So you’ve dedicated countless hours in the game you’d spent a significant chunk of change on, striving toward the ultimate goal, that being a rewarding game ending. And reward you it does, with cutscenes, sweeping score, and of course, a sense of accomplishment and closure. But wait, what’s this? No closure? Instead you receive — a cliffhanger? That’s right, rather than just pat you on the back and congratulate you for a job well done, the designers have decided that it’s the perfect moment to sell you on their NEXT game, which may or may not ever reach stores. And even if it does, in the meantime you’re left feeling somewhat unfulfilled and frustrated, like the viewers of Carrot Top’s movies. Here are just some of the noteworthy perpetrators of this method.
(And though for the sake of spoilers we’ve made sure not to include games from the last couple of years, the further down the list, the newer the game. Consider this your spoiler warning.)
The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge [LucasArts] (1992)
This older adventure game title (due for Special Edition re-release this summer) pulled no punches with its cliffhanger, and not just because the game starts and ends with an actual cliff and one or more characters literally hanging from it. As was established in the first game, Guybrush Threepwood travels the Caribbean in his quest to achieve his goal of “Mighty Pirate.” This largely involves, in no particular order, wooing Island Governor Elaine Marley, discovering fabulous treasure, and defeating the evil ghost-turned-zombie pirate LeChuck. Or does it? Because at the end of part two, it’s “revealed” that LeChuck is merely Guybrush’s older brother Chucky, and that what seemed to be the South Seas was, in fact, all in Guybrush’s head as he gallavanted deludedly around an amusement part. Or was it? It’s left unclear, as Chucky’s eyes flicker malevolently for a second at the end, and Elaine still waits by the cliff for Guybrush, wondering what’s happened to him. (Granted, we find out years later that LeChuck had merely tricked Guybrush into thinking it was a dream, though whether that was creator Ron Gilbert’s intention, we may never know.) Regardless of the truth, this was a truly baffling way to end a game.
Half-Life [Valve] (1998)
One of the most famous and influential games of its time, the original Half-Life also had an agonizing cliffhanger at its end. After surviving the catastrophe at the Black Mesa research facility and subsequently vanquishing a whole slew of interdimensional monstrosities on their own turf, protagonist Gordon Freeman is rewarded for his heroic efforts by being visited by a creepy guy in a business suit known as the G-Man. (Presumably the G doesn’t stand for Guybrush.) After a surreal light show that ends on a replica of the very traincar Freeman arrived in, he’s given a “choice” by the G-Man, which really isn’t much of a choice at all: He can either jump blindly into a dangerous looking portal and presumably do the bidding of the G-Man and his associates, or refuse and be plunged into a swarm of alien creatures who aren’t too happy with him. Either way, it ends there, and players were left waiting over half a decade to find out what came next. (Luckily, it was worth the wait.)
Gabriel Knight 3: Blood Of The Sacred, Blood Of The Damned [Sierra] (1999)
In the likely-to-be-final installment of the Gabriel Knight franchise, shadowhunter/novelist Gabriel Knight unravels an ancient Dan Brown-like mystery/conspiracy involving everything from vampires and freemasons to Knights Templar and Jesus Christ. And after a spectacularly supernatural showdown with Azmodius and rescuing a baby from an insane cultist vampire, and having a firsthand vision of The Crucifixion, he rushed to tell his partner and would-be love interest Grace, only to find that she’s left him a Dear Gabe letter and hopped the first train out of town without him, presumably to pursue her own path. Will their paths cross? Will they reunite? Who knows, since Sierra stopped making all of those games.
Heavy Metal: FAKK2 [Ritual] (2000)
An odd, quirky FPS that perhaps didn’t do as well as they were expecting, FAKK2 (the game sequel to the movie Heavy Metal 2000, which was itself a sequel to Heavy Metal) featured scantily-clad warrior model Julie, who found herself in the dangerously thankless position of defending her utopian planet home of Eden from an encroaching alien menace named Gith, whose grotesquely dead lackies cause no end of traditional FPS-type trouble for her. You know the drill. Without going into too much cumbersome detail, Julie manages to thwart Gith’s minions, re-kill the villain she’d killed in the movie, and return triumphantly home with special powers in tow… only to discover that Gith was still around, just as powerful and presumptuous, and had the nerve to kidnap Julie’s pregnant sister on his big space freighter. Think how much more devastating this ending would be had one cared about the story and its characters.
Divine Divinity [Larian Studios] (2002)
In this rather unique isometric RPG, you played a character whose mission it was to save Rivellon from fairly certain doom due to the Forces of Evil returning to the land and summoning The Lord of Chaos into human form. As the character, you do everything in your power (which naturally increases) to prevent this. At least, until the very end of the game, at which point you pick up the baby into which the evil bad guy has been esconced, and rather than stab it with your big stabby knife, carry it outside for some fresh air, judging from the grainy cutscene. It’s hard to tell. But there’s definitely no blood curdling scream or anything. As if to punctuate this admittedly humane anti-climax, a statue from earlier in the game plummets from its earlier trajectory and nearly lands on a nearby wizard. A very head-scratching ending, indeed. Hopefully one that was explained in the recent sequel.
Beyond Good And Evil [Ubisoft] (2003)
In this critically acclaimed commercial failure, you played Jade, a futuristic young photographer whose investigations into evemts surrounding her homeplanet lead to an alien conspiracy in which a race known as the DomZ are abducting people or infecting them with spores to make them into slaves to do their bidding undetected. By the end of the game, Jade has traveled to the DomZ lunar base where she rescues her anthropomorphic pig mentor/friend Pey’j and also confronts the DomZ high priest behind the abductions. Using their own power against them (which had been stored in her body, conveniently enough), she freed her people from their DomZ captors, and all was presumably all right with the galaxy after that. Unless one sticks around to the end of the game credits, in which we see her friend Pey’j writhing in pain, at which point it’s revealed that he has the DomZ spore infection now. So not only is it not over, but there’s definite betrayal in Jade’s future. Assuming Ubisoft ever releases the sequel, which has been in various rumored stages of production over the years.
Knights Of The Old Republic II [LucasArts] (2004)
Up to the very end, KOTOR2 is a great game. It has all of the elements you want out of a Star Wars gaming experience, short of multiplayer (if desired). And while the plot twists of this one might be a little more obvious than in its predecessor, it’s still an engaging storyline, one that doubtless millions would have liked to see a continuation of. But the ending is vague, confusing, and more importantly the sort of ending that would logically lead to another scene, or better yet another sequel. Yet there has been neither in over half a decade. So we’re left theorizing as to what the future held for everyone on the ship that wordlessly fled Malachor. (My guess is that it involves massively multiple players, online.)
Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy [Midway] (2004)
Almost like “The Bourne Identity” with a psionics twist, this game had the player progressing through a storyline in which Nick Scryer (get it?) tries to recover his lost memory while at the same time uncovering a complicated, long-standing struggle between the world’s forces over special psi-related artifacts. The end culminates in a showdown between the player and the typically power-hungry former general of the Psi-Ops project. Ideally, the player defeats the general, resulting in a semi-dazzling cutscene with a lot of explosions and dramatic camera angles, and once the dust settles, Nick and his partner are alone, having saved the day. Or have they? Because then some choppers swoop in on the scene to retrieve the artifact remains while also taking potshots at the player, who in a non-interactive scene demolishes one of the choppers, followed immediately with “To Be Continued…” Except it was never continued, as of this writing. Presumably Nick destroyed the other chopper too, but we may never know.
Halo 2 [Bungie] (2004)
Apparently 2004 was “The Year Of The Cliffhanger.” Though this first person shooter’s ending has since been resolved in Halo 3, at the time a lot of people were frustrated by what some gaming websites regard as one of the biggest cliffhanger endings of recent memory. While the player (as The Arbiter) expects to achieve their goal of shutting down the ring, all they actually accomplish is triggering a failsafe that prepares multiple other rings to activate via a remote location known unhelpfully as “The Ark.” It’s the old “deactivating the bomb just makes it count down faster” trope but on an astronomically larger scale. And as if that weren’t enough, Master Chief shows up at the last second to “finish this fight,” presumably once Halo 3 begins. Fortunately most people didn’t play the game for its storyline so much as the multiplayer, but Xbox forums were still rife with player frustration.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two [Valve] (2007)
The Man With The Crowbar’s job is never done, as was illustrated in this most recent of his episodes, now nearing three years old. As Earth’s most hardy engineer Gordon Freeman, the player’s been tasked with helping launch a rocket that will close a super-portal that would otherwise allow The Combine’s forces to open up a fresh can of interdimensional whoopass upon Earth, which would be bad. Gordon of course succeeds, with the help of Alyx and her father. All that seemed to remain was the tracking down of the vanished research vessel and the episodic trilogy would be complete. As such, a slight bit of cliffhanger is to be expected, it being episodic and all. But what the player might not have seen coming were the two Combine enemies that interrupted the group’s departure, attacking and presumably killing Alyx’s father (and almost Alyx, had Dog not intervened at the last second). As a result, all of the player’s heroic accomplishments are dimmed in the wake of of Alyx’s mournful cries for her father, and open-mouthed players wait uncomfortably for a few years for some sort of closure. Fun!