For every beginning, there is an end. So goes the old axiom/proverb/convenient tagline for final parts of trilogies. But the thing is, its nonsense. Just as your death will lead to new corporeal life by way of fertiliser and worm-food, and the world will keep spinning regardless, so too is the end of a video game not necessarily an actual end. But the problem is, that often occurs by way of far less poetic means than above, often a result of troublesome circumstances and developers just plain Getting It Wrong.
Im not talking about deliberately enigmatic, meaningfully ambiguous endings here. And Im certainly not talking about games like World of Warcraft and Destiny, whose narrative scenarios are only ever part of ongoing story texture to be expanded and developed for years to come. No, Im talking about games that just dont bother concluding anything. Until, that is, they do, as a result of fan outcry, potentially nefarious business practices, or a combination of both. Or in fact, Other Stuff. Click on, and I will explain the first of these narratively stunted curios.
Some say that Alan Wakes out-of-the-box ending is ambiguous. Those people are wrong. Ambiguous endings are about leaving things open to interpretation, about seeding multiple possible contexts, explanations and repercussions for the concluding events. Alan Wake is so steadfastly determined to not even have an ending that its actually entirely definitive in its final statement. And that statement is Were not telling you a damn thing.
By the end of Alans initial journey through the abstract, fiction-blurring, existential murk of the writers slightly self-pitying plight, we have learned very little and he seems to have achieved even less. Hes still separated from his wife. Hes still trapped in the nightmare nether-realm of Cauldron Lake. The unexplained Darkness is still plaguing his existence, both here and in the real world. And we have no idea whats going on, or how its going to pan out. But then the episodic DLC hit. And while it certainly doesnt tie everything up with a neat, happy ending, it makes a lot of things more transparent, introducing new, deeper workings for both game-world and gameplay, cementing the shape of the threat more tangibly, and giving Alan a clearer path home. In fact a cynical mind could almost interpret it as the missing, third act of the game, held back for ransom a few months later. Hmmmmmm.
In commercial media, cliffhanger endings are more common than bad haircuts in Shoreditch. Want a good chance that people will turn up to see your sequel or new season? Make your first iteration good. Want to almost guarantee it? Leave your entire cast hanging off a cliff, directly above the jaws of a flaming Cthulhu, as a kitten tightrope walks across the chasm to help them. With a broken leg. And a wife and two kids at home. So it surprised no-one when Asuras Wrath seemed to end with a sequel tease.
But the thing is, it didnt do that at all. What initially seemed to be a set-up for Asuras Still Bloody Angry later turned out to be a deliberately cut-off ending, the real finale delivered later via--of course--paid-for DLC. Alongside some additions for existing, earlier chapters of the game to boot. On the one hand, thats an innovative means of bestowing long-term engagement and vibrant, structural layering upon your narrative. And on the other hand, it could be construed as a calculated, manipulative dick-move. Your choice.
Mass Effect 3
Do I really need to recap this one? Mass Effect 3 was released. People played it. Mass Effect 3 finished. People were sad because a) they felt that they didnt get enough control over the games various outcomes, which were dictated more by a climactic choice than the tens of hours of decisions made over the course of the series, and b) they thought the endings were a bit too short, ambiguous, and rubbish.
This is a slightly odd entry, in that Mass Effect 3 did have an ending. Several, in fact. Canon ones, which were exactly the endings BioWare intended to produce. But rapidly, those endings legitimacy was removed by fan perception, retconning them to not the real endings through refusal of acceptance. Much like like a disappointed birthday reveller assuming that an underwhelming present is just a trick played before the reveal of the real thing. Seriously, no, those new draught-excluders are all youre getting. There are no car keys in the card. Anyway, BioWare patched in new, expanded endings a while later. Some people were happy with them, some people werent. But regardless, everyone seems excited about the nebulous promise of new-gen Mass Effect 4, and will probably remain that way until the first minor disappointment kicks up this whole debacle all over again.
Dark Matter was a promising-looking Metroidy space-horror game when it first stepped, blinking innocently, into the warm sunlight of Kickstarter a little while back. Somewhere along the line though, it took a few steps in the wrong direction and slipped headlong into the cold, misty depths of the dreaded Swamp of Internet Bile.
Failing to meet its funding target, the games development plodded along anyway, eventually releasing on Steam in October 2013. But alas, that release did not go well. While the game was okay, early supporters and new players alike were furious at the short adventures abrupt lack of conclusion and confounding text-based ending. Amid claims of deception, and a bit of confusion over whether the game was intended to be an episodic release or not, the development team crumbled, unable to fund further development in either case. A few weeks later a finished end sequence was patched in but, a couple of decent lines of dialogue aside, it largely failed to impress the community, who still felt it too short and ambiguous. Sill, the music was quite nice.
A Hideo Kojima game having an incoherent plot is no rare occurrence. But a Hideo Kojima game with an incoherent plot thats too short? Now were exploring the deepest, darkest corners of Opposite World.
But that happened with Snatcher, The Kojs 1988, cyberpunk graphic adventure. Even for a game set in the favourite grim-dark genre of historys favourite grim-dark decade, its original release ended on a jarringly bleak note. The biorobotic Snatcher menace is still at large. The lead characters team is in disarray after its Chief is killed and replaced by a biorobo. Is it all an early statement of Kojimas later predilection with fatalism and the futility of struggle? No, actually. The dev team just ran out of time and put Snatcher out before the storys third act was finished. The game was finally completed and released on the PC-Engine as Snatcher: CD-ROMantic four years later. Why does Kojima get away with this stuff when indies dont? Probably because the internet wasnt such a big deal the late '80s.
Mega Man Soccer
Okay, so a sports game hardly needs to be an epic, swirling, existential narrative masterpiece, akin to Gone With the Wind as written by Phillip K. Dick. But what makes Mega Man Soccer interesting is that it actually had two or three animated end sequences completed for its various tournaments, and included in the final games code.
Why were they dropped? Id like to give you an intricate analysis of the logistical and creative forces at play during the games development, but, er Hey look! The Goodyear blimp! Whatever the reason for MMSs lost endings--the released game resets to the title screen upon completion of a tournament--they are now viewable by way of a bit of nefarious Action Replay wizardry, the required codes having been deciphered by fans later down the line. Or you could just look on YouTube. It's basically up to you.
Final Fantasy VII
The climactic battle with Sephiroth. A planet in imminent danger of destruction by Meteor. Sephiroth defeated. Planet still in danger. A last-ditch burst of Holy in a desperate attempt to save Midgar city, and in turn, the whole world. A dramatic, last-second rush of Lifestream to aid the bid for survival. And then? 500 years later
Red XIII and his children run through a rocky pass below shimmering blue skies. A flock of white birds flies overhead. Midgar is destroyed, but reclaimed by the verdant greenery of the earth. The planet lives on. But humanity? Who knows? Frankly, no-one did until the Advent Children movie, alongside a host of spin-off games and media, turned up to say Actually, yes, while giving Cloud a whole bunch more existential emotional fallout to deal with. Ruined the delicate, poignant ambiguity of the original ending somewhat, but hey, if a fanbase is rabid, it must be fed.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two
*obligatory reference to the fact that Episode Three still isnt a thing, even though it doesnt really fit the remit of this article*
*sound of a single gunshot*
So those are the games they could not (satisfactorily) stop. But have you been burned by any others? Are there any more games that have left you hanging, only to deliver their pay-off months, or even years later on? Let me know in the comments.