Great Game Endings

By: Tom Hatfield

Published: September 30, 2010 Posted in: PC Gaming Nonsense
Writing - Writing

Due to technical issues I’m afraid the only screenshot you’re getting is my generic Mass Effect 2 pic. Sorry.

I’m always surprised how few people complete their games. Although there’s certainly a few I’ve left by the wayside (honestly, I’ll get done with Bioshock one day) I do, by and large, try and complete my games. If you do make it all the way through though, there’s some great endings waiting there for you. Here are a few of my favourites, not the best you understand, but ones that offer something unique and special. Needless to say, spoilers are abound.

Deus Ex

Deus Ex is a game of choice. Any given situation can be handled in a whole variety of ways, letting you tailor the game to your own style, defining it by your decisions. It’s fitting then that it’s ending asks you to make the biggest choice of all, the fate of the world. Some people expected the ending to reflect the choices they’d made throughout and felt that putting the choice at the end made it ‘arbitrary’, however that is far from the truth.

After having battled your way to the heart of the conspiracy controlling the earth, totally-not-jesus-analogue JC Denton faces a tough decision. Does he tear it all down, destroying all global communication but freeing humanity? Does he infiltrate the conspiracy and attempt to guide humanity’s development from the inside? Or does he merge with an omniscient AI to become the benevolent God-King of the world? With such deep and important decisions, the fact that you have an open choice, no matter how you have acted before, is important, what greater victory over conspiracy can there be than the chance to decide your own fate?

What choice you make at the end of Deus Ex says a lot about you as a person, in fact they can be theoretically equated (loosely) to schools of political thought . The Helios (the AI) represents socialism, controlling yet benevolent, The Illuminati corporate conservatism, the dictation of powerful individuals via the market and Tong’s ‘dark age’ liberalism, the maximisation of personal freedom. Yes, playing the ending of Deus Ex is a lot like voting in a UK election, only you’re the only voter and the Lib Dems might actually win.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

There are two great travesties in the movie adaptation of Prince of Persia (and several small and medium size ones); the first is that they decided to get two white actors to ‘brown up’ for the lead roles, the second (and the one we will discuss here) is that they cut out the delightful ending to the game.

Like everything else about Prince of Persia’s story, the ending is all about the two main characters, The Prince and Farah, and their relationship. As you may know, the story of the game is narrated by the prince himself (complete with “Wait, that’s not how it went” quickloads), it’s a lovely device that heightens the Arabian nights fairytale atmosphere, but for most of the game we don’t know who he is narrating too. In the finale we finally get it, restoring the dagger to the hourglass reverses time all the way to the night before the events of the game, when the Prince and his father’s army rested before attacking Farah’s father’s castle. The Prince, remembering the events of the game, sneaks into Farah’s bedroom to tell her the story and return the dagger in order to prevent it from happening again.

When his tale is finally finished, she refuses to believe him (understandably) then he kisses her, she reacts with surprise and anger (after all she doesn’t know him) and he rewinds time till before he did it, then calls her a name from her childhood (showing that he knows her and is telling the truth) and runs off into the night.

Not only is it a very funny scene and a clever use of their central macguffin, but it’s also perfectly fitting for the two of them. The Prince and Farah are one of the few examples of games writers taking the classic Hollywood ‘bickering couple with sexual tension’ and making it work. The Prince is haughty and sometimes obnoxious, a product of his entitled upbringing, and throughout the game he struggles to break out of this shell and be who he really is. The dagger is the get out clause, it lets him pluck up the courage to kiss the girl like he’s always wanted, but hasn’t dared and who among us hasn’t wanted something like that?

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

This one will surprise most people I think, but I’m actually a big fan of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s single player (I’ve never touched the multi). I always felt that CoD4 struck a fragile balance between the bombast of a war movie and the trauma of real war (something lost in the sequel), the result is something that feels uncomfortably similar to watching war footage on a news programme. More brutal, uncontrolled and real than most other war games.

The reason it’s on this list however, is for having the balls to have a tragic ending (again, undone by the sequel). Most games end with you victorious in every possible way, this is understandable, they’re competitions and people play them to win, but when storytelling comes into play the downer ending is an important tool, it stops you from being too assured of victory, and adds the ability to inflict pathos as well as elation. Call of Duty 4 does this masterfully, first and most notably with it’s infamous mid game nuclear bomb detonation, but then also in it’s finale.

Your team has been escaping an assault on a Russian missile silo, you’re in the back of a truck trying to escape and being hounded, trying desperately to reach the rendezvous, then a helicopter pops up and hits your truck with a missile, sending it flying. You are stuck on the floor as you look around you, you see your team-mates injured and dead, your war, it seems, has abruptly ended. Only you’re not quite dead yet, and you’re concious enough to see the man who caused all this stride in with his bodyguards, coldly executing your surviving comrades, you turn to Captain Price, your commanding officer, who is clearly in bad shape, he still has his pistol, but he doesn’t have the shot, he tosses it to you, the world seems to slow down a second. Three targets. Two seconds. One clip. Make it count.

This moment is just perfect, you know it’s over, you know you’re going to die, but god damn it you will take this son of a bitch out with you. It isn’t an abrupt death after finishing everything, it’s knowing you’re going to die, but making sure you finish your mission first. It’s a last stand, a glorious bit of unsung heroism in a chaotic and callous war. If you take him down, your re-enforcements arrive and evacuate you, the game ends as you are winched into a rescue copter, unsure if you’ll make it, a medic pounds furiously on Price’s chest, he’s almost certainly dead, as are all your other squad mates.

War is hell.

Mass Effect 2

The final mission of Mass Effect 2 is given to you at the very start, and sits in your quest queue for the entire game. It’s called ‘suicide mission’ and it sits their, taunting you.

You’re going on a suicide mission. Deal with it.

It isn’t, of course, if you know in advance what the conditions are, or you make some really canny decisions, or you have a lot of luck, you can get everyone out alive, but most players don’t know that the first time, and in that moment it becomes something truly special. Most of Mass Effect 2 revolves around your team, you recruit them, you talk to them, you do missions with them, you invest in them as people. Then the final mission is quite willing to kill them off at any moment and you have to make the decision to put them at risk. Mass Effect has always made you feel in charge, but I never felt the burden of command quite as much as that moment.

In a way it’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest flaw, once you understand the mechanics you can game the system and get the best result no matter what. This robs the game of some of it’s impact, getting everyone through should be a monumental achievement of smarts, luck and skill, not something you did because you checked how it worked in advance. That first time however, when some die, and some live, it feels, like you’re charting the end to a film or novel, where not everyone will make it but the mission will be accomplished, not just a simple happy ending.

Fallout

While Bethesda’s Fallout 3 was rightfully lambasted for it’s ham  — attempt to contrive a bittersweet ending in the dying seconds of the game, you can understand why they did it, because the original fallout crafted one of the most dark and surprising endings I’ve ever played.

When you begin playing fallout you’re given a simple task, your people have lived in an underground bunker their entire lives, retreating there after nuclear war ravaged the surface. They’ve been secure there ever since, and have never ventured into the outside world, until now. Their water chip has malfunctioned, leaving them with only enough drinkable water for 150 days you are chosen from the people in the vault pretty much at random to venture out and secure a replacement. While the other denizens enjoy their cosy underground palace you journey a harsh, irradiated wilderness, fighting mutants, raiders and monsters, right wrongs (or doing wrongs if your prefer) finding new allies and enemies, eventually transforming from ‘random guy with sharp stick’ into ‘power armoured raygun toting badass’. Eventually you secure a new water chip for the vault, but your job isn’t done yet, there are an army of super mutants massing in the south with plans to wipe out all of humanity and you know what? You handle that too, because you’re just so God Damn Badass, then you head home to get the praise you richly deserve. Then they kick you out.

WHAT?

Yes after everything you’ve done, after saving the day, after becoming the biggest hero in the crapsack world they call the wasteland, the overseer of the vault tells you that you’re too contaminated by the outside, and he can’t let you come home. I sat there reading, but simply not believing what the game had done to me, had dared do. Most games I had played up until that point finished with you rewarded for your heroism by a grateful populace, not punished for it by small minded men who were afraid of you for being different. As the overseer walked away I simmered in bitter fury, wanting to pull my gun out and shoot him. Then my character pulled out his gun out and shot him.

WHAT?

The second twist really sealed it for me, hero or no hero I’d been hurt badly enough to brutally murder the man out of spite. This was the world of Fallout, encapsulated in one brief scene, a harsh, brutal place where life is cheap and no good deed goes unpunished. Still at least I got to walk off into the sunset to the sound of the Ink Spots.

How about you readers? What game endings have special resonance for you?

Tom Hatfield