Article proudly sponsored by Cold Pursuit, out now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray, DVD & Digital.
Characters are the focal point of all storytelling, and in video games, players get the chance to interact with those characters in real time as they traverse the in-game world. In movies, it is no different. That is something Liam Neeson knows better than most and his latest film, Cold Pursuit, sets the all too familiar tone of betrayal and revenge that some of our favorite games have mastered.
Over time characters become friends, important pieces of the story that the game is trying to tell and something the player attaches themselves to.
They might be a companion that travels with the player and helps clear out enemies, or they might be a friend or family member that the player is charged with protecting. Regardless of their role, the characters in a game are part of what makes those experiences so special.
And once those attachments are formed, it makes it all the more impactful when a character that has been helping you through your adventure suddenly reveals themselves as an enemy at a key moment.
The story beats change, the player doesn’t know who to trust, and if it is done well, it completely changes the entire narrative the player has gone through up to that point. In Cold Pursuit, Nels Coleman (played by Liam Neeson) leads us down this same, jarring path. Nel’s goes from being the cities “Citizen of the Year” to a gang-war inciting protagonist the span of a few minutes. Nel’s does everything he can to find retribution showing that betrayal and revenge are two plot points that can drastically alter the experience of a game or movie entirely, and here are just a few examples.
Double Dragon (Arcade)
An arcade beat-em-up doesn’t sound like something that would carry the heavy weight of a story wrought with betrayal, but Double Dragon pulled the turncoat long before modern gaming stories were even a thought.
Imagine that you and your best friend from school head down to the local arcade, something that isn’t a common occurrence today, and pop in enough quarters to beat the challenging arcade challenge that was Double Dragon. Pressure builds as you and your partner fight to save Marian from the Black Warriors. An opportunity to save a life is something Nel’s, unfortunately, did not have but the drive for vengeance remains the same.
After what feels like hours and countless dollars spent, you finally reach the final room and throttle all of the guards that are keeping Marian tied up. Billy and his brother Jimmy, the main characters of the game, defeat the big bad guy and you and your friend high five after a job well done.
If this was a solo playthrough, the player would have free’d Marian and received a kiss for all of his troubles before the credits rolled. But instead, unfamiliar words flash across the screen that is more akin to that of a fighting game.
It reads Let’s Fight and says Player One vs Player Two underneath it. That is when the narrative flips completely.
Instead of continued celebration over a successful win, two friends who just spent part of an afternoon beating up enemies together are forced to fight to see who gets the girl. Is it a contrived plot? Yes, but that doesn’t stop it from being an incredible twist.
One friend takes the first swing and it suddenly becomes more intense than the rest of the game. Whoever wins this final match gets bragging rights and the satisfaction of the true ending.
All it took was one additional screen at the end of a complete experience to flip a story on its head. Even if Double Dragon’s plot is just the standard for an arcade title of the time, it is masterful in playing with the narrative of two real-life friends playing the game in their local arcade.
It brings the narrative from a simple tale of two brothers beating up the baddies to save the girl to one brother being betrayed by the other at the end of a long journey. That and the arguments that stem from the aftermath are the stuff of legends.
Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation)
Metal Gear is often referred to as one of the most complex and confusing video game franchises, and that partially comes from how intertwined some of the characters get throughout the series. A fitting game for a list based upon a Liam Neeson film, Cold Pursuit is filled with similar twists and turns, and the occasional comic relief.
Throughout Metal Gear Solid, the player is controlling Solid Snake who is tasked with the mission of infiltrating Shadow Moses and locating the DARPA Chief and ArmsTech president, who have knowledge on Liquid Snake and his potential nuclear weapons. As the game progresses, the player is helped along by McDonell “Master” Miller – or Kazuhira Miller depending on the game. See where we are going with this? Nel has to infiltrate the gang community in order to shut them down and find out what has happened to his son.
This is where the famous Codec conversations in Metal Gear begin, as Snake begins his trek through Shadow Moses. Miller is keeping Snake updated on various tasks and giving him information on how to best survive in the Alaskan environment.
Snake slowly progresses throughout the base, taking out Revolver Ocelot, Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wold, and Vulcan Raven as well as teaming up with Meryl Silverburgh and Hal “Otacon” Emmerich in order to stop Liquid’s plan.
After surviving deadly encounters with each of the FoxHound officers, including a torture session that puts the fate of Meryl’s life on the line depending which outcome the player receives, Snake finally makes his way to the holding chamber of Metal Gear Rex. The giant machine that Otacon helped design before Snake told him there were nuclear weapons involved.
Using the codes gathered from the DARPA Chief and throughout the rest of the game, Snake deactivates Rex. Or at least that is what the player thinks will happen.
Instead, entering the code only activates the detonation and leaves Snake extremely confused. The player is then dragged into a Codec conversation with Miller, where Miller thanks Snake for all of his hard work.
As it turns out, none of the FoxHound agents could get the PAL code from the DARPA Chief who was in fact killed during interrogation by Ocelot. Liquid placed another agent named Decoy Octopus in the holding cell disguised as the dying chief to trick Snake.
Right as Miller is about to spill more information to Snake as thanks for helping with their plan to threaten the White House, one of Snake’s close friends and allies Colonel Roy Campbell interrupts the call to inform Snake that Miller was found dead in his home and that he had been dead for at least three days.
Campbell reveals that his Codec link with Miller had been shut off and the Codec link Miller was using to contact Snake was traced to inside Shadow Moses. It is then that the fake Miller reveals himself to be Snake’s brother, Liquid.
Snake proceeds to defeat Liquid and shut down Metal Gear Rex, but that twist threw the entire game into disarray. In a game that was already full of memory card reading bosses and assassinations via a chemical compound called Foxdie, this added an entirely new layer to the game’s complexity.
Sure Snake defeats Liquid, and if the player does, in fact, manage to save Meryl, the pair ride off into the sunset together, but it still completely changes the feel of the story. Instead of working with a trusted collegue to stop a nuclear crisis, it turns out the player was helping the enemy the entire time.
Not to mention the whole business with clones and Naomi Hunter infecting Snake with Foxdie before the mission started. Metal Gear Solid is just one big pile of betrayal for Snake from the start.
A Way Out (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
A Way Out was designed inside out as a two-player, co-op experience with a focus on sitting on the couch with a friend and just playing through a tale of two criminals who conspire to break out of prison.
This character-driven thrill ride has players controlling Leo Caruso, who has been in prison for six months and was arrested for grand theft, assault, and armed robbery, and Vincent Moretti, who was recently sentenced to life in prison for fraud and murder. Both characters team up to gather the tools and supplies necessary to make a jailbreak, bonding along the way.
Once the plan is set, the pair make their escape on a rainy night and proceed to evade police. While on the run, both characters share stories about their life with Vincent revealing the reason he was actually imprisoned to Leo and vice-versa.
From there the two plot revenge against Harvey, the man behind both of their imprisonment. After being sold out by an arms dealer, the duo visits Vincent’s wife who has just given birth and fight off a hitman sent by Harvey before escaping police.
After an ordeal in Mexico, Leo and Vincent kill Harvey and return to the United States, where they are surrounded by police and it is revealed that Vincent and Emily had been undercover cops for the entire Black Orlov operation. At this point, it turns into a modern take on what Double Dragon did back in 1987.
Whoever is playing as Leo grabs Vincent and uses him as a hostage to stage a getaway. Both players are forced to struggle for control of the getaway car before it careens into a river. If this kind of scene is your thing, Cold Pursuit does their own take on this except ten times bigger AND in a Snow Plow truck. After the crash, Emily appears in a Police helicopter to pick up Vincent as Leo makes his escape on a boat. The player controlling Vincent is then tasked with shooting the other player’s boat engine. This all culminates in one final standoff in a warehouse. With both characters injured, the two players must fight for the lone gun sitting between them. Whoever gets the weapon shoots the other character, prompting an ending in which the survivor is featured.
If Leo survives, he gives Carol, Vincent’s wife, Vincent’s apology letter and flees the town with his family at the same time Vincent’s funeral is shown. While if Vincent is the one to survive, he tells Leo’s family of his death and returns to his wife and daughter after resigning from the police. The difference between this betrayal and what takes place in Double Dragon is the emotional weight. In Double Dragon the emotional weight centered around one of the players being slightly angry, upset, or laughing at fact they were beaten.
A Way Out is a fully woven narrative that has completely different endings that play out depending on which character lives at the end. Leo and Vincent are each completely unique characters with distinct differences and different backgrounds that the players learn throughout their time playing the game. Each player grows to favor their character as time goes on and to see an ending where one family is mourning while the other gets a somewhat happy ending, that kind of thing creates a dissonance that draws more intense emotions.
Betrayal isn’t a perfect tool for storytelling and it requires characters that players can relate to in order to work on a core level. But if a plot is strong enough and shares a compelling story like exhibited in Cold Pursuit, the writer can throw a wrench into the narrative and create some of the most memorable moments in entertainment. Cold Pursuit is new to 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray, DVD & Digital and available now.