We've been conditioned to assume that by the time the credits role on our favorite video games, we'll have buttoned up the story, saved the princess, and saved the world. We've come to expect that sort of closure. Some of the best games buck that trend, and they risk an unsatisfying closure in order to tell a different sort of story or shift the focus away from the act of winning. Many times, that means a game is going to bum you out. The following is a selection of games that are really good at that.
Disclaimer: There be spoilers!
Jackie Estacado got the worst inheritance ever: a malevolent spirit that longs to tear his soul to shreds and possess his body. The titular Darkness thrives in the chaos of Jackie's crime fueled world, feeding off of the blood and hate that comes in his ever escalating battle against his former mob mentors. The entire game is about overcoming this Darkness, both the metaphorical type and the supernatural one, to keep hope alive. Things are complicated after his grandmother is killed and the love of his life is kidnapped.
After spending much of the game tracking down Jenny's whereabouts and chasing crooked cops and gangsters across New York, Jackie finally catches up with his lady and the men that took her. In an act of desperation, Jenny is killed. Consumed with grief, Jackie gives in to the Darkness, who goes on an unhindered, unprecedented killing spree. After killing everyone in sight, the game fades to black. Woah.
Telltale's The Walking Dead
The first season of The Walking Dead adventure game was quite the tear jerker throughout its tense and dramatic story. That said, there's no more distressing moment than in the final episode where the character Lee is bitten by a zombie and knows that his fate is practically sealed. His surrogate daughter, Clementine, isn't ready to survive without him - but his fate has been sealed. The race against the standard dangers of zombie post-apocalyptica and Lee's dramatically shortened life expectancy creates one of the most stirring moments in modern game narratives.
No matter the final choice you make - making this little girl put you out of your misery or compelling her to leave you there to turn alone - the screeching halt of your relationship with her is truly gutting. You had spent a lot of time redeeming Lee and being a paternal figure to her. You taught Clementine how to survive in this new world and the difference between right and wrong, so it's hard not to get wrapped up in it all.
The Last of Us
On a micro-level, the ending of Naughty Dog's 2013 masterpiece isn't all that sad. After a harrowing, year-long journey across a country demolished by plague, the rugged smuggler Joel does what he has to to save Ellie's life, whom he's become quite fond of. The twists and turns of the plot had put the two of them in very tough situations, and you become as determined as Joel to keep the best thing he had going for him in his life as long as he can.
The problem with all this is that Ellie just so happens to be the only case in which someone was infected by the mutant cordyceps fungus who has survived. She's the key to finding the cure, and the reason Joel brought her across the country in the first place was to sacrifice her to science (admittedly, unbeknownst to him). Without letting scientists use her to make a cure, the chances of finding a cure become incredibly dreary. Joel's selfishness condemns humanity to rapid extinction. The crazy things we do for love.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Snake Eater starts out pretty depressing once you realize that Snake's mentor is a defector, and her elimination is the reason you're stuck in a jungle behind enemy lines. The Boss was Snake's mentor and only real friend, and he was tasked to put a bullet in her head for America. Conflicted feelings be damned.
He would go on to do it, eventually. But the real reason they were all in the jungle makes things a little more bleak. The Boss didn't truly turn her back on the United States; she infiltrated the mad Col. Volgin's forces and pretended to consult for his army while she searched for the whereabouts of the super secret cache of funds that Volgin planned to use to support his agenda. Once she found the cache, she was to give it to Snake, who would then kill her, in order to avoid an international incident. Snake and The Boss's personal feelings and integrity were used as tools for a political presence that was bigger than all of them.
When he returned to D.C., he would salute the president one more time, before starting down the road to villainy.
Halo lore junkies knew plenty about the Fall of Reach before they ever knew they would get the chance to experience the tragedy first hand. Almost like watching Titanic, the somber and grisly ending is an inevitability from the moment you first assume control of Noble 6. As your progress through the campaign, you find your small squad getting ever so much smaller, until Noble 6 is the only member left to deliver the "package". He does, but then stays behind to ensure the ships safe departure.
In a great bit of ludonarrativity, the game gives you one final mission: survive. Both you and the game know that it's asking you to do is impossible. The swarm of Covenant troops is too great, and their onslaught is consistently brutal. Like the end of the DOOM freeware disk, where you're whisked to Hell to fight a literal never-ending wave of strong bad guys until you lose, Noble 6 has only one destiny. Making you actually play it is way more effective than just showing it to you.
Shadow of the Colossus
The game itself is full of muted colors and wide open, empty spaces. The architecture is dilapidated and destroyed, as a fantastical post apocalypse has taken hold of this land. Shadow of the Colossus was never all that cheerful, as killing giant Colossi is dirty, rugged work. To the character Wander, the work is justified - it's the only way to wake his damsel in distress.
Upon slaying the last Colosuss, a building sized beast who provides the stiffest challenge in the game, the spell that holds her is broken. Then you realize that you've broken a second spell, that locked away a malevolent force that has been compelling you to free it during your quest. You are overcome by this great destroyer and perish without seeing what you've wrought. Unless you play ICO, which may or may not be a continuation of that story.
God of War III
Kratos's three chapter revenge plot is sort of insipid when you take a step back and really look at it. His rage is somewhat justified in the first game, when he calls out to Ares for help on the battlefield and is rewarded with inhuman powers and a questionable sense of reality. Ares compels Kratos to kill his family, and Kratos never let him forget it. He kills Ares with the help of the other gods, who had come to agree that Ares needed to go.
As the new God of War, Kratos is still haunted by the deaths of his wife and child, and he takes it out on the world. Zeus casts him out of the pantheon, and Kratos decides to spend the next two games killing everyone on Mt. Olympus in revenge. When the last blow is struck to Zeus and the world is left godless and in chaos, Kratos realizes that mass deicide isn't a cure for chronic depression, and he takes his own life. Athena is the only one left to pick up the pieces, and no closure is had by anyone.
Red Dead Redemption
What makes Rockstar's dusty tale of revenge and second chances one of the best western games ever isn't the setting, or the music, or all the cowboys and Natives running around in the plains of the rugged frontier. It's the ending.
John Marston spends most of the game taking orders from a pair of federal agents who have kidnapped his wife and son in order to leverage him into catching a criminal for them. Eventually, he sees his family again, and Marston takes care of the government's little problem. Then they show up at his door step to tie up the loose ends. After dozens of hours with John, stopping outlaws and going hunting, he is mercilessly gunned down by federal agents on his porch. You eventually play as his son, Jack, who would go take revenge on the man who did it, but John's death is the sort of sobering reminder that not all redemption ends happily.
With several possible endings that fill the entire spectrum of emotional responses, the darkest one may actually be one of the hardest to get. For most of the endings, the Origami Killer is Scott Shelby, a private detective working the case, and is in some way dealt with. There are certain outcomes that involve Ethan, father of the Origami Killer's most recent victim, getting arrested and framed as serial killer. It doesn't necessarily spell the end for him, though. He could get out, be found innocent, reunite with his kid and estranged wife, and start a new life.
Or he could be found guilty, his son dies, and he kills himself in prison. All the other ancillary characters could also die, and Shelby can be free to continue his wrath.
Whats the most depressing ending you've seen in game. Tweet us @CurseGamepedia, or hit up the comments below.
Jarrett shares his love of video games and geek culture through feature articles on Gamepedia. He prides himself on his deep attraction to Japanese beat-em ups and his god-like Bushido Blade talents.