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 they were 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.
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.
- All the Uncharted games play this trope straight. The linear path takes you all over the place and yet you always end up where you need to be.
- 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 PS2 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.
- Time Diver Eon Man always begins in "Peaceful Present Age" and always ends in "Peaceful Future". However, the other three strages ("Devastated Future", "Devastated Present Age", and "Past") are randomized.
- 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).
- 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.
- Not to mention all other id games, from the Quakes on up.
- 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 two 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.
- Played straight in BioShock and then justified in a deconstruction of this trope (among others).
- Toyed with in Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. The protagonist narrates the player's actions as each mission is a story from the past. Occasionally the narrator will correct himself, and the routes will open and close in relation to the narrative. One great example is when Silas tells of how he found himself surrounded by Apaches. An audience member asks him what happened to the attacking cowboys he spoke of a moment ago, and Silas quickly corrects himself to saying that the cowboys attacked him in Apache style. At the same moment the gunslinging Indians the player is fighting are suddenly replaced by cowboys
- Jumper Two would always put you down on a passing train no matter how long you stayed in the jungle, and despite the cannon firing in a random direction, you always land in the mountains.
- Shadow the Hedgehog (the 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.
- Sonic Heroes has the same level and boss progression for all four teams. However, the teams apparently only meet up once, (or not at all in the case of Sonic and Chaotix or Rose and Dark) despite the fact that since they follow the same path, they should be bumping into each other everywhere. Also, only Team Rose looks like they start near the first level.
- 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. This lends credence to theories like that it was just a test or that GLaDOS wanted to be destroyed (or simply have her morality core removed), or can be attributed to Rattman's subtle aid.
Wheatley: No rail to tell us where to go! Oh, 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.
- Lampshaded early on in Portal 2:
- The plot of Golden Sun Dark Dawn appears to be this trope at first. Early in the game, you are doing things like activating magical machines and taking sides in battles for the sole purpose of advancing the plot. The twist: Everything you've done is part of the villains' insane Batman Gambit, effectively tricking you into activating an ancient superweapon for them. Your characters vow revenge, and this trope again takes place, with you wandering around a vast sea without any real clue to where to go next, but still finding everything you need to find anyways. As it happens, you're still pawns in their master plan, right up until the final boss. Maybe even after that.
- Wild ARMs 1 is about the protagonists awakening a bunch of spirits or something 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.
- Wild Arms 2 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 & 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.
- The Pokémon games are notable for this. You often come across rivers, boulders, and even bushes you can't pass without the use of "HM" skills that are given as rewards for following the plot events. When this isn't enough, the game resorts to placing NPCs blocking your way for little to no apparent reason, allowing you to pass or just mysteriously vanishing once the player has gone through the current plot point.
- The latest game in the series, Pokémon Sun and Moon, lampshades this by having the NPCs explicitly tell you that they'll let you pass when you beat the various Trials, because the whole route is pre-determined for all who attempt the Island Challenge. (Things start to fall apart on the fourth island, though, which isn't organized as well as the others)
- Nox has its moments, such as when you exit the tombs under the Fields of Valor (where your presence was justified by your investigation of the undead infestation) to run straight into the Big Bad Hecubah's Plan B: the Ogre invasion, currently ransacking the nearby town of Brin.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: 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.
- Red Dead Redemption: John Marston sure does have a knack for stumbling into the various plot relevant areas at just the right time. It's even kind of inverted at some points; you might have to go far out of your way to find a plot point, but the resulting cutscene will play out as though the player just happened to be around when the plot picks up.
- In one of the story branches, The Stanley Parable has a literal plotted line, painted yellow, used as a desperation maneuver by the narrator to get the story back on track. It ultimately starts to zigzag, loop in circles, go into the ceiling and back out, before finally leading Stanley and the narrator right back to the office. After the narrator restarts the game, he tells Stanley to just ignore the adventure line.