How Did It End Up Like This? The Rise and Fall of Denouements in Gaming
“Video game endings are terrible.”
It’s a controversial statement but not far from being the truth. Now, I’m not talking about the end cinematic of a game, I’m talking about how the last mission, act or hour of a game completely sours the experience of games, classic or otherwise. We haven’t moved on from final boss battles that patronise the gamer with its attack patterns and general inability to challenge. Movies took the leap from simple moving pictures to sprawling epics; literature took absurd, one-dimensional revenge tragedy and transformed it into texts that are mentioned hundreds of years on. Gaming has taken a similar leap in to the unknown and this increased scope has yielded near-photorealistic visuals, snappy scriptwriting and genuine immersion in game worlds. So why do developers persist with nonsensical boss battles and rushed denouements?
To answer that question then one must look at a masterful ending. Red Dead Redemption has one of the best endings, not just in video games, but anywhere in the past twenty-five years. It’s a hell of a bold statement but Rockstar’s Western classic was the moment where gaming passed through the threshold. Normally a 20-hour campaign fails on the big ending. Mass Effect 2 (whilst I commend the suicide mission) had a downright awful final boss that took away from everything that went before it. Twenty hours were dedicated to the universe that was forged by Bioware only for the immersion to be torn down by a two-minute fight against a giant Human Reaper.
Back to Red Dead Redemption- the pacing of the final hour was frankly superb. Instead of John Marston going to hunt down his enemies one by one he gave up on his old ways and returned to a typical life with his family. You took control of Marston as he took his son hunting and showed him the ways of the American Frontier. This made things all the more heartbreaking when Marston’s actions finally caught up with him. Evil had won (unless you completed the game’s final satisfying conclusion) and Rockstar handled it with such poise and dignity. Marston’s death wasn’t about explosions or one-liners; it was about a man who had finally reached the end. An apt metaphor for the cowboy but it seems relatively alone in accomplishing a fulfilling ending.
Of course, money is a major factor in a rushed ending. It’s so transparent there isn’t any point in denying it anymore. Halo 2 was a major offender in this respect. It essentially told players to go and buy the next game. The story wasn’t truly complete and we ended the game with the Arbiter fighting an enemy that was only really loosely tied in to what players cared about. Bulletstorm also accomplishes the unforgivable by building up the antagonist’s role and when you finally get to him after eight hours all you get for your troubles is a Quick Time Event and then he escapes for the inevitable sequel.
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