Most videogames are geared towards spreading joy into the lives of their audiences. Whether players are controlling a portly plumber, a charming (albeit sociopathic) adventurer or one of a petrol head in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, games (if they’re any good) aim to entertain and enthral. They pull players into a whole new world and, at times, they may even tug at their heart strings.
This, however, is not true of all games; some examples in this medium play on players’ consciences, fill them with dread and ultimately leave them feeling rather glum by the time the credits roll. We at htxt.africa have played our fair share of games that have made us feel downright depressed by the time we finished them. Here are some of the more high profile titles that leap to mind.
This War Of Mine
If you’re playing a clutch of survivors in a warzone, you’re not expecting a rather jolly time of things. But This War Of Mine turns the screw even further with the actions it asks the player to carry out in order to keep their group alive. During the day, the survivors craft beds, rest, make food and improve the defences of the dilapidated building they live in – unable to venture outside as the streets are watched by snipers.
But at night they have to scavenge and this means they’re continually faced with having to gun down souls just as desperate as themselves in order to steal provisions and equipment to keep their own commune’s head above water. Toss in a mournful soundtrack, presentation shot through with grit and the fact that the most recent iteration of this game added children to the mix, and This War Of Mine is about as much ‘fun’ as doing the accounts for Joy Division the week Ian Curtis hanged himself.
Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons
Starbreeze’s adventure game bears all the hallmarks of a charming little jaunt – beautiful presentation, a sun-dappled magical land and two young protagonists – but don’t be fooled. This game is capable of throwing a shard into your soul that can make you cry like a small child.
The game follows two young boys who are looking for a cure for their ailing father. As they progress through the surrounding land they have to overcome numerous obstacles and challenges with the player guiding each brother with one of the two control pad thumbsticks. For a game that looks like a fairytale, Brothers packs a punch; at its core this is a game about loss, guilt and coping with the death of loved ones. The final third of this game will require a box of tissues – trust us.
In most dungeon crawlers players control a hero or a team of heroes that, while not invincible, are certainly capable of cutting a swathe through the numerous monsters they encounter. This isn’t true of the group of adventurers in Darkest Dungeon, however. Aside from the fact that it’s perfectly possible to run into a creature that is capable of killing them at every turn, there’s the small concern that if the beasties don’t get them, exposure to the horrors of the dungeon will.
Success in Darkest Dungeon relies on how well you organise your efforts around a loop that includes spending money to beef up and de-stress your characters and then sending them into the dungeon for treasure, where they’ll face both stress and the prospect of death. This involves investing time and energy into your posse; a daunting prospect when they can die simply by turning the wrong corner. Our erstwhile reviewer, Clinton Matos, called Darkest Dungeon the most depressing game he’s ever played. Spend a few minutes playing it, you’ll see why. Darkest Dungeon is a place where little hope exists.
Spec Ops: The Line
Most shooters are powertrips. You get a gun, you get some bad guys to shoot at and you storm through levels leaving a pile of cadavers behind you without a care in the world. Hey, they were the bad guys and you’re the hero, right?
Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t let you off that easy. Set in Dubai after a massive sandstorm laid waste to the jewel in the desert, Yager’s shooter continually hammers away at the player’s conscience, placing them is a series of situations which become morally murkier as the game progresses. By the time the end credits roll, players will wonder whether what they’ve just participated in – and in some cases witnessed – was only the product of madness. Never before in the genre of shooters has one game made so many players feel like utter and complete sods.
Shadow Of The Colossus
You’d do anything for a loved one. You’d cross vast plains, battle giant monsters and risk life and limb to keep them safe from harm. But would you kill the innocent to keep them alive? Would you willingly taint your soul if it meant saving them?
What if those you needed to kill were peaceful, graceful and awe-inspiring creatures. Beings that had never done anything to you? Giants you had no quarrel with and who had no interest in harming you save to protect themselves? How would you feel about that?
Ori & The Blind Forest
Within its opening ten minutes, Ori & The Blind Forest has ripped out the player’s heart, held it up in front of them and then tossed it over its shoulder. We’re not going to tell you what happens, but believe us when we tell you that it’s one of the nastiest beginnings to any game we’ve played in a while.
To be frank, the game never really recovers from it. Even though Ori & The Blind Forest is shot through with a childlike sense of wonder and some of the most beautiful visuals on a console, the sense of loss pervades the entire game. We’re not saying there isn’t some hope in the game’s closing moments; we’re just saying that sometimes happy endings could stand to be a little bit happier.
Games set during the First World War are never a barrel of laughs, but Valiant Hearts takes the cost of that conflict to depressing new lows. It begins with a German man torn from his French family and deported as the nations ready for war. He’s then drafted into the army on the German side, while his father-in-law is drafted into the French army. As you probably guessed, this can only end badly.
For a puzzle game, Valiant Hearts is incredibly effective in its examination of war as a tool of the state. Human relationships, desires and loyalties are suppressed and strangled and the soldiers on the ground are merely pawns that exist in hell. There’s a glimmer of hope that briefly hovers above the fortunes of the game’s protagonists, but by the end, even that has been dashed against the rocks. Don’t play this if you’ve been having a rough time of it in your real life.
I Am Alive
I Am Alive opens with a woman watching the footage of a man named Adam who has spent the better part of a year walking home across the USA. The country has been reduced to rubble and Adam has made his way back to his home city in search of his family. The action then moves to the present and the player takes control of Adam as he begins exploring the ruins of that city.
We know what you’re thinking: so far, so post-apocalyptic adventure. But I Am Alive does a lot more with its burnt-out setting in a brief few hours than most games manage over a series of weeks. As Adam investigates his former home he is confronted with other inhabitants – some desperate, some utterly monstrous – and the player experiences the full horror of what humankind is capable of when the law of the jungle applies. There’s no hope in I Am Alive, just depressed resignation compounded by misery. On top of which, the closing scene in the game is a cruel shot to the gut. In a way, it’s fitting…
To The Moon
If you could fulfil one dream in your life, what would it be? Imagine you had the chance to do just that on your deathbed. This is the premise that kicks off To The Moon, a story about a dying man who hires a firm to implant a memory of travelling to the moon before he dies. The only problem is, he can’t remember why he wants to go there.
In order to help him, the scientists at the memory firm trawl back through the man’s recollections and it’s here where To The Moon’s magic lies. As the player explores the protagonist’s memories in reverse, they uncover details about his damaged marriage, his joys, his sadness and finally the place where his dreams began. Believe us, if you play this, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
That Dragon, Cancer
Perhaps ‘depressing’ is the wrong word to describe That Dragon Cancer, but it is certainly sad and it’s a hard game to wade through. Developed by Ryan and Amy Green, the game is based on the brief life of their son Joel, who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12 months, but survived another four years before he succumbed.
We could wax lyrical on how it draws the player in, tugs at their heartstrings and causes them to empathise at length. But that Dragon Cancer is a game that has to be experienced firsthand to understand its full impact. It’s a sad story, true, but it also shows the emotive power of the gaming medium in a way few other titles can.
These are our most depressing games; which games have you played that left you feeling a little (or a lot) down? Let us know on Twitter (@htxtafrica) or our Facebook page.