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Top 10 Enigmatic Endings
All journeys have a beginning, middle and ending, and games are no different. People play video games for different reasons. Some play for the mindless enjoyment of mowing down zombies like Melissa McCarthy at an all you can eat buffet. Others enjoy taking their skills online to play with the best eleven year old children in the country, because let’s face it, that is where the elite competition is. Personally, I like to get involved in a big interactive story, and I rarely rest until I’ve seen that story through until its conclusion. Sometimes though, even reaching the end of a story doesn’t provide the closure you were looking for, or, as is usually the case with me, I just plain didn’t understand what exactly the heck happened.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. M. Night Shyamalan has made a career out of mysterious plot-twisted endings, and some of my favorite games have done the same thing. Here are the Top 10 enigmatic video game endings.
*There are MASSIVE spoilers here…..seems obvious, but my lawyers insisted I put this disclaimer here.*
*Also note that Bruce Willis was dead the entire time during The Sixth Sense*
10. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
A prime example of why so many people love the early LucasArts adventure games, The Secret of Monkey Island: LeChuck’s Revenge plays with your expectations in a number of ways. While the whole series turns traditional pirate scenarios on their head (who could forget insult swordfighting), LeChuck’s Revenge hits you with an ending that is basically one large twist. After surviving everything that your zombie pirate adversary LeChuck can throw at you, our protagonist Guybrush Threepwood uses a voodoo doll to dismember LeChuck. As he lays in a pool of his own green blood, he beckons Guybrish to come close and take off his mask, which reveals that LeChuck looks like Guybrush’s “creepy brother Chucky”. A regular world janitor then walks in (looking grossly out of place here), and tells you that “you kids can’t be down here.” Huh? Cut to the next scene, where two children exit a hatch to the excited cries of their parents. A confused Guybrush listens as his parents thank Chucky for finding him, as LeChuck said they would, and the family exits stage right. However, Chucky’s eyes glow a sinister red before exiting, suggesting that things aren’t so benign. A post-credit scene implies that this real world may be the real curse, but the fact that creator Ron Gilbert never got to see the series to its conclusion, despite stating that he planned to definitively explain it, makes your own interpretations that much more exciting.
9. Hotline Miami
While rest of the games on this list feature mind-bending endings, the entirety of Hotline Miami is just one big head trip…I don’t even know where to start. At first glance, the game appears to be about your mysterious jacketed protagonist receiving a series of phone calls from people who send him to random places to indiscriminately murder dozens of people with no rhyme or reason. If that sentence looks confusing, trust me, it doesn’t hold a candle to the madness that is Hotline Miami. However, as crazy as the game is, the ending is so much more confusing. After taking your protagonist on his murder rampage for awhile, you meet up with a man in a motorcycle helmet who you kill, just business as usual. Later, your guy gets shot in his apartment, wakes up and tracks down the shooter, and kills him. Revenge is gotten, everybody is happy…except the player, who has no answers as to why any of this has happened. Luckily, an epilogue chapter placing you in Motorcycle Helmet’s shoes is there to clear everything up. At least until you meet up with your original player character in the same place where he killed you, only to this time kill him. After a few more murders for old times sake, you crawl down in the sewer and meet two people who are presumably the game’s developers, and they tell you it was all just a game, and nothing mattered. There is a hidden password you can track down to gain access to a computer that…doesn’t clear anything up at all. Well, crap.
8. Little Inferno
Little Inferno is definitely one of the more unique games in recent memory. What starts off as a charming Tim Burton-esque fireplace simulator becomes something else entirely. As you innocuously burn things trying to form combinations that you have vague hints for, a sense of unease fills you as more and more unsettling hints suggest that things may not be as they seem with you Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. As you sit in your house, burning everything that you can get your hands on, a little girl named Sugar Plumps sends you increasingly strange notes, occasionally requesting an item in return. In addition to some letters from the weather man, who is somewhere “over the smoke stacks, over the city”, that is the only contact you have with anything, outside of burning the objects you purchase through a catalog. The objects themselves are a delight to burn, as mini moons create their own gravity, and a pixelated bush sends out tine duck sprites you can burn as well, and if the occasional stuffed bear screams when you burn it, so what? Things take an even darker turn at the end, however, when a letter from Sugar Plumps indicates that her house has blown up, and she is going to step into the flames. Well that escalated quickly. Soon, more letters from a ghostly figure who sounds suspiciously like Sugar Plumps, asks you to repurchase and burn the items you previously sent to her. Upon doing so, your house explodes and you are free to wander the freezing streets, in search of the company that made the Littler Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, and answers. If you kept that free hug coupon you received early in the game (instead of burning it like everything else, you monster) you might receive them. Or you might just get a hug. Either way, you get an ending that sticks with you, despite the questions it leaves.
7. Shadow of the Colossus
Few endings stick with you like Shadow of the Colossus’s does. After fighting his way through sixteen massive creatures in a bid to save his lost love Mono, protagonist Wander finally reaches her only to encounter an even crueler fate. Throughout the game, you get the sense that something is wrong with this quest, as most of the colossi aren’t even aggressive towards you until you attack them. As you kill them, you begin to see the toll it is taking on Wander, as he slowly becomes corroded. You don’t see the real price until the end though, when you find out that Wander was nothing but a pawn in the quest to restore the big baddie Dormin to his body. Watching the evil take Wander’s body over takes an emotional toll on the player, but its the gut-wrenching finale that really leaves its mark. Wander eventually gets his prize, as Mono returns to the land of the living, but you can’t help but ask the question “at what price?” SotC uses its base gameplay mechanic to great effect at the end, as you get the option to try to hand on for dear life, much as Wander had done throughout the game. The only difference is that this time, no matter how long you hold on, you can’t win. While Wander and Mono are eventually reunited, it isn’t in the manner that either of them would have thought, and leaves quite a bit open to interpretation. No matter how you look at it though, the sadness of it is universal.
Have you ever heard one of those jokes that goes on for way too long, just to set up the punchline that much more? Braid is kind of like that, except that the joke is on the player. You control Tim as he sets off on a journey to regain the love of the Princess. He made some mistakes in the past, who hasn’t, but he has learned from them. and is eager to find his love and prove it too her. A terrible monster has captured her, and Tim takes it upon himself to make things right. However, as the game progresses, subtle clues hint at the possibility that Tim isn’t so selfless as he would have you believe. He may, in fact, be a violent, womanizing alcoholic, who wants, not to redeem himself for his mistakes, but to sweep them under the rug. The clincher comes at the end, after he and the princess work together to escape the monster. As it turns out, we were watching the scene in reverse. Instead of working together, the princess was trying to impede Tim’s progress, so she could be with her actual love. Tim was the monster all along. If that were the ending, then it would wrap up pretty clearly. Instead, we are treated to a post-credit scene that has numerous interpretations, including one that implies Tim may have had a hand in the atomic bomb. Tracking down the hidden stars and seeing the “real” ending may help, but creator Jonathan Blow has said there are things hidden in the ending that no one has still noticed yet. The game is six years old John….just tell us.
5. Alan Wake
If you are the kind of person who enjoys concrete answers when faced with a mystery, there is a good chance that Alan Wake isn’t for you. Here we have the story of a man named Alan who gets caught up in a conundrum: His wife is missing, possibly dead, and he keeps finding pages of a story that he wrote, yet can’t remember. This story seems to actually be going on around him, as something called The Dark Presence constantly tries to kill him. At the end, it appears that his wife makes it out of the lake where she supposedly drowned unscathed, but the fate of Alan is left somewhat up in the air. As Alan surveys what has happened, his last words are “It isn’t a lake…it’s an ocean!”. While a sequel and a couple of DLCs paint the ending in a completely different picture, the beauty of what happens is the number of ways you can imagine how it went down. Was it all a dream? Did Alan actually create a persona to take on the actions of the game, while the real him was in a cabin writing the entire time? What about the other writer whose story so closely mimics Alan’s? While you may not get the definitive answer you are looking for, Remedy does a masterful job of giving enough facts to piece together your own idea of the ending, without distinctly telling you what exactly happened in Bright Falls.
4. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
The Silent Hill games are well-known for the psychological games they love to play with users, but Shattered Memories takes it to a completely new level. As the game starts, you find yourself talking with Dr. Kaufmann, a psychiatrist who is trying to help you cope with some undisclosed tragedy. Your protagonist takes a short psyche test, and you begin the game. With the therapy sessions placed sporadically throughout, you control Harry Mason as he trudges through the haunted town of Silent Hill trying to find his missing daughter Cheryl. After a violent car crash, Harry spends the entire game looking for his daughter, despite a number of obstacles he encounters along the way, along with regular cuts in with Dr. Kaufmann, which are played out in a first-person view. The real twist comes, of course, at the end, when Harry enters a lighthouse that leads to….Dr. Kaufmann’s office. There we see what has really been happening. It is Cheryl, not Harry, who has been seeing Dr. Kaufmann, who has been trying to help her get over the death of her father Harry. Depending on what actions the player has taken over the course of the game, this can go down in a few different ways. Regardless of how your personal ending shakes out, it is one of the more genuinely shocking endings in gaming history.
3. The Last of Us
The whole “the good guy is actually the bad guy” thing has admittedly been a bit played out, but this masks a deeper truth. In real life, people aren’t really “good” or “bad”, they are simply following their own personal motivations. Take the protagonist from The Last of Us, Joel. Joel’s mission is fairly straightforward: deliver the girl Ellie to a group of people working on a cure. Joel and Ellie endure a harrowing journey only for Joel to find out at the end that this cure, which isn’t even a sure thing, will require Ellie to give up her life. While the best thing for the greater good would probably be for Ellie to sacrifice herself for the chance at a cure, Joel, haunted by the memory of his deceased daughter, refuses to let that happen, instead killing the group of people holding Ellie and “rescuing” her. As they drive away, Joel lies and says that she was no longer needed. Ellie asks if he is telling the truth, and after he assures her it is, the game ends on one final word from Ellie, “Okay.” It is a brillaint ending to an emotional rollercoaster of a game, that leaves you wondering: Who exactly is the good guy here? And do the ends, no matter how noble, justify the means? These are difficult questions, and Naughty Dog is correct in not giving any easy answers.
2. Spec Ops: The Line
If you haven’t played Spec Ops: The Line, yet are still reading this article, stop right now. Go find a copy of this game, and play it. I would say I’ll wait, but we both know that is a lie. The internet will still be here (probably), so just come back at your leisure. We good? Anyway, people picking up Spec Ops: The Line probably figured they were in for another run-of-the-mill military shooter, albeit one with sweet sandslide physics. What they got instead was a psychological thriller that would make Darren Aronofsky proud. Taking more than a few cues from Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, Spec Ops takes players on a journey through Dubai as Captain Martin Walker, who is sent to capture his former CO John Conrad, who has turned rogue. Along the way, Walker is forced to do some truly reprehensible acts, like the infamous “white phosphorus” scene, and begins to slip in and out of sanity. Near the end, the twist is presented, and it is a doozy. Konrad has been dead the whole time. The radio transmissions were simply Walker’s conscience speaking to him, and not liking what it is seeing. Although he spends the entire game blaming these atrocious acts on somebody else, he is finally forced to recognize that he is the true culprit, and must deal with it. When the cavalry finally comes, the player, as Walker, must make one final mind-blowing choice with some serious repercussions.
1. BioShock Infinite
I hope you guys are holding on to something, because this one is a doozy. BioShock Infinite, penned by master storyteller Ken Levine, has one of the most incredible, yet complex, finales in all of gaming. While it isn’t necessary to have played the first two games, the lore and mystique of the BioShock franchise makes them tie together in fun ways that are a joy to explore. This game particularly messes with your mind in a bunch of crazy ways, and if you are really interested, I break down the ending here in much more detail. Whenever a game starts throwing time travel into the mix, you just know things aren’t going to be as simple as they seem. When your protagonist lets an army of his daughters from alternate dimensions drown him in a lake to end a game though, that is an entirely different story. As your protagonist Booker learns of the terrible deeds that he has committed, or rather what an alternate version of himself did, he knows the only way to end it is to go out on his own terms. The beauty of a good ending is that it can be interpreted in numerous ways, and in this case that idea is played out brilliantly. It is hard to articulate what makes BioShock Infinite’s ending so powerful unless you have experienced it yourself, but for those who have, I think you will agree: it is an unforgettable experience, and is absolutely deserving of the number one spot on our list.