Imagine the Star Wars movies ending with Luke falling to the dark side. The “bad” ending would never happen in the big budget movies, but someone has definitely written it. Imagining those “what ifs” is what fan fiction is for. Videogames, though, don’t have to leave their alternate history storytelling up to the fans. They can embrace those doom-and-gloom endings with branching paths and multiple endings. If Return of the Jedi were a game, we could’ve absolutely had a semi-canon cutscene of the savior of the galaxy cutting down his father and kneeling at the feet of the Emperor.
That’s more or less how BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic ended, and it was way better than your typical happy ending. Gaming has accumulated a number of astonishing, melancholy, and downright sadistic endings for those of us who choose to go dark. In this list we won’t be talking about game endings that result from failure—like botching the suicide run in Mass Effect 2 and losing half your crew. Instead we’ll be focusing on the finales that empower your most heinous instincts. The ones that make you feel like a supervillain. So come along with us, and let’s watch the world burn.
Dishonored is a game about vengeance. Corvo’s legacy is tarnished by a cabal of greedy bloodsuckers, and you spend the entire game doing your best to re-establish the rightful ruling bloodline, and assassinate the cronies who got in your way. However, if bloodlust captures your instincts too much, and civilians are implicated in your operations, you might end with a cinematic detailing a city that has truly fallen to chaos. It’s bittersweet, really: Screw the hegemony, but also let’s skip town before things get truly anarchic.
Oh, BioShock 2, what a strange beast you are. The game falls into a category alongside Dark Souls 2 and Majora’s Mask, where publishers instruct exhausted development studios to make a sequel using the same assets, and the same general formula, that made the original product such a classic. But looking back, we were perhaps too quick to judge 2K’s greed. BioShock 2 was cool, weird, and responsible for launching the luminaries at Fullbright. Its evil ending, where your Little Sister sucks out the essence of yourself to conquer the world—fulfilling all the selfish lessons you taught her—seemed to serve as a final, mocking rejection of Rapture’s false hopes in Randism. At the very least, it’s a better ending than the first BioShock.
Far Cry 3
This one’s definitely not safe for work.
I think most of us expected Far Cry to die a silent, forgotten death. The first game was a technical marvel, way back in the Crytek years, but it was also saddled with one of the worst stories ever committed to a work of fiction. The idea that Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3 resuscitated the franchise with a truly batshit narrative, and one of the most compelling, immediately menacing villains in triple-A history, is almost more crazy now than it was then. Politically, Far Cry 3 hasn’t aged particularly well, but man, that ending where you terminate the rest of your friends and get stabbed through the heart mid-coitus as part of an ancient ritual was audacious, to say the least.
Sid Meier’s Civilization
I’ve always appreciated the sense of perturbed melancholy Sid Meier has attached to the conquest victory conditions in his Civilization games. Throughout the series you’ve been able to achieve supreme victory through brilliant diplomacy, or cultural radiance, or the exploration of Alpha Centauri. Or, you can dump all your points into war production and backstab every other Civ on the map until you’ve established the One World Government your authoritarian heart so deeply desires. Thank you Firaxis, for always confirming the fundamental evil in the heart of humanity.
Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun
God bless Joseph D. Kucan. Command & Conquer’s Kane is not the most subtle role in video game history, but it absolutely is one of the most memorable. His delightfully unhinged portrayal of the Brotherhood of Nod’s fanatical chairman was captured in dozens of tongue-in-cheek FMV cutscenes, and his finest moment might be at the end of the second game in the series, Tiberian Sun, where he offers a triumphant manifesto before nuking the entire planet. Go watch this now, and it’ll make you even more upset that EA decided to resurrect this wonderful franchise as a mobile game. Kucan sure had a way of making the life of a dictator look glamorous, didn’t he?
As far as pure, unmitigated darkness goes, no game comes close to Undertale’s “Genocide” ending. This is more of an easter egg than a plot contrivance, but basically, if you spend your time in this delightfully twisted RPG killing every character you meet, you’ll unlock a special, super-meta final cutscene where you literally erase your save file, thus “ending the world.” It’s especially wrenching when you consider how much tender love and care Toby Fox put into Undertale’s narrative, and how broken and vulnerable each of its characters tend to be. More than anything though, it’s a commentary on how easy it is to kill in a video game, and how eager we are to press the “attack” button, just because it’s there. You gotta love a game that’s willing to confront your evil as an active player, rather than as a detached observer.
Knights of the Old Republic
Knights of the Old Republic’s calling card was the touted moral choice system; how the player could control the political agency of the roguish young Jedi, and determine the fate of the universe by their temperment. Bioware made better use of that concept in the company’s work on Mass Effect and Dragon Age, which actually managed to serve up legitimately confounding quandaries, rather than the uber-binary morality of the Lucas Star Wars films, but it still added up to a hell of an ending. If you decide to go full dark, you can finish the campaign as the new Sith Lord with the full command of your forces and your super hot, equally evil girlfriend by your side. It was so gloriously sinister, that it actually managed to eclipse whatever the good guys did. What are video games for, if not to create your very own Darth Vader?