To The Bitter End

Wing Commander III

Maybe Something Bad, Maybe Something Good

Wing Commander III resists the temptation of the History Eraser Button.

By Drew Toal • August 14, 2012

Note: In addition to the obvious, this article discusses the ending of Mass Effect 3.

In one of the finer Ren & Stimpy episodes ever made, Ren succumbs to a malady known only as “space madness.” As his already precarious mental state deteriorates, Ren uses reverse psychology to tempt Stimpy into pushing the History Eraser Button. When Stimpy asks him what the shiny, candy-like red button will do when depressed, a maniacal Ren replies, “Maybe something bad. Maybe something good. I guess we’ll never know.

That episode was very much in my mind as I played through the much-derided dénouement of Mass Effect 3. BioWare’s Mass Effect trilogy is the story of Commander Shepard, a tough-as-nails space-marine hero type who fights to save the galaxy from an unstoppable wave of ancient, sentient machine exterminators known as the Reapers. It was touted as a revolutionary series, in that the choices you make in the first game carry over to the final installment—the implication being that your experience, by the time it was finished, might significantly diverge from that of another player who chose different paths. As you pull your bloody carcass up to the final stage of the last game, Shepard must choose between several literally armageddon-inducing buttons. Inevitably, whichever choice you make, the choices you made in the previous games immediately become irrelevant, your history effectively erased.

Years before Commander Shepard raged against the hostile machines, there was another human soldier fighting insurmountable odds—and making hard choices—to save humanity’s freeze-dried bacon. Wing Commander’s Colonel Christopher Blair fought the ferocious feline Kilrathi in a take-no-prisoners space-fight to the death. Despite Blair’s cockpit wizardry, the events of Wing Commander III: Heart Of The Tiger reveal the humans’ increasingly desperate condition. Conventional resistance is failing, so the Confederation—like the Alliance of Mass Effect 3—turns to genocidal techno-panaceas for salvation.

Released in 1994 for the PC, the space flight simulator Wing Commander III is equal parts movie and game. Mark Hamill stars as Col. Blair. He’s joined by Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davies, and the guy who played Biff Tannen in Back To The Future. As in its predecessors, the action between cutscenes is 360-degree, first-person space dogfighting. The Kilrathi prove remarkably agile pilots for a race of large, hyper-aggressive cat people with no opposable thumbs. They also taunt as well as any fat, pimply schoolyard bully. Still, they are no match for Skywalk… er, Blair, and a long queue soon forms at the entrance of kitty hell. But it’s the time between missions, aboard the flagship TCS Victory, that the game reveals its depth.

The Victory is a place where our better angels get drunk at the bar just like everyone else. Racism rears its ugly head, as Hobbes—a Kilrathi defector and longtime friend of Blair’s—must stoically bear suspicion and outright hostility from the rest of the crew, despite his exemplary service record. Hobbes has proven himself time and again, and the loyal Blair always stands by his furry ally. Surprisingly, it’s the vile hatemongers who live to see their small-minded intolerance vindicated. Well, most of them live to see it. The real endgame of Wing Commander III begins when you come across one of your shipmates, Cobra, bleeding out on the flight deck. She spent time as a youth in a Kilrathi slave labor camp and holds a special enmity for Hobbes—who was a sleeper agent this whole time. The look in Cobra’s dimming eyes is not regret, but instead one of “I told you so” triumph.

In light of Hobbes’s betrayal and the Kilrathi armada’s proximity to Earth, Confederation command has determined that wiping the Kilrathi home world from existence is the only path to victory. All hope rests on the successful deployment of the Temblor Bomb. It’s a seismic weapon that, if dropped in just the right spot on the unstable world of Kilrah, will set off a tectonic chain reaction, blow up the planet, and win the war.

William Tecumseh Sherman once said, “If the people raise a great howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking.” The great howl raised against the cruelly intractable Mass Effect 3 endings echoes this sentiment, and not just because Shepard must choose which galactic civilizations live or die. Wing Commander III’s canonical finale faces a similarly distasteful scenario. The mission sees Blair loading up the T-bomb and flying down to the surface of the enemy’s planet. There he cloaks his ship and flies down a canyon trench, at the end of which he must unleash the payload.

Granted, if you need a man to fly down a narrow corridor and fire a weapon at a small, vulnerable spot to destroy a planet—metal, terrestrial, or otherwise—I guess Mark Hamill is your man. But this isn’t combat. It’s murder. And to do it while cloaked? Say what you want about Kilrathi, but they at least fight fair. Of course, if the Kilrathi win, they’d brutally enslave humanity’s quivering remnants, but after this whole T-bomb affair, I’m not sure we wouldn’t deserve it.

Once the planet is destroyed, the remaining Kilrathi surrender, and Blair flies back to Earth for some R & R. He doesn’t look remotely troubled that he is responsible for the near extermination of an entire species. This shameful ending should act as a cautionary tale to those who have clamored for a new, more “heroic” ending for Commander Shepard. The good guys shouldn’t always win.

There is, however, a series of decisions in Wing Commander III that doesn’t lead to the T-bomb and genocide, but instead sends Blair and Co. rushing back to Earth to repel the Kilrathi fleet. The battle is completely unwinnable, and it’s eminently satisfying for its desperate hopelessness and ensuing sacrifice. The fight quickly goes south, and after the Victory’s glorious kamikaze of a Kilrathi dreadnaught, Blair is captured by the enemy leader. As the titular “Heart Of The Tiger”—a term of respect Blair earned as a bane to the Kilrathi—they give him the option to beg for his life. If he decides not to bow to these smug Fancy Feast junkies, they honor him with a ritual claw to the gut. If he begs, they laugh at his unworthiness and disintegrate him. Either way, the last scene of the game shows the Kilrathi fleet flying over a bombed-out human city, with nobody left to stop them from turning Earth into a giant litter box.

At a glance, this darker ending looks similar to Shepard’s no-win resolution, with the hero dying despite his best efforts. It differs, though, in one critical respect. Although you’re unaware of their import at the time, a string of decisions made throughout the game leads to this starkly different resolution. Neither postscript is perfect, but the makers of Wing Commander resisted the urge to press the history eraser button, and made both endings matter in a way that Shepard’s never will.

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  • Shain Eighmey

    Now that is a set of seriously compelling endings based on choices made in the game! When I discover stories like this, I feel that we are not really making much progress in gaming . Is not the entire point of this medium the impact that a player has on the experience? The more that element is removed from a game, the less reason there is for it to be experienced as a game rather than as some other more static medium such as film. 

    • Jerry Ku

      I dunno, for me the branching storylines of Wing commander sound cool on paper, but in execution they kind of sucked.

      That’s how I remember it anyway. Been so long since I played ‘em. The alternate endings just had this simplistic, tacked on feeling to them.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    You know that obligatory scene in every contemporary werewolf movie that depicts the character’s first transformation in a lovingly indulgent extended change sequence?  And how the mid-point of the change is always defined by a total body-horror grotesquery of malformed limbs, throbbing viscera and emergent wolfen traits growing tumorous on the person’s flesh?
       First generation polygon and Full Motion Video are the werewolf transformation scene of video games. 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Which makes Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within the apotheosis of adolescence, I guess?

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        It does rather become the infinite reflection of strained metaphors, doesn’t it?  I did a Google search on the game to understand your reference, and I think just looking at the image results caused an orphanage fire somewhere.
           I owned ‘Sins of the Father’ back in the day, and am still impressed by the beautiful and detailed sprite work.
           Whatever supposed veracity was earned as a result of FMV hardly seems worth the cost of watching badly captured D level actor walk through a digitized public-access show set.

  • caspiancomic

    HOBBES, HOW COULD YOU!?

    Actually, this looks pretty righteous. I was mentioning in the last instalment of To The Bitter End that I’d be interested in seeing someone exploring the concept of multiple endings, so for me this is basically Christmas.

    • HobbesMkii

      Um…no relation.

      • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

        No relation indeed. He was named after “a great Terran philosopher”.

        ..no, wait.

    • http://twitter.com/MikoSquiz Miko the Squiz

      SPOILERS FOR SPOILERS

      Hobbes was an artificial personality construct. Hearing the Prince speak the words “Heart of the Tiger” wiped him, allowing the real Raleigh von Haglhglhglhaga to take control again.
      It would’ve preferred “Um.. you’re going to genocide my people, huh? Well, I guess they have it coming. I’ll just.. be going over here.. ->”

      • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

        That is a gigantic cop-out. The story is so, so much better if you go with the fan theory that Hobbes defected from his masters because of their dishonorable and reckless disregard for the preciousness of sentient life and then thought better of his defection when he learned about the T-bomb.

    • blue vodka lemonade

       Yeah, reading through the article it took me a second to realize what was wrong. Then I connected that there’s a kitty-man named Hobbes. Then I went back to bed. THis has been: a cool story.

  • Rogue_Like

    I only ever played the first WC, but I’m feeling kinda old in reading that WCIII came out in ’94?  A few friends were fans of the series and I had forgotten how soul crushing it was, no matter what option they chose.  Well, aside from that one kid, he thought it was awesome he got to essentially destroy the Kilrathi once and for all.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

      I’d have been about 14 when I played it and the significance of the last mission was lost on me entirely. It was just the last mission as far as I was concerned and I had to do it to beat the game. The only things I can recall about it are the very long distance needed to fly across the planet to the target site (you got a boost but I’d used it elsewhere for some reason) and the fact that the planet surface itself was pretty barren. It looked like a crappy place to live anyway. 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      If you don’t listen to Tom Wilson (Biff from Back To The Future)’s podcast, you really ought to do so.  1 of the 4 parts of his Mark Hamill interview talked about how, um, odd Wing Commander was.

      http://www.nerdist.com/2012/06/big-pop-fun-33-mark-hamill-3

      • djsubversive

        Seconding this. Big Pop Fun is good times, even if it can start out a little slow – Tom still sounds like he has no clue what he’s doing, which he obviously does. 

  • parser999

    A few comments:

    The Kilrathi intended to commit genocide on humanity, and were about to do so.  Examples include the Skipper missile early in WC3 (which was going to wipe out a colony with biological weapons), and their attempt to enslave/wipe out the Firekka in Secret Missions 2.  Thrakath’s dialogue in the bad ending also suggests that humanity will be wiped out.  Humanity really had no choice.  

    The Kilrathi were also the aggressor in the conflict, so I’m really not sure how the T-Bomb would justify the extermination/enslavement of humanity.

    The real problem with your argument is that Wing Commander simply wasn’t a deep enough series to really explore the ramifications of that.  This is why it’s a poor comparison to Mass Effect’s ending, which actually was ambiguous (or perhaps just confusing).

    Certainly the “good” ending for WC3 could be read as quite horrifying, but that’s really just fans deconstructing/analyzing it.  There’s no reason to think that Origin intended it as a subversion.  It’s a very basic good vs. evil narrative.  

    Also, the Kilrathi never fought fair.  They were the first to use cloaking devices in the war, so I fail to see how the Excalibur’s cloak makes Blair’s actions particularly any more questionable.

    • Fixda Fernback

      Yeah, I absolutely am no fan of war, and realize it’s an ugly thing for all sides involved; and that even victory often comes at a high cost for the winner. That said, I’m not sure how actively defending your existence equates to “deserving enslavement.” That almost seems to be quite a thoughtless statement, considering that many humans have had to deal with enslavement; and considering the degradation and dehumanization of the process, I’d say that’s a thing that we’re just better off NEVER saying that anyone deserves.

      • GaryX

        I’m glad I’m not alone in this. I tend to lean towards pacifist a lot of the times, but even I let out a groan reading that. @parser999:disqus is right that the series isn’t deep enough nor does it explore the antagonists enough to warrant such reflection, but the entire point of the Sherman quote is glossed over and haphazardly, and shallowly, refuted: war is a brutal, terrible thing and it sometimes requires us to push our humanity to its farthest limit for the sake of humanity. Further, the game–not subtly, either–sets up the T-bomb scenario as being pretty much necessary against the Kilrathi’s Nazi-like aggression. The idea that humanity should accept total annihilation instead of a very morally dubious option is just plain silly. It’s fucking war.

        And if the complaint then is that the video game doesn’t explore the ramifications of such a very morally dubious option, well, then welcome to video games, dog. Shit is shallow.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          I didn’t come away from the passage with the suggestion that the human race was just supposed to roll over and accept enslavement. I feel like you’re arguing the very point that the passage is making — that war forces you into situations where you sacrifice your humanity, and this ending illustrates a logical extreme of that principle. One trouble with war, though, is that once it’s over, in the light of peace, you have to reckon with those extremes. And the one ending never reckons with it.

          Also: “Welcome to video games, shit is shallow”? Come on, we can do better than that.

        • GaryX

          @JohnTeti:disqus Maybe, but the sentence “Of course, if the Kilrathi win, they’d brutally enslave humanity’s quivering remnants, but after this whole T-bomb affair, I’m not sure we wouldn’t deserve it.” works actively against that point, suggesting that the ability for us to arrive at that decision is somehow intrinsically wrong when, as the game repeatedly shows, its forced upon us. 

          And we totally can do better, but video games often don’t. Besides that I was mostly just being an asshole, it’s the kind of thing that I don’t think we can necessarily fault in a game such as this. It’s more Independence Day than 2001, and its ability to construct and display an engaging, if simple, narrative is what marks its importance in video game history (outside of game play anyways). I would love for the norm of video games to not be shallow and mostly wish-fulfilling, but despite them having the most potential out of any medium, that’s largely the case. I don’t know how much we can fault a game from the 90′s for not accurately exploring the weighty themes of necessary retaliation in its denouement.

        • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

          An action being forced upon you and an action being intrinsically wrong are not mutually exclusive situations. The point of the “I’m not sure we wouldn’t deserve it” line is that humanity reduces itself to something sub-human in the interest of preserving humanity. By winning the war, we almost deserve to lose. And in losing, we might deserve to win. That’s the paradoxical double edge of the conflict. The essay emphasizes the darker edge over the more heroic edge to make a point that one of the game’s endings ignores (while the other ending preserves your nobility in the face of defeat).

          I don’t read the Sherman quote as a “get out of jail free” card for acts of war. He openly admits that he’s barbarous and cruel, and he’s saying, this is both awful and necessary at once. After all, Sherman also wrote, “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will.”Re: “I don’t know how much we can fault a game from the 90′s for not accurately exploring the weighty themes of necessary retaliation in its denouement.

          Re “I think you’re coming at this from the wrong angle. You’re focused on this idea of “faulting” a game. But the aim here isn’t to “fault” a game or give it demerits, or what have you. The aim is to react to the ideas that a work presents. If we don’t endeavor to talk about those “weighty themes” you mention, then you and I would never have had this conversation where you showed me a couple different ways of looking at war and broadened my mind a little bit. It is hardly a “fault” of the game that it led to this discussion.

          Don’t get me wrong, your larger point is well taken. I certainly agree that an analysis needs to have a solid foundation in the work itself — that you have to guard against pulling shit out of thin air. So the notion that there’s not enough “meat” in Wing Commander III on which to build a discussion on is certainly a reasonable and defensible one (although it doesn’t lead anywhere). But in this case, I think the substance of your own insights controverts the “it’s shallow” affectation. You’re essentially giving your own ideas short shrift.

        • supercrotchinator

           I’ve never played the game, but all this “oh woe we hath lost our very humanity in order to save it” bullshit mystifies we. An aggressor threatens to wipe out the human race, so we wipe them out instead. Excuse me if I don’t lose any sleep over it.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          @GaryX:disqus  – I played WC4 as well, and you are correct.  After the Kilrathi War, it ends up being a war between the main government and separatists of some sort.  (You even receive a mission to protect a ship full of Kilrathi refugees at one point, and though they are sad that their planet is gone, they don’t hate Blair for his actions to end the war.)

        • Effigy_Power

          The issue that makes the ending destroying Kilrah ambiguous is that we know very little about the Kilrathi and their civilization. Throughout the games we deal with the military arm of their race, but we can’t possibly know if their entire civilization is behind the military campaign to enslave humankind.
          Destroying Kilrah might affect millions of innocent Kilrathi living day to day lives rather than just blood-lusty murder-kittens, just as the nuclear attacks on Japan likely killed hundreds and thousands of peaceful and perhaps even anti-war Japanese.
          Thinking that the military makeup of a country or society depicts its society in its fullest is what extremists do. Al Quaeda destroyed the twin towers because they are under the reprehensible misconception that the United States are a homogenous group of likeminded drones, all out to destroy Islam.
          In theory the destruction of Kilrah might come from the same exact mentality.
          “All the Kilrathi we know are evil, henceforth we will kill all Kilrathi and do so with a clean conscience.”
          That, @supercrotchinator:disqus, is what the big deal is. Only extremists think in extremes.

        • GaryX

          Anyone gonna point out the “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” thing? No? Okay.

        • Effigy_Power

          It’s all a matter of perspective, I find. After all, to some poor misguided fools, Al Quaeda are the heroes and we are the evil monsters. It’s bull, but there we are.
          But yeah, IF the Kilrathi are unanimously evil and bloodthirsty, then the point goes out the window, I concede that. I couldn’t remember if they were as defined as you showed they are.

        • http://twitter.com/ToastCB Tristan Hartry

           Yeah, I’m sorry John but that whole argument is pretty suspect given that you didn’t mention the skipper missiles with the biological agent. They’re clearly planning to use them on earth, hell if you fail that mission they’ve already wiped out Flint’s whole colony world. Disregarding the idea of enslavement entirely it’s a comparable WMD already and the Kilrathi did fire first.

          I’d honestly love to see WC4 discussed as I was never able to get it running on a system I owned and I heard the plot was quite great at exploring the death of the Kilrathi and mankind’s subsequent breakdown once the unifying threat was gone.

    • Fluka

      “Well old boy, we can end this conflict with a single bomb, but using that cloaking device is damn unsporting!”

  • parser999

    Also, while it would count as genocide, the Kilrathi wouldn’t even be close to getting wiped out by the destruction of Kilrah.  They possessed dozens of other inhabited planets.  While the majority of their fleet was around Kilrah, this does not mean that the colonist population was also there.

    • Asinus

      I’m sure the survivors wouldn’t hold a grudge. 

  • http://twitter.com/#!/FuriousGiorge Craig

    What this game did to Hobbes is criminal.  I know it’s not literally true, but I like to think that it is single-handedly responsible for the sinking of the franchise.

    • parser999

      Yeah, Drew’s argument would have carried more weight if it hadn’t been for Roberts’ insistence on Hobbes being a traitor. Had Hobbes stayed loyal, the destruction of Kilrah might have had real emotional resonance.

      As it is though, every single Kilrathi you ever meet in-game is a slavering monster.  The one who seemed good turned out to be a traitor-clone-thing.  With what the game shows you, blowing up Kilrah is really no worse than blowing up the Death Star (and all its civilian contractors).

      I guess you get Malak (sp?) later on, but as I said earlier, Wing Commander is fundamentally a simple good vs. evil narrative.  Great game?  Sure.  Fun story with a lot of atmosphere?  Definitely.  But it’s not very deep.  

      Wing Commander 2 showed signs of getting a little more involved, but WC3 kind of brought it back down again.  I still like the entire series, but I can definitely see how Hobbes’ betrayal would sink it for some players.

  • http://twitter.com/AdamShaftoe Adam Shaftoe

    Blair’s return to Earth with either porn star of his choosing was, as you say, too easy. But Wing Commander 4 shows the personal cost of that victory for Blair. The “hero” of the confederation does not settle down on Earth. Rather he goes into self-imposed exile on a remote colony as a dirt farmer. Rachel, the canonical porn star de jour, leaves Blair due to his growing apathy and propensity to drink. When Maniac delivers the orders that return Blair to active duty it is amid a hell hole bar that makes the Tattoine cantina look like the back drop of a Sex in the City episode. Within that bar other veterans of the war are seen to be impoverished beggars. 

    Caesar/Tolwyn may have welcomed home Rome’s conquering hero, but the looming civil war that sets the tone for WC4 makes clear that Blair is damaged from the experience of ending an entire planet.

  • Staggering Stew Bum

    Lie back and think pleasant thoughts…. Chicken pot pie…. Chocolate covered raisins…. Oooh, Glaaaazed ham…aaaaahhhhhhh…..

    Up there in greatest episodes of animated TV ever. 

    As for Mass Effect 3, the ending uproar was all about people on the internet not managing their expectations. They are only looking at the end choices and not how lots of smaller choices in all three games have had an effect (geddit?) on things way before you’re talking to the Catalyst. After five playthroughs I’m still seeing different things depending on choices made in the previous games. On the weekend with my ME2 disaster import, while assaulting the Cerberus base suddenly out of nowhere I’m fighting Legion, that was a ‘holy shit’ moment. As was Morinth turning up in Banshee form on Earth in another playthrough. The choices you make do make a difference, even to the ending. In the last playthrough I let the Geth kill the Quarians and told the Salarians to go fuck themselves, so the result of my choices was to lead a pissweak fleet to the final battle which gave me a grumpy Catalyst and a fireball scorching Earth. i.e. my choices throughout the game had a direct effect on the ending.

    But the argument is that the ME3 endings are all basically the same apparently but portrayed in different colours. Look, the choices in Mass Effect reflect the choices we face in real life. We have plenty of power over the little things (friends/squadmates we hang out with, what to wear, how to treat people etc.) but when it comes to the big choices, there aren’t too many options. eg. Do I keep working in this horrible fucking job or do I quit and find another horrible fucking job or do I just jump off a bridge and end it? That’s it, that’s all you get. Your past choices will frame the big choices, of course…for example the ‘choice’ to have kids means your big choices are even more limited. I’d like to think I’ve done everything right and followed a walkthrough for life and I would love the luxury of three choices on what to do next (four choices in extended cut!). There may be other options but they are only illusions. The one feasible choice most of us have is to shut the fuck up and go to work. That’s it.

    Also, I’ve never played Wing Commander.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       How dare you push the “history erase” button on your comment on this, of all stories!

      • Staggering Stew Bum

        Oh yes, totally busted!

        In my defence, the “Edit” button is a jolly candy-like button.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    Does anyone else think, with those piercing eyes and radiant forehead, that Malcolm MacDowell would make an excellent “Old Jeff Winger” in some flash-forward episode of Community?

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Old Jeff Winger with a propensity to drink.

      • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

        And that’s different from Young Jeff Winger how, exactly?

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Only that Joel McHale’s gin blossoms haven’t had the same chance to bloom as fully as MacDowell.

  • The_Misanthrope

    I’m not sure if it’s because I’m your average lefty non-combatant, but  I had some problems with the way the Mass Effect series handled many of the weighty decisions Shepard makes.  It almost always seems no matter how questionable the decision is, the dialogue seems to go to great lengths to justify it post-hoc.  The rare times a character takes Shepard to task almost feels like a relief; It is a terrible feeling knowing you probably made the wrong decision yet being patted on the back for it.  I remember when Joker got pissy with me for taking EDI along on the final assault on Cerberus (oddly enough, a game-mandated decision), it relieved some of the guilt I’d been feeling since I lost the Migrant Fleet.

    I suppose it is somewhat necessary to shape the story this way to keep Shepard a hero, though if she had survived, my Shepard would have surely needed some therapy after it was all over.

    • GaryX

      Well, then just wait for the PTSD DLC! Enjoy hours of exciting conversation-driven therapy sessions where you shape the diagnosis!

      But seriously, if you thought Mass Effect was interested in exploring any real emotional resonance and impact, that notion should’ve been dispelled about half an hour into the third one. It became a 90′s style sci-fi blockbuster* (which is fine), but genophage excluded, it was way more about spectacle than substance.

      *I’ve been a big fan of the sci-fi film style comparison to the Mass Effect series: 1 is the ideological, 70′s space-opera, 2 is the stripped-down but actioned up 80′s sci-fi thriller, and 3 is your apocalyptic 90′s sci-fi action movie.

      • Fluka

        I dunno, I thought the game was chock full of emotional resonance.  There’s the whole genophage section, as you say, but there’s also the whole exploration of the background of the geth, which (if peace is not available) makes the decision of whether to upload the code which allows them to defeat the Quarians a fairly difficult decision.  The fall of Thessia is a rare moment of utter defeat, too.  Sure, the game is chock full of spectacle too (and the death of the little boy at the beginning is not as effective as the game wants it to be), but it wraps up a lot of the major subplots and character arcs of the series in a fairly satisfying way.  Then again, I personally find the characters and plot of ME1 to be fairly dry and uninvolving, so YMMV.

        (That said, PTSD DLC would be awesome.  Though I think what my Shepard mostly needs is a nice long nap, if she weren’t already scattered in tiny bits across the universe.)

        • GaryX

          Yeah, I suppose there’s some there. I’m not trying to sound like I hated the game (I very much enjoyed it), but I suppose those moments just feel flat for me and largely manufactured. Particularly w/r/t the Quarians, I felt the ending actively worked against any resonance other scenes attempted to construct. I might be looking at it too holistically, but that’s in large my part with it. I mostly enjoyed the characters and plot of ME1 though it was mostly the atmosphere that really grabbed me. The main plot never became that involving for me until maybe the third (and even then it was uneven), but the character high point was by far the second for me. Most effective character points in the third felt like echoes of the same ones explored in the second. If Bioware can ever find a way to blur the edges between all its desperate post-KotOR game elements, they’ll make a hell of a game. 

          The less said about dead space boy, the better.

        • The_Misanthrope

           Let me be clear(er), since I was a probably a little tired when I wrote the original post.  It’s not that I don’t think there is any emotional resonance; It has more to do with the fact that the game seems to go to great lengths to paint all your actions as heroic or, at the very least, the best possible choice (when you know damn well it is not that cut-and-dried), Anderson being perhaps the biggest Shepard apologist.  There are a few strident voices against Shepard, but they all end up either being made dead/irrelevant  (the original Council) or they become a turn-heel (Udina). 

          Now that I think about it, many of the moments that really question Shepard’s choices are choices that the game makes for Shepard:  the previously-mentioned use of EDI, the Fall of Thessia, your defection to Cerebus in ME2.

        • Fluka

          @The_Misanthrope:disqus I actually agree with you to a certain extent.  Playing the game as a renegade has actually been a lot less satisfying than playing as a paragon for that very reason.  My renegade Shepard was an *ass* to her entire crew in the first game, and yet they are all happy to see her in #2.  I have murdered, cheated, and generally given the finger to everyone in my path, and yet I am still a hero.  I will shoot Mordin and kill the Quarians when I finally get around to playing ME3, and will probably tell Liara to “shut it” after Thessia falls, but it will still be a hero’s journey.  It would be great if people around me actually took the time to say “That Shepard, huh?  Maybe we shouldn’t have given her a ship?”  Out of curiosity, do you have any modern RPGs in mind that really do get judgey on your choices? (*Always making lists of more things to play*)

        • Pgoodso

          Fallout 3, though its ending left something to be desired, definitely lets your assholishness precede you and had npcs comment on it: many people, including your father, note your destruction of Megaton if you choose to do it. And the ending, sucky as it is, does comment on your in game choices, even if vaguely.

    • SisterMaryFrancis

      I just didn’t like the fact that the Shepard I made was a guy who was willing to fight for his people and crew and question orders when I wasn’t convinced they were the best option, only to have him get to the endgame and take everything being told to him at face value. I don’t mind having my character die. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind if all the Council and Alliance species died out. But last time I checked, I brought the largest fleet ever down to Earth, and they were kicking some Reaper ass. Why then does my Shepard, a guy who has a history of resistance and 3 KO record against reporters suddenly get suckered into every word some AI program just because it looks like a kid he met once? At least let me try to fight back.

      I just want to be able to at least say “screw your choices” and kick that damn dream kid in the ‘nads.

      • Fluka

        Well…(spoilers) technically speaking, with the DLC, now you can!  You and the fleet just don’t win afterwards, heeeh.

        • SisterMaryFrancis

          Eh, oh well. Now I’m just keeping the game around for the multiplayer stuff. It’s oddly addictive.

    • Asinus

      I wouldn’t think you, of all people, would be so guilt-ridden for how your decisions affect others. 

      • The_Misanthrope

         Well, I can be pretty antisocial, but I do get pretty torn up about the death of fictional characters I’m attached to.  Especially since I lost so damn many in ME2.

  • Asinus

    I can’t remember who it was who linked to an article by Film Critic Hulk over at the AV Club (re: Tangible Details), but this led me to read several of his pieces the other night while unable to sleep. Anyway, he wrote one about the end of ME3. I didn’t have a problem with the end, so maybe I’m more inclined to accept his argument, but I think this is a great analysis nonetheless. 
    http://badassdigest.com/2012/08/06/film-crit-hulk-smash-a-few-words-on-the-ending-of-mass-effect-3/ 

    I never played the Wing Commander series and had no idea that 3 ended like this. That’s pretty brutal, but probably “realistic” in the sense that if humanity was in this situation and could do this, I doubt it would be too troubling to teh decider(s) to give the go ahead to this. I think if we’d had a nuke large enough to incinerate the whole of Hanshu, the US would have dropped it, and Japan didn’t even pose an existential threat to the United States, just to colonial aspirations. 

    • evanwaters

       At the same time it seems like the game is presenting this as the only alternative to total defeat and subjugation, which is… a little icky.

    • Dr_Monkeybone

       What a great link, although I was firmly in the pro-original ending camp, even down to blowing up the mass relays.  If you want to truly free yourself from the Reapers, and the way they molded civilizations, you have to give up the relays. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

        That’s like saying that if Africa ever wants to be “truly free” of white supremacist colonialism they have to jettison all modern technology and go back to a pre-industrial economy.

        • Flexanimous

          Sort of. Modern technology is not necessarily an explicit system of domination. Modern technology is the product of systems of domination though–in the sense that they would not exist without capitalist modernity, and most products would not exist except in the context of capitalist modernity. 

          In the context of mass effect, the relays ARE instruments of control, technology that cannot be duplicated, studied, or used except in one specific way that is not under any regulation by the people who use it, but by a shadowy race of  machines that were literally pulling the levers and making it all work. If you want to rid yourself of the reapers, you have to build your own future, like the geth. If you want to escape repression and control you must categorically reject all of the tools used to oppress you. Technology itself can actually be liberating, and generally has the net effect of increasing perceived human liberty, even if social mechanisms of domination co-opt that freedom and narrow it to simply a looser, but still absolute control. Think of the internet! Most standards by which freedom are measured are in fact raised by having a massive, marginally cheap communication network. However, it’s used mostly to tell you what to think through news and videos, and is used in most ways as an addition or complement to existing forms of media and existing. You use the internet as a sophisticated portal to separate you from your money. What you view as worth money or how you spend money is immaterial to the net, real effect of the internet–people buy more shit.  We impose things like copyright, censorship, notions of property and labor value and stuff on all of this.If you want to be “truly free” you have to somehow jettison the trappings and underlying assumptions of a modern industrial economy, not the good things it has produced. You cannot organize most societies around the premise of unstoppable, invincible, constant, reliable, and measurable growth in how much value we extract from the planet. You have to remove notions like labor being separated from survival, luxury as being an entitlement, oppression and control as a norm. It’s real difficult to make a free society when most people got convinced by society that life is life in society and that society MUST control you and strip you of real freedoms. The fun trick is that there’s no “real” society, but an image of what “society” is in our heads, and that IS what society is, it’s a voice and a control and a sense of rules of existence. 

          Fortunately for Shepard he can rebuild society by blowing up the shadowy forces that produced some of the things in society without altering its fundamental assumptions about how people interact and stuff. 

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/DSTCIYZQLVEK7QQLU3O7VBEVMY DaveB

           Oh, snap!  I actually see this conclusion in some libertarian ideal society thought exercises.  The only way to be truly free is to live your life like a pioneer in the 19th century. It is almost as if Walden is the best man can do…

    • The_Misanthrope

       I have more or less come to peace with the ending, to the point where I’ve left the new ending DLC unfinished because it seems so pointless.  I get the high-minded sci-fi ideas (shades of Asimov’s Foundation series) at play; I just think they didn’t quite merge the small-scale personal stories with the larger-scale “unending rising/falling cycles” story that well.  Sure, the fates of your crew aren’t all that important compared to the larger fate of the universe, but in a story-sense, it matters since you’ve spent so much game-time with them.

  • thelandofdoasyouplease

    This article seems to remind me of the atomic bombing of Japan during WWII.  I personally thought this game did not go into enough depth to discuss it, but it did bring up a good point.  I think that some video games really should not discuss the topic, but merely bring the gamer to the topic and ask the question.  This question in my opinion is a good one to ask, and one I am interested in seeing other people’s ideas towards.

  • mazebook

    Interesting Article but your premise is entirely wrong.
    All the Decisions in Mass Effect take not only effect after what happened in the end but also influence what you choose. If the Geth are dead and you told EDI that she is just a machine you are much more likely to choose destroy. 
    If you have always felt more compelled to Cerberus and kept the base in ME 2 you only option is to choose Control when your EMS is too low.

    Also the implications for the whole playthrough is based on your previous descisions. If you did save the rachni queen but choose not to cure the genophage , the rachni will rule over Tuchanka.

    Even more for your teammates to have a meaningful lives after the end they first have to survive all 3 games, which is directly influanced by your descisions .

    I could give many more examples but i will leave it at that.

    So there is no reset button in Mass Effect. The final decision just leads the groundwork for the future of the Galaxy. Your decision prior determent on how they will fill this Galaxy with life. 

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      How recently did you finish the game?

      When the game was released, the three endings were almost identical, with differences in the colors in the cutscenes but not much else.  They didn’t tell you anything about how the galaxy fared without you.

      It wasn’t until the patch on June 26th that they added the extra stuff at the end.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

    If WC3 made you feel uncomfortable, never play Defcon. It’s a good game but the tutorial pretty much demands you decimate East Asia with nukes, watching them arc across the map before a little number pops up giving you the name of the city and however many million dead your direct hit caused.

    • GaryX

      Eschaton!

  • http://www.facebook.com/arthur.chu.94 Arthur Chu

    All of this discussion about a sci-fi epic that ends with planet-busting genocide and not ONE person has mentioned Ender’s Game? For shame.

    Clearly what needs to happen is for Mark Hamill to survive far into the future and eventually find spiritual redemption by magically creating spirit-clones of his brother and his sister so he can symbolically divide his self into his innocence and his culpability and let them live at peace separately from each other to calm the endless internal war in his heart.

    Right?

  • Ultimojefe


    And to do it while cloaked? Say what you want about Kilrathi, but they at least fight fair.”  Well technically, they don’t.  The TCS Tigers Claw was destroyed by cloaked Kilrathi fighters in between WC1 and 2.  Also, I thought the Hobbes betrayal was lame.  He was the guy in WC2 that gave you your chance at redemption!

  • Andrew Boling

    The problem with 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LETWHRUJ4Q5MIHPLAHHZYOB22M Byron

    -BAM-

    I like the article, and wish there were more Wing Commander games.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Mifsud/745163223 Michael Mifsud

    Racism?  Its not racism when its inter-species related.  But point well made nonetheless.

  • nevalha

    Remind me to make sure Drew Toal is never put in command of the planet’s defenses.  

  • Jerry Ku

    I felt really weird blowing up the Kilrathi homeworld in WC3. I had read a couple of the Wing Commander books, and I don’t recall ever reading about Confederates butchering unarmed Kilrathi civilians. In one of the books, the Confeds launch an attack on Kilrah but I believe they focus 100% on damaging military targets. So when I had to blow up Kilrah in WC3, I was like… umm… we went from zero civilian deaths to billions in one moment. Woah!

    In the canon Wing Commander novel, Fleet
    Action, the Kilrathi are made to be more interesting. There are factions
    within the Kilrathi people, some are interested in ruling over humans, not killing them all. At the end of the novel, the Kilrathi are moments away from destroying all life on Earth with chemical weapons, but a major Kilrathi leader named Jukaga betrays his kind and stops the attack from happening. He immediately gets killed for it. Jukaga also
    tried to do a “Valkyrie” on Thrakath at some point. He tried to
    assassinate Thrakath and take over. Jukaga had a lot of respect for humanity and was much less cartoonishy evil in his actions, I thought.

    The events of Fleet Action were factored into WC3, but I don’t think the
    writer of Fleet Action had anything to do with WC3′s story. For me,
    going into WC3 after reading Fleet Action, I did not expect Blair to
    destroy the whole Kilrathi planet and commit genocide to such an extent.
    It just seemed to come out of nowhere. In all the previous Wing
    Commander stories, I don’t think the Confederacy ever flew around
    slaughtering Kilrathi civilians. It was always very military-vs-military
    from the Confederate point of view. But WC3 just went from 0 Kilrathi
    civilian deaths to… billions of civilian deaths in a single moment. As
    a reader of the books, it was a weird shock. Plus it was just sad to think that Baron Jukaga sacrificed himself to save humanity, and as a reward, Luke Skywalker slaughters nearly all of his people. :(

    Anyway, the books made the games much more interesting, but I don’t think the game developers ever paid serious attention to what authors were doing in the books. And WC3 did not seem to take itself very seriously, so I don’t think we’re supposed to really think about the civilian butchering we committed.

     In WC4, Admiral Tolywn becomes a traitor you have to put down.. that was a huge jump from the book portrayal of Tolywn as some kind of perfect father figure character.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=657405312 Phil Spencer

    You are commenting on the ending of a game without discussing the entire story that leads to us having no choice but to obliterate the kilrathi homeworld, I wont go into the entire 35 year war but perhaps just the last 2 years leading to wc3. after wc2, things looked up for confed and the kilrathi tricked humanity into peace, during this peace the kilrathi built up a massive armada against humanity in secret and once we found out about it they Annihilated the planets of Warsaw and Sirius along the way to earth killing around 2 billion+, what was left of Confeds mothball fleet essentially fought to the death over earth being entirely annihilated but thanks to several suicide attempts by thousands of brave people the kilrathi were sent limping home. This leads to the Victory, it is not a flagship but a 50 year old piece of junk, ships like this are pretty much all confed has left, during the game, if you follow the official canon story, several confed planets get bio weaponed and you are essentially barely keeping the kats from earth, so while blowing up Kilrah may have been harsh, there was no “life with the kilrathi” only destruction, and after playing all 3 games in order, you’re pissed off enough not to feel too bad about Kilrah.