– Article by Paul Ewbank-
End of the world scenarios are ten a penny in the realm of videogames. Whether it’s the “save the world from evil” quests of pretty much every RPG since Final Fantasy or the gritty, brown and grey post apocalyptic ruins of most modern day shooters, the end of all things seems to have a powerful hold on the imagination of most gamers. There are definitely some good reasons why games are particularly suited to such apocalyptic themes, and someday I’ll write up my thoughts on the issue, and maybe look at some games that twist the convention in interesting ways. But for now, here’s a list of some of the coolest ways in which the world threatens to end itself in the games I’ve played. If your entire sphere of existence is gonna be eradicated, it might as well turn a few heads on its way out.
This should go without saying, but there will be pretty sizeable spoilers throughout this post.
5- Baroque: The Blaze
I’ve already come under fire from certain individuals for publicly declaring my love for Baroque (hi Matthew), but even the games many, many detractors would have to agree that, even by apocalypse standards, The Blaze is pretty darn nasty. Details of the world before the Blaze are pretty unclear, but we know there was an Archangel driven mad by grief attempting to corrupt the Absolute God so that the world will be reborn, and a mysterious cult of extremists attempting to fuse one of their number (you, the player) with the god to further their own ends. Meddling with divinity- can’t see any reason that might go wrong. This fusion of man and god went as well as could be expected: the Absolute God was torn into several separate entities and the resulting imbalance pretty much wiped out the whole of civilisation, with the survivors living in a distorted, ruined world where their darkest passions become physical manifestations which eventually consume them. If there’s one apocalypse you’d rather NOT survive, it’d be this one.
The Blaze is also interesting since throughout the game it happens again and again. Each time you get to the bottom of the Neuro Tower you have to make a choice: do you obey the Archangel and shoot the Absolute God or do you attempt to fuse with her again? Shooting god results in the world blowing up again and the cycle restarting. Fusing under certain circumstances results in the ‘proper‘ ending, but failure to meet any one of these excruciatingly obscure criteria results in…the world blowing up cuz…just, you know, cuz. It was feeling unappreciated so decided to blow up so that you would notice it. Yeah…thinking about it there’s an awful lot about Baroque that makes no sense at all.
4- Worms Armageddon- Armageddon
The Worms series, and Worms Armageddon in particular are renowned for having a roster of bizarre and excessive weaponry, but the ability to call down the end of all life on earth as a weapon in a 4 on 4 skirmish really is the final word on overkill. Taking the form of a prolonged shower of highly explosive meteors, the Armageddon move can only be obtained in special scenarios, by completing every aspect of the game, or by getting very, very lucky in a random weapon crate. Pretty much guaranteed to destroy the entire map and every worm on it, the Armageddon is a brilliant last act of spite for a defeated side, or just great for dishing out highly disproportionate vengeance. You shotgunned my favourite worm into the water? Well how about I call down the unrelenting wrath of the heavens onto your sorry ass and wipe out every living thing on the planet, see how you like that?
The Armageddon is actually featured in one of the single player missions, where you have to protect the mayor of some city from a band of terrorist worms and also shelter him from a nigh un-survivable barrage of meteors by knocking him into a hidey hole and building up a ridiculous amount of girders around him. Constructing and impenetrable fortress and then watching while the unsuspecting enemy are vaporised around you is pretty darn hilarious…until your so called shelter takes a direct hit or one of the enemies manages to worm (lol) their way inside. But it’s still the ridiculous presence of the invocation of judgement day on a list of weapons alongside bazooka, grenade and longbow that gives Worms Armageddon its place on this list.
3. Xenoblade Chronicles: Mechonis
There are plenty of world ending threats in the epic Wii RPG Xenocbade Chronicles; from invading hordes of cockney steampunk robots to an entire race of elf people being turned into murderous dragon bird things, but the most badass risk of extinction comes from a more fundamental part of the game world. Xenoblade Chronicles is set on the carcasses of two continent sized titans- Bionis and Mechonis- who died locked in eternal combat. Bionis is now home to a variety of races who have built towns and cities on its colossal corpse. Aside from providing the game with some absolutely stunning scenery and a world like no other to explore, Xenoblade’s unique setting provides for a truly awe-inspiring end of the world scenario. Late in the game one of your primary antagonists manages to reactivate the Mechonis and, unless you can stop him, plans to use its ridiculously big sword to cleave the still-slumbering Bionis clean in two, destroying the homes, families and very world of your protagonists in the process. Part of me wished you could actually get to see it if you fail to stop him, as witnessing the end of your world at the hands of another world would be rather amazing. The fight to stop Egil, the vengeful robot dude who controls Mechonis, is one of the most tense in the game, and whilst things get even more epic and you race towards a final boss fight in space (all good boss fights happen in space), the Mechonis remains one of the most insanely cool threats to life as we know it you’re ever likely to come across. And “Yeah? Well my planet could kick your planets ass!” is probably the best boast in the universe.
2. Infinite Space: The Overlords
The concept of the end of all life in the universe carries a lot more gravitas when you’ve spent the course of the game travelling round half of it. For all its issues of pacing and battle mechanics, Infinite Space lives up to its name; this is an RPG experience on an incredible scale, delivering an adventure spanning decades, several galaxies and countless individual worlds. All this makes the appearance of the Overlords- godlike beings who created the universe and bestowed the gifts of space faring technology to humanity- at the end of the game even more terrifying. I can’t remember exactly why the Overlords decided to eradicate all life in the universe. They were probably just getting tired of the whole ‘humanity’ lark and fancied trying something new. That’s part of the genius of having these guys as the ultimate enemies- they’re an entirely higher form of life, so far beyond human comprehension that their reasoning naturally makes no sense to us. At no point do you even ever see the Overlords in the game; all you fight against are the Phages- giant spaceship minions sent from another dimension to literally rip the universe apart planet by planet, sun by sun. And they get pretty far into their plan. Many of the worlds you visit, with their billions of inhabitants, are torn to shreds in front of you, and the DS graphics do an uncannily good job of making this realistic. To say that all hell breaks loose is an understatement- the last few hours of Infinite Space are absolutely mental, as you watch scores of beloved characters and locations get cruelly and unfeelingly pulled into oblivion. Naturally all turns out all right in the end (sort of), but at a tremendous cost. In no other game have I seen the apocalypse take on such a huge scale, and Infinite Space pulls it off in mesmerising fashion.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask: The Moon
Every kid who looks up at the night sky wonders what it is that’s keeping the moon and stars hanging there in the blackness. And every kid wonders why no one else is worrying about this mysterious, invisible thing called “gravity” suddenly giving out and the moon plummeting down to earth. Majora’s Mask taps into this irrational childhood fear to deliver an eerie, haunting twist on the Zelda formula that has more in common with a dark fairytale than the very video-gamey ‘Hero of Time’ plots of other series entries. Everything in Majora’s Mask is a darker reflection characters and locations from Ocarnia of Time, creating a spooky, dreamlike world to explore and plenty of genuinely nasty details to uncover. And all the while the moon with its nightmare grin looms overhead, getting ever larger in the sky and promising to bring an end to all your endeavours. Three days is all you have to halt its advance, and the result is the most inspired entry in the finest game series of all time.
The falling moon also provides Majora’s Mask with some unique game mechanics that really set it apart from other Zelda games. As time advances you get to interact with characters and quests in new ways, leading to some of the hardest and most rewarding challenges in the game. You can always play the song of time to travel back to the start of the allotted three days, but this got me wondering: what happens to the timeline you leave behind each time you travel back? Do you, every time you play the song, abandon your friends and their entire world to be struck by the moon, only to try again with new versions? Maybe I’ve thought about this too much.
Another great feature is that, if you let the three days run out, you get to see the Moon hitting Clock Town and the blast wave engulfing all of Termina. Even with the blocky N64 graphics it’s still a powerful and dramatic end, and the words of the Mask Salesman from out of the darkness will haunt your nightmares forever. “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” Man, what is that guy’s problem?