Video game endings tend to feel a lot like an afterthought. Whereas a bad movie only ever consumes two hours of your life, games can have you playing upwards of 100+ hours before reaching the finale, and quite often that payoff is woefully underwhelming. Two big-names examples in just the past few weeks include Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, where the conclusion was given about as much attention as bug-testing in a Bethesda game, and Asura’s Wrath, which has a “true” ending that acts as nothing more than a gateway for “closure DLC.”
And of course, Mass Effect 3’s troubled ending has had myriad repercussions for the entire industry. With that in mind, the GamesBeat review team pooled together some of our all-time favorite climaxes in the hopes of showing modern developers how to end a game the right way.
Before Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII, there was Baby in Super Metroid. Before self-destruct sequences became a staple of the Resident Evil series, Metroid did it first. This game’s ending has it all: suspense, nostalgia, loss, redemption, and an edge-of-your-seat escape as an entire world explodes around you. You can even subtly alter the ending by entering a secret area and helping the friendly Zebes creatures escape. Then, depending on how well you performed throughout the game, you may receive the prize you’ve been waiting nearly a decade for: a 16-bit version of Samus Aran sans her armor. It was all worth it!
The BioWare version: Instead of rushing to your defense, the Metroid larva is shown aboard the Normandy outrunning a solar-system-sized explosion, leaving you to fend for yourself during the final battle.
Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 remains to be one of gaming’s most thought-provoking and unsettling experiences. If David Lynch created a survival horror game, this would be it. Even after several sequels, Konami themselves have failed to capture the essence of what made Silent Hill 2 so affecting (and they have they tried so very, very hard). There are six different endings, with the first four being no more or less perplexing than the game itself. Somehow these are outdone by the other two endings, which involve aliens or discovering a dog has been the mastermind behind all of your internal struggles. Perhaps his owner is the Architect from The Matrix Reloaded?
The BioWare version: The Dog ending is the only ending available. The door on the left reveals a shih tzu, the one down the middle reveals a pug, and the one on the right reveals a corgi.
The original Darksiders wasn’t exactly a perfect game. War, the most badass of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, spends most of his time overcoming contrived puzzles that would make Nathan Drake scoff. However, after the final boss battle, War openly challenges both Heaven and Hell. The archangel Uriel asks, “You would wage this war alone?” “No. Not alone,” War grumbles, just as three meteors plummet from the sky heralding the arrival of the three other Horsemen. It’s the moment players have been anticipating for the entire game, and its execution is handled perfectly.
The BioWare version: Darksiders itself remains untouched, but Obsidian Entertainment replaces BioWare to develop the now-inevitably inferior and “hella buggy” sequel.
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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Even after telling a 12-hour long tale of two midgets traveling countless miles on foot to a place called Mount Doom and overcoming untold evils to save the entire world, Peter Jackson was hard-pressed to craft an ending as all-encompassing and rewarding as A Link to the Past’s. Within mere minutes, Nintendo provides closure to every loose end from throughout the truly epic 16-bit adventure–no matter how big or small–ending with Link leaving behind the Master Sword in its resting place as the soundtrack swells to its zenith.
The BioWare version: After defeating Ganon, you’re allowed to choose a single fragment of the Triforce: Courage, Wisdom, or Power. Depending on your decision, Link will spontaneously combust into one of three various colors. If you bought an Online Pass and played enough Four Swords mode, the pile of Link dust will be shown gasping after the credits.
Some gamers might suggest that if you haven’t played Braid to completion, then you haven’t played Braid. The game’s final moments repurpose the signature rewind feature to reveal to the player that he is not — as inherently expected — the hero of this story, but rather, the lead antagonist. It’s a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that even Braid creator Jonathan Blow never expects to be able to duplicate, and easily ranks among classic Hollywood twists such as those in David Fincher’s The Game, M. Night Shaymalan’s The Sixth Sense, and Christopher Nolan’s Memento.
The BioWare version: The rewind mechanic — the established pillar of Braid’s gameplay since the very beginning — is completely discarded during the climax. You ride a beam of light into the sky and meet Star-Yoshi, a bullshit version of the dinosaur you encountered during the first level of the game. Also, you were indoctrinated this whole time. Except for the sex scene with Garrus. That really happened.
Assassin’s Creed II
Few games have as rich and complex a narrative as the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Because it is rooted so deeply in our own history, it’s even more of a shock when Ezio encounters a hologram of an ancient being calling herself Minerva. But when she stares into the camera and breaks the fourth wall by directly addressing Desmond–and, subtly, the player–there’s this unavoidable moment of surreal interaction with a video game. She’s talking to me, you can’t help but think to yourself. I’d like to see Roger Ebert name any movie that’s ever done that, and especially one that’s done it so well. It’s an extremely ballsy move on the developer’s part, and an ending that will be recorded as one of the most memorable moments in video game history.
The BioWare version: Minerva explains that every 50,000 years a race of beings created by The First Civilization awakens from their slumber to wipe out all known organic life to prevent all known organic life from being wiped out. Shortly after the game’s release, Geoff Keighley releases The Final Hours of Assassin’s Creed II app where the makers discuss wanting to include a “less retarded” ending, but that they ran out of time and money. “*cough* DLC! *cough*” can be heard off-camera from an executive at the game’s publisher.
While the GamesBeat team agrees these six are some of the best, they are by no means alone. System Shock 2? Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain? Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor? Portal? Red Dead Redemption? Feel free to discuss your own personal favorites in the comments.
Image via Virtual Shackles