It’s that time of the year again when we light massive fires and explode colours in the sky: hundreds of years ago, a man named Guy Fawkes plotted to destroy the Houses of Parliament in an act of subterfuge and destruction. Games are also rich with characters secretly plotting for their own ends, whether selfish, or for some abhorrent ‘greater good’. This week, we take a look at the best conspiracy stories on the Xbox.
If there’s one game series that goes hand-in-hand with conspiracies, it’s Deus Ex; rife with corporate machinations and espionage, shady characters pulling together usually for some ‘higher purpose’ rather than pure indulgence, the near future is a dangerous place for the Dentons and Human Revolution protagonist Adam Jensen. What starts off with mercenary and cell attacks on research companies soon escalates into globe-trotting journeys to uncover monstrous designs that threaten the world. Few games pull off plots with the depth, breadth and intricacy of Deus Ex, and with unmatched design, they are often remembered amongst the greatest games ever made, and with numerous narrative choices through the game as well as multiple endings, there are many reasons to enjoy it over and over.
Halo is a straightforward enough premise: humans struggling for survival against a zealous alien collective with superior technology, hell-bent on our eradication. But things are rarely as simple as they seem: the Master Chief’s success in destroying the ringworld at the end of the first game rocks the Covenant to its core, and it isn’t long before cracks begin to show in the seemingly homogenous empire. By the end of Halo 2, the barbaric Brutes have ousted the Elites of the first game as the Prophets’ favoured warriors, and the Covenant erupts in civil war. Whilst it’s hardly a masterstroke of writing, it does throw yet another faction into Halo’s ever-sublime combat arena as the Master Chief is surrounded by chaos through the alien capital of High Charity.
Back to the, uh, present, Assassin’s Creed features a unique take on the old 2012 chestnut: modern-day Knights’ Templars hunting for powerful artefacts from the past through the genetic memory of test subjects, who experience life in a multitude of historical settings through the eyes of their ancestors. It’s utterly ingenious, and an incredible way to fuse modern concepts and a fascinating past with an awesome sci-fi twist. While the game’s plot often leaves an uncomfortable number of unanswered questions, the concept as a whole, including gods from ancient history, is one of the coolest conspiracies committed to gaming. From the Crusades and Renaissance Italy to the American War of Independence and the high seas of the Caribbean in the golden age of pirates, the series paints a terrifying picture of controlled societies through the ages.
In a living, breathing game with enormous scale, it’s inevitable that there’s some foul play behind the scenes, but in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it doesn’t play out quite as expected; when dragons, not seen in the world of Nirn for centuries, begin attacking the province, the invading elvish Aldmeri Dominion is suspected as behind their resurrection. However, when even they are clueless, the Thalmor (agents of the Dominion) and Stormcloaks, fighting for Skyrim’s freedom, agree to a truce in their war; unknown to many fans, though, is the war’s true purpose, buried deep within Elder Scrolls fiction – the Thalmor seek to destroy the tallest mountain in the world, The Throat of the World, one of the last ‘towers’ anchoring Nirn to the mortal plane of Mundus. In doing so, they would kill all humans and allow the remaining elves and world to ascend to the immortal plane. The fact that the entire fiction takes place inside the dream of a god reflects The Elder Scrolls as one of the richest narratives in gaming history.
But it’s not only officialdom that hatches plots to spread its influence. In Fallout: New Vegas, the most famous city in a now ruined Nevada is the disputed territory of three main factions, as well as numerous smaller ones. From a Roman-themed gang to an army of robots owned by the mysterious Mr. House, all are vying for control of the Hoover Dam, still operational, granting access to and control of electricity and clean, non-irradiated water to the victors. Unlike other games of its ilk however, New Vegas gives the player no chance to free the land or destroy the source of control. Instead, you must side with one of the factions and fight for victory against the rest, claiming the spoils of dominion for your allies and yourself. The series has always had a dark and pessimistically amusing tone, and the setting of Vegas, even more cynically bawdy after the ‘Great War’, as well as the selfish ending only add to that unique take on American optimism.
So that’s our pick of the bunch, from awesome concepts to intricate stories and gameplay enhancements. Did we miss your favourites? Perhaps Dishonoured’s (laughably predictable) plot twist? No? Okay. Perhaps you prefer the richer and interactive machinations in the likes of Mass Effect and The Witcher. Let us know in the comments.