Push left to struggle. Push right to struggle. Face it, you're screwed.
Video games are all about putting the player in control, right? Not always, actually, but some games do try to go a bit farther than usual, and allow the player to be in control even when you're screwed.
In some games, there is a point at which you can be captured or restrained, and not able to move around, but you can still control your character. This might mean being able to wriggle around in your bonds, walk around in your prison cell, what have you, until you either die or are rescued. Other times, you are able to bring about your own rescue (button-mashes freeing you from being frozen is actually fairly common).
The point of allowing this "freedom" even when the player is helpless is sometimes to drive the feeling of helplessness home. It's one thing to be locked in a prison cell and be told that you lose. It's another thing to be locked in it, be able to move around freely within the cell, and eventually get executed anyway. The latter implies that you could have gotten free, making your inevitable loss hit you hard in a way that an immediate loss would not.
On the other hand, this can be seen as the surest sign of a heavily scripted game when the helplessness is unavoidable. Depending on how the player perceives it, such Controllable Helplessness could be seen as little more than a glorified cutscene in which you happen to be in control.
Compare Hopeless Boss Fight, Fission Mailed and the Unwinnable tropes. An unavoidable loss or disaster is not this trope; that is Stupidity Is the Only Option. See also Expository Gameplay Limitation, in which the player's freedom is restricted in a less dramatic fashion.
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Happens in the finale of Shadow of the Colossus: you can futilely struggle while being sucked into a vortex and you can cry and struggle after being turned into an infant. And rather ironically, after being possessed by a god you're similarly helpless—you can attack your enemies or limp away from them, but nothing you do can prevent the aforementioned vortex from being created.
The console version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has a form of this. Dementors enter the train shortly after the fight with Malfoy and Harry's health slowly depletes and his movement becomes restricted and slow. There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it from happening, so you must wait until his health empties.
In Adventure for the Atari 2600, if a dragon managed to eat you, you could struggle in its stomach. This is not as useless as it sounds. If the Black Bat flies over and grabs the live dragon, you can watch it fly around the world from the point of view in the dragon's stomach. Depending on where the bat grabs the dragon you can even pick up the bat while inside the stomach and force the bat to move in certain directions. You can move the live dragon into the sword, killing it (meaning you're in the stomach of a dead dragon being carried by the bat). The best use for this is to stop the bat from picking up important items that it may see and try to acquire before you can reincarnate and go hide them.
When you run out of health in the obscure NES Adventure GameNightshade, the villain, Suktekh, ties you into a Death Trap. During this time, you still have control of Nightshade, and can escape from the first four death traps you're put into, giving you another chance. The fifth one, however, fully fits this trope - there is no escape and it's game over.
At the beginning of the game, as well, you are tied to a chair and left with a bomb. You can move the chair, and can hide behind a wall, preventing you from taking the damage the bomb deals. (You can't escape from the chair until after the bomb goes off.)
Illusion of Gaia has scenes in which your character is trapped in a prison cell, and in which your character is adrift on a raft. You can have your character move around, but nothing you do matters very much.
In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, your first moments with Link as a wolf are when Link wakes up in a jail cell, with one leg chained to the floor early on. You can move around for a bit before Midna appears to rescue you, but it makes no difference what you do in the meantime before she shows up.
In Cave Story - after defeating a certain boss, the only exit from the room closes and the room fills with water. All the player can do is jump around until the character drowns and his fission mails.
The player's control of Lara begins with her hanging upside down in a sack, and requires swinging the sack the right way to burn it and set Lara free.
Shortly after, Lara's foot is caught in a bear trap, and while she's stuck the player has to fight off wolves in the woods that try to attack her.
At one point Lara's hands are tied behind her back, and you have to hide from enemies with flashlights and avoid being discovered while unable to attack.
Midway through the game Lara is captured by an Oni and suspended by her wrists from the ceiling, and as with the beginning of the game, the player must rock her back and forth in the correct pattern to break free.
Several times during the game Lara gets caught in a snare and must fight off Solarii cultists while suspended upside down. All you can do is shoot back and are unable to move otherwise (though you can escape by shooting out the winch).
Dust: An Elysian Tail features this at the end of the game when Dust collapses from exhaustion after his battle with Gaius. The only action available is to slowly crawl to where Gaius is hanging from the cliff and trigger the final cutscene.
God of War 2 has two examples of this: The first is after you beat the intro boss and face off against Zeus. At this point Kratos has both been drained of his godly powers and been slammed under several tons of hand-shaped bronze while his adversary is wielding a BFS as well as being a god, so it's no wonder that all you can do is take strained steps, flail your weapon around weakly and be unable to jump at all. After your foe finishes you off and the game gives you an ActionCommand prompt, you can mash Circle to struggle against being impaled with the said BFS, but doing so only delays the inevitable for a second or two. The second example is when Kratos initially faces against Kraken. After a plot event destroys what little trust he had left in the gods, Kratos refuses to fight the tentacled monstrosity and instead stomps around angrily and yells at the skies when you press any buttons until he's grabbed by one of the tentacles.
In Dante's Inferno, at several points you'll have to weaken Hellbeasts so that you can ride them (throwing off their previous rider in the process). There's one point in Greed where, after you straddle the beast, another beast-master runs in, climbs up and throws you off. You can mash an action command, but it does nothing; you can mash at mach 2 and will still be thrown off and have to get back up there again.
Happens in one of the most brilliant parts of Batman: Arkham Asylum. During one of the scarecrow parts you get to play as strapped down Batman, only able to move your head, as Joker pulls out a gun and shoots your face. The game over screen gives you the (un)helpful tip: Move the middle analog stick to avoid Joker's gunshots. (Or, if you are playing the PC version, "tilt the mouse".)
Of course, if you're playing with a mouse that has a tiltable mouse wheel, that hint becomes less jokey.
Zigzagged at the start of Batman: Arkham City. Bruce Wayne tied to a chair and left alone. You're given a single command option: Left stick = Escape. As soon as you dump out of the chair, the guards are on top of you. You can deal with the first but are quickly clubbed in the head by the second.
The first chapter of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has Raiden losing an arm and an eye against Samuel Rodrigues. He's still controlable afterwards, but as you can guess from his state and static filling the screen, he moves extremely slowly and can only perform single uncoordinated slashes with no chance to land another hit on Sam, who spends the rest of the scene casually walking after Raiden and shoving him around and taunting him until he finally hits Raiden with another attack.
Another of these occurs when Sam points out to Raiden how most of the cyborgs he's been killing had no other choice than to sign up for PMC work and then proceeds to somehow broadcast their inner thoughts into Raiden's head. Again, Raiden moves much slower than normal and can only perform 2 slashes in a row (yet the game expects you to win a battle against normal Mooks this way or you miss out on ranked battle) until he's finally saved by giving into his Ax-Crazy tendencies just before a boss fight.
The final one occurs multiple times against the final boss: he breaks Raiden's sword before the second part of the battle and you need to either fight him with punches and kicks until you reduce his life bar enough and then have your life reduced low enough to trigger a Quick Time Event which ends the battle or avoid his attacks long enough until he performs an unavoidable one if you're trying to beat him without taking any damage. In the final part of the battle, one of his attacks always knocks Raiden's replacement sword away from him if it lands, forcing him to retrieve it afterwards.
The intro of The Walking Dead has you in the back of a police car. The cop takes his eyes off the road just in time for a walker to lurch into his path, and no matter what you have Lee yell or how fast, you'd better believe you're hitting that walker and going off the road.
Happens again during the ending, twice, once when Lee and Clementine try to open the door and then when Lee tries to get up.
From The Secret of Monkey Island, there's one part where you are attached to a weight underwater. If you fail to free yourself within the generous timespan of 10 minutes, you will drown, and be given options such as "float", "decompose" and "order hint book." Oh, and reload.
Even before these 10 minutes run out you are given a lot of possible options to free you from the rope, with sharp objects all around you, which Guybrush can't reach because he can't move the weight his rope is attached to. Leaving you helpless unless you can think out of the box You have to pick up the weight.
There's another variant in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, where Guybrush and Wally end up suspended next to each other over a pit of acid, and Guybrush has five minutes to sabotage the Death Trap that will drop them into the acid before it goes off.
At the beginning of Escape from Monkey Island, you start the game tied to the mast and have to use your limited mobility to free yourself.
This puzzle shows up yet again in Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, where Guybrush has to escape the clutches of a Mad Doctor while strapped to a table.
In Disaster Report, if you mess up in one segment, you end up tied up, and have to struggle to escape in face of the constant earthquakes.
Happens in Myst, if you enter the final area without the means to get out. After a brief chastising by the guy you were supposed to be rescuing, you get to roam the five room sealed prison and watch him scribble in his book, presumably forever.
Could be argued that the ending fits as well. You're free to wander the islands and solve the puzzles again, but, since it's Myst, there really isn't much else you can do but take in the scenery.
Grim Fandango includes this as a puzzle in its endgame, where Manny is shot up with Sproutella and falls to the ground in agony while his insides are slowly filled with flowers, and has to use what little strength he has left to remove the plant.
Happens at one point in Trilby's Notes. Trilby is rendered completely helpless, and there is only one command that will have a productive result: "DIE"
King's Quest V: Graham can get captured by thieves. If you didn't do the right sequence of events beforehand, all you can do is wait for the Have a Nice Death message.
In Heavy Rain, if Madison is captured and tied up by the insane doctor there's a brief section where you can't do anything but move the controller to struggle and press X to scream.
Arguably, searching for Jason at the beginning could qualify, even giving you the ability to call out for Jason. Any decently Genre Savvy player will realize that something bad is about to happen and there's nothing you can do about it, but at the same time, the game leaves you feeling like if you had just moved a little faster...
In Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, if you take too much time in the final part of the game, you'll miss your lifeboat and will be stuck on the ship, free to walk around until it sinks.
The Stanley Parable Ending #2: Upon following the narrator's ironic commands to attempt to free himself from the mind control, if the player prompts Stanley to turn on the Mind Control device instead of following orders and turning it off, the narrator traps him in the Mind Control Facility with 120 seconds to live before the entire place goes nuclear. He then taunts the player further by adding additional time to the countdown, just to see the player frantically try to find a way out. This is considered a player punch, because while the narrator has been constantly telling you exactly what to do, when you're given the chance to try and escape on your own, the only thing that comes to mind is finding a way out by moving around and clicking on things, just as the narrator kept telling you to.
First Person Shooter
In Marathon 2: Durandal and Marathon Infinity, there is one level each where you are trapped in a small prison cell. In Durandal, you have to punch one of the guards through the cell window, signaling the BOBs to perform a Deus ex Machina and rescue the player. In Infinity, a single drone arrives to kill the guard and unlock the cell.
In Modern Warfare, during the mission "The Coup", you're tied up and thrown into the backseat of a car. The only control you actually have over your character is the ability to look around. The twist? You're playing the President of Unspecifiedstan, on his way to his execution. And you do get executed by one of the Big Bads, sparking the events of the rest of the game.
In the mission "Aftermath", in which all you can do is limp across a burned-out wasteland until Sgt. Jackson dies horribly from radiation poisoning and/or internal injuries.
In Game Over, after a tanker truck blows up and you're lying on the ground helpless, you see the Big Bad walking towards you, and executing your teammates one by one. While they're distracted after their Hind is destroyed by another helicopter, Captain Price slides you his pistol, and you use it to blow Zakhaev's brains out.
In Modern Warfare 2, during the final part of "Endgame", you get to control Soap MacTavish as he lies on the ground, incapacitated by a knife sticking out of his chest. The game gives you control at three points, when Soap is on the ground looking up at Shepherd, when you're crawling to the gun, and when you have to pull the knife out of your chest and aim it at Shepherd.
Earlier on, the mission "Second Sun" puts you in the shoes of James Ramirez, an Army Ranger who is trapped in a downed Black Hawk helicopter. Although you can't move, you can fire your weapon, although you only have two clips. After a flash of light from the sky, you get to control Sat1, an astronaut on the International Space Station who is watching a nuclear device launch from Russia. After you turn your head to see the nuke detonate over Washington, the shockwave destroys the station and sends you spiraling helplessly out of control while a mirror from the station careens towards you.
"Loose Ends," which ends with Roach, your PC, being dragged to safety by Ghost... only for both to be shot in the chest by General Shepherd, who turns out to be the mastermind behind the whole plot. You can only lie helpless as he and his men douse your bodies with gasoline and light you on fire.
Modern Warfare 3: As Yuri, you get to watch Makarov shoot you in the gut for betraying him. You drag yourself into the airport's elevator to stop the massacre that happened in "No Russian", but you don't get close to reaching Makarov's group before you collapse and black out.
"Davis Family Vacation" , in which a tourist and his wife and daughter are killed in a Russian gas attack in London.
In Black Ops you spend the title screen in this state, Unless you do a certain Easter Egg... And you wind up being subjected to this virtually every mission.
Half-Life 2 and its subsequent Episodes do this a lot—most notably in the Citadel, where you're first stripped of your weapons in an airlock-like chamber (you can move, but extremely slowly, and look around as your weapons are disintegrated) and later enter a suspended cage...cocoon...thing where the only thing you can do is move your head around.
In Episode Two you are able to move only very slowly and move your head after a Hunter brings a building down on you. This is distressing: your companion Alyx is being mauled by a Hunter and you cannot help. At two points later in the game you are held helpless by the psionic power of an Advisor, the first time while it prepares to insert a probe in your brain, the second time at the end of the game when you are forced to watch while it kills Eli Vance.
Most definitely happens in Quake IV. After being incapacitated by the Makron, Matthew Kane wakes up on a Strogg assembly line and can only move his head and struggle futilely as the Strogg dismember him alive and turn him into one of them. Fortunately, he is rescued by his squadmates before he can the mind-control chip in his head activated, so he escapes with both his new Strogg abilities and his free will. The scene can be viewed here.
Also happens when you are in a Drop Pod as part of the attacking wave. You can only look around as other pods explode, catch fire, crash or go off course, sometime all four. Do those things ever hit their intended targets?
GoldenEye 007. Straight from the movies, you are captured and taunted with your own gun. You can grab it and kill the guards, usually taking damage in the process. Then more guards pour in.
Duke Nukem 3D. End of Level 2 gets you captured, and in Level 3 you're being executed in the electric chair. Thankfully they forgot to tie you down...
Happens briefly in Deus Ex after J.C. gets captured by Majestic 12. After about ten seconds of walking around your cell, Daedalus opens the door for you.
At the start of Halo 3: ODST, the player is being dropped from a ship in orbit in a drop pod and can only look around.
In Hugo 3: Jungle of Doom, Hugo gets locked up in a giant cage inside the Witch Doctor's hut. If you didn't get all the proper items before going in the cage, then it's impossible to escape.
Shooting anything other than a target during one of America's Army's tutorials (like, say, your drill sergeant) will land you in a prison cell where you are absolutely unable to do anything, save for restarting the game.
Getting your health reduced to zero in Left 4 Dead will incapacitate you, making you unable to move or use anything except your pistols while you wait for your teammates to get you up. During this time, you're bleeding out and being attacked speeds up the process, where death consumes you if your friends take too long to save you.
The Jockey in Left 4 Dead 2. Once it grabs you, it will force you to move where it wants to go. You can resist it by trying to move in the opposite direction of its movement, but all it does is slow it down.
The Darkness has a harrowing sequence in which the player character is brutally tortured in first person. Though due to your character's unique abilities there actually is something you can (and must) do.
At the very end of Portal 2, the player gets injured by bombs and is left lying on the floor, only able to do the single thing which will defeat the boss.
Before that, once you get into the escape elevator the first time around you're only able to jump, shoot portals at the glass trapping you and watch Wheatley get Drunk with Power and smash you and GLaDOS into a pit.
In Quake, you remain conscious for a few seconds after getting killed, and can even look around. It doesn't do you any good, though you can see the enemies that just killed you walking around nonchalantly.
If your team loses a round in Team Fortress 2, your team is forced into "Humiliation." Here, your class takes on a scared and fleeing pose, you are slowed down and cannot attack (save the use of taunt kills), and the enemy team is faster and all their attacks deal Critical Hits.
In ArmA, if you're injured enough that you can no longer stand all you can do is move your head (and thus the camera) up and down until someone patches you up or you bleed out.
FarCry3 has this with a twist where it is actually someone else's life that the player is helpless to save. In the beginning, when Vaas shoots Jason's brother in the throat, the player is given the prompt to apply pressure to the wound. Whether or not the player does this has no affect on the outcome.
This happens twice in the story mode for Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2: Sasuke runs out of strength fighting Itachi, and the player, as Sasuke, is forced to retreat as Itachi approaches slowly but creepily. Later, Pain inflicts a mortal wound onto Jiraiya. As Jiraiya, the player can still fight, but in a diminished way, while Pain has infinite HP and fights with all six of his bodies at once (It Makes Sense in Context), meaning he can create an Unwinnable situation for Jiraiya at will.
Examples of this trope, in both the 'until you're rescued' and 'until the game over' forms, occur in text-based Interactive Fiction, too. One of the most obvious examples occurs in Infocom's Planetfall. The beginning of the game has you stuck on a spaceship until a disaster occurs, requiring you to reach an escape pod before the ship explodes. However, if you do something wrong and get your overzealous superior officer mad enough at you, he'll throw you in the Brig — which you cannot escape from (typing 'escape' tells you that 'Houdini himself would be stumped by this cell'), and you'll be stuck there unable to reach the escape pod.
A Mind Forever Voyaging, by the same author, Steve Meretzky, also has jail-themed examples, this time of both sorts. The PC gets to visit several increasingly grim simulations of a dystopian future world. In the less grim simulations, breaking the law results in spending several turns in jail until you're released. In a later, extremely bleak, simulation, you're stuck there until executed. Fortunately, since it's a simulation, getting killed merely returns you to the non-simulation world.
Steve Meretzky might very well be the king of this trope at Infocom. In Sorcerer (also written by Meretzky), one has to leave the Guild Hall before the end of the day, or else the Big Bad will show up and send the PC to the Chamber of Living Death. There, the PC will be horribly torn apart and devoured by hideous parasites, only to not die but regenerate, over and over again, being unable to do anything about it because 'Your agony is too great to concentrate on such an action'. The only way out is to restart or restore, and then avoid ever being sent to that place in the first place. Of course, in the game's endgame, the player has to choose which door to open, and the wrong door being opened could also send the player to that chamber.
Another Infocom example: Douglas Adams' game adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, coauthored by Steve Meretzky, includes sequences where the player character has passed out and stuck in a dark void, and getting out of said void is part of a puzzle. The trick is to see if you can sense anything at all, and then figure out which sense you can actually use to regain consciousness.
There are also quite a few 'game over' variants of this trope at work in the H2G2 game. Giving Ford his towel back leaves you with nothing to do but wait for the Vogons to destroy the world. Likewise, being struck by a stray brick leaves you helpless in the back of an ambulance, with any attempted action politely reminding you that you're dead and suggesting you start building up a healthy rigor mortis, until again the Vogons destroy the world. The third and most disturbing occurs later, where you can teleport into your own brain. You have scant few turns to do anything about it before your head explodes.
In the climax of Time Quest by Legend (founded by former Infocom designer Bob Bates after Infocom's demise), the PC is strapped to a chair by the villain, and not able to do much except ask the villain a number of questions about the plot, until the PC's past self shows up and the PC has to do the thing needed to complete the Stable Time Loop. Soon afterward, the PC is tied up as the villain and another character kill each other.
Unnkulia X: Escape of the Sacrificed by Valentine Kopteltsev contains a bizarre example of this overlapping with Big Lipped Alligator Moment. After escaping from villagers who wish to sacrifice her, the PC (a village girl named Joan Fleaumont) finds herself in an entertainment park filled with astronomy exhibits, gardens, and auctions. At one secluded corner of the park, the PC can find herself being invited to go into a room to the west by voices over a speaker system. The voices are clearly saying they think she's hot stuff and that she should pose for a girlie magazine. If you accept this offer and go into that room, The PC gets grabbed and then blacks out. She awakes to find herself in a strange room filled with all sorts of bizarre experimental equipment — and to find that she doesn't just have her picture in a girlie magazine, she IS a picture in a girlie magazine! The PC can't move or do anything other than look at the various items in the area for several turns, while a creature keeps wandering into a transmogrifer and emerging in various weird forms. Finally, the creature, in the form of a gorilla, picks up the magazine with the PC in picture form on it, and dumps it into a disintegrator machine. The only way out is to restore your saved position to back before you entered that room (and this time don't do what the voices tell you).
In Armored Core: Nexus, the game ends with a sort of superweapon being deployed and you fight it in swarms as the screen fades to black. You are able to control your mech and fight them off, but the implication is that you are unable to prevent the drones from overwhelming you.
In MechWarrior 2, losing a leg was not fatal as in 1 or 3, but it also meant that losing a leg prevented you from moving or even standing up, unlike 4 (though jump jets might be able to help, it was no guarantee...especially if they were in a leg you just lost). The mission didn't end and you were stuck on the ground until someone finished you off, you ejected, or you self-destructed your engine.
Living Legends had a similar effect. Getting a leg blown out would knock you onto the ground with a limited field of view and unlike MechWarrior 2, jump-jetting just causes you to flip around in the air. Hope you bought extra weapons and satchels on your battle armor.
As it was built from the same engine as Mechwarrior 2,Heavy Gear's first incarnation by Activision has the same effect if your leg is shot out. Sure, you can try and look around on the ground or fire your weapons, but lose a leg and you were just as helpless.
Fan game Blender Battletech features this if you're shot out of your 'Mech. You don't 'die' per se, and the fight you're in will continue without you, assuming you weren't the last man standing on your team. However, all you can do after your 'Mech is downed is stick your head out the hatch, look around in roughly a 90-degree arc, and hope your AI allies can finish the job. It tends to be a bit of a wait, and you're not guaranteed a view to the action.
In Another World / Out of this World, after being imprisoned by the aliens, you have an option to swing in your cage. Doing so attracts the guard. After a while, the cage falls on him.
At the climax, your back is broken by an alien and your controls are reduced to 'crawl forward (agonisingly)' and 'reach'. It's a bad time to be alone...
In Super Metroid, when Mother Brain zaps you with her Hyper Beam you're brought to your knees, panting. If you don't do anything, Samus stays like that, and Mother Brain zaps her again and again until the baby metroid comes along. However, you can press the D-pad to get up on your feet and keep shooting the Mother Brain, but only if you have enough health to survive another zap. If you don't have enough health, you can attempt to stand, but Samus won't have enough strength to stand and will fall back to her knees again. Technically speaking, the game actually runs a check against Samus' health and the power of Mother Brain's Hyper Beam. If Samus can still survive a hit from the unavoidable Hyper Beam, she is allowed to stand. If not, she stays down while Mother Brain whittles away the rest. The metroid flies in and rescues you when your health is down to your last energy unit. It is possible to trick this system, however, as the game does not take Reserve Tanks into account. After being stunned, you can unequip the Varia suit upgrade which reduces damage by 50% (oddly enough, the Gravity suit does not reduce damage from Mother Brain's Hyper Beam, so it makes no difference). The game now triggers the Metroid event, but the player can now put on the Varia Suit again and refill their energy with the Reserve Tanks. This allows Samus to stand up and move during the scene even if she's meant to stay in one place.
Speaking of the baby, after witnessing a Sidehopper being drained completely and being reduced to a brittle husk, it goes after her for its next meal, and will not stop until the Critical Annoyance alarm sets in to remind it of who it's feeding off of. Not Bombs, not the Screw Attack, nothing you can do will stop this from starting, much less from bringing you all the way down. And Samus will be slowed from the weight of the baby, so there's no running to an exit door, either.
In Metroid: Fusion, The last boss, Omega Metroid takes one swipe at you and you're knocked into the corner with 1 life left, and the big O starts inching towards you slowly. While this is happening, you can button mash to make Samus struggle to get up faster, and she might almost go into a standing position before dropping down, but she'll never actually manage to stand up in time. If you press Up, Samus can look up at the Big O, coming ever so closer, adding more dramatic effect. Before O-Man can get to you, the SA-X saves you by attacking him, and he does the same to the SA-X. The SA-X is reduced to nothing but a Core X without a shell, begging you to pick it up. Samus finally stands and takes the power up to fight the boss, and if the boss slashes at you again, only 1 energy tank is taken away and button mashing actually gets you to stand up.
Running into a cobweb in Glider PRO will trap you, and kill you after a few seconds of struggling in vain to break free. Using batteries or rubber bands, however, can propel you out of a cobweb.
Possibly the first example of this ever is the classic Atari 800 game Mountain King. If you fall all the way down to the lowest part of the mountain, a Giant Spider may chase after you and wrap you full of web. Once you're all wrapped up, you can push left or right to struggle in that direction, but you're pretty much screwed. Some time later, the spider comes back and eats you and the web. Really leaves an impression when you are six years old. This makes this trope Older Than the NES.
In Sonic Colors, the Wii version, we find out this way even Sonic can't outrun a blackhole...
In Limbo, at one point you can get wrapped up in web by a spider. However, it turns out that you actually can do something about it: you can hop forward while still wrapped up in web.
Also, sometimes a parasitic worm will burrow into your head, forcing you to move in one direction. You can still jump and control your walking speed.
In Kirby Air Ride, you can flop around after your machine gets totaled in a multiplayer match.
Need for Speed Most Wanted and Carbon after you hit a spike strip during a cop chase. Your top speed is now about 100 kph, you can only steer in one direction and you're pretty much doomed. This only applies if all four of your tires are shredded. If one tire is shredded, your steering is severely compromised, but you can still make an escape. It's even possible with three tires shredded, as long as your last good tire is attached to the drivetrain, but obviously it becomes much more difficult. You can also use the "reset car" button to put your car back in perfect shape, but if there are cops anywhere nearby, you'll be immediately busted.
In installments of Dance Dance Revolution where the Extra Stage or One More Extra Stage forces you to select a specific boss song on Heavy/Expert difficulty, the game will still go to the song select menu, but attempting to change the song will result in the song selection wheel twitching in that direction before being helplessly bounced back, and attempting to change the difficulty level will result in a buzzer.
The real point of this being to give you a chance to breathe before siccing what is usually the hardest challenge in that iteration of the game on you. With a nice side of This Is Gonna Suck, of course.
Technically, the beginning of Mass Effect 2. Your ship gets attacked and heavily damaged, and you have to make your way through it, unarmed, running through explosions, and then walking through an eerie segment where the entire ROOF has been blown away and the sound becomes muffled.
Similarly, a sequence later in the game where the Normandy SR-2 gets attacked and you play as Joker, limping through the ship, watching helplessly as your crew get captured.
Mass Effect 3 has a few segments like this as well, though mostly in the dream sequences. The only exception is the final push towards the beam to the Citadel with Harbinger killing allies left and right.
ME3 multi has a variant. If you lose all shields and HP, you're incapacitated and fall to the ground, bleeding out. Your only options are to 1) sit and wait for the inevitable; 2) use a Medi-Gel (they have to be bought with Credits), or 3) hammer whatever button is bound to the function, which (for whatever reason) slows down the bleeding. (Or 4) get executed by an enemy Mook, but we'll sidestep this as it isn't precisely under your control.)
Fable I has a version of this. After having been captured in a failed attempt to rescue the main character's mother, the hero is locked in a jail cell with no ability to use his powers and no items. All he can do is walk around the cage till he's sent off to the races literally.
In Final Fantasy VII, just before that part, Cloud is mind-controlled by Sephiroth and made to try to chop Aeris in half. As the mind control takes hold, Cloud's movements are restricted more and more until pressing the d-pad causes him to awkwardly struggle his hips in that direction and pressing the other buttons makes him shake or grab his head. The only way out of the sequence is to press the circle button, which causes him to come at her with his sword. Thankfully, your comrades stop you before Cloud lets his sword drop. Of course, this doesn't stop Sephiroth from getting the drop on her...
Another similar situation arises just after clearing the Temple of the Ancients, when Sephiroth mind controls Cloud into giving away the Black Materia that destroys everything, you get to control what seems to be Cloud's inner consciousness who can run around helplessly while Cloud's body slowly walks to Sephiroth and hands over the Black Materia.
There's a third part that tries to imitate this trope, where Tifa is being held in an execution chamber. You can move her body parts around in a seemingly hopeless struggle...However, the right combination of movements will allow you to fetch a dropped key and use it to free yourself.
The main characters of FFVII break into the Shinra HQ and end up locked in a bunch of jail cells. The only thing they can do is to talk to each other through the walls.
Speaking of FFVII, the prequel Crisis Core has a rather cruel example of this trope. We all know how it's gonna end, but rather than making it a cutscene, the game makes you play through the fateful showdown with the Shinra army, and it goes so far to show Zack's life flashing before your eyes! Which still remains awesome, even regardless of the helplessness - something that few examples on this page can claim to be true. Yes, by the end of the day, Shinra is going to win. That doesn't mean you can't make it hell on them.
In Final Fantasy VIII, there's a scene in which you're trying to escape a missile base before it explodes. You can run around all you like, but, as you and your characters will eventually realise, the exit is blocked by the boss you just fought.
Later in the game, there is a sequence in which the Big Bad temporarily possesses and controls Rinoa. The player, controlling Squall, can't do anything to intervene or stop Rinoa's slow, limping progress across the space station; trying just gets him flung across the room by her sorceress powers.
A better example is when Robo is getting trashed by his fellow brethren. You have full control over Crono, but the robots simply swat him away. Your partner just sits there and protests. Finally they finish wrecking Robo and throw him away; now you can fight them.
In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you start in the Imperial Prison, unable to do anything except listen to the mocking of the prisoner across the hall and examine your surroundings until Uriel Septim arrives.
If you have insufficient gold to pay your fines when arrested, the guards will throw you in jail if you surrender. There are several methods of escaping, but if such methods fail, you're left with little choice but to hang around in your cell until you "serve your sentence" by sleeping in the bed provided.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim opens with the player character riding a cart to the execution of all aboard, hands bound. All you can do in this sequence is listen to the other condemned on board and admire the pretty scenery. When everything goes to hell, you have to run to Helgen Keep where your bindings will be cut.
Happens multiple times in Fallout 3. The very first scene is your birth, where the only thing you can do is press the "Action" button to cry. Later on when you get captured and immobilized, you can look around but not interact until you're released.
Once the nuclear missiles are launched in Shin Megami Tensei I, a 30-second countdown is displayed on-screen. You retain full control, so you can run around like crazy, maybe, for fun, see if you can get out of the building fast enough (or just cast Traesto, if you want to ruin the fun), but, of course, there's nothing you can do to stop the impact.
In the Tales Series, player characters get themselves thrown into jail or capture under player control fairly often - this has happened in Phantasia, Innocence, Symphonia, and Vesperia. Generally you're expected to wait and/or pace until either release or escape ensues.
In Hammer And Sickle, if you get arrested, you can run around in the cell forever, but there's no way to escape and it's effectively game over.
Xenogears rather cruelly combines this trope, in the form of boss fights where the enemy just beats you to a bloody pulp, with Winnable battles with really, really tough bosses. You won't know which is which until the game over screen pops up.
In Pokémon, if you are in an inescapable battle with a Pokemon that has run out of moves and no other Pokémon (or no attack moves) to use, it becomes this. "Magikarp! Splash attack now!"
Until you run out of PP, in which your Pokemon will take up using the 'Struggle' attack, which, while not exceptionally powerful, does do actual damage.
Even then, it's a recoil move. Using it does damage to your Pokémon as well, meaning you have a VERY limited time to beat your opponent... if you even can.
At the beginning of the third week of The World Ends with You, Neku is forced to play without a partner. In-universe, this is an Unwinnable by Design situation. The game integrates this state into the mechanics by having you fight one battle without a partner with all of your pins disabled, so all you can do is dash around and escape. Doing the latter advances the plot, and, fortunately, causes Beat to step in by becoming Neku's partner, making the Reaper's Game winnable again.
In Robopon, in the second game, on the day Cody is to be executed, all you can do is wait, walking around your cell until the time machine arrives.
Shoot Em Up
In the video game adaptation of Blade Runner, your character ends up tied in a chair. All you can do is bounce around in the chair until you find the right place to free yourself.
The worst of all possibly being from Metal Gear Solid 3, where you've just fought and defeated your mentor and mother figure and as Snake sadly realizes he has to finish the job he went there to do which is kill her, Snake aims his gun, the dramatic music comes to a pause, the camera pans out and you realize that you, the player are in control, and the only control that works is the one that pulls the trigger.
Another variation occurs in 3. The "Snake gets captured and tortured" scene begins with the screen completely black, and we only hear what others are saying. However, it's not quite a "blank cutscene," because we still see Snake's health bar and camo index... and we can't do anything about it as it goes down while we're getting punched by Volgin.
That one's a subversion due to a Good Bad Bug: Holding the shoulder button to keep the item window open will keep Snake's health from draining as Volgin beats him.
Assassin's Creed I does this when you're not travelling through time with help from your DNA. In fact the game ends like that, leaving you in a room full of bizarre markings with no way to get out.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has this as well, in the ending. When you've finally found where Ezio hid the Apple, you, Lucy, Rebecca, and Shaun go to retrieve it before finally meeting with the other Assassins. The trip to the chamber has Desmond seeing visions of one of The Ones That Came Before, Juno, who no one else can see. Finally, you reach the apple, and Desmond reaches out to grab it... and time stops. Juno informs Desmond that someone would cross the threshold with him, or some other, equally clear and helpful advice... then she takes control of his body, whips the Hidden Blade out, and makes him face Lucy. Every time the player attempts to make Desmond do anything else, he only takes another step, or brings the blade up to strike. Guess how that ends.
And it's Fridge Brilliance by the time of Assassin's Creed III. Desmond only moves during that scene when the player does something. Otherwise, he stands perfectly still. Turns out, Juno was telepathically proving to him that Lucy had sided with Abstergo over the Assassins - he fully admits by the time of III that he wasn't actually forced to do it. The person who's hesitating, trying to fight the call to walk over to Lucy and kill her? Hoping for a way out? It's not Desmond at all. It's you.
Assassin's Creed III has a part near the start of the game where Connor tries to save his mother from burning alive/being trapped in a burning building. The game tells you to push a button, but no matter what you do, he fails. Made even worse by the fact that less than a minute ago, you performed the exact same action with a log that succeeds.
Later, when Connor is being taken to his execution, the player has control, but all they can do is walk forward slowly.
In Splinter Cell Conviction, during the Flash Forwards to the next-to-end part in the White House and later the White House proper, you see Sam being held at gunpoint by Grim. At these points, you can either advance without being prompted, or try to stall for time by looking around, shortly after which your captor will make you advance anyway.
The last level in Chaos Theory has an area like this - a specific zone has guards with Less-Than-Lethal ammo that can take you down in a shot and, upon getting shot, you wake up in an interrogation room with everyone on full alert. Whilst it is possible to escape your captors, you're initially in a sequence where you can attempt to pick your handcuffs, but have to restart every time the interrogator slaps or strangles you (i.e. every couple of seconds).
Another example, seen above, is Rule of Rose. Twice in that game, Jennifer is tied to a pole. The first time, she has no choice but to listen to the taunts and threats of her captors, until she is finally freed. During that time, you can use the control stick to wriggle around in the ropes. The second time, you have to free yourself by calling for your dog three times by pushing the normal "call dog" button, and he'll chew through the ropes.
In Dead Rising, later in the game, the government sends a task force to the mall to capture and interrogate or kill anyone who is or isn't a zombie. If they find you (and drain your life bar), you will be sent to a minigame of you stripped half naked and strapped to the inside of a chopper. You can attempt to wiggle free, but if the guards catch you trying (they walk in a set pattern) the guard beats the crap out of you and the game's clock skips ahead about six or eight hours.
Also, once you start a new game, Frank will still be in his boxer shorts.
In the Japan-only SNES game Clock Tower (not to be confused with the PSX Clock Tower, which is actually its sequel), Jennifer could pass out and wake up locked in a cell. You can move around inside the cell and talk to your fellow prisoner. Depending on your actions and if you have a certain item or not, you may end up being unable to escape the cell and end up killed by your fellow prisoner.
Specifically, eaten. And this was just one of many, many, many horrific moments.
Silent Hill: Homecoming treats the protagonist to this on two occasions - first in the very beginning, and then towards the end of the game where you struggle against restraints while an antagonist mutilates you with a power drill.
There's also a part of the game where you wake up trapped in a prison cell until one of your dad's friends comes along and questions you about the events of the game up to that point. He seems to think you're involved.
Getting knocked down in Resident Evil Outbreak presents a mildly reversed scenario from Left 4 Dead — you have no more access to weapons, but you can feebly move around on the ground to try and reach other characters who must then pull you back up to your feet before you can resume attacking and going through doors unassisted.
The first half of Chapter 1 in Dead Space 2 has player character Isaac Clarke reduced to walking around with his hands tied behind his back in a straitjacket, with just a sliver of health on his life bar, as he wanders around the station until he finds a doctor who cuts him loose.
The Penumbra trilogy by Frictional Games plays with this. All control is analogue, so if you want to fight something you have to take out a weapon from your inventory, hold down a mouse button to grasp it, and then swing it by swiping the mouse back and forth.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent, from the same developer, takes this to its logical conclusion by removing weapons entirely. Daniel, the protagonist, can interact with in-game objects, open and close doors, climb ladders, light candles, hold a lantern, lean around corners, walk and run. This is the entire movelist for the game. The enforced lack of way to manipulate the environment helps foster paranoia.
Slender: The Eight Pages operates quite similarly to Amnesia. Your nameless protagonist can walk, run, turn your flashlight on and off, and pick up the titular eight pages of A4 binder paper whilst attempting to elude The Slender Man.
Outlast is similar to Amnesia and Slender mentioned above in that you have no weapons or equipment at all, barring your night vision camera and a notebook. You can hide from enemies in lockers and under beds and try to outrun them if they spot you, but can't engage them in combat. A more traditional version of this is seen in game when Trager ties Miles to a wheelchair and tortures him. He can move his head and look around, but can't escape until Trager leaves the room, having chopped two of Miles' fingers off.
The Whistleblower DLC also has a similar sequence in which Gluskin traps Waylon in a locker, drags him to his impromptu "surgery", and knocks him out with sleeping gas. Waylon then spends the next several hours fading in and out of consciousness, watching as Gluskin subjects at least two or three Variants to genital mutilation and murder. He then wakes up, naked and bound, about to undergo a similar procedure. Again, all Waylon can do is move his head around, but cannot escape until a Variant attacks Gluskin, giving Waylon a chance to wiggle free.
Neverending Nightmares has you playing as a character exploring his nightmares. A character that just so happens to hate himself. In keeping with the theme of nightmares, you are defenseless in every sense of the word. You can't outrun any of the enemiesnote Nor can you run very far at a time, since he has asthma, you can't fight them in any way; you don't even have shoes, which makes the parts involving walking on broken glass all the more horrible.
The Last of Us has a sequence where Joel ends up snared in a trap and hung upside down. Prompting Ellie to have to find a way to get him down. As you can imagine the noise attracts Infected and they rush the two. Joel does have his gun and unlimited ammo to fend them off but can't do much until Ellie cuts him down.
Third Person Shooter
In Jet Force Gemini for the N64, you could press the A button to twitch after dying.
In Gears of War, a player who is incapacitated by gunfire can only press the fire button to raise an arm and call out for help while awaiting it, or just death. In the sequel, you could at least crawl around to aid your chances of survival.
Turn Based Strategy
In Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones if you decide to take Ephraim's path, in the first level that you play as him. You can control Tana, the princess of Frelia, while she is imprisoned in a cell awaiting execution by Grado.
This is also present in The Sword of Seals. Somewhat early in the game (8th chapter), Lilina is imprisoned in a room inside Castle Ostia, with an enemy archer nearby ready to kill her. You can move her around said room, and this is necessary to keep her alive, as she is needed to unlock a side chapter.
Thracia 776 also has this : in Chapter 4, Leaf and Rifis have been captured and thrown into a dungeon, along with Fergus and Karin. They have no equipment, so you can only have them move in their cells until your new party members, Machyua, Brighton and the Thief Lara, manage free them and do all the guard-slaughtering work. Then they retrieve their weapons and the fight becomes a little more equal.
About halfway through the DS remake, Shadow Dragon, you retake a castle in a fight against an enemy army that has imprisoned about four of your comrades in a jail cell they can move around in. Unfortunately, they're completely unarmed and nearby enemy ranged units attack them. Careful movements and abuse of the enemy AI is needed to keep them alive long enough for your main force to rush down the jail cell.
In Yggdra Union, at a certain point Princess Yggdra is ambushed by some villains, and, while surrounded by them, is just waiting to be beat up and captured. You have the control over other units on this part (not over Yggdra), but the bridge connecting your units to the enemy is broken. So you can advance a little, but only watch as she is beaten up and kidnapped.
One chapter of The Several Journeys of Reemus features Reemus and Liam tied up by a Gygax. You have to use his knee-jerk inclination to wallop Reemus to escape.
In Fallen London, if you attract too much attention during one of the ambitions, you get beaten nearly to the death and put in "a small, velvet lined box". (Some traits may give you an actual way to escape, but otherwise, the only thing you can do is to kill yourself trying to escape.)
In Scarface: The World is Yours, if you amass too much visibility and then fail to escape police notice before time runs out, the game tells you (literally), "You're fucked!" and goes into a last-stand mode where all your menus and possible escapes are cut off. All Tony can do is hold out for as long as he can before he's gunned down.
In Dwarf Fortress's adventurer mode, when you die, you can check the temperature (Being dead is cold and clammy), the date (You have lost track of time since your death), or wait to see what happens in the immediate area right after.
Red Dead Redemption. After being betrayed by de Santa and saved by Reyes from execution, your hands are still tied behind your back. There is literally nothing you can do but run to Reyes who then will untie you and tell you where your weapons are.
The ending probably counts too, since all you can do is see how many you can manage to shoot while standing in the opening getting blasted by a whole lineup of soldiers. Answer, not many.
In the original Mario Party, once you've unlocked the final board, Eternal Star, and try to select any other board, the game will go through its board selecting animation, but force you back onto Eternal Star.
Although this restriction is lifted once you've played Eternal Star.