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My point is, concluding a game experience with a big fight when a game might have had you doing all sorts of thing besides fighting up to then, may be missing the point. It's like a final exam for a philosophy degree marking you solely on the neatness of your handwriting. Yes, you probably had to do a lot of handwriting to get through the course, but there's slightly more to it than that.
I'd like to refer to a specific game series as a case study. And lo and behold, it's one of those series I always bring up as a case study in this column. How staggeringly predictable of me.
The attitude of the Half-Life series to boss fights has been a somewhat unstable one. The first game received a lot of flak for its concluding level on the alien planet because it was largely based around two mechanics that the rest of the game had frittered with uncertainly. Firstly: platforming, which is never a good idea from a first person perspective because it's basically about performing gymnastics while wearing blinders and failing to see your own legs. And secondly: direct combat. Up until that point, you see, Half-Life had been more about the scrappy cunning of a scientist in a powered armor suit (created by science) pushing his way through chaos, besting a lot of soldiers and aliens who were relying solely on brute strength. Even if there was a lot of shooting going on, Gordon would still rather set up a rocket engine to kill a tentacle beast or flee from a giant stompy blue thing in order to reach a radio and kill it with hijacked military air-strikes. Then comes the end of the game, and suddenly you're the title fight in an inter-dimensional dick-waving competition.
Then comes Half-Life 2. The game ending comes (crucially) after all your weapons have been taken away and you're left to resort to the gravity gun that the rest of the game has been patiently teaching you how to use to best effect. You pull orbs out of orb generators and hurl them at the bad guy's defenses, also shooting down a couple of helicopters that come to back him up, and bam, Earth wins. Now, that's a much better ending. It brings together elements the entire game has been building up to, rather than teleporting you to a different galaxy altogether to fight a couple of the big things that live there for some slightly arbitrary reason.
So why, gamers of the world, did people complain about the fact that Half-Life 2 didn't have a "proper" boss fight? OK, it wasn't too difficult, but there was a very challenging fight with multiple striders immediately beforehand you could have classified as the "final boss" if it was that important to you. This demonstrates the other problem with tropes - if you use them too much the audience starts to expect them, regardless of whether they're appropriate, like the good little sheep they are.
And it also illustrates my folly of addressing game developers in these writings when equal blame resides with the audience. So basically, the biggest problem here is you. Yes, you, in the stupid shirt. Sort yourself out, for god's sake. And buy nicer clothes.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.