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A particular video game plot consisting of the protagonists following a path laid out for them (although this isn't exclusive to linear games) with seemingly no real thought as to where they might end up. They face countless diversions and dangers, yet, somehow, they always end up at the place they were supposed to reach (and are Just in Time in a lot of cases too). It's clear that you have no other reason for doing things besides the fact that the designer decided that you should.
Sometimes, the game acts like the protagonist knew exactly what he was doing all along, despite the player having no real idea where things were heading. Is most commonly found in Platform Games.
Generally due to Gameplay and Story Segregation. See also But Thou Must! and Solve the Soup Cans. Not to be confused with No Sidepaths No Exploration No Freedom, which refers specifically to the level layouts themselves, unlike this which applies more to how the plot handles the characters progression and can apply to almost any sort of level layout. Indeed, the 'main questline' in most Wide Open Sandbox games tends to function like this with much of the openness coming from the vast variety of Side Quests and other diversions that the player can indulge in if they don't care about finishing the game.
Excuse Plot can be a justified or variation of this trope.
- All three Uncharted games (Drake's Fortune, Among Thieves, and Drake's Deception) play this trope straight. The linear path takes you all over the place and yet you always end up where you need to be.
- Somewhat justified in that Drake does actually have a destination in mind in the games. Then the justification falls apart when he accidentally gets to where he's trying to go (which doesn't happen very often, however).
- The Devil May Cry series and the Xbox Ninja Gaiden games are particular examples of this; in most cases you are just following the route, kicking ass and solving the occasional puzzle with no real motivation or target other than the next scrap, yet you always seem to end up right where you need to be for the storyline to progress.
- God of War: Both of the Play Station 2 games involve Kratos traversing a highly dangerous temple/maze/whatever to get Pandora's Box/The Sisters of Fate - something that hundreds of adventurers have tried and failed to do (as evidenced by their bodies being strewn around in the first game, and by actually fighting some of them in the second game.) Fair enough - except that to progress through each area, Kratos has to destroy entire buildings to get whatever token is needed for the next area. So do these temples just rebuild themselves for every adventurer that goes through them?
- The plotted line becomes even more obvious in the sequels. Kratos is flung all over the place, from the Greek mythological afterlife to mount Olympus. You never know where he'll go next, but the plot somehow keeps up with him.
- Doom 1 and 2 follow this trope; there's a basic storyline suggesting you have a goal, but most of the time level themes are so abstract you aren't even sure what a level is supposed to be. This also applies to most other early FPS games (being some of the earliest 3-D games).
- Not to mention all other id games, from the Quakes on up.
- I would say this is more true for Thy Flesh Consumed and a few of the Doom II levels. For the most part the level names let you know what a level is supposed to be. It's true that the execution was often a little wonky.
- Originally, the levels were supposed to be realistic, but it was discovered that they wouldn't be fun at all, so the team went for an abstract style. (Even today, when some WAD author tries to release a "realistic" Doom map, the results are almost universally unappealing.)
- Explained in the novels as our universe merging badly with the invading forces.
- Half-Life 2 attempts to justify this, with various storyline hints that other characters are laying the route out for you in the background.
- If anything, the original game was far worse about it. There was almost always just one accessible route through the twisted wreckage of Black Mesa, and it always took you exactly where you needed to go.
- Valve has gotten better and better at masking the rail even while lampshading it in story. This has become their signature style in HL2, the Episodes, and Portal.
- Another Valve example: In Left 4 Dead the survivors never look at a map or get lost yet can somehow navigate underground sewers, ruined cities and other confusing locations. In the sequel it's justified as 2 of the characters are from the area and familiar with it.
- Interestingly, in early design stages the maps were large and allowed players to take multiple paths to the finale. However, once they found a route they liked, a playtester rarely took a different path. This defeated the point of such a large map and so they decided to make a more varied and interesting, linear map.
- Deus Ex Human Revolution kinda has this. On two separate occasions your character determines where to go next based on some throwaway lines said by people who used those lines to distract the player and try to kill him. Luckily, both villains were apparently sure enough their traps would kill you that they actually truthfully told you what you needed to know.
- In the first instance, the bad guy was telling Adam the truth to get him to come close enough to take him out in a suicide explosion. In the second case, Adam doesn't actually get the information directly from the character he's interrogating, but rather confirms an earlier supposition based on a recording he found - that she didn't know existed - with the various things she says while she's trying to distract him.
- Played straight in Bioshock and then justified.
- Many (perhaps even the vast majority) of games before the 32-bit era fall under this trope, as the Story to Gameplay Ratio was very low then, and, as a result, you just made your way through various stages until, seemingly coincidentally, you ended up at the Big Bad.
- Mario apparently slaughtered the occupants of seven incorrect castles rather than ask directions to the one with the Princess.
- That was only because he could only move in two dimensions... He was forced to take the Path of Most Resistance
- Something tells me that interpretation is ignoring the fact that those occupants are actively screwing Mario and company over most of the time and are working directly under the very man he's trying to get to...
- That was only because he could only move in two dimensions... He was forced to take the Path of Most Resistance
- Jumper Two would always put you down on a bypassing train no matter how long you stayed in the jungle, or you could always get shot in the mountains despite the cannon firing in the random direction.
- Shadow the Hedgehog (the GCN game, not the character in general). Not only open-ended, but most stages along the way can be reached in different ways by different paths through the storyline. Since there's no indication that any of these locations are even geographically similar, Shadow himself generally uses Chaos Control, a teleportation ability, to move from one location to the next.
- Sometimes even Shadow is confused as to how he got to where he is after teleporting, implying that he whisked himself away in some random direction and didn't bother to think about it until he landed.
- With the exception of the first stage, there's no obvious connection between the choices made during a given stage and the next destination as a result. The only indicator is completing "Good" objectives will move Shadow diagonally downwards through the stage select screen, "Neutral" missions move straight, and "Evil" missions move diagonally upwards.
- There is one stage whose evil mission is to raise the surrounding ruins as flying war machines, and another later that takes place on board after they're sky-worthy. It is entirely possible to find yourself in the latter stage without activating, or even visiting, the ruins in the former.
- Portal's lengthy endgame, where Chell runs wild in the bowels of the Enrichment Center, is carefully set up so you can only go in one direction at any given time, and that route just so happens to lead directly to GLaDOS. It lends credence to the idea that GLaDOS wanted to be destroyed.
- Lampshaded early on in Portal 2:
Wheatley: No rail to tell us where to go! This is brilliant. We can go wherever we want! Just.. hold on, where are we going? Seriously. Hang on let me just get my bearings... umm, just follow the rail, actually.
- The first Wild Arms game is about the protagonists awakening a bunch of... spirits, I think, in order to save the world from demons. In practice, however, the game consists mostly of wandering around at random, visiting Adventure Towns and exploring dungeons in order to collect new vehicles which allow you to bypass various broken bridges, and the fact that you awaken spirits is more or less coincidental.
- The sequel is even worse. A king's army gets blown up, so some guy shows up out of nowhere, buys rights to the army's name and makes it a PMC, and then has them just run around the world beating up terrorists before casually telling them he had them do this in order to stop a comet. W. T. F.
- Sabin's scenario in Final Fantasy VI involved a very counterintuitive route to the destination - a largely southerly route towards a northerly city, in an area of the world with no ports, which involved jumping down a huge, powerful waterfall at one point - but nonetheless, everybody told Sabin that was the way to go.
- Strangely enough, you have to go out of your way to find out why Sabin took such a bizarre route: there was a landslide blocking off a more direct route to a port city just south of where Sabin began his journey. There's only one NPC that tells you about this landslide, so unless you Talk to Everyone, the whole affair will seem very arbitrary.
- This trope would've been a perfect one-line description for the entire game of Dungeon Siege, more so for the first game in the series. There's nowhere to go but forwards, so everything in the plot has to justify this in one way or another. Expect massive amounts of Broken Bridge syndrome.
- Titan Quest gives you a lengthy and scenic tour of ancient Greece, Egypt and China (and Hades in the expansion). The entire game world is so fenced in that almost all of the time, you have only a narrow path to travel, and little choice where to go - the most clear exception is in Egypt when the path splits and you have a choice of two quest locations, except the paths eventually converge and you have to visit both eventually anyway.
- Soul Nomad and The World Eaters has a good plot, but it is practically just a string of plot-important conversations and fights, and the only choices you get to make are which of your friends you want to raise relationship with, and a few that lead to special encounters or bad endings (and those are marked as such). On the other hand, you have all the time in the world to do non-plot-related business, such as visiting towns to mug, steal and kidnap (yes, you are the hero, really) or spend an inordinate time setting up your rooms and doing inspections.
- Pokémon games are notable for this. You often come around rivers, boulders and even bushes you can't trespass without the use of skills given as reward for following the plot events. When this isn't enough the game resorts to placing NPCs blocking your way with for some random reason, allowing you to pass or mysteriously vanishing once the player go through the current plot quest.
- Oblivion offers no explanation as to how you'll arrive just in time for certain events to happen even if several months lie between them and previous events. Some, like the siege of Kvatch, make no sense whatsoever as people would need to wait for your character to return before finishing the siege and everything is still on fire.