3. System Shock
System Shock was the spiritual predocessor to Bioshock, and it’s notable for starting the tradition of those big mid-game plot twists we’d later come to love and loathe in Columbia and Rapture.
You’re a hacker who’s been caught by the Trioptimum mining corporation and made to do your penance by unlocking the capabilities of Citadel Station’s caretaker AI: SHODAN. Of course, your tampering causes SHODAN to become a bit self-aware and a bit mental. When you awake from a cryo-sleep you find SHODAN has turned the station into a nightmarish playground full of crazed droids and murderous cyborgs all intent on doing you an injury.
If you think succumbing to one of the myriad dangers on Citadel station means a peaceful release from this mortal coil, you’re soon disillusioned. After you die, you see your lifeless body being scooped up by a spider-like robot. Your head is sucked into a translucent cylinder. A voice tonelessly tells you “As a cyborg, you will serve SHODAN well”. The image of the hacker’s dead-eyed face, green beams of energy scanning over it – as every trace of humanity is rewritten for complete servitude to an insane machine God – really stuck in my memory as a child. Who says video games warp young minds, eh? I turned out ok!
2. Civilization: Call to Power
Civilization: Call to Power was a spin-off series of Civilization. It differed from the main series in two key ways. Firstly, it extended far further into humanity’s future than the original games ever went. Secondly, it was goofy and unbalanced as hell.
There were bizarre world wonders such as “Contraception” and an eco-terrorist wonder that immediately destroys the five most polluting cities in the world (using an atomic bomb hidden inside a tie-dyed hippie camper can, no less!). A real standout cutscene though, is the one that plays when your nation is ultimately defeated.
Picture the scene: burnt-out husks of buildings and smouldering vehicles all around as bombers fly overhead. It’s the ultimate visualization of an entire civilization – an entire culture – destroyed and defeated. Then, a mortally wounded soldier points towards you angrily, his weakened body powered only by his anger and existential desire to express his feelings of betrayal. In a raspy voice, he uses his last reserves of energy to say: “This is your fault! You let us die!” before he collapses – his last words a damning indictment on your failed leadership – leaving the heavy weight of millions of lost souls on your shoulders.
Bloody hell, and some people play games to relax, eh?