Melmoth’s overwhelming joy at the finely balanced ending of Assassin’s Creed surely strikes a chord with any seasoned gamer out there. Haven’t we all got a bunch of Stupid Final Boss/Mission stories? Maybe you spent the entire game collecting an arsenal so vast your character must have a wheelbarrow piled high with military ordnance, the game glossing over the couple of minutes between pressing “3” and “4” where you chuck your shotgun on top of the pile and rummage around for an assault rifle (“… crossbow, nope, tripod mounted heavy machine gun, nope, oh for heaven’s sake I had it just a minute ago… I’ll be right with you, sorry for the delay… under the flamethrower, there it is! Right, thanks awfully for waiting *BLAM*), only just before the end you’re conveniently captured, and pitched into battle against the most fearsome opponent ever seen armed only with whatever you can grab from the room you were locked in (if you’re lucky and the enemy were following The A-Team’s Guide To Encapturement, this would be a fully equipped workshop with enough power tools, hydraulic components and advanced electronics to whip up a rudimentary Battlemech; more often it’s someone’s office, and you have to do battle armed only with a stapler and a mug emblazoned with “You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Try And Fight Someone Armed Only With This Mug, But It Helps!!1!”) Maybe it’s a battle that defies any previously encountered logic, so instead of just shooting someone a lot you have to start up a generator to provide power to a PA system, insert the right CD, find a hat and cane then do a quick tap dance routine to the sounds of “From Enslavement To Obliteration” causing the boss to lower his guard. At which point you shoot him. Maybe it’s just a monster with fifty times the health/armour/firepower of anything seen up until that point.
There’s a couple that stick in my mind. In Knights of the Old Republic I spent many happy hours slicing down waves of evil Sith with a couple of lightsabres, then got pitched into a boss fight where (as far as I recall) only a certain subset of force powers were any use at all, all of which I’d entirely ignored in favour of the Stab People With Lightsabres A Lot abilities. Then there was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where the final mission starts with fighting through the mansion of your mortal foe, shooting your way through a couple of hundred of his minions, not a cakewalk in itself. Then! The boss himself, in the grand tradition of all games ever insanely tough and heavily armoured, requiring a solid half hour of being shot right in the head before he’ll contemplate shuffling off this mortal coil. The end, right? Oh no. Now the mansion’s on fire, and you have to get out of there within a fairly tight time limit. Not really expecting that, I was lightly flame grilled the first time, and had to fight through the minions *again*, and the boss *again*. So you escape. And then! AND THEN! There’s only a bleedin’ car chase or something, where you have to catch a Ferrari, starting from a bicycle. Or you might have had your feet nailed to a block of concrete, I can’t remember the details as I was a bit busy smashing a keyboard into fragments at the time.
I can see the theory, you want your players to have a sense of achievement at the end of everything; without a Stupid Boss Fight there’s the risk of The Great Anticlimax, where you give some ruffian a light slap only to discover he was the Evil Mastermind Of Everything and you just defeated him. I have a habit of saving up consumables in RPGs (potions, wands, rings with limited charges etc.) “just in case”, so there were a couple of instances (especially if consumable effects stacked) where I’d find myself in the final battle pumped up on more alchemical narcotics than a participant in the Tour de France and followed by as many summoned minions as would fit on screen, so maybe the old “I’ve been captured” routine does have its place. Every game also has its really hardcore fans, some of whom can complete a level blindfolded. Using only two fingers of one hand. While suspended upside down in a straitjacket. In a tank of water. Sometimes you get the feeling they were the ones doing QA on that final encounter, and it was tweaked until they stopped filing bug reports reading “LOL EEZY!”
Preferable to a Mandatory Stupid Boss Fight is some sort of optional insanity, like unlocking a new ludicrous difficulty level after completing the game. That way normal mortals get to see that last cut-scene, and That Guy subsequently gets to work up a light sweat against three times the normal number of opponents, constantly respawning. Guitar Hero III is an excellent example of this, after defeating the final boss in the game, the credits roll and you unlock and get to try and play along to Through The Fire And Flames by Dragonforce, which is a very silly song on many levels. At least, Guitar Hero III *would* be an excellent example… if it wasn’t for the fact that the final boss battle is really, stupidly hard itself. So near, and yet so far…
Guilty Secret: I never finished Medal of Honour Allied Assault. I fought all the way through the campaign on “hard” mode using slow, cautious tactics. Then the final level had me running for my life from a burning / exploding building into a hail of bullets. No time to search for a health pack, no time to reload. Stop for a second and I got toasted from the flames behind. I gave up after about 50 attempts.
Game that gets it right: Call Of Duty 4 got the balance pretty good. The final level is tough but not out of line with the natural difficulty progression of previous levels. Once you complete the game however you unlock an insane “against the clock” bonus level which gives plenty of opportunity for those who are so so inclined to show off who has the most powerful XXXXXX (ahem) gun.
Those two sound like prime examples, and also reminds me that I really need to get Call of Duty 4 sometime…