Video games are generally meant to be fun, and part of delivering that fun is rewarding the player with a nice ending after all that fighting, racing, puzzle-solving, and jumping on platforms.
Endings can take many forms, but usually consist of some text or a cutscene that shows how the actions of the player saved the world, rescued the princess/president/puppy, disarmed the bomb and brought peace to the land.
However, some games are crueler than that. And we're not just talking about a harsh 'GAME OVER' when you lose. There are games where you can beat every level, trash the final boss, and still end up with a big 'screw you' for all your trouble.
As Now Loading's Office Goth, I relish darkness and despair and all things grim, so I'm serving some slices of sadness in the form of the best (worst?) video game downer endings. So make sure you've got a hanky handy and cue up your favorite album from The Cure, because we're descending into the pit of despair.
WARNING! Spoilers, obviously. Continue reading to learn the futility of your quest.
1. Planescape: Torment
Legendary RPG Planescape: Torment (and what do you expect here? It's right in the title), has a fantastically deep story, but it's as dark as all Hell. Throughout the course of the game the Nameless One goes to absurd lengths to learn about his past and find out how to escape his cycle of reincarnation.
He travels the multiverse, battles demonic beings and solves ancient riddles that lead him to confront his stolen mortality. Along the way, he picks up a rag-tag team of tortured misfits, and learns that he is responsible for all their pain in some way. In the end, the final boss kills his friends and leaves with you with choice: Revive your dead companions and spend eternity in literal Hell for your past sins, or leave your friends thoroughly dead and face oblivion. Have fun with that, hero.
2. Mass Effect 3
There are a lot of endings in ME3, especially in the Extended Cut. A player who's done enough work towards completing their missions against the Reaper antagonists is given three options thats are a various mix of bitter, sweet and creepy.
Shepard can either destroy the Reapers (sacrificing innocents in the process), sacrifice himself to become their new hive mind and control them, or force everyone in the universe to turn into weird new forms to stop the war with the Reapers. If your War Assets aren't high enough, it's still possible to turn back the Reaper threat, but at the cost of massive collateral damage and loss of life. But it's the "Refusal" ending added in the DLC that packs the hardest gut-punch.
Shepard can reject the choices offered by the Catalyst and the Reapers wipe out all civilization, leaving only a message in an abandoned bunker begging future civilizations to learn from their failure. Congratulations on completing the trilogy!
3. Half-Life 2
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 scarred me for life. It looked like everything was going so well for Gordon Freeman and company, and then ended with sudden alien potato mindf**k. Eli Vance gets his brain sucked out by tentacled Advisors while his daughter and a helpless Gordon Freeman can only watch in horror. Then fade To black with her weeping over his body. Valve, you absolute monsters.
4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Sure, it's satisfying to kill Makarov, but at what cost? The entire East Coast of the USA has been devastated by a Russian invasion, and Washington DC is hit by an EMP. Every major city in Europe either comes under attack from poison gas, gets invaded, or both, with tens of millions of civilians left dead. Most of the series' player characters are dead, two of them MIA. The world's economic centers are wrecked. The sweetness of revenge is going to turn pretty sour soon in this shellshocked world.
The FPS that started it all, the original Doom wasn't much for story. But even given that, the creators took it on themselves to deliver one of the ultimate 'screw you' endings for players who managed to complete the game. You fight through demon-infested moon bases and battle through Hell itself, all to find that the demons have invaded Earth when you return. But you really get flipped off when you see that they also impaled your pet rabbit!
In the original Fallout, the hero from the Vault undertook a hazardous journey to save everyone in the secure home from which they came, only to be ultimately rejected by that community once they return. The Overseer of Vault 13 turns you away, and while the player can respond with violence, it doesn't change the fact that you're turned away from the only home you've ever known, by the community you've saved. Thankfully, the sequel goes on to make it less depressing, explaining how other vault dwellers left in search of the player character, to form the Arroyo tribe in the wasteland.
7. Silent Hill 2
Psychological horror game Silent Hill 2 traumatized me as a youth playing through the game on PSX. It features 3 horrifying endings, and I saw them all. One ending, pictured above, sees the main character, James, drowning himself. In another he leaves the town accompanied by a weird double of his dead wife who is implied to be dying of the same disease, and then there's a hidden ending where James rows his wife's corpse to an island in the middle of a lake, intent on invoking the dark powers of the town in order to bring her back to life. It is technically possible for James to escape the town ok, but the game makes you work for it.
8. Dead Space
The first game in the Dead Space series pulls a sick twist on the player when it's revealed that Isaac's girlfriend had been dead (apparently suicide to avoid being killed by necromorph enemies) since before the game began; and he was hallucinating her presence the whole time. After the final boss and a narrow escape, Isaac replays Nicole's message and continues to have nightmarish hallucinations of her.
By the end, the hero's going insane on the edge of space, and there's a drifting spaceship full of alien zombies ready to ravage humanity, which would have been destroyed if you hadn't chosen to be a big damn hero and fix it to save your dead girlfriend, you idiot.
9. Red Dead Redemption
After struggling across New Austin and Mexico to safeguard his family's future, John Marston sacrifices his own life in a hopeless stand off with the US Army, buying just enough time for his wife and son to escape with their lives. Three years later, his wife dies, inspiring the son, Jack, to hunt down and kill the man responsible for his father's execution. For the player, the revenge can feel satisfying, but it ultimately means that Jack has taken up the lifestyle of violence and brutality that his father was trying to save him from.
Your salty tears only make me stronger
I think we've all learned a valuable lesson here. You can complete all the quests, kill all the enemies, collect all the gold and still get screwed by cruel, cruel fate. No amount of achievements unlocked can ever fill the void inside, my friends. All we can do is move on to the next game.