WARNING: Inevitably, being an article all about the endings of games, this article contains some spoilers. If there’s a game you don’t want to know the ending for, I’ll let you know when to look away.
Video game endings are notoriously bad, I reckon. In quite a lot of the games I’ve played, there’s a significant drop in quality over the last couple of levels, and the ending often feels like an afterthought. Psi-Ops: The Unnecessary Subtitle (which I recently reviewed) is a prime example of this – the last couple of levels felt rushed, and the denouement was a brief, by-the-numbers cliffhanger that left me cold. Then again, the plot for that game was absolutely dreadful anyway, so I didn’t really expect much more…
Anyway, the point is that whereas incredible importance is placed on the endings of most films and books, the same care and attention is rarely given to the endings of games. Considering that you’ll probably have spent a minimum of 8 hours playing through any given game, it seems almost criminal for the designers not to have bothered to provide a decent ending – it’s like a slap in the face to the player: “Thanks for the 40 quid, now clear off mate, nothing to see here.”
Of course, the usual reason for the archetypal tacked-on ending is that the designers simply ran out of time and money – hence why often highly polished early levels give way to buggy, unfinished final stages. In some ways this makes sense – many players will never get through to the final levels, let alone the ending, so it’s logical to focus on the early levels, which are the ones that most people will see. On the other hand, providing a shoddy ending is hardly the way to reward the most dedicated and persistent fans of your game, and is unlikely to entice them to purchase a sequel.
That said, there have been a few games where the ending was so brilliant, shocking or memorable that it’s stayed with me for a long time – I’ve picked my three favourites, but first it’s time to name and shame the worst video game ending I’ve ever experienced…
THE WORST VIDEO GAME ENDING
Grand Theft Auto 2 (PlayStation)
Without doubt, GTA2 takes the prize for the laziest ending I’ve ever witnessed. [NB, I’d mark this next bit as a SPOILER ALERT, but as you’ll see, there really is nothing to spoil…] Picture the scene: you’ve spent hours and hours working your way through all of the various missions on offer and you’re closing in on the big three crime bosses – take them down and you’ll be the ruler of the criminal underworld in Liberty City. After many frustrating attempts, you eventually complete the final mission, and you patiently await the fruits of your labour in the final cut scene… only to be presented with the following (skip to 2:50) :
I was absolutely stunned when I saw this. Not even a ‘Congratulations!’ or ‘Thanks For Playing!’ – just a dry recognition that there is no more game to play, nothing more for you to do here, i.e. “GAME COMPLETE” (note the lack of exclamation mark), followed by a link to the main menu. Not even a list of credits! Unbelieveable – definitely Rockstar’s darkest hour.
THE BEST VIDEO GAME ENDINGS
Prince of Persia (Xbox 360)
The 2008 version of Prince of Persia was a bit of an underrated classic in my opinion. After the ‘Sands of Time’ triology, it was an attempt to reboot the series with an entirely new storyline and graphical style, and I think it succeeded magnificently. Unfortunately, the game-playing public didn’t agree, and poor sales saw this reboot come to a dead end – a real shame, as I’d really love to see what happens to the Prince after the cataclysmic finale to the game.
To explain the brilliant ending, I have to explain the plot, so bear with me a bit. Basically, there’s a god of darkness (Ahriman) and a god of light (Ormazd), and at the start of the game the god of darkness has been imprisoned within a tree in a temple. Playing as the Prince, your first encounter is with Elika, a princess who becomes your companion and eventual love interest throughout the game. Soon after you meet Elika, her father chops down the tree in which Ahriman has been imprisoned and releases the god of darkness into the world, causing the entire kingdom to become corrupted. It transpires that he does this because of a deal he made with Ahriman – before the game bgean, Elika had died, but Ahriman agreed to resurrect her if the mourning king would free him from his prison.
Throughout the game, you’re seeking to put right the destruction Ahriman has caused, accompanying Elika as she heals each land in turn. It’s a really wonderful game, and one of the nice touches is that you’re able to speak to your companion Elika at any point by tapping the shoulder button, meaning it’s pretty much left up to you as to how much plot exposition you’d like. I took the opportunity to talk with Elika as much as I could, because not only was the acting fantastic, it also did a really good job of creating a believable, developing relationship between the two: a relationship founded in wisecracks and insults, but with an undercurrent of real affection. I can only think of a handful of games that have done such a good job of creating such a believable relationship (Enslaved is one of them), so huge kudos to the script writers and actors for this one.
[SPOILER ALERT – don’t read this next bit if you plan to play the game.] Because of this believable, blossoming relationship between the two protagonists, the ending has a huge impact. In the final battle with Ahriman, Elika sacrifices herself to reseal the god within the temple tree – her earlier remarks hinted she knew this would have to happen, but she kept it a secret from the Prince. The next bit is a truly wonderful sequence – the shocked and lovelorn Prince picks up the body of Elika, and control of the character is returned to you as you walk down the long corridor to the light of the temple entrance. The credits roll on one side of the screen, and you eventually manoeuvre the Prince, still holding Elika’s body, into the sunlight outside, where you lay the corpse onto a dais. It’s a surprisingly moving sequence.
The credits finish rolling but, oddly, you’re still in control of the Prince. A sinister whispering begins on the wind – it’s the voice of Ahriman, telling you how you can save Elika. Four trees of light have grown outside the temple. Do you really want to undo all of your work by chopping them down and releasing Ahriman again? Still in control of the Prince, you hesitate, but then begin to hack down the trees anyway. Just as her father did before you, you release Ahriman to save Elika. As you carry the now stirring Elika away from the temple, the darkness once again sweeps across the land.
It’s a complex, powerful ending, and I love the way it emphasises human frailty and fallibility – we don’t always do the right thing. Or do we?
BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den (Xbox 360)
All of the BioShock games have pretty decent endings, but the one that really stayed with me was for Minerva’s Den, an extra downloadable episode for BioShock 2. As in the main game, you’re given control of a Big Daddy, but this time you’re in the giant shoes of Subject Sigma. You’ve been sent to investigate Rapture Central Computing, which leads to some wonderful imaginings of what an enormously powerful 1940s computer might look like (there’s even a hidden, Spacewar-like early video game).
You’re guided through the game by Charles Porter, who is co-creator of The Thinker, an all-powerful supercomputer at the heart of Rapture. Porter has revived you to help him fight Reed Wahl, an unhinged rival genius who also helped to design The Thinker, but who wants to use it to predict the future to give himself power.
[SPOILER ALERT – don’t read this next bit if you plan to play the game.] You become aware early on that The Thinker may have the power to flawlessly replicate the personality of human beings, and several audio diaries lead you to believe that a bereft Porter has used The Thinker to replicate the personality of his dead wife, Pearl. As you get nearer to The Thinker, you’re prepared for the machine to reveal itself as Pearl… but in actual fact it reveals itself to be Charles Porter. In a moving twist, it transpires that the machine has replicated its creator, seemingly in a bid to save itself from a doomed Rapture by facilitating its own rescue. But even more revelatory is the fact that Subject Sigma turns out to be… the actual Charles Porter. Porter was apparently double-crossed by Reed Wahl and sent by Andrew Ryan to be turned into a mindless Big Daddy with no memory of his former life, and The Thinker chooses to rescue its creator, along with itself, by directing Porter/Sigma throughout the game.
The final part sees you head towards a bathysphere and escape, but as you leave you pass by several photos of your long-lost wife. I found this bit surprisingly moving – perhaps because as an anonyomous player of the game, you find yourself in exactly the same position as the amnesiac Subject Sigma. Like the Charles Porter imprisoned in the diving suit of the Big Daddy, you suddenly become aware of a lost love and an entire previous life that you had no idea existed until a few moments previously, and so it’s easy to empathise with the character’s plight. It’s a very clever finale, and more proof that there are some things that can be achieved in games that simply can’t be done in any other medium.
The House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
The ending of House of the Dead: Overkill sticks in the mind for a somewhat different reason. I say “sticks in the mind”, but perhaps “burned onto my retinas” would be a more appropriate way to describe the shocking denouement. If you’re not familiar with this game, it’s basically an entry into the House of the Dead series that’s been done in the style of a grindhouse movie, complete with schlocky characters, generous gore, outrageous swearing and even continuity errors (apparently, the game designers were inspired by watching Planet Terror).
[SPOILER ALERT – don’t read this next bit if you plan to play the game.] At the very end, the main antagonist, Clement Darling, reveals that he has removed the brain of the woman you’re trying to rescue, Varla Guns, and has transplanted the brain of his dying mother into Varla’s body. We also become horribly aware of Clement’s incestuous relationship with his mother, but then Varla/Mother mutates into an enormous mutant hag thing. The main characters, G and Isaac, prepare to fight the beast, but we’re instead presented with a ‘MISSING REEL’ placeholder card, and the game cuts back in just after the pair have killed the monster using two miniguns that they conveniently found lying around (I love this gag). Then this happens…
Ewwwww. I’m definitely not going to forget THAT in a hurry…
So those are the best three video game endings in my opinion – does anyone know of any other that could beat this top three?