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Games

Games That Finish Better Than They Start

Most video games are made to win you over with an opening sprint, but which games do better over the distance?

by Rob Zacny
May 31 2017, 2:08pm

Alan Wake screenshot courtesy Remedy

Last week I started playing Alan Wake again and was reminded of just how long a runway that game needs before it's really able to take off. I was also playing a bit of Binary Domain, which makes an even more off-putting first impression and that got me seriously questioning whether it was in fact part of an elaborate prank that Austin and Patrick were playing on the new guy.

But when I think about a lot of my favorite games, I'm struck by how many of them have a slow, ramshackle beginning. Mass Effect struggles and wheezes through its beginning and middle, across a seemingly aimless pursuit of a villain you've barely met, with a singularly unappealing carrot dangled in front of you: Can you prove to the galaxy that a human can be a Spectre? It's the world's longest audition, and it's only in the last act that you realize what the real stakes are and the nature of what you're truly fighting.

That realization, and those moments where the nature of the game and its story seemed to shift under my feet, are what make Mass Effect the game I'm most fond of in that series, even if it's not the one I'm mostly likely to revisit. In the same way, I will roll my eyes and grit my teeth through the first few chapters of Alan Wake to get to the bizarre and magical second and third acts, where the game casts aside a lot of its "Stephen King / Twin Peaks" pastiche and finds its own voice.

Most games tend to have it backwards. Strong openings are rarely matched by satisfying middles and ends. The catch is that a weak opening means I'm unlikely to continue playing a game, and might never see the payoff.

But if I do manage to see those endings, and if a weak opening is offset by a surprising and excellent conclusion, I immediately develop a deep and abiding love for a game. Then I become That Guy, someone who will pester you, repeatedly, to continue with a game that at first and second glance seems to be utter crap. Because while strong starts and weak finishes are only to be expected, a game that really nails its conclusion is a rare and treasured gem.

Anyway, Alan Wake and Mass Effect are two of my "you have to see how it ends" games. What are yours? Tell us about the games that you find yourself imploring your friends to stick-out, saying things like, "Once you get past the first 12 hours, it really gets great!"

Let us know in today's open thread!