Not matter how many Call of Duty titles Activision makes about World War 2 or how many RPGs we play about slaying the ultimate demon-spawn-destroyer of all that is holy and sweet, they always boil down to two things: we either know how the story really ends, or it's so far out that the game world feels more like another dimension in a whole other universe.
Here's a list of some of the top games and franchises, regardless of genre or age, that have had some of the most memorable storylines and plots based on alternative historical outcomes.
In addition to solid gameplay mechanics and making possible the development of mods that went on to become franchises of their own, the Half-Life series gave us a story that was identical in terms of historical development ... right until you started the campaign.
Set in the shoes of a "simple" scientist working at a research facility, you start the game doing the mudane things every other working person does: talking to coworkers, putting on your work clothes, going through security checkpoints, etc. ... And then all hell breaks loose when you and your geek squad accidentally open a portal to another dimension that is dominated by a multidimensional empire bent on conquering everything they can.
If this premise isn't interesting enough, the second installment is even more intriguing by informing you that the multidimensional empire, The Combine, managed to defeat the whole Earth in less than a day. You go from MIT-educated scientist running around a top-secret research facility in one game to fighting guerilla warfare and inflitrating Combine strongholds in the second.
The Half-Life universe portrayed an alternate version of Earth that was subjugated by an alien force and at the same time showed an unlikely alliance between humans and another persecuted alien species with their common goal of liberation from the conqueror's fists.
There are quite a few games out there that hypothesize the consequences if the Cold War had turned into a hot one. In the RTS genre notably, titles like Wargame and World in Conflict portrayed scenarios where Soviet and NATO forces faced each other head on. Metro parted from a similar idea.
The backstory of Metro 2033 is one where Russia, presumably along with the rest of the planet, is now suffering the consequences of the aftermath of nuclear warfare that took place two decades earlier. You play the role of Artyom, one of the survivors of the initial onslaught who sought refuge in one of the subway stations of Moscow. As a member of the underground community, you venture beyond the safe zones to advance the storyline and battle both rival human factions and mutants alike.
Metro's story is not just one you should play because of the interesting post-apocalyptic setting (the Fallout franchise fills in that checkbox pretty well too), but because the perspective of playing as a Russian is rare enough, and playing as a Russian survivor in a post-apocalyptic nuclear world is absolutely unique in itself. The story and gameplay developed by Eastern gaming enthusiasts 4A Games gives us a significantly different experience from the more Hollywood-ish franchises developed in the West. The game was such a success in both Russia and the Western market that the third title of the franchise is currently in development and set to be released later this year.
Deus Ex might be set a few decades from now, but its backstory is one of conspiracies and power politics that go back hundreds of years. The Illuminati play a major role in this background as a mighty organization with power that supersedes that of nations themselves, including the US government.
Set in a near future where human augmentation through cybernetics is a common sight, Deus Ex titles have you fulfilling roles ranging from ex-SWAT security managers working for corporations to rookie anti-terrorist agents of the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition.
Deus Ex's plots are blacklights for any conspiracy theorist enthusiast that will take you through twisted storylines and plot twists in a Blade Runner-esque universe where actors like the Illuminati, governments, international organizations, and multinational corporations are in a fight for survival with each another.
Avoiding spoilers as much as possible in case any reader might just want to pick it up for the first time, we can tell you that the chronological storyline order of the games is not the same as their release dates. The latest titles of the series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided were published in 2011 and 2016 respectively, and both take place before the events of the original Deus Ex itself. So if the outdated graphics of the original seem too off-putting, perhaps the enticement of continuing the story after the latest games will convince you to try it out anyways.
Another heavyweight franchise whose original title is now over 10 years old, Bioshock distinguished itself from so many other titles at the same for being a great combination of RPG and FPS gameplay mechanics that were supported by one of the most unique storylines and settings in gaming.
The original game takes place in the 1960s and puts you in the shoes of a plane crash survivor who, by apparent sheer luck, finds a lighthouse and gains access to a secret underwater city known as Rapture. The city is the product of utopian visionary and businessman Andrew Ryan, who is also isolated from the surface. By the time you arrive, the whole city is anything but utopian, with the remaining survivors tearing each other apart.
Bioshock's story is complemented by an art design and visual approach that resemble 1960s architecture, style, and technology in such a memorable way as to make its imagery easily recognizable even a decade later.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl
The incidents of Three Mile Island and the Chernobyl Disaster were significant enough to raise public skepticism towards nuclear power, but both were a cakewalk compared to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s setting.
As you can guess, the game takes place in the Ukrainian area that was affected by the Chernobyl Disaster where humans, if present at all, live a hazardous life of survival fighting off other humans and mutants severely affected by the nuclear fallout of the power plant.
Once again, game developers in the East delivered us a post-apocalyptic nuclear scenario FPS combined with survival and horror elements.
Nazis are bad. Nazis messing with experimental technology and supernatural powers can only be worse. If you ever wondered what it would be like if Nazi Germany had not lost World War 2, the Wolfenstein series is the franchise for you.
However, the series has two plots you should take into account if are considering giving the franchise a shot. Up to and including Wolfenstein (2009), the stories take place during World War 2, and you play as famous agent of the Office of Secret Actions B.J. Blaskowicz, who is sent deep behind enemy lines to investigate experiments and paranormal activity conducted by the Paranormal Division of the SS.
Since the series reboot in 2014, the plot revolves around a world in which Nazi Germany was victorious in successfully defeating the United States and its allies and is now acting as an occupying force in the continental United States. Still playing as Blaskowicz, you lead a resistance fight against the Nazi occupiers, who have augmented their forces with bizarre technology.
If you enjoyed the theme of Wolfenstein's reboot but got tired of shooting the same old Nazis and their augmentated soldiers, Freedom Fighters will be of interest.
Much like in Wolfenstein, you play the role of a resistance fighter fighting for American independence, only this time you're fighting the Soviet troops occupying New York. And instead of being an agent for an intelligence organization of the U.S. government, you're a plumber. Yes, a plumber.
In a world where the Soviet Union first acquired nuclear weapons and swiftly ended World War 2 by nuking Berlin, the United States found itself at a disadvantage and eventually was surrounded by communist nations that facilitated a full-out invasion of the country. As a simple plumber who was on his way to see a client, the player goes from wielding a wrench at one moment to full-time resistance, mowing down Soviet troops with AK's with the hope of liberating the city.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
If there's only thing nuclear technology has given us besides cheap electricity, nuclear waste, and big bombs, it's games based on a post-apocalyptic era. But don't worry, this one isn't focused on the consequences of nuclear fallout.
Fan of the 80's vision of what the future would be like? Also a fan of cheesy commentary, comedic narrative, running-n-gunning gameplay complemented by power moves, lasers, and power-bows? if so, you're in for a treat.
What was thought to be an April Fool's joke ended up becoming one of the most unexpected and awesome expansions in recent gaming history. Ditching the more serious undertone of Far Cry 3, this stand-alone expansion used the same engine and gameplay mechanics while completely revamping the visuals and giving us a new story set in a dystopian world of 2007 by 1980s standards.
Taking the role of cybernetic super-soldier Rex Power, your mission is to stop an elite agent-gone-rogue who plans to transform the world into a prehistoric version. To do so, you'll need the assistance of Dr. Darling as you save scientists, fight off the rogue agent's army, and kill dinosaurs that roam the environment -- all while collecting cybernetic hearts, performing power moves, and enhancing your skills through a leveling system.
I mean if lasers, cheesy commentary, cybernetics, power moves, and dinosaurs doesn't convince to play this game, I'm not sure what else I could tell you.
Whether set in a nuclear wasteland or a cyberpunk megacity, alternative timeline games allows to us wonder and drift on about potential outcomes in history while still keeping one foot within reality.
Know of any games that portray alternative timelines that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.