What exactly is ‘the fourth wall’ you ask? Well, when actors (or in this case game characters) act out on stage there is an imaginary wall between them and the audience – in this case it’s you, the player. They pretend that you’re not there and merely a spectator or fly on the wall… but sometimes they breach that fourth wall and interact with you directly. These are games that have done a great job of doing just that.
Please keep in mind that there are spoilers ahead for games you might not yet have played.
Assassin’s Creed 2 – You are addressed as Desmond
Throughout your adventure you as the player will be jumping between scenes that involve both Desmond (based in current times) and Ezio (an ancestor in the past), but it’s right at the very end that it completely catches gamers offside as you’re addressed as ‘being Desmond’ (you know – you are from the future when compared to Ezio), and everything you just heard has been turned on its head. It was very unexpected and a great use of the fourth wall.
Metal Gear Solid – Psycho Mantis reads your mind
Is there any game that’s broken the fourth wall more than this game ever has? Yes, there’s the instance when you’re supposed to look for a codec number on ‘the package’ to contact Meryl, which happens to be the actual box your game came in, but nothing tops Pshycho Mantis. He reads your memory cards, vibrates your controller with the “power of his mind” and then forces you to switch controller ports mid-battle. Is there anything that’ll ever top that?
Tomb Raider 2 – Lara puts perverts in their place
Right at the end of Tomb Raider 2 you’ll find Lara back in her Croft Mansion. After fighting off a bunch of goons she plans to take a shower. She’s about to take her robe off, when she looks at the screen, notices you and says, “Don’t you think you’ve seen enough?”. She blasts you with her shotgun and the screen goes black, followed by credits. It was ingenious as this was an answer to the apparent ‘nude code’ in the first game, that never existed. Good on you developers!
Deadpool – He’s in his own video game?
Of course Deadpool was going to break the fourth wall by calling it out that he’s starring in his own video game and being a complete tool throughout it. He takes the time to take some jabs at the narrator, who of course in turn gets annoyed with him and things go a little bonkers throughout the game. He perhaps gets a bit too much, to be quite honest, in terms of addressing his narrator and you as a player, but there are unforgettable moments of humour we’ll never forget. The game itself? Well, best we not talk about that.
Batman Arkham Asylum – Glitch and Mission Failed
There’s always a debate as to which Arkham game is the best, but to me nothing matches the first outing and this is partly a reason therefore. At some point in the game you’ll encounter a “glitch” that has you thinking the game has restarted. You re-enter the intro section, but this time the roles have been reversed. Instead of the Joker being wheeled into the Asylum it’s Batman that’s tied up and being pushed through the entrance hall. Shortly thereafter Joker shoots Batman in the head and you’ll see the ‘Mission Failed’ screen. Yes, it’s of course Scarecrow’s poisonous fumes that’s making you hallucinate all forms of weird things. A great moment that was never captured again in the series.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem – Sanity Effects
This Nintendo GameCube classic has unfortunately not been played by many players in South Africa, but those who played it will be able to tell you just how special the game is. You get to play as several characters based in different time periods (26 BC through to the year 2000). In the game you have a sanity meter. Should it get out of control weird things happen. For example – walk through the door through to the next room and you’ll see the blue screen of death, or your character’s head will fall off, or the screen turns upside down. A rather realistic-looking fly might randomly appear and walk on your television set. The volume might mute. It messes with you, the player, like no other game has ever done since. There’s likely nothing that touches this particular game.
To see just how amazing Eternal Darkness goes about it watch this:
I’m sure there are many more games that make good use of the fourth wall. What games stand out for you?