I am so sick of being betrayed. Not that I was ever really keen on being betrayed, but I'm so bored of betrayal as a plot twist. More specifically, the kind of betrayal wherein Hero X, who has been following the instructions of Superior/Support Character Y, discovers that Y is secretly in the pay of the enemy, and has been manipulating X into helping to further their evil schemes. This is so ubiquitous in game plots that listing examples is hardly necessary, but just from recent history: Modern Warfare 2, Dark Void, The Saboteur, Uncharted 2, The Conduit, Dead Space, Infamous, Bionic Commando, 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand (every fifteen minutes), Mirror's Edge, etc. etc. etc., and of course Bad Company 2.
It's not even a good plot twist. It always raises a lot of questions. Whatever goal you're manipulating the hero(es) into completing, is it really beyond the abilities of your bad guy's army? Are there honestly not one or two rag-tag, scrappy survivors among the enemy side who could be given the job and who would go about it with unwavering loyalty - and not have to murder legions upon legions of your allies in pursuit of the goal? And even if the heroes really are the only people around with the necessary equipment, rabid stick-to-itiveness and supernatural good fortune, what on earth makes you think these qualities will suddenly disappear after they have completed the quest and you have gigglingly stabbed them in the back and high-fived the big baddy right to their face? Surely the smart thing to do would be to congratulate them, send them on an extended luxury cruise around the Pacific Rim and hope they don't watch the TV news.
Good-NPC-is-actually-bad-NPC is not even shocking anymore. Even though a lot of game story writers can't foreshadow to save their lives and merely pull the betrayal from some celestial arse whenever it's needed, you can always tell when it's coming. That look in their eyes and that tone in their voice when they come to meet you on the battlefield. The funny way they examine the maguffin in their hands after you pass it over. And, most tellingly, the fact that there's still about an hour of gameplay time left. It's getting to the point that I can predict a betrayal plot twist coming from the fucking camera angle when you first walk into the scene.
I do understand what the twist is for. It's good dramatic pacing. You start off down. Then things start looking up. Just as things are looking as up as they can go, things plunge back down again, leaving just enough time for the heroes to push things back up in time for a nice, satisfying conclusion. A shift of context is a good way to bring about that second-act downward plummet, and that means a plot twist. But the betrayal-by-peers is getting so old that it's due for a telegram from the Queen. I'm here to help, game writers; let's lubricate the old brain cogs by remembering a few great gaming plot twists.
MASSIVE SPOILERS from here on in. I'll include enough initial preamble for each example that you can shut your eyes before reading the spoiler bit, but remember to open them again once it's passed.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (an ever-reliable bucket of good game design examples) demonstrates the proper way to do a betrayal. The main character is thrown together with a princess of whom he is initially wary. And with good cause, because (SPOILER) he has repeated visions of the future and some of them apparently show her betraying him. Over time, though, by working together and exchanging the occasional catty snipe, the pair develop a mutual dependency, trust and affection to the point that you and the prince convince yourselves that the visions were shown out of context. Then, of course, she betrays you anyway, but at least it was for more complicated reasons than "because she's a bitch." (SPOILERS GONE)