For most television shows, movies and games, you can pinpoint the moment in the show that convinced people this was worth watching or playing. Thus, it’s worthwhile to go through a couple great, or terrible, examples in gaming.
The first “wow” moment I experienced as a young gamer was the twist in “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.” If you haven’t played it by now, you’re doing yourself a disservice. The main character is revealed to be a brainwashed, de-powered version of the main antagonist’s boss. It’s a jaw-dropping moment that the game built up flawlessly.
Clues are sprinkled throughout the game about how “the force can wipe away your memory” and “the Jedi do not believe in killing their prisoners.” Near the actual reveal, dying characters will whisper the secret into the ears of your companions, and the actual reveal is just about flawless. This is a great example of a “wow” moment, and made “KOTOR” an instant game of the year contender, an award that it went on to win in 2003.
The other pivotal moment that comes to mind is the detonation of the Megaton nuke in “Fallout 3.” It’s arguably the most evil thing you can do, which is saying something for a game that allows the player to enslave men, women and children. The player is approached by a mysterious man who promises great rewards if they rig the nuclear bomb in the center of a major metropolis to explode.
Yes, the riches and the high-rise post-apocalyptic apartment are nice, but the real reason to undertake this quest is to see an awesome nuclear explosion from the safety of a balcony several miles away. The explosion itself is blinding, the shockwave deafening and the experience absolutely unforgettable.
One game that attempted but failed to create a really good “wow” moment was the recent “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.” The twist isn’t good enough to save for those of you who haven’t played the game, so I’ll just spoil it: Kevin Spacey turns out to be evil.
I know, you’re shocked. In fact, it’s not so much that Spacey turns evil, it’s that there’s basically no good reason to actually become evil in the first place, considering his company is already the largest in the world. His big betrayal, at least from the world’s perspective, is a speech to the friggin’ United Nations where he decries everything from the US military to democracy, and then he has the gall to look surprised when they boo him. What was he expecting, a standing ovation?
This is an example of a “wow” moment done wrong.
But let’s end on a positive note with one of the best examples of “wow” moments in the last twenty years of gaming. In the final level of the acclaimed “Half Life 2,” the player is stripped of all their weapons with the exception of the gravity gun, a device which has previously only been useful for puzzles and flinging boxes at enemies.
The gun gets a huge upgrade, however, as it is suddenly able to pick up enemies from a distance and fling them like rag dolls. The player’s health and armor are also supercharged, enabling them to take down enemies that were previously fearsome with ease in a way that’s also fun. It’s a standout moment in level design history, and is one reason that “Half Life 2” is so well-remembered today.
For months you’ve seen columns about how important story and creativity are to games, and that’s all still true. However, there is no denying that grand set pieces, when done right, can make a game go from being merely memorable to standing to the test of time as one of the greats.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.