Rarely are games capable of being as deliberately uncomfortable as Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please. By casting you as an immigrations officer manning the border of the fictional nation of Arstotzka, it first presents your position as a glorious gift from the country’s fabled Labor Lottery program. However it quickly becomes clear that this “prestigious” position isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
The Portal series is home to Valve’s most deliberately uneven and deliriously uncomfortable of narratives. The seemingly innocent fun of cutting holes between dimensions and using them to pass tests or accomplish tasks is offset by the brutal after-effects and the havoc which they can wreak. Likewise the witty banter and amusing dialogue of characters like GLaDOS and Wheatley are immediately rendered moot by the homicidal and power-hungry psychological states that each AI shows when challenged or placed in a position of authority.
Like the studio it was developed in, the world of Metro: Last Light is a claustrophobic, dark, and chilling place. Set in the dingy and overgrown subway systems under a post-apocalyptic Moscow, Last Light, at its core, is about survival and the consequences of achieving it. Built by 4A Games, a small development house in Ukraine, Last Light’s tension-filled atmosphere and sense of scale is simply stunning, rivaling even the highest budgeted AAA titles. The Metro is as equally terrifying as it is beautiful, and deserves a place among the most unique dystopian video game settings.
Much like the first Amnesia title, A Machine for Pigs is engrossing from the very outset. While dropping you into a world with absolutely zero memory of how you got there has become something of a cliche for both gaming and storytelling purposes, the Amnesia series is proof positive that even the oldest of hats can be a fit for our cynical post-modern heads.
As science fiction has popularly shown, the best dystopias always began as utopias. The idea of a fallen utopia is something that humanity seems to take an inherent comfort in. Much like our unflappable interest in seeing our heroes and idols fall fall from grace, a destroyed wonderland, or one that hides a myriad of horrors beneath its carefully constructed facade, is a reassuring proposition, one that works to assuage any guilt we might have for not trying to be better, or affecting any real change in our own society or circumstances.