Endings can be a finicky thing, especially when deus ex machina is involved.
When one finishes a videogame, the final moments are often the most crucial and defining aspects of the virtual experience. Not only will this last bit be the final taste the player is left with, the ending is also the culmination of all the player’s actions up to that moment. Be it a final boss or a race against the clock, a game ideally puts all the player’s acquired strengths to the ultimate test.
That, or an omnipotent force comes out of nowhere and immediately saves the day. Well, that was anticlimactic.
Whether you love them or hate them, the deus ex machina is a plot device that is commonly used in all types of fiction. They are perhaps most notorious in videogames as the deus ex machina often takes power away from the player and can often make the ending seem out of one’s control.
Regardless, we at Pixelitis decided to chronicle our most memorable experiences with the frequently used trope. Feel free to share us your own thoughts in the comments section below.
And just a warning: there will be spoilers posted for Mass Effect 3, Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4.
Memorable use of deus ex machina: The Catalyst in Mass Effect 3
But now that the year of throwing eggs at Bioware and EA has passed (okay, maybe not EA), I think it’s important to look back on ME3 and dissect why the final moments of the game were lost on so many people.
Coincidentally, I felt Mass Effect 2 had a perfect ending, and it stuck out to me that the same creative team behind both games could drastically drop the ball when they had succeeded so well a few years prior.
ME2 succeeds with its ending because of its player involvement. The main drive throughout the game is to assemble a crew, and the final mission of the game tests your ability to do so. Your strategic placement, personal relationships, and in-game statistics all determine who makes it out alive. It’s a gripping final mission that has many different outcomes all based on what the player, as Shepard, has done throughout the entire game.
Meanwhile, Mass Effect 3 has Shepard confronted by an AI intelligence that forces him to choose the fate of the Reapers and (by extension) all life throughout the galaxy. While it is still the player’s decision to make, it is a much less personal and involved decision than the final mission of ME2. The player isn’t in control of any of the outcomes and we simply watch as the fate we have chosen unfolds.
The AI (known as the Catalyst) is the lazy kind of deus ex machina that simply ends the game’s problems too immediately without a second thought. The “Destroy” ending (in my opinion) was the most Mass Effect-feeling decision because it at least let the player make the most of their last playable action. And that’s not to mention the leaps in logic that follow the Synthesize and Control endings. And when I say leaps in logic, keep in mind ME2 starts with Shepard being brought back to life.
But seriously, screw the “Synthesize” ending. Didn’t we kill Saren for a reason?
- Stephen Hilger
Memorable use of deus ex machina: Last-minute rocket launcher in Resident Evil 2
If it’s your first time playing Leon’s alternate “B” scenario campaign, then you might be low on ammo and health items for the game’s epic finale. Nevertheless, you saunter on, trying to restore power to the shuttle that’ll take you out of the facility. Suddenly, there’s a rumble and the ever-persistent “Mr. X” T-003 Tyrant that’s been giving you heart attacks throughout the entire game drops down, mutated into something absurdly disgusting and on fire.
He’s faster than he was before and his catastrophically damaging hits put your health at a dangerously low level. What do you do? Well, like the first RE before it, the game kicks in with a deus ex machina in which a supporting character tosses down a rocket launcher for you to defeat it. The silhouetted character (who is without a doubt Ada Wong, the character you thought had just suffered a miserable death) yells out “Here, use this!” and after safely equipping it, you’re treated to a typical 90s-era “Game Over” one-liner, followed by an epic shot of the nightmarish demon blown to bits by your newly-acquired god-tier weapon.
In hindsight, it was a very typical way to cheapen an end boss fight. After all, so much of the media we read, watch and play have used this form of deus ex machina to no end.
But you know what? It didn’t cheapen the feeling of relief I had when I witnessed that freakish stalker blown into smithereens. Relying on a last-minute weapon became a series tradition. Resident Evil 3 had it in the form of a railgun/magnum combo, Resident Evil 4 features a nod to RE2’s moment and Resident Evil 5 has an upgrade of this moment by incorporating two rocket launchers into the mix (right into the noggin of the endboss, no less).
- Patrick Kulikowski
Memorable use of deus ex machina: Nanomachines in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Say what you will about his penchant for overblown cutscenes and love of scatological humor, Hideo Kojima will likely go down as one of the most influential people in the games industry. From Snatcher to Zone of the Enders to the insanely iconic Metal Gear series, his stories reverberate with so many people throughout the globe.
Yet among the storylines rife with clones, power hungry Russians and corrupt U.S. politicians, one major plot device in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots sticks out as a major cop out…I mean flagrant use of the deus ex machina plot device.
After spending three main titles and a handful of smaller releases trying to cement that Naked Snake, aka Big Boss, was at the center of everything going on whether he was willing or not, it seemingly came down to tiny machines in people’s bloodstreams that changed the course of Kojima’s so-called magnum opus.
Need to explain why guns found on the battlefield are locked to individual soldiers and as such, Snake won’t be able to use them until he goes to the store? Nanomachines. How do you make every soldier in the planet’s various private military companies (PMCs) join up with Revolver Ocelot in one fell swoop? Nanomachines.
What’s that? You still haven’t explained why Revolver Ocelot took on the mannerisms of Liquid Snake after grafting one of his arms to replace the one he lost in Metal Gear Solid? Nanomachines…and hypnotherapy…
I know trying to say the Metal Gear Solid series had any semblance of a coherent story line is laughable, but by the end of MGS4, a giant Metal Gear comprised solely of trillions of nanomachines probably wouldn’t have phased me.