Traditional narrative structures and gameplay don't always get along swimmingly, for much the same reason that household pets don't always get along with food blenders. Writing in a straight line from A to B is difficult when there's a player involved, poking inquisitively off the beaten path - either your storyline loses thrust and coherence to accommodate experimentation, or you lock the player to the rails and thus, all but exterminate what makes this medium distinctive.
The games that manage to tell a great story deserve extra-special celebration, then. Here are a few of my favourites, together with where you can buy them cheapest.
Mass Effect 2's narrative is tighter and darker with more memorable characters, but Mass Effect was the game that introduced us to things like Hannar pronoun etiquette, the Rachni Queen, the Kaidan-Ashley dilemma and that wonderful late-game moment in Vigil's chamber, when you understand the significance of the main menu music for the first time. EA and BioWare's recent handling of the franchise has incurred much displeasure, some of it warranted, but any misgivings about the ending, DLC pricing and the damping-down of RPG features pale before the majesty and intricacy of Mass Effect's universe, and the elegance with which its components are fed to you through the plot. If you've yet to sample it, there's really no excuse - just make sure you turn the difficulty right down, because the first game's cover shooting is unpleasantly wonky.
Shopto - £9.85
There's a surprising abundance of convincing in-game romances - the Prince and Farah, Ico and Yorda, the less openly sexalicious brand of BioWare chemistry - but Enslaved's pairing of grumpy loner Monkey and the na´ve but sharp-witted Trip steals gold. Their relationship gets off to a promising start when she clamps a helmet to his head which punishes disobedience with electrocution. Later, just as things are starting to bubble up, a grotesque swamp-living mechanic named Pigsy introduces an element of macho competition. With Alex Garland at the helm, the blossoming of their love never descends into mawkishness, like this sentence just did. The over-arching tale of ruined civilizations, meanwhile, knifes through the fourth wall so subtly that the ending twist is genuinely startling.
Base - £8.99
Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den
"If you want to recommend something nerdy and obscure, this fits the bill," said Jonty just now - before vanishing in a puff of smoke and tears that have absolutely nothing to do with magazine deadlines. I only got through half of Bioshock 2 before my hard drive took its own life in Ribena-related circumstances, and have yet to sample its DLC, so I'm not best placed to comment. Fortunately, Friend of OXM Ben Borthwick wrote about Minerva's Den in our recent best Xbox DLC feature. According to him, it's a thrilling battle with a rogue supercomputer that's actually better than Bioshock 2's main quest.
Xbox Live - 800 MP
Much as Bastion's spectacularly blown-apart world throws itself together under your feet, so its crumbly Old Western narrator saws out a bespoke line of dialogue for many of the actions you take. The result is a game that feels like it's actively keeping you company on your travels, rather than placidly handing you bits of exposition. The narrative itself isn't all that fascinating, but the wistful, bordering-on-poetic writing is worth sticking around for. Here's an excerpt: "Best thing we can do for those beasts right now is put 'em down, quick and clean. There's only one kind of mercy left these days. Look at it this way. It's either them, or us. But if we win, they win too. Our Bastion is everybody's gain, not just ours. Unfortunately, there's no explainin' this to a simple Beast."
Xbox Live - 1200 MP