Bringing it Home, Part Two

Note: if you’ve not played to the end of Mass Effect, Grim Fandango or Gears of War 2, avoid the first three paragraphs.

My nerves are shattered. I’ve been guiding Commander Shepherd through Mass Effect for fifty-two hours now, and I’ve just seen him crushed beneath a building’s structural collapse. My heart stops. Please don’t tell me they’re going to kill him off. I watch patiently, praying that he made it through, not just because immersion and character identification are working their magic, courtesy of Bioware: it’s because I invested fifty-two damn hours into this man and I am not going to see him fall to a few pebbles after killing thousands of enemy soldiers. He rises, and I triumph.

I’ve been trekking across the underworld for four years. I’ve been living on ships, in ports, in bars, clubs, worked as a cleaner, a casino boss, and the Grim Reaper. I’ve finally got to the last part of my journey, but I’m worried it won’t go as planned. What if all the people I saved don’t get into heaven? What about Meche? Is she going to make it? If she doesn’t, my protagonist will be heartbroken, if skeletons even have hearts anymore. Suddenly, we arrive, they go through into heaven, and I relax. Job well done.

Marcus and Dom are screwed to a royal degree. The Lightmass bomb is gone, the rescue helicopter crashed, Maria’s dead, Cole and Baird might be as well, and a Brumak is rapidly mutating into a huge, Akira-esque monstrosity, capable of sinking any human city it wants on the planet. I’m low on ammunition, and I’m so damn close to the Hardcore difficulty achievement. My fiancé looks at me: it’s not looking good, she thinks, and I mirror her thoughts, our controllers held tightly after two days of solid campaigning. Suddenly, we’re taken up into a helicopter, our friends reunited with us, and we kill the monster. Lex and I high-five, and watch the credits.

I love video game endings. They’re the climax of everything you’ve done so far: storyline, gameplay, characters. Even with trilogy games, you know you’ll be granted closure of some kind when you reach the end, not to mention the curious mix of excitement and sadness finishing an enjoyable experience will elicit from you, more often than not. Achievement playthroughs are meaningless: it’s only the first-time, wide-eyed attempts and successes that really reward you, emotionally and mentally.

But are they really that fulfilling? Sometimes you’ve got to stop and ask yourself: what do I really want from this? Closure? An achievement? Fifty alternate endings depending on how many people are left alive, whether I’m good or evil, or whether my trousers have spots or stripes? It’s a tough call, and I don’t envy the writers that have to work interactivity into an ending that would be otherwise simple and straightforward. Think about how logical the ending of The Da Vinci Code was, then think about how easy would it be to represent it as a Squaresoft (the better version of that company, in my opinion) RPG title.

Some titles have really unfulfilling ending sequences, interactive or otherwise. The boss itself is another thing entirely, as it’s not usually the conclusion to the narrative, but I’ll be delving into that next week regardless (I’m fun like that). For example, Gears of War 2 had a fantastic ending, but a horrendously bad boss fight. Sometimes, the means is justified by the end, and however backward it seems, it makes sense: you can have a really poor title, but if the ending wraps everything up nicely, it all seems worth it, though sadly if the game’s that bad most people won’t bother making it to the end.


The Final Fantasy series has always had some of the best, most conclusive endings, from the fate of the world versus a large, angry comet in FFVII, to the wonderfully romantic princess and the pauper ending of FFIX. Their long, complex stories with hundreds of different characters, across a variety of locales, universes and timelines require some pretty conclusive endings, but for the most part you could summarise it as "good guys win". So I’m going to use an example where the good guys really, really don’t win.

Too Human, as a video game, is fairly bad. The loot system is unnecessarily complex, and the story, for the most part, is basically a retold version of Norse mythology. However, the ending is comprised of heroes dying, the bad guy getting away, and finding an even more powerful weapon just before the credits hit. It’s trying to set up a sequel, and with its poor reviews I’d be surprised if there is one. But it’s that feeling of unease, after playing a thousand and one games where the bad guys lose, every time, to suddenly wondering if the bad guys have just been completely stomped.

I think there are a few games that could do with these controversial approaches to game endings. Personally, I’d have taken the Mass Effect 2 trailer that states Shepherd as KIA, and put it at the end of the first game. Imagine the tension. You’ve just finished a game that can take anywhere from eight to over a hundred hours to complete, and you’ve been told that as of two months later, your hero might be dead, and Geth might have taken over the Normandy. That’s a cliff-hanger, and I felt that the actual "bad guys lose, there’s some evil dudes but it’s all good, they can wait" ending Bioware went with felt a little too stereotypical.

Games are fickle things to get a great deal of satisfaction out of. With the incursion of achievements, we’re less interested in the ending, and more interested in the 100G pop-up that’ll come after the credits roll. But as games progress more and more into the realm of art, and narratives become increasingly diverse and complex, it’ll be interesting to see whether the current trend of good and evil choices results in more varied results once the final dragon is dead.


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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