6 Brilliant Clues Hidden in the Background of Video Games
WARNING: SPOILERS! We're going to discuss the shocking twist endings to several video games!
If, by the way, you didn't know video games could even have mind-bending twist endings beyond misspelling "congratulations" on the final screen, you haven't been playing very many games lately. The following games not only have endings that leave players staring agape at the credits, but have expertly woven in foreshadowing throughout.
Yeah, game storytelling has come a long way, baby ...
(Cracked's storytelling has come a long way too. Check out our Star Wars: Adventures in Jedi School trailer and see just how far.)
Call of Duty: Black Ops -- Subtle Reactions and Secret Codes Reveal the Main Twist
Call of Duty: Black Ops is a heartfelt and touching look at the physical and psychological cost soldiers pay to defend their country, told while you mow down seven or eight thousand foreigners across several decades. But the plot has a clever, Shyamalan-esque twist at the end.
You play a gruff badass called Alex Mason, who early on gets captured and imprisoned in a Russian gulag alongside a man called Viktor Reznov, but (SPOILER!) it turns out Reznov is only a figment of Mason's imagination. The real guy died years earlier. See, you thought you were just shooting a bunch of dudes in the head, but it was your mind that just got blown (sorry).
Sure, astute players might have noticed that, aside from Mason, not one single person in the entire game talks to Reznov. Mason and Reznov are accompanied by several other soldiers, but none of them so much as even look at Reznov, let alone question why a freaking Russian is hanging around guys tasked with exterminating as many of his countrymen as possible, one shotgun shell at a time.
They could've at least asked him where he got that sweet-ass jacket.
But then there are the little touches. For instance, not only do they not talk to him, but on several occasions while you and Reznov are talking, the other soldiers will stare at you like you've lost you fucking mind (which you totally have). They'll interrupt the "conversation" with noises like "Huh?" "Hmm ..." and the incredibly succinct "What the fuck's wrong with you?" This is exactly how most of us would react if we witnessed one of our comrades talking to his imaginary friend during a goddamn shootout.
But the game also drops its own hints in a manner entirely appropriate for a game set in the espionage-filled Cold War era: by using code. At the beginning of each level, a small briefing appears on screen, revealing your location, your mission, the date, and a few items your wife wants you to pick up at the market on your way home.
"And don't forget ears. That necklace is almost finished."
Now, see that circled word next to "Designate"? That word changes every level. If you take the first letter of each designation ("X" in this case) and arrange them in the order they appear in throughout the game, you get XREZNOVXXISDEDX: "Reznov is dead." Or "gzreznovgkzgkzisdedix" if you're an asshole who takes everything literally.
Red Dead Redemption -- A Biblical Figure Spoils the Hero's Fate Midgame
Red Dead Redemption is a great game for teaching your kids about the futility of life. You play as John Marston, a rugged ex-outlaw whose family is kidnapped by the government in order to force him into killing off his old gang. However (SPOILER!), after everybody dies, the government decides Marston is too dangerous to live and shoots him full of holes. That's certainly one way to skimp on giving a guy his paycheck.
"Congraturation, you win game! Now dead person is you, game over!"
After this, he's buried on a hill overlooking his home. A hill that might look awfully familiar to players who've done their homework.
Throughout the game, Marston completes missions for random townspeople, which is odd, since you also have the option to tie these people up and leave them to get squished under the wheels of locomotives. One such mission involves a mysterious man in a mysterious suit who seemingly knows everything about Marston and his outlaw past. It's heavily hinted that the man is God or some other supernatural being. He certainly isn't of this world -- when you shoot him in a fit of rage, he completely ignores it, like his mind was on more important matters.
Like he's almost out of mustache wax.
During the final meeting between Marston and maybe-God, he remarks that the location they're standing on will "make a fine spot." Here's the location:
If it were Halo, he'd be the Angel of Teabaggin.
Now, focus on the tree and bare patch of land, and compare that with the picture of Marston's grave from earlier. Yep, it's the same goddamn place. Marston has just been told, albeit in the vaguest of terms, that he's about to die, and that this is where he will spend eternity after being reduced to target practice by federal agents.
Oh, and if that's not creepy enough: Earlier on, the mysterious man remarks, "I hope my boy turns out just like you." You might think he's talking about Jesus (thus confirming the God thing), but guess what: It's actually more foreshadowing! The game doesn't end with Marston's death; after his funeral, his son, Jack, takes up the gun and swears revenge for his father. He does so by killing a whole bunch of people, just like dear old dad did, and just as the heavens foretold.
What? You skipped over the cowboy part of the Bible?
Portal 2 -- A Random Robot Gives Away Every Plot Twist Imaginable
The makers of Portal 2 apparently decided that the only way to outdo the original was to drown the player in shocking plot twists. A psychotic robot returns to torment the hero? Turn her into a potato! The wacky robot sidekick has a quaint Cockney accent and the IQ of a bag of shit? Make him the new bad guy! The psycho potato robot needs a backstory? Make her a 1960s scientist's assistant, and somehow download her personality into an evil computer!
Amazingly, all these bizarre twists make perfect sense if you've played the game -- especially if you stumble across the one character who gives it all away.
Using Crow's line from the later season intros of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Well before anyone becomes a potato, the player comes across a bunch of defective attack drones being led down a conveyor belt to their robo-doom. One of them pleads "I'm different!" over and over again; if you pick it up and carry it around, it'll drop some dialogue that explains exactly what's about to happen.
First off, the drone makes a reference to Greek mythology, saying, "Prometheus was punished by the gods for giving the gift of knowledge to the humans. He was cast into the bowels of the earth and pecked by birds." At the time, all it means is that this drone's a goddamned egghead who should spend more time attacking and spend less time reading old-timey tall tales.
Later on, it all makes sense. You actually do get cast into the bowels of the laboratory by the Evil Cockney Robot, right after you give him a whole slew of knowledge. This is around the time that GLaDOS the psycho-bot gets turned into a potato; later on, she becomes terrified of being pecked to death by -- wait for it -- birds. And if you don't think birds would peck at a potato, you've clearly never had your fries stolen by some asshole seagull at the beach.
Then, the drone blurts out, "Her name is Caroline," its final bit of foreshadowing. Sure enough, you later learn that that's the name of the scientist's assistant, the poor girl who found herself merged with a computer:
... who turns evil, becomes a potato, and DOES get pecked by birds. Really, you just have to play it.
BioShock Infinite -- Its Twists Are Stolen from Star Wars, and It Blatantly Tells Us So
The latest entry in the BioShock series is the classic, oft-told tale of a man rescuing a girl from evil racists who live in the sky. Oh, and he has a magnetic hook arm and can shoot crows from his hands, because a friggin' hook arm just isn't enough sometimes.
Of course, this wouldn't be BioShock without a crazy twist; in this case, you discover that Elizabeth, the girl you're rescuing, has the power to open up holes to other realities. Also, she's your daughter all of a sudden. Also, you're the bad guy. It's all very confusing, but, if you were paying close attention, you may have been able to figure it out from the very beginning.
The key hint comes right when you first meet Elizabeth. As you're secretly watching her in her dressing room from behind a one-way mirror (you don't know she's your kid yet, so it's OK), you get your first glimpse of her opening a portal:
"Ugh. A stupid space film. This place sucks."
So she's in France, about to go see a Star Wars film? Yes, but not just any Star Wars; that bit of French on the marquee translates to "Revenge of the Jedi," which was Return of the Jedi's original name until George Lucas changed it before release. This foreshadows the later revelation that the portals she opens are gateways to alternate realities.
But the Star Wars thing also subtly reveals how liberally the game (and series) borrows from the Skywalkers' twisted family tree. Like, we all know Luke is Vader's son, and Leia is Vader's daughter (uh, spoiler, we guess?). Well, BioShock and Infinite have basically the same damn twists. At the end of BioShock, you learn that the main character is the son of the main bad guy who runs Rapture, the underwater city. He was separated at birth and raised in some faraway location, only to confront and defeat his father in adulthood -- just like Luke.
Here she is doing it again later in the game. This time in English.
And at the end of Infinite, you learn that Elizabeth is the daughter of the bad guy who runs Columbia, the flying city. Just like Leia. It's the same damn twist, and this game was more than happy to let you know as much.
Spec Ops: The Line -- Numerous Hints at How Crazy You Are
At first glance, Spec Ops: The Line seems like a run-of-the-mill wartime shooter. As Walker, the leader of an elite military squad, you must make your way through Dubai, rescue survivors, and make the enemy pay for daring to be your enemy.
But things go south once you start shooting American soldiers and killing unarmed civilians with white phosphorus (a horrific substance banned for that use by the Geneva Conventions). Near the end, you learn that Walker is completely insane and that the main bad guy, along with most of the game, is a series of hallucinations brought on by PTSD suffered in Afghanistan. The final boss is you deciding whether or not to blow your own brains out.
It's a mind-bl- uh, jaw-dropping twist, but if you were paying real close attention, once again the whole thing was hinted at from the very beginning.
The game is packed with little hints and symbolism. Some of it is outrageously subtle (one character speaks Farsi, which is spoken mainly in Afghanistan and only occasionally in Dubai), while others are more straightforward, such as this one face that shows up basically everywhere:
No, that's not the game watching you while you masturbate with your free hand: That's Konrad, the supposed bad guy (and actual dead guy) of the game. He was your former squad leader, so why is Dubai worshiping him as the God of Everything? Well, they're not. You're the only one who sees this dude's mug.
Other hints are so subtle that they initially seem like mere glitches:
Or targets, depending on how bored you are.
See the streetlights in the distance? Well, step closer and ...
As with the giant Konrad faces, nobody else sees the bodies hanging from the lights like incredibly morbid pairs of sneakers. But wait, there's more! Later on, you walk past a blooming tree and, if you turn around, you'll see it immediately wither away and die.
"Wait, I think this means I'm Jesus!"
Again, nobody notices this but you, because it doesn't exist. Nothing does. The tree, the hanging bodies, the bad guy, and pretty much everything around you are figments of your fucked-up imagination. Something the game takes great pains to remind you of, again and again.
Batman: Arkham City -- A Painting Gives Away the Fate of the Joker
Arkham City has three things going for it: Batman once again displaying his ability to violently punch criminals in the face all the live-long day, the awesomely nightmarish scenario of every criminal locked away in Arkham Asylum escaping en masse and turning an entire island into their own personal playground, and the shocking ending involving the death of the Joker.
Unless you count Tim Burton's bullshit (and it's so non-canonical that there's really no reason to), Bruce Wayne's legendary archrival finally kicking it was unprecedented, and completely out of the blue. Of course, if you're an art aficionado, then the twist was right in front of you the whole time.
Don't worry, you can stay in your living room for this one.
Halfway through the game, you switch to playing as Catwoman, sneaking around Arkham City while making off with as much swag as possible. One of your missions requires you to steal something from a safe, which is hidden behind this painting:
"But there's only one set of footprints."
The title of the painting, "Cain and Abel: The Duality of Man," obviously refers to the biblical story of Cain murdering his brother Abel because God liked him better. Whatever -- it's a pretty picture and all, but it's just window dressing, right?
Well, here's Batman, carrying the Joker's lifeless body in the exact same manner.
Nice touch with the marquee.
Then you remember the name of the painting and say "Ooooooh, right." Almost from the beginning, the Joker and Batman have had the most twisted brotherly relationship imaginable, each symbolizing an extreme of human nature. The Joker represents anarchy, chaos, and lawless animalism, while Bats stands for justice, law, and orderliness. The only way that painting could have been more blatant would be if the Joker had killed Batman, since he and Cain are both evil and all. The nerdrage on the Internet might have made such a tragedy well worth it.
The Cain and Abel stuff doesn't end there, though. Abel's murder was (according to the Bible anyhow) the first death in history; likewise, Joker's final laugh represents the first death in which Batman has had anything resembling a direct hand. More or less.
Cracked's new Adventures in Jedi School mini-series trailer includes hidden clues for the future of the series. Probably. Watch the video either way.
For more from Adam, you can check out his website or follow him on Twitter. J.F. Sargent is writing a comedy sci-fi action horror novel that you can read for free! He also has a Twitter.
For more ways games get creepy, check out 7 Creepy Video Game Easter Eggs You'll Wish Were Never Found and 8 Creepy Video Game Urban Legends (That Happen to Be True).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Ways Technology Is Exposing the Horrors of Restaurants .
And stop by LinkSTORM for more reasons video games are the greatest.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up RIGHT NOW and pitch your first article today! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!
Extra Credit: Did you know one close-up on a payphone revealed Fight Club's shocking twist way before it happened? Click this link for that and more hidden clues in famous flicks. Take things back into gaming territory with a look at these terrifying hacks of famous video games. Next, let Winston Rowntree explain what makes video games a unique artform. Finish off your nerdgasm by dreaming of an open-world biking game and six other incredible premises that will never be made.