If you’re anything like us, you’ll hate making decisions. At least there’s the escape of video games, where bad choices can be rectified with a simple respawn or rage quit. Sometimes though, it’s not that easy.
Some titles posit huge ramifications not only for your character but your companions, an entire ecosystem of NPCs and the game world itself. To make matters worse, some of these choices need firm decisions in a split second, with barely any time to mull over your options. In a medium where players largely choose how they can play, beware that one wrong choice can result in a crucial character’s death, a failed mission objective, or even the destruction of an entire planet. And you thought choosing your lunch in real life was going to be hard…
Here then, are eight games where decisions had huge consequences. One caveat: We’re going to exclude RPGs, like Cyberpunk 2077 and Mass Effect, all of which you’d expect to receive endings according to your actions, and that’d be too easy. Fair warning then, this list contains major spoilers for the below games.
1. Dishonored (2012)
As Royal Protector Corvo Attano, you’re not having a good day. Mysterious assassins bump off the Queen Regent, who you’re charged to protect, and all accusations fall on you. Making your escape, you must bring those responsible to justice while rescuing Empress Emily, the Queen Regent’s daughter. Only several things stand in your way: the entire Dunwall City Watch, the zombie-like weepers, and Pied Piper levels of rats.
As you dispatch the laundry list of rogues on your hitlist, you’ll decide the fate of these co-conspirators. Your actions, measured in chaos, have a lasting impact on Dunwall. Be sneaky, use non-lethal takedowns, and you’ll earn the low chaos ending, and the newly-rescued Emily rules Dunwall with kindness and wisdom.
However, should your foes become corpses rather than unconscious, and the rat plague spreads, leading to hordes of gnashy rodents and weepers invading Dunwall. And a third ending, which triggers if you fail to rescue Emily, where an even grimmer Dunwall descends into chaos following her death.
2. Heavy Rain (2010)
Heavy Rain’s catch-a-serial killer whodunnit has you pushing all your buttons, where everything, including chasing perps, hunting clues and one really awkward love scene, is just a button press from failure.
You play as four characters — a private detective, FBI agent, grief-stricken father and journalist. They are all intertwined in the Origami murders, and you need to guide them to the endgame in one piece. That’s no easy feat, with all sorts of obstacles and blistering button bashing in between you and your search for the truth. Get it wrong, and your characters could die during the game’s events.
One protagonist in particular, Ethan, has to undergo some brutal trials to rescue his son from the hands of the Origami Killer, including driving against oncoming traffic, crawling across a tunnel of broken glass and snipping off one of his fingers. However, abandon most of these tasks, and players will have locked themselves into one of the game’s worst endings, where Ethan’s son dies and the poor father finds himself being framed for the Origami killings.
3. Life is Strange (2015)
Max Caulfield has the superpower we all wish we had: the ability to rewind time and change the outcome of past events. Except while we might be dreaming about coming up with the perfect comeback or erasing that super awkward moment we once had with that waiter, Max is all about saving the lives of her friends and unmasking a kidnapper and murderer.
The game’s events see you move back to Arcadia Bay and reconnect with your childhood friend Chloe, during which you discover your time-jumping powers and use them to save or condemn various characters.
The climactic choice at the endgame is whether to save Chloe or sacrifice her to save Arcadia Bay. Early on in the game, you need to save her life as your powers manifest, in an event that prompts an incoming storm to lay waste to your hometown.
A wise Vulcan once said that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Logic aside, it’s the rekindled and cultivated relationship with your former best friend that will determine whether you drive away with Chloe and leave the destroyed Arcadia in your rearview mirror, or save the town and everyone in it but let her die as fate intended.
4. Resident Evil Remake (2002)
Resident Evil puts you in the shoes of two members of the awkwardly-acronymed STARS as they get locked up in the creepy Spencer Mansion. And there’s not just hungry, itchy zombies after your flesh, but giant snakes, massive spiders and bioengineered Tyrants.
Safe to say this infected menagerie needs a lot of firepower to take down, and while guns and ammo are in short supply, one in-game decision can help you make a dent in those dastardly undead.
Play as Jill Valentine, and you’ll be paired with weapons specialist Barry Burton. If you notice he’s been acting a tad shady, you’ll discover he’s been forced to betray the team by RE series big bad Wesker, who has his family hostage.
Jill eventually gets the upper hand on BB and disarms him, but as you do, you’ll be attacked by Lisa Trevor, a girl now horrifically mutated by the Progenitor virus and who only appears in RE: Remake. You now have two choices: return Barry’s weapon, after which he’ll help you take out Trevor like a good wingman. However, refuse his request, and he’ll be punted into a chasm to his death.
Yes, you might feel a tinge of guilt for Barry and his family, but on the bright side, you’ve just scored yourself a Colt Python, the game’s most powerful handcannon. Finders keepers.
5. Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)
The superlative crime sandbox GTA 5 has you playing three protagonists: Michael, a former criminal now turned family man, Franklin, a gangster looking for the next big score, and Trevor, a former associate of Michael’s and reckless loose cannon.
After the Union Depository gold heist, the volcanic events of the game come to a head, as our trio’s actions incur the wrath of gangsters, corrupt law enforcement agencies and private military outfits. Franklin gets an ultimatum from Devin and Steve, two of your former taskmasters, ordering you to kill Michael or Trevor.
Both choices play out in different ways but share significant consequences, obviously, the main one being you cannot continue playing as the offed character. However, gung-ho gamers can have Franklin choose a third option, which starts the mission Deathwish.
He’ll conspire with Michael and Trevor to eliminate everyone breathing down their necks by luring them all to an industrial site and gunning them all down. It’s a tough mission, but players who survive will be able to see the game’s canonically best ending and enter the epilogue with all three friends alive and free to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.
6. Metal Gear Solid (1998)
This stealth-em-up sees Solid Snake infiltrating Shadow Moses, an Alaskan nuclear facility, to deactivate Metal Gear REX and eliminate a terrorist threat. Halfway through the game, Snake is captured by Revolver Ocelot and undergoes several bouts of electro-torture. What follows is the most punishing assault on your thumbs, as you frantically hammer the “O” button to recover your life bar.
Succumb to this vicious voltage, and you’ll get the familiar game over screen upon your demise. However, there’s two ways to survive with two drastically different endings and sweet tactical gear.
If you’re feeling the strain, you can give up, but know that for this failure, Ocelot kills Meryl, Colonel Campbell’s daughter, who is also caught up in the incident. You’ll escape Shadow Moses with tech expert Otacon on a jetski, sharing an awkward joke. On your next playthrough, you’ll be armed with stealth camouflage, which renders you invisible to nearly all the game’s enemies.
Resist the torture, and you’ll escape with Meryl on the jetski instead, earning you an infinite ammo bandana. Save Meryl or witness one of the best bromances in gaming? There’s just no question.
7. The Stanley Parable (2013)
Part walking sim, part meta thesis on gamer choice and predestination, The Stanley Parable began life as a Half-Life 2 mod before becoming one of the most unique titles of the last decade. You play as silent protagonist Stanley, an unassuming desk worker who suddenly finds he’s the only one left at the office. With no combat gameplay to speak of, Stanley must instead traverse the environment on foot and interact with a variety of doors, buttons and machines.
Guiding your thoughts is the Narrator, who provides guidance on where you should go and what you need to do. Of course, it’s your prerogative to follow his advice or completely ignore it, the latter of which nets you sardonic ridicule, with the narrator urging you to stick to the predetermined path with some unmistakable British passive aggressiveness.
A commentary on the nature of free will in videogaming (moreover, the lack thereof), The Stanley Parable is for all of us who’ve had enough of videogame voices telling us what to do — often the only way to drive the story forward in games. That makes choice in this cult classic so intrinsic to the main story. Almost every decision is catalogued and judged and all manner of endgame outcomes earned, no matter how ridiculous. You can become free of your videogame shackles, obliterate yourself in a nuclear explosion or choose to end the game without even leaving your desk. It’s your call.
8. BioShock (2007)
Enter Rapture, a once-thriving underwater metropolis that succumbed to corruption, paranoia and civil war. Throughout BioShock, you’ll encounter Little Sisters — orphaned girls implanted with slugs carrying ADAM, a genetic-altering substance that grants superhuman powers.
You can choose to extract the slug from the Little Sister and free their mind, granting you a little ADAM, or kill them to harvest their full supply and grow even more powerful.
Rapture is full of lethal foes, all with a real penchant for braining you, so you’ll need all the help you can get, making your moral decision far less black and white. In the end, if you harvested no more than one Little Sister, a touching montage sees you rescue and adopt the girls as your family. They go on to live normal lives, even getting married, graduating from uni and having children of their own. Years from now, the Little Sisters appear by your loving side on your deathbed (awww).
However, harvest more or all the Sisters and you get the game’s evil ending — your lust for power drives you mad as you claim Rapture. You hijack a nuclear sub, hinting at an apocalyptic war on the surface world in your name. We hope you’re happy, “hero.”
- Read: Press start to continue: The best video game DLCs of all time