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Cliffhanger Endings in Video Games - The Good and The Bad

1/28/12 5:38pm
tl;dr

 A look at a few video game cliff hangers which brought us back... and a few that didn't.

 Like all media, video games thrive on creating cliff hanger endings that ask 'Who's that guy?' or 'There are more of them?' It's common for video games, especially in the first entry of the series, to end on a big shocker to set up a sequel (and potentially more games to come). Some of these are brilliant and work perfectly. Sometimes though, they don't. Maybe they were just unlucky amd backed a losing horse, but a game's cliffhanger isn't always resolved. I'm here to look at both the good and the bad of these endings. Spoilers ahead folks.

The Good

Dead Space

The ending of Dead Space is a fairly familar one for the horror genre. Hero Isaac Clarke relaxes in a shuttle, fleeing from the mining ship Ishimura, which had been infested with a race of monsters known as the Necromorphs. As he contemplates events on board, he watches a video recorded by his now deceased girlfriend Nicole. He hears a sound, turns to his right and sees the same woman next to him, who screams and jumps out. A little scary yes, but fairly unoriginal in the horror genre. Variants of the 'Oh, I'm so glad that's over... wait what's that?!!' scare have been in plenty of movies. So why does this work? Well it's a good ending for a first game in a series as it doesn't force a 'To be continued'. If Dead Space had been unsuccessful, with poor sales, it's developers could have simply said 'Yeah, Isaac's dead' and left it at that. It leaves the possibility of a sequel by having his fate be unclear, but doesn't guarantee it. Ultimately though, it was a good idea to do so, as Dead Space 2 was a stellar adventure.

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 was an epic game (in a grand sense, not a LOL EPIK! way) and it's ending needed to reflect that. Perhaps there was no better way than bringing back the major threat from the original game, the Reaper. Except instead of one, how about a whole fleet of them? The threat of a Reaper invasion was talked about in both games, but it's only in seeing them heading for Earth that the scale of Mass Effect 3 began to be realised. It's a tone that's continued for the promotional material that's followed and it's helped to create some major hype for the end of the trilogy.

Golden Sun

Taking 'cliff-hanger' to a literal extreme, the original Golden Sun certainly features an ending designed for a sequel. After defeating the game's main villains (though one gets away) the area around the heroes is hit by an earthquake, with two characters falling into the sea. Presumed dead, the remaining party head out to continue their quest. But in a post credit sequence, it turns out the two who took a tumble are... alive?! It isn't a massive shock, and GS2 was already being developed when this game was released so there wasn't any concern that the ending might come back to haunt the developers. Even so, I like the dramatic nature of this ending anf it really does set the sequel up well. I've got to give them credit for that.

Assassin's Creed

During the development of Assassin's Creed, a lot was made of the fact that the game had two settings, one following Altair in the time of the Crusades and another following his present day descendant Desmond. Throughout the actual game the motives for the people holding Desmond hostage are unclear. They force him to relive his ancestors memories, but for purposes unknown. As the game progresses certain details become more clear, but the game's ending reveals that Desmond's captors are after a certain artifact and a message written in blood reveals he is not the first to be given this treatment. This ending is successful mainly because it plays to the strengths of the game. A lot is made throughout of the conspiracy and mystery surrounding Desmond's capture. The player only ever sees him in a sterilized white room with few defining features. By revealing this hidden message, the game establishes that the mystery will continue and players can't possibly say no.

The Bad

Haven: Call of the King

Arguably the definition of 'Meh' Platform Adventure, Haven: Call of the King has only one memorable moment, it's ending. After going on a grand space adventure, hero Haven finds himself fighting an evil lord named Vetch. After winning the fight, Haven walks off into the sunset happy, right? Well... no. The bad guy ends up being ok, manages to kill the King that Haven was trying to save and leaves the poor guy chained to a rock. The end.

Obviously this wasn't how the series was supposed to end. Haven was originally planned to be a trilogy, so it's likely our hero would end up getting rescued at some point. Unfortunately though, the developer's ambitions weren't supported by consumers and sales ended up being so poor that Haven never did get rescued. Poor guy.

Psychonauts

Oh, Psychonauts. A game respected by the community as brilliant ended up shooting itself in the foot a little with it's ending. After solving the goings on around the summer camp that hero Raz finds himself in, the character ends up becoming a fully fledged Psychonaut. Everything's ok then right? OF COURSE NOT! News comes in that the head of the Psychonauts, who happens to be the grandfather of Raz's girlfriend, has been kidnapped and he needs to come to the rescue! So of course, Psychonauts was massively unsuccessful in terms of sales and there are no plans for a sequel. It's a little different to Haven though, as this was a game with a lot of charm, a great design and some truly fantastic gameplay. Psychonauts could have been a great series, but it's unlikely that this cliff-hanger will ever be resolved.

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun

Rising Sun was one MoH game that tried to be different. It swapped Nazi blasting for action in the Pacific and attempted to have a slightly grander story than previous entries. An early mission sees the brother of main character Joe swarmed by the Japanese and presumed dead. But presumed dead only means one thing in video games... actually alive! The final mission sees one of the main Japanese commanders reveal that they hold Joe's brother but the American is unable to do anything about saving him before the ship they're on explodes. The twist was designed to establish a sequel where Donnie, Joe's brother, breaks out and gains his own freedom. However, Rising Sun's mixed reaction led to a change of attitude from EA and they took the action back to the Nazi's, with the rescue of Donnie only warranting a mention on the PSP MoH, Heroes. Oh well.

Resident Evil Gaiden

Let's say you have a big name console series. Let's also say that, for shits and giggles, you decide to make a pretty poor handheld spinoff. If you do this, would it make sense for the spinoff to kill one of the main heroes in the series? Without spending ages going through the plot of this pretty naff GBC game, it ends with Barry Burton and Leon Kennedy escaping from a sinking ship, supposedly ok. However, the game's end shows Leon bleeding green blood, implying that 'Leon' is actually a B.O.W (a recurring boss in the game) and that the real Leon died on the ship. A very strange ending, especially given that the real Leon appears very healthy and well in RE4 and other games. To be fair, the developers didn't know Leon would be used again in the main series, but did they really think it was a good idea to kill Leon off in a spinoff title? No wonder this game is pretty much discounted from the overall RE storyline.

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