Not every great game has a lot of replay value. Some games are structured in such a way that their narratives are best experienced once through. While you may not be investing 1,000+ hours in any of them, these one-play wonders will leave lasting impressions and change your life like a great book or film can.
Dear Esther changed the way I think about storytelling in games forever. It was my first exposure to the “walking sim” genre, and is perhaps the progenitor of the genre itself. Developer The Chinese Room recently released a remastered version of the game, Dear Esther: Landmark Edition , for the PS4 and Xbox One. The remaster includes some developer commentary which I can guarantee you’ll be eager to hear. The story itself is dark, mysterious, and open to interpretation. When the game concludes you won’t know what to do with yourself and, if you’re me, you’ll spend days on a mission to find message boards or fan forums where people are talking about the game and its meaning. If you have the patience for its slower pace, there’s a very rich experience waiting for you here.
If you’ve never played Journey, stop what you’re doing right now and go download it. At the time of writing, you can redeem Journey as free game from PlayStation Plus. There will never be a better time to play, as the game has an unforgettable multiplayer component that you may not get to experience once the community dies down again. That Game Company crafted one of the most beloved and most beautiful short stories we’ve ever experienced through any medium. You’ll finish it in a couple of hours and then it’s done, but you’ll talk about and reflect upon the experience for years to come. For hardcore fans there might be some secrets worth going back for, but I can’t bring myself to repeat the experience. It feels too sacred. I hope you all experience it the way that I did, and meet a good companion along your journey.
Abzu attracted a lot of comparisons to Journey , which is fair, as both games share the same artistic director and composer. They’re also similar in that they can be played all the way through in a single sitting. Abzu tells a short and touching tale about man’s connection to (and exploitation of) nature through stunning imagery and a powerful, wordless narrative that plays out over the course of about two hours. When you finish this game you’ll be emotionally exhausted and inspired. It’s the kind of experience that leaves a lasting impression on you, even if you don’t feel compelled to drift through it again.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
The Chinese Room proved with Dear Esther that it could tell an open-ended and mysterious story while still giving players the sense that they know the characters involved. The balance between intimacy and mystery is perfected in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. There are moments of beauty, wonder, and even utter confusion that will take your breath away and leave you guessing what might happen next. This game plays out very slowly but, trust me, you’ll need the time in between character interactions (which play out in a very unique way) to digest everything going on. Like in a good murder mystery, you’ll develop three or four different conclusions about what’s happening before the game finally (and brilliantly) concludes.
Braid is all heart and soul. It’s one man’s story of love and sorrow (or is it obsession and regret?) told through a video game. The game itself is simply a vehicle for his message; the game, its time-shifting mechanics, and its puzzles can all be seen as metaphors. While that may sound like some melodramatic, pretentious fluff (this game was designed by Jonathan Blow), it all comes together brilliantly. In fact, its Braid’ s brilliance that ensures that most of you will only play through it once. The puzzles are really damn hard, but they’re worth fighting through.
Besides The Witness , Firewatch was the most beloved indie offering of the year, taking everyone by surprise when it came out in February. This is another game the falls into the “walking sim” genre, but plays out at a pace that seems more suited to general audiences when compared to something like Dear Esther . The game is jaw-droppingly beautiful, but its lead characters are the real reason you’ll want to check this game out. As protagonist Henry and his boss Delilah interact and bond throughout the course of the narrative, you might get the sense that you’re peeking in on a real-life relationship – the voice acting is that solid. Firewatch recently came out on the Xbox One as well, so hopefully many of you are experiencing this story for the first time right now.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us represents perhaps the most effectively told story in gaming history. While some of you have undoubtedly finished this game multiple times, it’s told in a very open-and-shut way. I feel like I can’t say much more without spoiling major plot points, so suffice it to say that when the game ends – damn, does it end. It’s a story you’ll never forget, and technically the game was well ahead of its time. That’s why many of you will be looking forward to playing The Last of Us in 4K on the PS4 Pro.