station Tacoma lies empty and abandoned. An incident has forced the crew to evacuate and you've been sent to investigate and recover Odin, its omnipresent AI.
Read more Tacoma review (opens in new tab)
No Code / 2019
An astronaut and a self-aware artificial intelligence form an uneasy alliance in this atmospheric, stylish sci-fi thriller. Observation's plot is incredibly compelling, with a fascinating, mind-bending sense of mystery that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. But it never spells anything out, encouraging you to think, observe, and ask questions as the story slowly unfolds.
Read more Observation review (opens in new tab)
Red Candle Games / 2017
A boy falls asleep in class, waking up to find his school mysteriously abandoned. This stylish, hand-drawn horror game has a creepy atmosphere reminiscent of the early Silent Hill games, and tells a disturbing story. Detention's sinister plot also features elements of Buddhist traditions and Taiwanese culture and history, which is something rarely explored in videogames.
Read more Detention is a beautiful, creepy Taiwanese horror adventure (opens in new tab)
Frictional Games / 2015
SOMA is a deadly game of hide and seek with bizarre mechanised monsters. You have to make it from one end of underwater facility PATHOS-II to the other without being spotted. Along the way you learn about the base, the sinister experiments going on there, and what happened to its mysteriously absent employees—and the ending will haunt your dreams.
Read more SOMA review (opens in new tab)
Silent Hill 2
Team Silent / 2001
In this powerfully gloomy horror game you to trudge through the battered psyche of James Sunderland, a troubled man with a dark secret. And all the horrors you witness, from twitchy, bubble-headed nurses to rusting, filthy hospitals have all been conjured up his broken mind, making this a very personal Hell. A masterclass in understated horror.
Read more The best horror games (opens in new tab)
Remedy Entertainment / 2019
Control is set in a monolithic, windowless skyscraper in downtown Manhattan called the Oldest House: a severely warped place where the natural laws of physics, space, and time do not apply. It's basically a massive collection of weird stuff, which makes your journey through it a non-stop parade of shocks, surprises, and surreal "What the hell?" moments.
Read more Control review (opens in new tab)
Red Dead Redemption 2
Rockstar Studios / 2019
This sweeping Western adventure tells the story of the Van der Linde gang: a group of outlaws trying to make a life for themselves in a rapidly changing world. Main character Arthur Morgan is a man out of time, reckoning with a dark and troubled past, and his personal journey is a powerfully emotional one. Red Dead Redemption 2 is mature, understated, and truly epic.
Read more Red Dead Redemption 2 review (opens in new tab)
Valve / 2004
Half-Life 2 remains one of the best examples of showing not telling. Waking from stasis in a bleak Orwellian city, you're as clueless about what happened in this dystopian world as hero Gordon Freeman. But it never makes it explicit, forcing you to piece the mystery together yourself from newspaper clippings, snippets of dialogue, and subtle, unsettling details in the world.
Read more Half-Life 2 review (opens in new tab)
Ryu ga Gotoku Studio / 2018
A real estate conspiracy might not sound like the most thrilling storyline, but Yakuza 0 brings its twisting plot to life with humour, pathos, and theatrical violence. Set on the vividly realised streets of Osaka and Tokyo, this is an emotional rollercoaster of a game—and the perfect place to start if you've never played a Yakuza game before. Plus, you can sing karaoke.
Read more Yakuza 0 review (opens in new tab)
2K Czech / 2010
Mafia 2 tells the story of gangster Vito Scaletta, whose family emigrates from Sicily to the city of Empire Bay in the '30s. It's a decade-spanning crime epic, told with style and energy, and split between two distinct time periods: the snowy 1940s and the sunny 1950s. Few games are as overflowing with memorable moments, and the atmospheric period setting is expertly realised.
Read more Mafia 2's Empire Bay is still one of PC gaming's greatest cities (opens in new tab)
Irrational Games / 2007
In most shooters you follow a prescribed path, blindly following the orders of disembodied voices, never questioning them—and BioShock, famously, makes a story out of this. The idea of a dystopian underwater city is wonderfully unique, coloured by the tragic lives of its crazed, plasmid-addicted citizens. Rapture is flooded with interesting (and frequently disturbing) stories.
Read more Great moments in PC gaming: BioShock's twist (opens in new tab)
Valve / 2011
Valve’s incredible puzzle game takes you on a journey through the history of Aperture Science, from the dusty beige offices of the ‘70s to the gleaming test chambers of the present day. Aperture founder Cave Johnson’s recorded speeches and ramblings are wonderfully funny, and learning the dark story behind series villain GLaDOS is surprisingly emotional.
Read more Portal 2 review (opens in new tab)