All’s Well That Ends Well
It’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game, right? But sometimes, even the best gameplay experience can be made or broken by the game’s ending. Whether you’re crying tears of happiness at an epic finale on display right in front of your eyes, or are staring dumbfounded, frozen in a grimace of horror, one eye twitching nervously, as the world’s most underwhelming ‘The End’ screen hovers soundlessly in front of you – a game’s ending is the lasting impression you’ll take with you when all is said and done.
“All’s well that ends well.” But in this edition of Top 5, we take a look at which games provide an ending that makes the whole experience worth its price of admission. Rejoice in the glory that is…Top 5: Game Endings!
Oh, and major spoiler alert.
5. Halo: Reach
As much as I didn’t like Halo: Reach, I have to admit the ending was something new and rather amazing for media in general. You are on an island, alone, and enemies are swarming the island. As you start fighting, the realization that you aren’t making it out of here sets in further (it would have been much more profound had they not told you from the beginning of the game, but nevertheless). It is a great sequence where your death is powerful, especially following the “cracked glass on the screen.”
4. Borderlands: The Secret Army of General Knoxx
“But Sebastian! Borderlands had a crappy story!”
Of course it did, it was terrible. But that’s not what made this a great ending. The best part about it was that you got three minutes to grab whatever you wanted from General Knoxx’s vault. They gave you amazing guns that you would get nowhere else. It was literally a moment where all that was in my head was GRAB WHATEVER LOOKS GOOD AND RUN! And that was an amazing feeling. It’s something that really must be experienced by everyone.
3. Portal/Portal 2
Don’t play stupid. You know why.
2. Dead Space/Dead Space 2
Issac: “Whew…everything is okay…I finally made it off that friggin ship… man, that was absolutely ridiculous OH GOD, NICOLE IS IN THE CORNER, OH GOD!”
That’s exactly what happened to me. When the game pans and shows Nicole attacking Isaac, I almost pissed myself. It lasted only a couple of seconds, just long enough to scare the hell out of your soul and then disappear behind the credits.
Dead Space 2 takes this as well, for making you think you’re being left alone to die for a legitimate amount of time before being saved. (I know it sounds bad, but it was actually done really well in the game.) The allusion to the aformentioned Dead Space moment also sincerely capped off these two great games.
1. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
This absolutely takes it for me. The final moments of this game were absolutely fantastic. The crawling section, the culmination of the love story involving Meryl, the tying together of this game’s amazingly long history in one final absolutely action-packed game, even with one ending with a cliche’d “rooftop fight” at sunrise with the entire MGS theme playing in the background, it was absolutely spectacular. By far the best ending of any game I have ever played.
Note: I consider that “hour-long cutscene” part of the post-game, not part of the game’s ending, since it happens…you know… after the game’s ending.
5. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Okay, okay, Modern Warfare is the game equivalent of a Michael Bay film: everything and everyone explodes; it’s nonsensical and oftentimes ridiculously over-the-top. Still, I won’t deny that I thoroughly enjoyed the second game’s ending. After an exciting boat chase, Soap and Price confront General Shepherd. Soap is pounced upon and stabbed in the chest and left to watch Price and that scallywag turncoat engage in a rather unorthodox spot of fisticuffs. With death looming uncomfortably close and Price on the verge of having his skull reduced to a red paste, Soap summons the last of his strength, pulls the mortal blade from his own body and throws it at Shepherd, killing him. It doesn’t get more manly than that.
4. Halo: Reach
I’m with Sebastian on this one. There are few things better than a valiant last stand, and your character, Noble 6, does exactly that to such an extent that my romance-o-meter nearly imploded. With the rest of his team dead in a variety of unfortunate ways, the lone Spartan, his mission completed, is left to fend off waves of increasingly overwhelming Covenant forces. As he is pummelled with plasma blasts, his visor cracks and splinters and then, finally, in a moment of heroic fury, removes his helmet and charges into final battle. We are left watching from the dust as Noble 6 is defeated by a band of Elites. A symbolic ending for Bungie’s last Halo game.
3. Halo 3
But what’s this?! Another Halo game? Outrageous! Halo 3’s end level – despite being a replica of the first – bookended a deeply involving trilogy. Escaping the collapsing ringworld, Master Chief and Cortana make it to safety, but only momentarily: their ship is shorn in half by a collapsing portal and the pair are left adrift in space. Marty O’Donnell’s stirring soundtrack brings the three-part story to a misty-eyed conclusion. There is a grimace of sadness across Cortana’s face as the Chief locks himself into a life-sustaining cryo-sleep; she faces the possibility of years alone waiting for rescue. “I’ll miss you”, she says. “Wake me, when you need me”, he replies.
2. Tekken 4 – Paul Phoenix’s Ending
Before Paul was reduced to a completely brain-dead imbecile in Tekken 5 and 6, there was Tekken 4. Beginning as a bitter drunkard after his failure to fully complete the third tournament, winning the fourth King of Iron Fist Tournament sees Paul Phoenix inherit the Mishima Zaibatsu fortune. His epilogue tells of his playboy escapades thereafter, as he delegates leadership of the company to others and fritters away his money on gambling and womanising. The final ending video shows a finely-clad Paul walking home with a new ladyfriend when he perchance passes an old dojo with a picture of him in full karate gear hung on the wall. He stares, captivated by his nobler past. We then see a redeemed Paul sitting atop his old motorcycle: “Ain’t my style”, he says, removing his designer sunglasses and riding off into the distance. *sniff*
1. Mass Effect
The Battle for the Citadel is one of Mass Effect’s defining moments. After days of gallivanting across the galaxy, Saren and Sovereign are within moments of unleashing the all-consuming machine-race of the Reapers via the Citadel station’s hidden mass effect relay – but huzzah! The Alliance Navy warps into the system and engages Sovereign and his minions in an epic battle. As Commander Shepard makes his way through the station’s interior and confronts Saren in the Presidium, Joker, aboard the Normandy, weaves his way through the battlefield and delivers the killing blow to Sovereign. For a moment, there is victory, but calamity strikes as stray debris collides with the station and presumably crushes Shepard and his team. But of course, being made in the very fires of Hephaestus’s forge, Shepard survives, is generally awesome, then decides humanity’s future in galactic politics by electing either Udina or Anderson to role of Councillor. Before the screen fades to black, Shepard vows not to err in his quest to stop the Reaper invasion. Then – o! – the music: Faunts’ “M4 Pt. 2” blazes into life and a single tear is shed, a sobering ending to a fantastic adventure.
5. Mirror’s Edge
The whole story was pretty solid, and the climax of the game saw betrayal, kidnap, and a one-woman assault on a heavily armoured (in comparison) base to save your sister.
4. Mass Effect 2
That moment where the camera pans past all your surviving characters (and I use the term “all” very loosely) not only made me smile at who had survived, but also made me want to go back and play the game all over again straight away. If that’s not a good ending, I do not know what is.
3. Halo: Reach
I liked everything about this game. I loved seeing the Spartans slowly getting wiped out, and the end, where you see the Pillar of Autumn fly off without you, really made me excited. I just hope that CE: Anniversary opens with that scene!
2. Red Dead Redemption
When you see all those government men outside your barn through the door, you know it’s the end for John Marston. He walks out all cool, and then about five seconds later, after firing off as many shots as possible, he gets absolutely blown away. Although I didn’t like the build-up to this ending, I thought the end itself was awesome.
1. Assassin’s Creed
As you come out of the Animus for the last time in the game, and you return to your room before escaping, the writing on the walls really got me. I’ve never wanted to be able to speak a foreign language just to understand something more than I did then. Amazing!
5. Dead Space
I am not usually a fan of the horror genre, but I could not resist playing this game. I was jumping off my couch every time a Necromorph popped out of a vent or creeped at Isaac from behind. *That’s what she said!* Despite the fact that I was at the point of losing my mind due to fear, I was hooked on to the story and Isaac’s motivation to see Nicole was a great tool to move the story forward and it culminated with the ultimate shocker at the end. It seems that while I was losing my mind while playing, Isaac was losing his mind, too…
4. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
While Ezio’s story may be a bit prolonged, the setting and story combine to let players unravel the mystery of the forces affecting both Ezio and Desmond. The last scenes of Ezio hiding a Piece of Eden in the Colosseum and then Desmond going with his team to retrieve it is really cool, but it’s not the acquisition of the Piece of Eden that makes this game the fourth-best ending. Intervention from above, a bunch of symbols which hint at a possible new location for the next iteration of the series, and the death of a key character really set up an interesting start to Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. The Masonic Eye and Phrygian Cap really do come together at one place, just letting you know.
Ahh, Portal. The quiet Chell, the murderous GLaDOS, and the ever-faithful Companion Cube. Those three and a Portal Gun make one hell of a party. While we knew that something was going terribly wrong with the Aperture Science experiment, GLaDOS pushed us further and further into the abyss…and the backroom which leads to her “lair.” Her destruction was awesome but the credits were amazing. This game spawned the famous “the cake is a lie” line (sorry, Dec) and made “Still Alive” one of the most memorable songs in videogame history. Hell yeah!
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
The flashback to the Cold War era was a great setting for the Metal Gear saga. We have always seen Big Boss from the perspective of Solid Snake, but we have never played as Big Boss before he was given that code name. That all changed with Snake Eater. The biggest part of this game is its ending where we see the reasons why Big Boss becomes the person that creates Outer Heaven and is part of the domino effect that culminates into the epic story that is in…
1. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Snake is on his last ropes. An old man who has been through countless wars and it finally comes to an end in this game. The culmination of twenty years of Metal Gear finally come together in a way that ties up all loose ends and, more importantly, gives Solid Snake the curtain call he deserves. It is an ending that puts the Solid Snake saga to a close and gives him the rest that he has been looking for. Peace is restored and the world can start anew.
5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The game is excellent all around, but the final mission, invovling a videogame recreation of the L.A. riots (err, San Andreas riots) and a relatively intelligent critique of the negative effects of rioting on the very people invovled in the riot really helped seal a great and sweeping story. The final mission was pretty hard, but felt like an excellent end to a great game.
4. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
After spending a whole game being pushed around and used by the various powers-that-be in the vampire world, it is very satisfying to see your prince (and all-around annoying jerk-face) get his final death. Coupled with the revelation that all of L.A.’s vampire society have been fighting over a box full of explosives, and the suggestion that Cain (you know, from the Bible) was involved in the epic subterfuge really makes for a satisfying conclusion.
The ending of Bastion gives you a couple of choices, one of which is whether you will help a former friend turned sort-of enemy or leave him to die. Should you decide to help, you have to carry his body through an area full of his own people (who just tried to kill him). They will at first try to attack you, and seeing as you’re carrying a body, all you can do is take their blows and keep walking. As the music swells, your attackers are stopped by their own comrades, and it leads to an incredibly moving scene as you take his body through a crowd of people who were just moments ago trying to kill you. Must be experienced to fully appreciate the beauty of it all.
Braid is a game that weaves a minimalist story throughout the gameplay, until the final level where all is revealed. Though somewhat cryptic in its meaning, the suggestion is that you aren’t the traditional videogame hero you thought you were playing as this whole time, but in fact a sad, desperate figure pestering and perhaps stalking your ex-lover. The full realization of the character’s self-delusion was a rare twist on the tired old gaming tropes, and one I and many others really appreciated.
1. Portal 2
And finally, Portal 2. Now, for the record, the first Portal game does indeed have one of the best game endings ever, and the Still Alive song will still send shivers down my spine, but when you finally emerge from the Aperture Science labs at the end of Portal 2, and lay your eyes on the wide open wheat fields outside, it is one of the most beautiful moments in gaming. At long last, you have found freedom.
5. Command & Conquer: Red Alert – Allied Ending
Ah the glories of mid-1990s live-action FMV. Here we get Allied troops scouring Moscow, finding Josef Stalin…while their Commander urges them to just move on, then goes in and murders him. Considering the first Soviet mission had you performing airstrikes on a village of dissidents on Stalin’s direct orders, it’s a heaping plate of karma. Seriously, in what other game can you see Hitler killed in the intro and Stalin in the ending?
4. Alone in the Dark (1993)
I love the ending here. After Edward Carnby (or Emily Hartwood, whichever you chose) leaves the house and does a triumphant click of the heels, you get into a car that comes to take you away. And then…the driver turns around and he’s a zombie! It’s a fun, Tales From The Crypt-styled stinger that makes it a really fun end to the game.
Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner’s first game. At the end, you run to save your girlfriend. But if you approach her in a fighting stance…then BOOT TO THE HEAD! It’s the videogame equivalent of Willy Wonka saying “You lose! Good day, sir!”
2. Resident Evil
Okay, so the ending isn’t really anything special. Your player character and possibly a rescuee get flown off into the sunrise in a helicopter; maybe something blows up. But then you get this triumphantly cheesy instrumental rock song (in the vein of Joe Satriani or Mr. Big). Seriously, try not to air guitar during this song! You can’t do it!
1. Final Fantasy (NES)
Despite Final Fantasy games getting more bombastic and cinematic over the years, I’m partial to the ending of the original game. It’s simply told with text. The villains are defeated, and the heroes are sent back to their own time (2000 years in the future). As a result of the game’s time loop, the Light Warriors will be doing this again and again, destined to relive Garland’s descent into madness and the reign of Chaos eternally. There’s a somewhat tragic ring to the fact that the heroes will never get to rest, something similar to Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion characters. At the same time, it also works in a very meta way – every playthrough by every individual gamer is a different incarnation of the time loop. Neat, huh?
5. Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow’s ending stands out for being one of the biggest downers ever. Between the increasingly tragic feeling that stirred within me at the death of each of the majestic colossi and my trusty steed Agro’s noble sacrifice, I was already going against my will to finish this game, being driven by the story into a direction I didn’t want to head. Bad quickly turns to worse when it is revealed that all the sacrifices served only to bring back to life the evil entity Dormin. In the end, Dormin is destroyed (taking Wander with him), and the only bridge leading to the temple is destroyed, effectively sealing it off. And just to kick you when you’re already down, the game closes with the resurrected Mono and a badly injured, limping Agro leading a somber and heartbreaking procession to the solitary garden at the top of the Shrine of Worship.
4. L.A. Noire
Near the end of the game, a surprising shift sees the protagonist’s spotlight swing from annoyingly straight-laced Cole Phelps to charming and down-to-Earth Jack Kelso. The endgame really kicks in during the final mission, with a frantic race against time through the streets of L.A., followed by a tense and vicious manhunt in the city’s sewer tunnels. It’s the first time in the game I could actually root for the good guys, and cheer as the corrupt officials of the LAPD are thwarted and get their just desserts. In a surprisingly emotional and tender moment, Kelso proves himself to be the man we all wanted Cole to be from the beginning when he puts poor pyromaniac Ira out of his misery. Cole, who’s shown himself to be untrustworthy as a husband and flawed as a commander, redeems himself with the ultimate sacrifice by boosting the others out of the rapidly flooding sewer tunnel. All in all, an ending that expertly resolves all loose ends and provides a real feeling of satisfaction to end the game’s narrative.
3. Dead Space 2
I’ll follow the sentiments of some of my cohorts on this one. Having sent all those away who would risk their own safety to save him, Isaac Clarke, having finally destroyed the Marker, has slumped down and accepted his fate. Death and peace await in mere moments, as the imminent detonation of the station’s power core starts counting down. Isaac sits calmly, waiting, and the credits begin to roll. It was this last touch that made the illusion feel complete to me. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a frantic transmission from Ellie sounded in Isaac’s radio: help was on the way after all. Just when my pulse had quieted down, my adrenaline is ratcheted back up one final time for a zero-grav race against the clock to get Isaac to Ellie’s ship. But even after an epic escape in the nick of time, foreboding doubts continue to surface, as the game sets up one final twist as the screen fades to black.
2. Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within
Say what you will about the adventure game genre, but this sequel to Sins of the Fathers provided characters that the player could truly care about: Grace’s urgent need to help and protect Gabriel; Gabriel’s friendship and admiration for a man whom he should by all means detest; and tragic King Ludwig, whose need for acceptance and love ultimately led him to a desolate end. The Gabriel Knight games skillfully presented antagonists who didn’t fit easily into any classic mold of “good” or “bad”, but who were admirable and charming. While the technology is quite dated (boy, we sure loved our FMV!), the ending to this game really makes one think and puts many things into perspective. Gabriel is haunted by feelings of guilt at destroying his werewolf nemesis; at the same time mourning the loss of a man he couldn’t help but look up to. One major bonus that helps this ending stand out is a completely authentic performance of an original German opera, created by game composer Robert Holmes.
1. Final Fantasy VI
FFVI is, in many ways, at the top of its class. To many fans, it is the one of (if not) the best Final Fantasy entries, and certainly leads the pack when it comes to traditional, turn-based, 16-bit, Japanese RPGs. True to form, the ending of this game stands head and shoulders above modern, more technically capable, entries. Following a grueling final dungeon, followed by a quadruple-stage boss fight, the 20+ minute ending begins. Essentially one big 16-bit “cutscene”, the ending highlights each member of the 14-member party as they flee the disintegrating floating island; each character is featured by name in a stylish animation, and gets to put his or her talents to use to help the group make their last-minute escape. Most importantly, as the group makes amends, says goodbye, and runs, jumps, and dodges its way to safety, each individual is highlighted with a reappearance of his or her musical theme, all masterfully woven together by series maestro Uematsu-san, in an epic 21-minute ending piece. Quite simply, it’s a much-deserved celebration of a great game.
5. Halo: Reach
I find myself in the same boat as some of the other guys – Halo: Reach isn’t the best game in the series, but there was something incredibly powerful about how it ended. Throughout the whole game, you know you’re fighting a losing battle, but you’re doing a bloody good job of it. By the end, things seem hopeless, but Noble 6 persists. Your actions are directly linked to the beginning of one of videogaming’s most significant franchises and what do you get for it? Left behind to fight it out to the bitter end. It’s a haunting yet heroic ending.
4. Mystical Ninja 2 Starring Goemon
Mystical Ninja 2 is an incredibly weird game and the ending is no different. After defeating an evil Japanese spirit that turns into a giant devil during the final battle, Goemon and his pals return to the Wiseman’s house, where all their problems began. The Wiseman had built a ghost-summoning machine that directly resulted in said spirit being released. And what does Goemon return home to? ANOTHER ghost-summoning machine. After exclaiming his shock and horror that the “Wise”-man would do this, we discover that Goemon’s pal, Ebisumaru has a daughter no one knew about and she inadvertently sets off the machine again – causing exactly the same thing that you prevented to happen once again. It’s a strange game to say the least.
3. Lylat Wars/Star Fox 64
Lylat Wars sticks in mind because it was the first truly cinematic game that I played. The end credits had a very grand feel to them, with their booming soundtrack and beautiful scenery. Perhaps it’s the fact that Lylat Wars makes many allusions to Star Wars (such as when Fox escapes from Andross’ lair on Venom 2) that makes it so fantastic.
2. Mass Effect 2
The final mission in Mass Effect 2 was absolutely brilliant. Very rarely does a game literally have me sitting on the edge of my seat in sheer panic that I might completely screw it up. What made the final scene so enjoyable for me was how the game really personalises it. Fortunately, I didn’t lose any of my team members and the game proudly reminded me of this. The whole thing is a rollercoaster ride of action and emotion and I think that, no matter how you did, the ending was still pretty special.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
It’s not hard to see why this is my favourite ending. Ocarina of Time is such an epic quest that by the end of it, you really do just want to sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that your actions have just restored peace to the realm of Hyrule. After giving Ganon what for, Link is transported back to the present so that he can live out the life he missed out on. Along the way, you see the consequences of your actions: the townspeople rejoice, the land is safer and the sages are happy. It’s the perfect ending to what is arguably a perfect game.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Just the perfect end to an epic journey. Not only is the end boss a gaming classic, but the final cutscene is bittersweet perfection. Link’s reward is to be returned to his youth that was taken away from him during the game, but he is burdened with the knowledge of what has happened. His final appearance in Zelda’s garden is both perfectly innocent and faintly haunting as it hints at a kind of cycle of time that perfectly captures the essence of the Zelda series.
Because a woman dressed in hair punches God through the solar system into the sun, obviously.
3. Halo : Reach
As stated by pretty much everyone else. It’s boss.
2. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
All the way through the game the prince is narrator, explaining this amazing adventure to an unseen audience. It’s an epic tale anyway with a proper love story, twists and great set pieces, but the ending is amazing. The game uses the time travel mechanic to send you right back, literally to the title screen, only to show that the audience is Farah, your ally and love interest who just died. The narration is the prince travelling back in time to stop the events of the entire game unfolding. It’s genius.
1. Deus Ex