What a time we live in. A time when computer games are finally coming of age, and are making some serious headway in the realms of plot development, and of narrative structure. In the past few years, I've started noticing how more and more games are beginning to concentrate on their endings, in a bid to keep things fresh and interesting. In fact, the boss battle has become such a cliche, that developers and games journalists now use this as an almost negative term, feeling that a giant boss at the end of most modern games is a cop-out, and definitely something to be avoided.
Computer games have therefore had to change. Like all good Pokemon, they've evolved, and in turn have focused on more interesting ways to end the story, one which they've worked so hard on to construct. I never personally thought the boss fight was a problem, but as we find ways to improve and diversify gameplay, I concede that by not doing a boss fight, or approaching it cleverly, it can give the story much more weight and credibility. If a game tries to crowbar a boss in there, then it shouldn't be in there. Simple.
Nowadays, the ending is vitally important, as it ties together the loose endings of a game, and justifies the reason for you playing. Gone are the days when the motive for playing a game was to rescue a princess, or eating ghosts. Plot is VITAL. When we compare games to films, and it becomes clear what I mean.
The boss is the obvious ending in the thriller, and by not providing a boss fight, you provide a plot twist. We are so accustomed to finding ourselves next to a giant creature we've never seen before but have to destroy, that we almost pre-empt it halfway through the game. Just like films, we watch and make assumptions. The greatest movies never show the twist, nor let you guess it. They leave you confused, dumbstruck and in awe of what's just unfolded around you.
Bioshock 2's developers listened directly to their fans.
Unimpressed with the traditional boss battle at the end
of the original, 2K Boston went with something different.
Games are beginning to do this. In the last few generations, games developers have looked at endgame situations in a much more narrative light, and as such have ditched the traditions and conventions, and instead gone for an approach that really makes the game SHINE. Look at Metal Gear Solid 4, the manic button-bashing and cutscenes that followed the immense battles before it may have seen like slowing the pace down to the previous generation of games, but in today's climate this game is allowed to give closure, and spend time wrapping up an epic saga with the cutscenes, whilst still introducing that frenetic pace and sense of drama with Snake crawling to his doom. If we also look at the battle between Vamp and Raiden, that isn't the bit you're controlling. But it's the bit you remember. Here is a game that nails the idea of narrative being just as important as actual gameplay.
So, with games becoming more and more like film, the twist is now the boss fight. The closing act, the conclusion to hours and hours of gameplay. Boss fights are now the way to shock, awe and leave the gamer with that lasting sense of 'wow'. The difficulty has shifted from the gamer, and onto the producer. Our expectations of a good ending are now up their with movies. And rightly so.
In fact, we should demand more from our games. A movie is 2 hours, whilst a game is 20. If you emotionally invest 20 hours of your time into a game, you deserve to be met with the kind of ending that sends shivers down your back. And developers are doing it. Bioshock 2, God of War 3, Assassin's Creed 2, Red Dead Redemption. We are finally getting there.
The end is in sight, and it looks AWESOME.