Top 10 Moral Choices in Games - Life, Death, Love, and Betrayal
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Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow - Shoot Dahlia
Pandora Tomorrow is notorious for its amazing 4-player Spies vs. Mercs multiplayer mode. It was an unmatched experience that hasn't been duplicated. The game's single-player was less impressive, failing to improve over the original Splinter Cell in any fundamental ways. When Chaos Theory came along and revitalized the series, Pandora Tomorrow's single-player became even less worthwhile.
Despite this, tucked away in a brief moment in the middle of the game's campaign is one of the coolest choices I've ever come across. Dahlia, your contact in the field, is parting ways as you board an elevator to continue your mission. As the doors close, your handler Lambert comes in over the intercom and insists that you shoot Dahlia. "Don't think, just do it," he insists.
The consequences of either choice are minor, but the time to react was so quick that the scene was quite surprising. There hadn't been any choices like this before to suggest players would be put in this situation. In some small way, I can see how the urgency of this decision may have informed more recent games like Alpha Protocol and The Walking Dead, which force players to make sudden, split-second decisions.
Catherine - Catherine or Katherine?
Most of the tough choices in games revolve around deciding who lives and dies. What made Catherine so special was that it forced you to choose between two lovers. Does the protagonist Vincent fall for the bubbly vixen Catherine, or does he remain faithful and stay with Katherine, who's ready to settle down. On the surface the game may appear to be nothing more than male wish fulfillment, and its certainly at least a little bit sexist, but Catherine explores some serious adult dilemmas.
Both options have their perks and flaws, and regardless of how you personally lean, the perspective of Vincent plays a big factor. He's the typical immature man-boy, not quite ready for commitment. Your decisions can push him to either clean up or fly free, with some less ideal options in between, depending on how you play your cards.
Fallout 3 - Save or Blow Up Megaton?
The size of the balls on the developers at Bethesda should not be underestimated. Their ability to create dozens of hours of worthwhile RPG quests is unmatched by even the biggest developers. They've gotten so good at it that when the time came to offer tricky moral choices in Fallout 3, they knew exactly what needed to be done to make the choice impactful.
Save the town of Megaton from the undetonated nuclear bomb in the center and you'll be treated to hours of content and a great base of operations for your character. That bomb sits there like a tantalizing red button that must be pushed, though, and some players just couldn't help it.
The destruction of the town meant the death of everyone inside, a potential house, and every quest that started there. You nuke enough gameplay to equal one of the Call of Duty campaigns, and Bethesda allowed you to do it without batting an eye. In a world where some developers direct the action so that you don't miss one second of the work they've done, Bethesda deserves credit for letting players follow their hearts, no matter how destructive that may be.
Knights of the Old Republic - Be an Evil Asshole
Knights of the Old Republic was the first Star Wars game to present the Light Side/Dark Side concept as a choice for the player. It was one of the first games to dive headfirst into moral choices in games, and as such it took a pretty straightforward approach. Do good deeds and you'll shine blue like a generous Jedi god. Do evil and you'll turn scarred and red, feared by even your own party members.
By today's standards the choices don't offer enough middle ground. You're either a golden child or maniacally evil. At the same time KOTOR was awesome because it offered the constant temptation to go dark. Do-goodery was met with the same typical praise we've received in so many RPGs, but doing bad felt new and exciting.
As the game progressed, the opportunities to be a jerk started to pile up. One moment with your Wookie crew member and his Twi'Lek friend may go down in history as one of the most despicably evil actions in gaming.
The Walking Dead: Episode 3 - What Now?
I wouldn't dare go into specifics about a choice in a game so recent, but The Walking Dead has been so praised because of the potency of its choices. There are so many tough ones that it's difficult to narrow it down to only one. Needless to say, if you care about these kinds of choices in games, then The Walking Dead is the series to play.
There was one standout choice for me, in Episode 3, and that's because of the emotion it got out of me: careless anger. When one character went too far and attacked a character I liked a lot, there wasn't even a choice to be made. I was so angry with what happened that I made the brash, anger-fueled choice without skipping a beat.
What was so special about this particular moment was that the high quality writing of the game manipulated me. Telltale wanted me to make the decision with fire in my eyes and it actually worked. The bottom line: I cared about these characters a lot, and its a testament to their writing skills that they fired me up so much.
Mass Effect 2 - The Suicide Run
There is nothing quite like Mass Effect 2's final mission. After several hours of collecting your crew and getting to know each of them, the game thrusts you into an impossible mission where anyone can die. Every major character is fair game for the meat grinder, and even minor crew members can eat it in unexpected ways.
What's so amazing about the mission is that its built on the relationships you've forged over dozens of hours of gameplay. With the game's somewhat episodic format, you grow to love the cast. So it only makes it worse when every choice you make can get one of them killed. Knowing that the dead crew members won't be returning for Mass Effect 3 made the stakes even higher.
If you ever need evidence for why a lot of people were disappointed by ME3's ending, you need look no further than the crazy ambitions of ME2's Suicide Run. ME3 made good on the concept by spreading ambitious choices throughout the trilogy-closer, but there was something especially final about losing your crew in the final, bloody battle.
So there you have it: my top picks. My choices come out of personal experience, so they may not be your favorites. Please feel free to tell me how wrong I am or share your favorite moral choices in games in the comments below.
Joe Donato is still sad he lost Grunt in the final battle. Console him in the form of a tweet @JoeDonuts.