It's a rare thing for a video game to catch us by surprise. By “surprise” we mean times when it threw something unexpected at us – pleasant or unpleasant, or when it succeeded in eliciting a response from us that overwhelmed us in some way. It's those moments that elevate video games from mere entertainment to something, more. Be it something that touched us deeply, or a moment that tapped into our inner dialogue, or just something that we didn't see coming.
Below we describe five such moments. It is not a reflection on the overall game, but only a moment that took us by surprise, and it left an indelible impression on our soul.
1. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
I will never forget these words, uttered by Senua as she bargained for the soul of her beloved.
“I will give you my soul. I know it's what you want,” she continues as the god looks on in silence. Like a stampede, her words storm through my mind and pulls me to moments frozen in time – mine. The times I have bargained with 'the gods,' with life, with death, with good, with evil, with others, .. with myself. From my review : Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice Review – The most important game I've ever played.
Those words shocked me, hurt me deeply, and forced me to remember things best left forgotten. I've been playing video games for decades, and I've experienced some truly touching moments, but never anything like that moment in Hellblade when Senua bargained with the god. It acted as a catalyst that unlocked deeply buried memories, and it was all I could think about for hours.
It allowed me to reflect upon moments in my life that changed me – for better or worse. It was a bitter-sweet experience, but I count myself richer for experiencing it in such a gentle, yet disturbing way.
2. Mass Effect 3
In Mass Effect, I chose to save the Rachni queen, and by extension, her species from extinction. I played all the Mass Effect games with the same Shepard, and the three instalments were, therefore, one story to me. The choices I made were all weighed considerably before I made them, and I was emotionally invested in the continuation of this epic space sage to such a degree that I considered some of the characters my e-family. Crazy, I know, but there it is.
One of my favourite characters was Grunt, the genetically engineered Krogan. See, I had a thing for the Krogans; they were such a crude, tough bunch, but yet I felt a deep respect and sympathy for them because they have survived so much. They were a nation of soldiers, and because of their military prowess, they were used to win the Rachni wars, then almost also completely eradicated by the
Given my vested interest in the Rachni queen and her species' survival, and my feelings towards Grunt and the Krogans, I was presented with a very tough choice in Mass Effect 3 ( Attican Traverse mission) when I again chose to save the Queen, and accepted Grunt's decision to hold off the Ravagers while we made our escape. There was a moment in the game when you think Grunt didn't make it – but then he does. And I cried. It was such a relief that he survived, and there was no way to know that he did. Later it came out that he only survived this mission if you completed his loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2, and if he remained loyal to you.
3. The Walking Dead Season 1
The Walking Dead was one of the most immersive games I've ever played. I said in my review of episodes three and four that at a stage I found that I got so immersed in the game that I starting playing it as myself, and not as the protagonist, Lee. Season One was filled with extraordinary moments; especially when it came to the choices you were forced to make – but one stood out above it all.
That moment when you played as Clementine, and you had to decide if you were going to shoot Lee before he turned into a zombie, or if you were going to leave him to die and turn zombie.
I couldn't believe what was happening. I became so attached to the Lee character that I hoped right until that moment that he would be spared by some miracle. And to have a child, the first survivor Lee saved (and through their relationship, she saved him), be the one to kill him was a gut-wrenching, unexpected turn of events.
I remember to this day how I stared at my screen with that choice meter running out. In the end, I chose to shoot Lee, and I left that gaming session a different person than when I started the first game of season one. I knew that something in me changed.
4. Batman Arkham Knight
Batman Arkham Knight is one of the best games of this generation and probably the best game in the series in my opinion. It was dark and much creepier than all of the games in the series which was what we expected from the title. One of the most shocking moments is without a doubt the death of Barbara Gordon.
During an intense scene in the game, Scarecrow appears to have locked Barbara up and after a few pumps of Crane's fear toxin, she begins to hallucinate. She then points her gun at Batman and the player kind of has an idea of what is going to happen. However, it all changes when she puts the gun to her head and pulls the trigger just as Joker walks past the screen. It was a heart-wrenching moment in the game that took us all by surprise. To know Batman would take responsibility for this and he would have to lie to Detective Gordon about the death was tear-jerking.
Although at the end of the game it was revealed that Barbara was not really dead, we played the entire game assuming she was
5. L.A. Noire
When I reviewed L.A. Noire on PS4 last year, it was the satisfying detective work and brilliant story of Cole Phelps that stood out for me. The game had many twists and turns throughout as Cole became one of the LAPD's greats and the decisions I made with him definitely steered towards that of a good cop. Then out of the blue, the game reveals that Cole has been cheating on his wife this whole time with former drug addict Lisa.
Before the instance of being outed by Earle kicked out of his house by his wife, there was no indication except for maybe a few very small and missable hints that anything of the sort was taking place. It was one of the most unexpected story twists I have ever experienced in a game and I was stunned by the revelation. In a way, Cole was cheating just like the city's criminals, even though it was a different kind of cheating.
Late in the game, more information becomes available about why Cole did what he did and how he couldn't talk to his wife about the war like he did with Lisa, while Lisa left drugs behind for good thanks to Cole. In a way, they were both haunted by their pasts and found comfort in each other's company. Still, that doesn't excuse Cole's actions and to this day I remember the twist as one of the times I was really and truly surprised by a video game story, especially since so little information was given to the player as to why it happened when it was revealed.
Do you have a moment in gaming that took you by surprise?