207: The Glory of the Last Stand

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The Glory of the Last Stand

Sometimes, the only thing better than a flawless victory is an agonizing defeat. Lee Petrie examines the allure of the Last Stand in both videogames and the culture at large.

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Really enjoyed that. Short and snappy and one of the few articles that i consciously enjoyed without feeling (just a little) bogged down or tutored. Interesting, nice one.

This article explains perfectly why I loved the final boss of Persona 4. I had no idea the chain of instant death spells were a scripted event. There we were, two of my party members already dead, I knew it wasn't going to stop there. Then all of a sudden a "Grand Finale"-esque remix of the game's battle theme starts playing, and I took that as a cue... just one more hit, I'd tell myself. And took it.

I completely agree... that was one of the most memorable moments in my gaming experiences.

MY GOD ive never realised how much I love last stands, but reading this rekindled that small hope, thank you!
DAMN is it me ir does that sound fairly soppy.

It all makes sense now, the most enjoyable game of starcraft I ever played was when all my friends were dead and I was facing impossible odds, instead of restarting my friends cheered me on from the sidelines it was quite the spectactle and finally I was able to mount an offensive and well the rest is history. Thanks for bringing up some interesting points

I love having those last stand moments in games. My best example would be in COD:WAW in Verrukt the weapons chest had respawned on the other side of the building and I had just gotten to it when Zombies started pouring in from all directions. I grabbed the gun the chest gave me and by luck it was an MG42 so I was standing there in the middle of the room trying to hold them off so my friends could help me. I got killed but I have never been so happy to die in a game.

Ahhh the Last Stand. Only the other day was I looking up last stand scenes from movies on Youtube. For me it's one of the most interesting things to read about from WWII and military history in general; Dunkirk, El Alamein, the Battle of Sevastopol, Battle of Berlin... pretty much every battle in the Pacific island-hopping campaign became a last stand for the Japanese defenders.
Then of course it's been used extensively in films and other fiction creating some of the most memorable scenes, whether it's against humans, aliens or zombies etc.
Now in videogames we can get as close as possible (without actually being there) to living out these sorts of heroic scenarios. If there's a level in a game that culminates in a last stand, you can bet I'll replay that level eventually, with the difficulty turned up a notch if possible.

I dunno what the psychology is behind what makes this sort of thing so appealing. I guess it's just the resourcefulness and spirit to carry on in the face of defeat which makes it such a romantic and, to me, genuinely interesting scenario.

I can't stand the Last Stand. No hope of winning is really depressing. If I can't win, then what's the point? Sure, there's the challenge of trying a game on hard, but if you can't beat it, you'll never get the whole experince of the game.

Also, there's something to be said for being the unstopable superhuman on the easier difficulties. Just to unwind, and not haveing to think or be frustrated.

Nice article I agree totally games with last stand set pieces like Resident Evil 4 and even horde mode in Gears 2 are brilliant!

I enjoy playing games like that. I can think of two right now that I have always loved that fulfill that need. First, Medial II Total War. I love playing against a massive army with only a hardened core of my best men led by a great general and slaughtering many and than dying gloriously or prevailing against all odds. The second would have to be Left 4 Dead with the best scenes being when the helicopter/boat/APC comes and everyone is hauling ass to it but one teammate gets left behind to be beat/smashed to death. I turn my back to freedom and wade in with the shotgun sometimes freeing him and we both survive but many times I free him and turns out that I am now trapped and left to die. Warhammer 40k games are also a great example of this too.

One of my favorite moments in gameplay for RTS games is when you have to secure and defend a specific area for a set amount of time until reinforcements come or something; when hordes of enemy units come swarming through your base in the last twenty seconds in a struggle to last that much longer, many notable missions of which can be found in many RTS series like WarCraft, StarCraft, Command and Conquer, Red Alert, Company of Heroes, etc. This sort of gameplay can also be found in many first-person-shooters, too.

I'm also in agreement regarding Gears of War's difficulty; Casual is an absurdity and I enjoy mocking my friends if I ever see them playing on it. I also try to beat games on their hardest difficulties; what reward is there if the challenge is too insignificant? You might as well be using cheat codes, to an extent.

I agree that the last stand and the underdog are both romantic visions that we enjoy, but I don't agree that it has anything to do with a selfish desire for martyrdom.

Games are about challenge and the personal reward of overcoming that challenge. What could be more challenging than being matched against impossible odds? Winning against the impossible is its own reward -- knowing that you did what few others could do. There's also the recognition from others that you managed it. And lastly, there's the enjoyment of seeing something out of the ordinary, different, unexpected. We love to see the impossible happen.

As for why we make our last stand, I think it has a lot to do with hope and pride. Hope that, as impossible as it seems, you might still have a chance (because sometimes all we have left is hope), and the pride to not want to fail, to not turn down a challenge.

I've been there before. I've played many a game of Counter-strike against a team whose record in the tournament was better than my team, but that didn't stop us from persevering. We wanted to win, and we knew that the only way to do that was to try. It didn't matter that the odds were against us and that we were likely outmatched -- we had hope that we could pull it together, or that they would make a mistake, or that some way we would be able to win. I remember a few rounds where it was me alone with a pistol vs. 4 guys with SMGs. Was I screwed? Hell yes, but I wasn't about to give up and give them an easy kill -- I still wanted to win. Part of it was just wanting to win, part of it was knowing that my friends were watching and hoping that I could do it. I knew there was the expectation that I at least try my best. I also knew that there would be great recognition if I managed to win. There were so many more reasons than just wanting to be remembered as a martyr, especially since I knew that my martyrdom wouldn't be remembered by anyone when the next round started.

Most of the time, I died, and I felt no failure for doing so. But every now and then, I won against all odds, and it was a truly satisfying victory.

We stand up against impossible odds because we have hope that the impossible can happen.

My experiences in this come mostly in Left 4 Dead, but I like the strategy element. Winning is defined by the clock, because there is no other measurement of success.

But I do enjoy it.

Only in gaming though. Real life no-win situations tend to be far less satisfying.

RogueRunner:
It all makes sense now, the most enjoyable game of starcraft I ever played was when all my friends were dead and I was facing impossible odds, instead of restarting my friends cheered me on from the sidelines it was quite the spectactle and finally I was able to mount an offensive and well the rest is history. Thanks for bringing up some interesting points

I've done something similar.

Except it was a game of Warcraft 3, with a buddy of mine on co-op.

He got his base completely destroyed and I was up against two people, but we both had heroes at max level...
So we staged a bunch of hit and run attacks and eventually won like that after they destroyed my base as well.

It was exceedingly epic.

But yeah, Last Stands are always dramatic. I think that's why I love them.

I love Last Stands, they bring out all of the tension in a game, plus if you win the feeling of victory cannot possibly get sweeter. See Mile High Club on CoD4 Veteran difficulty.

I feel sometimes people really have forgotten how to still enjoy themselves even when they lose. While not a first person shooter, most games if Dwarf Fortress for example are usually just one constant Last Stand - the enemies NEVER stop. When you defeat the first wave of goblin scouts they send an army. When you beat the army they send a bigger one. And a bigger one. Than an epic mythical creature attacks you. If you even survive that even more and bigger armies keep coming at you. DF is a game you can not WIN but all of the great stories from the game come from the amazing ways people have lost and have the entire population of their fortress slaughtered.
So in conclusion to this nonsensical rant - Learn to enjoy defeat people!

Amen. I still remeber that the most epic moment of my RTS career being when my huddling Terran base was holding out against a far more skilled Protoss player. Waves of dragoons, carriers and archons were fended off by my marines and a few hastily assembled battle tanks. And then when he called in nukes on my defenses (due to a stolen SCV ), I pushed with the ragged remnants of my army, right into his base before being blown to pieces...

That was the best GG ever :).

One of the more enveloping reads I find as I an relate in terms of a scenic gamer, i use the roles of Total War Games like, Medieval and Rome. These games allow me to set up my base and cities where I feel safe for them, my instance is Venice city the city is only accessible by a single bridge this makes it strategically difficult to assault and feel an underdog but from multiple attacks to reach the region it gives you a chance to become accustom to the landscape even though your forces are depleting, making the eventual assault becoming the underdog through a bridge towards huge walls.

breathtaking.

Last Stands always seem heroic. Especially when glamoured by Hollywood and gaming companys. The Alamo,Pearl Harbor,Battle of London My faviorite has to be the battle of Fort Mchenery which in turn inspired the Star Spangled Banner by Franics Scott Key.

Not the last stand, really, but for me, enjoying the ride is way more important than winning. I'd rather lose with style than win with ease any day.

It reminds me of a poster on the TimeSplitters 2 message board, asking for tips to complete the game on 'hard'... TS2 is maddeningly hard on hard mode, when compared to other games of its generation. Its normal mode would be equivalent to hard in most games, and the hard mode was definitively oldschool. (It took me a month to finish a certain level. Nowadays, I have much less time to play, and usually finish four games back-to-back in the same time.)

bioVOLTAGE:
I can't stand the Last Stand. No hope of winning is really depressing. If I can't win, then what's the point? Sure, there's the challenge of trying a game on hard, but if you can't beat it, you'll never get the whole experince of the game.

Also, there's something to be said for being the unstopable superhuman on the easier difficulties. Just to unwind, and not haveing to think or be frustrated.

That goes to show that people want different things when gaming. Me, I play to experience everything the game has, so I'll usually play on a lower difficulty so I can be done with it more quickly. Only if I really like the game I switch it up.

I recall my most memorable game of StarCraft was a last stand.

It was actually a UMS game; the map was Babylon 5: Shadow Wars. I was the Earth Alliance, but unfortunately the Shadow and Centauri players dropped out early, leaving me, on my own, facing the Rebels, Minbari, Narn, and LNAW. All at once.

And then... I did this.

I lost, yes, but it was a magnificent defeat. I think it's the best I've ever played in an RTS; I used every ounce of skill at my disposal, knowing I had nothing to lose, and dealt the other players some fairly heavy blows. More than once they sent in forces to finish me off once and for all, and I pulled out a last-ditch defence and destroyed their entire fleets. It turned what might have been a boring, unbalanced scenario, into something awesome. I wasn't fighting to win. I was fighting to earn the respect of the other players. And I won.

I don't know how others feel about this, but nothing aggravates me more than watching someone play in an overly cautious manner. I don't vocalise it, but when we're passing the controller around, I don't want to watch someone become embroiled in a 5 minute long skirmish against a handful of opponents, all popping in and out of cover whittling them down. I know it's how some people like to play... But where's the fighting spirit?

I am comfortable admitting that often I will die in excess of 2 dozen times in a set piece against a measly 8 or so opponents. But damnit, when I win, I've nailed 2 with an excellently placed grenade, blasted another 2 with a shotgun from close range, dumped the shottie for one of their assault rifles and emptied most of the clip into a single guy, clipped another in the head and then finished the last one with a melee attack. And it was all over in about 20 seconds.

And when I die, it's not frustrating. I KNOW I'm being silly. Cutting through enemy lines to kill the guy with the grenade launcher, just so I can pick it up and use it right then and there on a few single enemies, rather than carefully taking everyone out and having that grenade launcher going into the next battle. But damn it all if that ain't the way to play.

It's not just the Last Stand. It's the challenge, and rising to it. If it's a cakewalk, it'll never get the blood flowing.

The Half-life 1 mod Natural Selection had lots and lots of last stands. People who played NS will know what I mean; your secret assault on their second hive failed, and a lone rambo reports a third hive going up. You only have 3 RTs left, and the commander tells you that two of them are under attack. You know what's coming; lame up the base and prepare for assault.

The best part about NS was when you managed to come back from the mental onslaught of fully upgraded aliens, and make a Heavy Armour dash into one of their hives and grab a small base there. If you ultimately win, it's a victory well earned, and I always left the game after those games with the biggest sense of accomplishment I've ever felt in ANY game.

And it was a free mod, too! Can't wait for NS2!

I feel exactly this way. I dig the last stand honestly it's like someone once said "But the one thing they love more than a hero... is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying." Green Goblin to Spider-Man

Last stands are epic and all but I don't really care much for the 'surival' type of game modes that seem to be popular. L4D survival, GoW horde and CoD:WaW zombies all bore me.
I like co-op a lot but I need a sense of progress or purpose to be entertained, and a stopwatch or killcount doesn't do it for me.

Fuckin a

I liked Helm's deep. That was an awesome last stand, even though they won. Last stands are always better when the heroes die. Examples: Scarface and 300. Amazing movies that had great endings because they weren't happy go lucky. Can't forget saving private ryan too.

HellbentCrusade:
I liked Helm's deep. That was an awesome last stand, even though they won. Last stands are always better when the heroes die. Examples: Scarface and 300. Amazing movies that had great endings because they weren't happy go lucky. Can't forget saving private ryan too.

I totally agree.

As for gaming, it really depends on my mood. If I'm playing to relax then it's just frustrating...but when I'm thinking clearly and just wanting to have some fun (generally when playing with friends, no co-op changes my gaming style/mood a lot) it can be thrilling win or lose xD

Now, all I can respond to this is "Serious Sam".

Final Level, Of any stage, will pit you against-no lie- Thousands of enemies. And every time it comes down to that last shot, that last health pack, and you start to question whether you actually can make it. And if you win or lose, you have the time of your life.

I can't describe this more than in the last level, of the xbox version of serious sam, it gives you a massive, maybe one kilometer squared area and a small fort in the middle. And then, as soon as you admire the beautiful cathedral in front of you, and the amazing suns rays shining in the sky, it starts. It is amazingly subtle, starting with small waves from one side, and the sky darkens ever so slightly. Then another side of weak enemies appears, and those rays dissapear.

All of a sudden, the sky tuns black, lightning flashes, and behold. Enemies pouring from all sides, of all sizes and difficulties. And you always think "well... Shit. I'm boned." But then, when you are at the wall, enemies swarming and you cant move, surviving only on the super health respawn, the enemies let up. You get relived, and the sky shows those amazing rays. you seem to kill the last enemy. You start moving towards the newly opened doors that must lead to the final boss. Then, when you almost get through they shut. And it all starts over again, with even more difficulty.

I have to say, this was THE defining game and moment of my childhood, and of my entire gaming life. of any game that has come out, I can guarantee that Serious Sam is better, and when it comes to last stands, it wrote the book on them.

*On a side note, this game is even better with 4 player co-op. The last level goes from epic one man stand to biblical survivor madness, as the game does compensate for more players with more enemies.

tut tut - how can you even mention Last Stands and Great Britain in the same sentence without reference to Rourke's Drift?

I, sir, am disappointed.

-A

The charge of the light brigade was not a 'last stand'. It was a charge, and some of the participants survived. The most famous British 'lost cause' last stand was (arguably) at Isandhlwana, which took place at the same time as the defence of Rorke's Drift.

I do agree with the article though - 'lost cause' type last stands are a lot of fun. I love playing Left 4 Dead with a team that is not quite up to the level we've decided to attempt, or Rome: Total War when my general is surrounded by a much larger force and defeat is inevitable. It's just so much fun to make the enemy's victory costly.

shite hahaha

Sorry, but the UK ruled the largest empire in Human history? What are you smoking? Ottoman Empire or Alexander the "Great" possesed a greater empire than the UK.

2/3 of the world belonged for 500 years to the Ottoman Empire. This was alone enough to stop reading the article. Good day to you sir

Straying Bullet:
Sorry, but the UK ruled the largest empire in Human history? What are you smoking? Ottoman Empire or Alexander the "Great" possesed a greater empire than the UK.

2/3 of the world belonged for 500 years to the Ottoman Empire. This was alone enough to stop reading the article. Good day to you sir

Um, sorry Straying Bullet, but no. From Wikipedia:
By Area
Size of Ottoman Empire (1595): 19.9 million square km. (#5 overall)
Size of Alexander's Empire (323 BC): 5.2 million square km (#24 overall)
Size of British Empire (1923): 33.7 million square km. (#1 overall)
None of those are 2/3 of the world, either. Furthermore, North America, South America, Australia and Antarctica are 43.6% of the total land mass on Earth, and the Ottomans never held any part of any of those.
The only way I can make sense of your 2/3 figure is "2/3 of the known world." The "known world" became a heck of a lot bigger by the time of the British Empire.

(Sources:
Empires by Size: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_empires
Continents: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continent#Area_and_population
)

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