Whether the game is five hours long or requires more of your time than a season of Lost (speaking of bad endings), those final few moments are often what players remember the most. A mediocre game can turn into a well-remembered classic thanks to a solid ending and, conversely, a brilliant adventure can shift gears to lackluster if the pieces don't fall into place nicely by the time the credits roll.
Mass Effect is a good example of the latter. Never mind that the series gave gamers dozens of hours of top quality entertainment over the course of several years. A large, vocal branch of the audience was displeased with how Mass Effect 3 ended and, as a result, argued that the entire series had been ruined because of it. I'm not sure how 15 questionable minutes can overshadow 100 glorious hours, but I gave up on trying to understand mankind a long, long time ago.
I've been thinking about endings a lot this past week which, of course, got me thinking about which video game endings really stick out in my mind for being the best. So as not to speak too vaguely about these titles, I'll go ahead and throw up a giant SPOILER ALERT right now. If you don't want to know about one or more of these endings, just skip that section. Otherwise, let's begin. Or end?...Now I'm confused.
I banned myself from the internet while making this list. Oftentimes it's easiest to make up your own list and then look up a dozen similar lists to remind yourself of titles you may have forgotten or overlooked. I feel that when you're talking about endings, it's the ones that really stick in your mind that deserve the recognition. There are some fantastic endings out there but, when forced to rely only on my memory, these were the five that have left the biggest mark.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
I'm starting this list at what I consider to be the top of the pile. The Metal Gear series holds a special place in my heart and, despite the countless memorable moments provided by these games, none ring out quite as loudly as the final gunshot in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
MGS3 is the best in the series and its ending is a pitch-perfect exclamation point to all of that tactical espionage action. Snake and The Boss have a final showdown in a beautiful field of flowers, a stark contrast to the rest of the game's jungles and swamps. It's a great setting for one last bit of dirty work, a dramatic final pull of the trigger that Hideo Kojima wisely makes the player execute themselves, sending the greatest warrior the world has ever known to her final resting place and replacing her with a reluctant protege. It's a powerful sequence followed by a gripping cutscene and easily one of the best endings to ever grace a video game.
Red Dead Redemption
If you live by the gun, chances are pretty good that you are going to die by the gun as well. There was a point late in Red Dead Redemption where that fact started to creep into my mind, making it harder and harder to want to finish a game that I felt certain was getting ready to break my heart. Anti-hero John Marston's dealings with the FBI were starting to get sketchier and I felt certain these weren't the type of guys who honored a handshake or left any loose ends untied.
One of the main focuses of Red Dead Redemption is the death of the Wild West and, in one inevitable moment, U.S. agents symbolically finish the job by taking out our troubled gunslinger in a hail of bullets. Thankfully, another one of the game's many lessons is that the past will eventually catch up with you. Once I was given the option to play as John's son, Jack, revenge was the only thought on my mind and, thankfully, Red Dead Redemption gave me a chance to grab it. It's not what John would have wanted for his son, but in trying to build a better life for Jack, John instead guaranteed that the blood-soaked apple would not fall too far from the tree. Ain't life funny like that?
While the final showdown in Bioshock left something to be desired, the moments leading up to its conclusion were truly worth remembering. For starters, you discover that game-long companion Atlus has actually been using you to fulfill his own agenda through the entire game. Being betrayed like that would be par for the course in pretty much any other game/movie, but unlike every other example of this character switcheroo, I never saw this one coming.
The revelation of Atlus' true intentions surprised the hell out of me, which was then quickly followed by a shocking scene of me being forced to kill the game's original antagonist, Andrew Ryan, thanks to the fact that I can be subtly controlled with the use of the command phrase "would you kindly." I've often joked that video game characters sometimes need to just walk away. If I'm not being forced to keep fighting a bunch of homicidal maniacs, why would I bother? Normally the answer to that question is "so the game's story can progress, so get over it." For the first time ever, we're given a reason as to why we, the player, behave without question. It's a neat idea and one that I've been left to ponder long after finishing the game.
Shadow of the Colossus
You killed my horse, you assholes! Okay, so it turns out that my equestrian friend didn't actually die after falling off of that cliff but, in the moments leading up to Shadow of the Colossus' final boss fight, the developers at Team Ico gave me every reason to believe my beloved Agro had been sent to the great big pasture in the sky. I distinctly remember shouting "NO!" the first time I played through that sequence.
The supposed death of my friend was followed by one of the all-time best battles in gaming history, pitting tiny little ole me against a hulking monster on a crumbling cliff amidst a raging storm. The last big fight in SotC is the very definition of epic. THEN, I get to return to the girl I've been trying to save only to be taken over by an ancient, vengeful entity. Once the smoke settles, my companion has been granted her life, but I'm left to be reincarnated as a baby with horns.
Maybe it doesn't make the most sense in the world, but the last hours of Shadow of the Colossus (which I played years ago) were an emotional roller coaster that provided me with moments I remember far more vividly than those in some games I played just last week.
The particular moment I'll be referencing here is short and sweet, and is likely standing out so well in my mind because I am extremely excited to finally get my hands on Darksiders II in a few weeks. For the record, I adored the original Darksiders. It easily ranks among my favorite games of this current generation.
As War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you're on a quest to redeem yourself after being falsely accused of prematurely bringing about Armageddon. As the game draws to a close, War's battle is far from over. He informs his angelic companions that he plans to continue a quest that they see as being a suicide mission. They tell War that he will fail if he goes it alone. With an epic score mounting in the background, War turns to the sky where three objects are hurtling in his direction. He states that he will not be fighting alone and then the game abruptly ends. THE FOUR HORSEMEN ARE GOING TO REUNITE AND KILL EVERYTHING!!! Again, it's a small moment, but one that was perfectly executed and has left me hungry for more for nearly three years now.
(As a side note, the story for Darksiders II actually occurs parallel to the original game. I'm guessing it will end with Death and his two remaining cohorts flying off to help War, hopefully setting up a third game that will finally pick up where the original Darksiders left off.)
Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that make them and the people who play them. He can be stalked via his blog at staticechoes.com and followed on Twitter @RyanWinslett.