Games are often left unfinished. Sometimes they’re too difficult, too vast, or too repetitive to see all the way through to the closing credits. To The Bitter End is The Gameological Society’s look at those endings that are worth fighting for—or at least worth reading about.
I hate that people root for the Miami Heat. They’re the best team in the NBA right now simply because they had the money and sexy weather/clubs to attract LeBron James. I don’t feel like they’ve earned it, yet they have still developed a worship culture. It’s like being a fan of schoolyard bullies or casino owners.
But there’s a disconnect. I snipe at the Heat from my cozy, beer-koozie confines as a native Chicagoan. I grew up during the height of Michael Jordan fever, watching the meticulous craftsmanship around which the Bulls amassed one of the most impressive lineups in history. And with Derrick Rose returning next year from his massive injury, they’ll be back on top.
Objectively, there’s not much difference to warrant my love for the Bulls and my hatred for the Heat. They both dominate the NBA and have little concern for those they cut in their wake. But I’ve been there since the beginning (the “beginning”) of Chicago Bulls fandom. In my eyes, they have EARNED the right to be what I’ll call the “overdog”—the opposite of the underdog. Overdogs are great and powerful, unquestionably. Many bow at their feet simply because society demands we worship our betters. For my own benefit, I manufactured a scenario in which the Bulls deserve their good fortune, and the Heat have had greatness unfairly bestowed upon them. I am an unreliable narrator. Thus is the blessing, and curse, of rooting for the overdog.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a true overdog tale. The game begins and ends with bloodbath unleashed by your character, Sergeant Rex Power Colt. Yes, Power is in fact his middle name. A cyborg with the cockiness of Rambo, Colt opens this homage to 1980s action films by firing a machine gun from the safety of a helicopter, turning dozens of neon soldiers into glowing piles of goo. Later, as Colt gains on his arch-nemesis and fellow “cyber soldier” Colonel Sloan, he obtains an ancient relic known, quite bluntly, as the “Killstar.” It’s a shuriken that attaches to his robot arm and fires an endless laser. As you might expect, that is essentially the end of the game. Colt mows down his competition with ease after that, but not before climbing inside a metallic dinosaur, a la Alien, and shooting some more.
The first blitzkrieg—the one in the helicopter—feels superfluous. Rex Power Colt, through voiceover, has already established himself as a superior humanoid on a mission to protect the goddamn U. S. of A. His machine-gunning of nameless soldiers is a victory lap before the race has even started. This is the Miami Heat (in a game that channels Miami Vice).
Yet when Colt straps that ninja star to his arm and lights up the already incandescent soldiers, he is the Chicago Bulls. I have seen his plight, and though it’s without much struggle, I can’t help but immediately side with a man whose shoes I have walked more than a mile in.
There is little doubt that Colt will take out Colonel Sloan. He is a self-proclaimed “super soldier” who always has a witty rejoinder at the ready—“Now that’s what I call a blow job,” he snarls after shotgunning someone in the face. He’s throbbing with the kind of bravado that action heroes displayed three decades ago when they were dealing with those sinister Russkies. Sloan is evil; Colt is good. No shades of nuance are needed. In fact, Blood Dragon is so eager to proclaim you an early victor that it starts you with five different weapons and teases that a few more, like a flamethrower, are not far behind, allowing you to act as overdog throughout. Nobody can derail this out-of-control train. When a hostage scientist is rescued and proclaims, “I’m honored you would save your betters,” Colt lets it slide. He knows who the real “better” is.
By the time Colt collects the Killstar, it’s largely unnecessary. He’s essentially a Terminator for the entirety of the game, and the final level is full of bad dudes who easily succumb to an explosive sniper shot or an explosive machine gun round. Or one of many other explosives at the ready. Yet there it is, a reward at the end of a massive killing spree you gracefully executed. Now the real killing commences. As if shooting guys with a hose, the Killstar’s laser splashes the entire landscape with its raw destructive power. You don’t need explosives any more. As fireworks erupt from the manpower and clutter of the military-industrial landscape before you, it becomes clear that with the Killstar, everything is a kaboom-in-waiting.
Yet this rampage feels different than the first one. Little has changed in substance—it’s still an orgiastic celebration of destruction—except now there’s a story tacked onto the overdog. The Killstar, with all its dominance, subconsciously requires justification. There were many times Colt tried to sneak inside an enemy base and stealthily knife everyone in the back, only to die before resorting to more direct tactics. With the Killstar in hand, those fleeting moments of challenge suddenly feel like epochs of frustration. Hindsight plays tricks on us all. The Killstar is your right as a true American hero, the justice for your suffering. You’re the Chicago Bulls, on the road to another championship, anticipating a figurative parade.
There is catharsis in playing the overdog. For a moment, or for years in an NBA dynasty, you are untouchable. And that feeling is rare. We are socialized to answer the question, “How are you?” with something to the effect of, “Pretty good, been busy.” If I were to shout, “I’m wonderful and perfect!” it would sound like gloating. It probably would be. But Blood Dragon is a chance to celebrate a win with the full force of our voice. Even if it’s a hollow victory, it sure doesn’t feel like it.