A memorable story forms the foundation of some of the best games. A great story serves as a hook that can keep you immersed in a virtual world, but the way a story is told is just as important.
From a game that you can literally play with your eyes closed to an entire interactive movie, the App Store has a variety of games with a fresh take on storytelling. They don’t come along very often and the sheer volume of games on the App Store makes them hard to find but if, like me, you value a fresh take on gaming narrative, you will love these games.
Mayday! Deep Space ($2.99)
You’re in deep space when you receive a distress call from a derelict spacecraft – USS Appaloosa. Something’s gone horribly wrong and your job is to rescue the lone survivor. The survivor narrates what he sees around him, which paints a thrilling picture straight out of a sci-fi horror film.
Mayday! Deep Space is like an interactive audiobook. All you can see on screen is a walkie talkie with a display that marks the position of the survivor. You need to press the button and talk to the survivor to guide him to safety. Excellent voice acting and a great story make this game worth playing.
80 Days ($4.99)
With an incredible 500,000 word script, 80 Days is one of the best gamebooks you’ll find on the App Store. The story is based on Jules Verne‘s classic Around the World in 80 Days, in which Phileas Fogg bets that he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days. This game puts you in the shoes of Fogg’s valet Passepartout and your job is to guide your master across the world within 80 days.
The game is like an exciting novel in which your decisions can speed up or delay the adventure. It throws in some interesting technology, like airships flown by robots, to aid you in your quest. You can keep playing this game over and over thanks to several random encounters and multiple routes to go around the world.
80 Days is also on Android for $4.99.
Device 6 ($3.99)
Simogo is one of the most innovative developers on the App Store and each of its games provides the player with a unique way to tell a story. In Device 6, you play as Anna, who wakes up in a mysterious place with no recollection of how she got there. The game looks like a children’s storybook, complete with pleasant pictures and sounds.
Throughout the game, you’ll have to find clues in the text, pictures or voiceover. Each clue takes you closer to solving a puzzle but the clues are well-hidden so you will have to be really sharp throughout to spot what you need. Device 6’s surreal story and challenging puzzles make it a unique and compelling single player experience.
With some great music that gives it a decidedly 80s feel, Framed puts you in the shoes of a person who’s been – you guessed it right – framed. As a deal goes wrong, you’ve got to escape the authorities with a briefcase, a MacGuffin that presumably contains something highly valuable.
This game is an interactive comicbook in which you need to rearrange the panels to ensure that your character escapes unscathed. This might seem simplistic but some of the levels aren’t as easy as they seem. The game is short, but that doesn’t mean it won’t leave you intrigued. I was especially impressed with the way Framed tells a thrilling story without any dialogue whatsoever.
Year Walk ($3.99)
The second Simogo game to make it to this list is just as unique as Device 6. Year Walk is named after an ancient Swedish tradition in which people spend an entire day in the forest without food or drink to catch a glimpse of the future. It’s hard to explain this game to those who haven’t played it.
Year Walk is a first-person adventure game that’s as much about exploring a beautiful snowy world as it is solving puzzles. Finding the puzzles is often as challenging as solving them and the game doesn’t really help you understand the story.
Some might find it hard to figure out what’s happening and for that reason, Simogo has made a free Year Walk companion app available on the App Store which you can download to find out more about the game.
Papers, Please (iPad, $7.99)
An administrative desk job where you inspect immigration papers for discrepancies doesn’t sound like a great premise for a game, but if you play Papers, Please you will find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering whether you can do the job well enough to feed your in-game family. Papers, Please tells the story of the dystopian world that is the fictional country Arstotzka.
Strict authorities make irrational decisions that deny entry to those fleeing a war or make you separate a wife from her husband. The moral dilemma in this game and the way it converts a boring desk job into an awesome story make it worth playing. There are 20 endings in the game, which add a lot of replay value.
The beautiful world of Celandia has been ripped apart by the Calamity. You’re The Kid who’s got to head to dangerous places to find out what happened and see if there’s any way to rebuild the world. Bastion has great art and excellent music, but the defining feature of the game is its reactive narrator.
The narrator guides and reacts to each of your moves in the game. If you’re heading down the wrong path, he’ll gently say that The Kid went back the way he came, just to see if he’s left something behind. There’s a lot of fun to be had here simply thanks to the included narrator.
Papa Sangre II ($4.99)
You can literally play Papa Sangre II with your eyes closed. How, you ask? It’s an audio-based game where the voice of Sean Bean guides you to your goals. Most games make the player avoid death, but Papa Sangre II starts with the player being dead. Sean Bean’s character is also dead, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed the actor’s career.
You control your skeletal hands and feet and stay alert to avoid being attacked by mind-lice, radioactive gas and anything else that can “kill” you in your afterlife. Plug in your headphones (which are mandatory for playing) and stand up (or sit in a rotating chair) for you will need to turn round and round to avoid obstacles.
You can also play the first game – Papa Sangre ($4.99) – for a similar experience.
Contradiction (iPad, $4.99)
There are quite a few games that fell short of their Kickstarter goals, but thankfully Contradiction is not one of them. It is an interactive film in which you play as detective Jenks, who is in the village of Edenton to investigate the death of Kate Vine. It appears as if Kate drowned accidentally or killed herself, but there’s more to the case than meets the eye.
The game makes you ask various characters about Kate Vine’s death. Each question triggers a cutscene in which you can often tell if characters are lying just by watching the video. Your job is to find the contradictions in their statements. When you do that, you’ll trigger a cutscene where the characters unwillingly reveal the truth.
This game is unlike any other I’ve ever played and I enjoyed every moment. A superb story, good acting and great direction make it worth your time. $4.99 is a small price to pay for such a rich storytelling experience.
Bonus: The Room ($0.99) and The Room 2 ($2.99)
Among the most popular puzzle games on iOS, The Room and The Room 2 take you on a surreal journey in which you’re stuck in a haunted world. To escape, you must solve a series of challenging puzzles that reveal some ghastly experiments that were conducted in the world. These games feature a breathtaking, at times unnerving story that’s well worth your time. If you like The Room, then you might enjoy 12 of the best escape the room games.
Which Games Did You Enjoy?
It’s hard to compare these games because all of them feature a unique storytelling experience. I enjoyed Contradiction and Mayday! Deep Space the most. I love how these games have a cinematic feel in spite of taking totally different routes to achieve that.
You should also check out three iOS games that blur the line between puzzle and RPG and five iOS games made for hardcore gamers only. Since you are playing iOS games, you might find message boards where you can chat with fellow iPhone and iPad gamers useful.
Which are your favourite games that feature mindblowing storytelling?