Top 10 – Alternative Worlds

It’s hard enough to design one world, but a game that depends on many can be a hell of a thing to pull together.

Welcome to our list of games that span multiple plains of existence, and use them to great effect. Tim, Joel, and special guest writer Dave picked apart our myriad options and narrowed it down to the ten we thought were best. We’ve focussed on games that use several, original worlds and use them to great effect as part of narrative or gameplay.

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10. Street Fighter x Tekken

This isn’t per se an alternate universe in gaming, not in the usual sense. Instead, this is part of a much greater multiverse.

Technically this applies to more than just Street Fighter x Tekken for the fighting game genre, but we figured it’d be best to zone in on a franchise that has done it well: Street Fighter. It’s built up a massive multiverse, with characters such as Ryu taking on Jin Kazama, or even against Capcoms famous characters!

What helps is that all of these characters seem to suddenly know of these “rival characters” from franchises completely separate to their own. Fighting game multiverses, thank you.

9. Outland – World of Warcraft

Outland, also known as Draenor, was the original home of the Orcs in the Warcraft franchise. When Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne concluded, Illidan Stormrage was banished to Outland.

When Kazzak re-opened the Dark Portal to Outland, legions of demons came rushing out to Azeroth. It’s up to you, the Alliance and the Horde, to take down the legions of demons who have threatened the world. With the Burning Legion, Illidan Stormrage and his allies all against you, the odds are greatly stacked.

8. Broken Age

On of Tim Schafer’s more recent creations, Broken Age plays through two different narratives in different settings that ultimately combine to form a single story. Now we haven’t played the game yet, and in truth it has not been released in it’s entirety, Act 2 will be released as a free update to those with the original already installed, but Double Fine can usually be relied upon.

The protagonists occupy their own worlds, one trapped aboard a spaceship by a robot that only wants to keep him safe, the other fighting to prevent her own sacrifice at the hands of a monster known as Mog Chothra. We’re not giving the game away, but Act 1 climaxes with their worlds colliding in an unexpected fashion.

7. The Scarecrow’s Nightmare World – Arkham Asylum

The Arkham series has been praised for being a very complete game-package, including action, stealth, and puzzle-solving in excellent measure, as well as being one of the best representations of Batman in modern media. But ask a fan to recall the most memorable moments in the first game, Asylum, you’ll inevitably hear the same thing:

The Scarecrow drags the Dark Knight into a spinning world of nightmare. While they don’t form a huge portion of the game, they are remarkable moments of horrifying platform action, overseen by the cackling overlord of fear itself. He’s yet to reappear properly in the series, and many fans still feel his absence, but the’re are games still to come…

6. Xen and the Borderworld – Half-Life

Who can forget the hours of fun floating through the Borderworld? Jumping from island to island, dodging overly aggressive spiky tentacles and falling to your death from a poorly judged trampoline shot.

Xen was discovered by Black Mesa who traveled there via teleportation to collect samples of the many plants and animals that call it home. Most of which fled there to escape the invading combine forces but all of which seem to want to kill you when you pay Xen a visit.

You never really find out what happened to Xen after the original game, who knows? Maybe we will get to return some day.

(Big thanks to our friend Dave for writing this one up)

5. Oblivion – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The premise of Oblivion is simple; You are an unlikely hero, a prisoner due to unheard reasons. You get out of jail with the assistance of the Emperor and you go on a quest to stop the Daedric Prince Mehrunes Dagon.

Throughout the game of Oblivion, you find these red portals, not unlike the red portals leading to the Secret Cow Level we will discuss later in this article. Once you step through one of these portals, you end up in a place in Oblivion… and it’s up to you to shut down the portal gates.

Simple premise with a simple story – that has dire consequences for the game ahead.

4. Tears – Bioshock Infinite

Your companion Elizabeth has the power to rip open alternative timelines and the population of Columbia view this as a novelty. Well, this novelty is an integral part of Bioshock Infinite‘s Story, and no small part of the gameplay either. Infinite drops the multiverse theory into Irrational Games‘ series like an atom bomb, tying together the two failed utopian cities in rather dramatic style. They may not be unique planes of existence in their own right, but the tears show the world as it could have been, and brings it kicking and screaming into the world that is.

Burial at Sea takes you through yet another alternative timeline, bringing the new characters into Rapture fully, instead of “just passing through.” Not many games can play with a multiverse dynamic, but Bioshock Infinite does a damn fine job.

3. Mindscapes – Psychonauts

Double Fine doubles up in the list with Psychonauts, a game in which a young psychic must save a summer camp where children are trained in the art of negotiating the treacherous landscape of the mind! The game requires you to travel through the well-honed minds of camp-counsellors, as well as a few more “unstable” individuals, as you fight to be accepted by the other kids.

The bizarre worlds created by the innermost thoughts of the characters has made Psychonauts legendary, in addition to some classic Tim Schafer humour.

2. The Nether and The End – Minecraft

For a long time we played Minecraft believing it would be rolling green hills, expansive desert and complex cavern systems forever, and we thought that would be enough. Oh, but then they threw in an update that took us straight to hell! The Nether, and in a later update, The End were terrifying additions to an already pretty creepy game, but they introduced dramatically new elements and a degree of depth to, what was, a nice little block-building toy.

These days we couldn’t imagine Minecraft without the Nether, or the intruding Endermen stealing our walls. They also form a pivotal part of the end-game goal: to slay the Ender-Dragon.

1. Ages – The Myst Series

Created by Robyn and Rand Miller, Myst tells the tale of a family with the power to write entire worlds into being, and in doing so create a portal to them in the pages of a book. Each world, or Age presents an entirely unique set of rules that are essential in solving a range of puzzles that will eventually unlock secrets of the rich universe and the story behind it.

Every new addition to this series introduces the player to a complete set of beautiful, self-contained universes. Books and journals are a constant companion, providing clues and background to each Age and portals between them, making the game an allegory for reading in itself.

Honourable Mentions

We spend waaaay too much time on these lists, not because they’re difficult, but because we always end up with a few too many entries. Here are a couple of legends that didn’t make the cut:

Grim Fandango

It’s not always easy being a large-skulled grim reaper.

You have to sell tickets for the Number 9, of which you’re never able to find a client eligible for it. You’re having to do a lot of travelling with your own demon hot-rod like car… Yeah, it’s certainly not easy.

To make unlife more complicated for our friend Manny Calavera, he has to travel to the Land of the Living. We’re made aware this is a game that has a living and dead realms right from the off as you attend the poisoning… And although you don’t see much of it, you always remember the Land of the Living. What a strange place!

Secret Cow Level – Diablo II

With the Horadric Cube in check and some choice items, you open up a portal to a realm so despicable you need to have beaten Diablo himself to open the portal!

Yes, I can only be referring to the Diablo II cow level, where bovines are on their way to slaughter you with their long halberds of pain. To finish the cow level, you must kill the cows and their king; The Cow King.

It’s quite the tough battle for anyone who goes in unprepared and is such a well known secret that it’s almost not a secret: Wirt’s Leg and a Tome of Town Portal. Simple and most logical really.

Agree with our list? No? Fine. No really! We only put a lot of work into these, but I suppose you know best. Please, tell us what we missed out, right there in the comments section.


3 thoughts on “Top 10 – Alternative Worlds”

  1. As soon as I saw the title of this post, I knew that Myst was going to be in there somewhere! I have another one for you: Stark and Arcadia from The Longest Journey. I know it seems as if I bring this game up all the time but I love the contrast between the two worlds – one of technology and one of magic – and the characters within them, and how one has an impact on the other. – Kim


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