Posted by: bracehare | September 27, 2011

Video games and terrible endings

Suffice it to say there will be spoilers for various games in this article.

Having recently elected to build a new computer for what is, in terms of my income, an absolutely ludicrous amount of money, I have found myself playing substantially more games.  This lead me to recently complete both Mirror’s Edge and Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days, both of which have one very notable thing in common: an absolutely horrible ending.  What’s more, the reasons both endings are horrible are pretty much the same for both games.  They are both perfunctory, come out of nowhere, resolve nothing in the plot, and would barely be distinguishable as an ending (as opposed to simply another cutscene in the game) were it not for the fact that the game stops afterward.  Given that these two different games suffer from the same malaise in terms of ending, this suggests the possibility of some commonality between them.  Odd, because Mirror’s Edge was highly anticipated and largely critically panned, whereas Kane and Lynch 2 flew largely under the radar and received fierce lashings from the gaming press where it didn’t (although not to nearly the same extent as its predecessor).  However, there is evidence that both games do share something in common: they seem to have both been intended as part of a franchise.  The easy conclusion then, is that video game producers do not know how to resolve story arcs while still allowing for the possibility of a sequel, and that they err on the side of games as a vehicle for making money rather than as a vehicle for storytelling.

Hardly a shocking observation, perhaps, but one which seems extremely pervasive in both AAA franchises and smaller, more critically rejected games.  After all, Halo 2 is commonly given as an example of a game with a terrible ending, and it was one of the highest grossing games of all time.  It is an interesting break from what made oldschool game endings terrible, perhaps; many 2d titles leave the player with a simple “congratulations” or “you win”.  In fact, examples of this sort of ending which have occurred in Engrish (IE, poor translations of games from outside the US) have gone on to maintain notoriety and catchphrase status.  I still remember beating Alice in Wonderland for the Phillips CD-I, a 5+ hour puzzle game with no saves, by means of entering a room, and only to be told “congratulations, you’re the queen of wonderland!” and be greeted with literal pixelated confetti.  In oldschool games, endings are perfunctory because the game is essentially a write-off.  In new games, endings are perfunctory because producers don’t want to actually close any plot holes, apparently out of fear that they might not be creative enough to think of a new scenario to justify a sequel; and so they’re compelled to try to stretch the bare essentials of one narrative over as many different games as possible.

– Jessica Evans


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