By their nature, video games almost never end well. Game endings are typically the stuff of sequel-bait and “what did we learn today?” spiels. Alien Isolation, Call of Duty (most of them), Mass Effect 3, Fallout 3 – they’ve all suffered at the hands of a lackluster end that just makes you wait for “Game Sequel: Insert Number.”
There are, however, a few stories out there that not only give you a thrilling finale but twist your interpretation of the story you’ve just experienced and leave you breathless with a dozen questions that need answering. What is it to be good or evil? Is your own mind your greatest enemy? Do cute giant animé pandas secretly want to take over the world?
Here are just a few mind-blowing game endings that broke all the rules and left us speechless, probably for the last time. Right?
1. The Last of Us
The Last of Us asks us just what how far you’d go to get your happy ending, even if it meant stealing someone else’s. The Last of Us centers on Joel as he protects a young girl named Ellie during the aftermath of a fungal virus that wipes out most of humanity. We learn that Elle’s immune to the virus and could be humanity’s last chance of survival. Towards the end of the game, Ellie willingly offers herself for the survival of mankind, but Joel has other ideas.
Driven by the memory of his daughter’s death, Joel murders the doctors trying to harvest a vaccine out of her and kidnaps an unconscious Ellie from the operating table. Joel even kills a friend trying to stop him from leaving, shooting her as she begs for her life. When Ellie awakens, Joel lies to her, simply stating that she was no longer needed and that there’s no hope for a vaccine.
It’s all a subversive contrast to the classic hero model. Ellie’s death was a necessary loss for the sake of humanity. Joel’s motives could be considered selfish, but his saving Ellie might not. By the game’s end, it becomes clear that Ellie’s a chance for Joel to earn forgiveness for the death of his daughter – all at the cost of the planet.
2. Spec Ops: The Line
Now, Spec Ops: The Line has three endings altogether and it’s up to you to decide the final and brutalizing actions of your character. It’s the lead up to its conclusion, though, that’s more disturbing. Until then, the game’s a standard third-person shooter, but that all changes the moment that you learn the mind-blowing truth behind Captain Martin Walker’s blood-soaked mission in the sands of Dubai.
It’s at the end of his and his troops’ journey through the abandoned city’s nightmares that Walker comes to a staggering realization that maybe all isn’t what it seems. Walker, it appears, is suffering from a dissociative disorder that makes certain events in the game appear differently to him. His own mind’s distorted horrific actions during the game to make it seem like he’s the good guy in the massacre he ordered.
The man you’re hunting down is and the game’s “antagonist” is, in fact, nothing more than a corpse on a swivel chair. Walker’s broken mind has been hallucinating that this dead man’s been asking him to do the unthinkable when it’s really been Walker and the player’s own choices.
In reality, it’s the horrors of war that’s the real villain of this story of a madman’s self-delusion. Spec Ops asks nothing more than a brilliant, mind-altering question about just what defines the boundaries of reality and just where you draw your own line between good and evil.
3. Killer 7
From the chaotic mind, we call Suda 51, Killer 7‘s uncompromising story of terrorism, horror, and schizophrenic killers isn’t for the faint of heart. Flashy, bloody, and just plain insane, Killer 7 had it all as far as Hitchcockian endings go – right down to just who our seventh killer is.
We’re led to believe that the game’s wheelchair-bound assassin, Harmen Smith, is the true identity of the Killer 7. You learn that, in reality, it’s Garcian Smith. What’s truly disturbing is how he became the Killer 7.
A young Garcian was, in fact, trained and brainwashed by the UN to be a child assassin. This lead him to kill the elite group of assassins who he now harbors as his own split personality. Killing them off in a gruesome massacre, Garcian’s fractured mind adapted the killer’s identities as his own and became the US’s elite hit man, used from the beginning by both the US and Japan. It’s in the last moments of the game that he can decide to destroy either country by starting a war between the two nations in a flip-of-the-coin straight out of James Bond.
Braid‘s a visually stunning platformer about a man named Tim, rescuing a princess from an evil captor with a bit of time manipulation thrown in. The game’s scant details never tell us who this princess is or why Tim’s on his journey, but from the clues we’re given, many think that Tim’s looking for forgiveness (the princess) after a terrible incident even to leave his wife to pursue this wild adventure. Over the course of the game, we learn a very hard truth about Tim as told through a nifty set-piece. We learn that Tim’s the bad guy.
The game’s end level sees Tim finding the Princess as she flees from a knight, her captor. Once you reach the Princess’s home, time reverses to show that in reality, she’s really fleeing Tim and into the arms of her “captor” for safety. Leaving the notion that Tim’s nothing more than an unforgivable fiend and that the player was completely clueless about his true nature all this time. Imagine if you played Mario and once you reached the end, Princess Peach revealed her true love’s Bowser and that you’re the psychotic ex-boyfriend of the story.
It’s all a terribly plausible theory made more so with the implication that Braid‘s an allegory for the birth of the Atomic Age and that Tim himself’s indirectly involved in the Hiroshima bombing. This could be the trigger for his quest in finding the princess and forgiveness and just another layer on top of Braid‘s journey of guilt and redemption.
5. Bioshock: Infinite
Many games have you play as the bad guy but in Bioshock: Infinite, you’re the bad guy on a whole other level. Through multiple universes and choices you make before the game began, Booker Dewitt’s closer than close to the villain he’s hunting. Really close. Booker, as we slowly learn through the game, is a broken man with a darker than dark past. He’s the youthful version of Infinite‘s insane religious zealot, Zachary Hale Comstock, and exists as the game’s hero AND its villain.
Booker’s choice to redeem himself at a baptism goes one of two ways. His refusing forgiveness is one while his accepting his fate is another. When Elizabeth finally shows us just what happens when all of Booker’s parallel selves collide, we’re told that Elizabeth is Booker’s long lost daughter and as long as Booker is alive, she, and her other multiple personalities will suffer at the hands of Booker’s multiple outcomes, such as becoming Comstock.
How to stop Elizabeth’s suffering? Booker has to kill himself in the very spot where Comstock and others like him where born at the baptismal lake. The ending sees Booker held under the water until his life fades out, as do the multiple forms of Elizabeth with only the one remaining. It’s all a very terrifying sacrifice for a terrifying future that begs to ask the power of fate.
What endings set you at ease, twisted your mind, or just plain weirded you out? Let us know in the comments below. After all, you really have come to the end of this feature. Really.