Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for every game listed
In a world full of constant video game releases, it is easy for a lot of games to go unrecognised and slip through the cracks. While a lot of games either have incredibly memorable endings or genuinely terrible ones, there are some that are forgotten about completely. While a lot of the more unrecognised endings do tend to come from indie games, some even come from AAA games. And these games deserve to be recognised that little bit more.
Mass Effect 3
While Mass Effect is one of the most widely regarded franchises of the last few generations, it also has its share of underrated moments. Of course, if you were to talk about some of the best endings in video game history, Mass Effect 2 is a guaranteed entry in that list, and deservedly so. However, that’s just one of the reasons why the ending to Mass Effect 3 gets overshadowed. As with any franchise ending experience, Mass Effect 3 was met with certain expectations, which some people would argue were not met.
Simply put, a lot of consumers were annoyed at the relative lack of choice you had in regards to which ending you got. However, I feel that there was far more nuance happening beneath the surface than a lot of people give it credit for.
From the wave-based fight to finally getting one over on the Illusive Man, Mass Effect 3’s final mission on Earth is perfect. While a lot of people could say it did not reach their expectations, Mass Effect 3 realized the potential of the gritty game through a narrative that is akin to a war movie.
Not to mention the endings you get to choose from. Throughout the trilogy, the storyline heavily consists of the reapers needing to be destroyed, which, in turn, destroys all synthetics in the galaxy. An alternate ending allows you to control the reapers or even deny the Starchild entirely and choose to let the cycle start anew for future civilizations.
If you take into consideration the notion that the collectors were trying to create a human reaper or just the fact that Shepard themselves as of Mass Effect 2 is an amalgamation of organic and synthetic material, the seeds are definitely there.
Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)
At launch, Star Wars Battlefront II suffered a huge amount of controversy due to EA’s abysmal handling of its loot boxes. Thankfully, it has since been refined and transformed into a working system, which gives you a sense of actually wanting to grind to unlock further character customization.
However, it is unfortunate that the controversy Star Wars Battlefront II received buried the game’s great story mode. While it did get the resurrection update, it does not get recognised nearly as much as the more recent games, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Star Wars: Squadrons.
The story bridges the gap between the movies: Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens while including pivotal information like how the First Order were able to build an army of Stormtroopers.
Star Wars Battlefront II suffers the same backlash which fell upon The Last Jedi, sacrificing a character in the face of adversity. The ending scene though is perhaps the most underrated part of the game, offering a glimmer of hope to the dying resistance.
Ordered to the Outer Rim to gather allies, Zay, as well as the player leave the game with a sense of hope for what is to come. They know they will finally be able to beat the First Order. This sense of hope does eventually get realised within the franchise too, but Battlefront II is sadly not recognised for the part it plays in securing that for The Resistance.
Braid is a special indie game that got a lot of recognition for its gameplay and its unique use of time manipulation as a way of solving its many puzzles. However, what it is not usually lauded for is its subversive ending.
Throughout the game, we spend our time with Tim, a man on a mission to rescue a princess. With each book we read in-game we are led to believe throughout each world we are on an altruistic mission. Just wanting to save the princess and achieve a sense of pride in being a hero, or perhaps maybe more.
It is, however, in the final mission that the game completely turns the narrative on its head. This is one of the most undervalued endings due to how shocking it is. People usually talk about Braid as a whole experience rather than what the ending actually means.
While we as the player experience time as linear, the final level of the game has time running backwards as we go forwards. As the environment begins to fix itself due to the time manipulation and as we head towards rescuing the princess from her kidnapper, you begin to notice something is wrong. The princess is indeed scared and in a state of panic. But not because of her supposed kidnapper, instead she is scared of Tim. Tim is in fact the kidnapper, and who we were led to believe did kidnap her is instead the hero rescuing her. We were actually playing as the villain of the story the whole time.
The beautiful subversive aspect of this twist shows the player that instead of being a supposedly altruistic person and just rescuing the princess out of a sense of duty, it teaches us that we cannot always get what we want. Instead of continuing to chase what we want, perhaps what we already have is exactly what we need.
It is unfortunate then that when talking about Braid, people see and talk about the experience as a whole. Talking about rescuing a princess and solving time-bending puzzles instead of how beautifully realised and dark the ending actually is.
Life is Strange
Life certainly is strange in this game. Being another game centred around time manipulation, we play as a student photographer, Max Caulfield. She has the ability to trigger a butterfly effect by rewinding time.
Taking a lot of inspiration from the Telltale Games’ style in terms of narrative exploration, developer DontNod manages to tell a story about sacrifice and the exploration of the human condition. By giving a true sense of freedom in terms of how the story plays out, you can talk to NPCs and choose where the narrative goes in each episode.
The fascinating thing about Life is Strange is the nature of the choices. As games within this genre go, we are always given a number of choices as to how we want our personal narrative to play out. These choices are not always black and white, and when we make choices we may perceive to be a ‘good’ one, they could prove to be fatal down the line.
Throughout the entire game, we play as Chloe, growing to like her and, depending on your choices, form a relationship with her. But in the end, we are forced to make what a lot of players saw as the hardest choice in the game. The entire game we have been trying to prevent the town from being destroyed by a tornado. However, in order for the town to be saved, Chloe has to die.
While the famous Star Trek phrase “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” comes to mind, many chose to save Chloe instead of the town. That in itself is a testament to what the developer managed to achieve. Instead of writing a narrative that the player perceives to be about intrigue and mystery, we have a narrative that teaches us about love and sacrifice.
No matter which choice you make though, to choose love or be a hero and save the town, both are choices that further the point of the game, exploring the human condition. This leads to an ending that, for all the faults the game may have, doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, due to the focus on other parts of the game.
When Hideo Kojima and Konami went their separate ways, nobody was sure what sort of game his next one would be. Would it be similar to his seminal Metal Gear series, or would it be something more like what would’ve become Silent Hills?
Thankfully, in my opinion, it was neither. When Death Stranding was first announced, I was heavily curious about the sort of direction that the game would take. What was released is one of the most underrated games ever made, something that not only combines softer Science Fiction and Horror elements but is also a beautiful example of a character study.
Towards the end of the game, after a number of revelations and plot twists, you spend the final mission taking the BB you’ve carried with you the whole game to an incinerator, as it is supposedly defective. Over the course of the game, you delve a lot into the psyche of the main character, Norman Reedus’ Sam, and his journey through troubles with his family, as well as a struggle in defining who he really wants to be.
To be able to save the BB, you have to connect to it one last time, and in a narrative beat that turns the game on its head, you discover that the memories you’ve been witnessing the whole game are not that of your BB, Lou, but in fact, they’re yours. Mads Mikkelsen’s Clifford Unger is your father and you are one of, if not the first BB. That struggle with identity and finding out what family means to you is something that a lot of people face, and something that gets overlooked here.
Yes, there is a lot of walking done in the game, but it is more than just a walking simulator. The game at its core is about connection. While Sam (and perhaps even yourself) spends the game wondering about what that means to him, the ending shows that sometimes it’s not those that you’re born with that matter. What truly matters in life and defines a person is the family and connections you make along the way. That’s why the final sequence is so important. Sam realises that his family doesn’t define who he needs to be. Instead, he now understands that the person he wants to be is what matters the most. As a result, he releases Lou from her pod and chooses to raise her as his own away from everything.
Detroit: Become Human
Quantic Dream, for all of their faults, achieved what I think to be their best game with Detroit: Become Human. They’ve always been good at making branching narratives, but with this game, each branch has its own branches. The story is truly epic in scope, and no two playthroughs will ever be exactly the same
The game follows three playable protagonists, those being Connor, Markus and Kara. Their journeys throughout the game form a big question about humanity and what life truly means. Each of these characters has wildly different narratives that, while converging at certain points, make it feel as if you’re playing three games instead of one. Police detective Connor is my favourite of the three, but runaway housekeeper Kara and resistance messiah Markus also do enough to not be left behind.
As in most Sci-Fi, the biggest underlying question is “What is the true meaning of life?”. What the game does well is put forth the question of what would you do in these circumstances? It’s its fundamental understanding that humanity will always fight what it is scared of, instead of providing the basic rights that should be afforded. Leaving it up to the player as to exactly how the conflict ends is a powerful decision. Whether you choose peace for both sides or just want to live in the chaos and see the androids destroyed, just one small choice can change the course of the world.
In building the narrative, David Cage has built an immensely interesting world and gives you an ending that leaves you wanting more. Every single chapter gave me a sense of wanting to know where it would go next as if watching a Star Wars film. One amazing thing the game manages to do with the narrative is leave you with an underlying sense of dread for the safety of the characters. One moment you can be following along with the story and the next they could be dead, dramatically changing the course of the story. You’ll find yourself wanting to make sure all the characters survive as long as possible, becoming so endeared to them that you want them safe.
It Takes Two
You’re likely questioning why last years’ awarding-winning title It Takes Two is on this list. I assure you, it is no mistake. It Takes Two, after having been released in March 2022, made waves among the gaming community. As a great exploration of what a true cooperative experience is, the game manages to give you one of the most unique experiences that I have had the pleasure of enjoying in a long time.
Following a narrative that you usually do not see, we follow Cody and May as they have separated and are planning to get a divorce. As many people will know, divorce can be a very sensitive topic for a family, but Hazelight manages to give every form of care that they possibly could to the game. I only have a couple of nitpicky issues, but the game is truly a fantastic experience.
So why is the game on this list? To put it simply, I never see anybody talking about the ending. The ending gives us a lot to unpack but does it in a way that actually left me questioning the journey of the characters. After Cody and May have returned to their real bodies, they go after their daughter Rose, who ran away thinking their break-up was her fault.
Throughout the journey, both have grown to truly appreciate every aspect of the other, even sharing a kiss in the final level of the game after helping May rediscover her passion for singing. They’ve rediscovered their love for each other and they make sure that Rose knows she was never the problem. Yes, Cody and May do love each other and lost that along the way, but the writers acknowledge that no situation is black and white. While they rediscovered that love it does not mean that they work together as a couple and will stay together.
The game, and the ending, do a beautiful job of showing the highs and lows of navigating a relationship. Only in appreciating the little quirks in your partner, and encouraging their passions can your love persevere, even in a situation where you’re amicably split.