RAGE wasn’t all that great. You know why? Yah yah crappy PC port, blergh – no, the real reason? No epic boss battle to seal the deal. I have never forgiven this game for hinting at as much and then just throwing a whole cascading waterfall of generic mutant freaks at everyone before abruptly ending. It’s not the most recent offender, but it’s the one I remember most because… c’mon, it’s id, they know how this goes. Or they used to. Can ya’ll really call yourself an FPS with no massive Half-Life tentacle monster in a hole?
Where have my Dastardly Boss Battles gone? I can only think of a few from this gen. Most of them are just big trundling damage sponges and/or largely scripted, and some of ‘em are better left unsaid, too. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, hello and goodbye. Metroid Prime, if only I owned a Wii. Duke Nukem Forever sucked, but at least it gave up a few giant necks to hang a bog down. Crysis 2’s Pingers, yeah, pingers are great but not this kind. What went so wrong, BioShock?
Everything else is a technicality: Portal’s puzzles aren’t really duels to le death per se, and the last level in Mirror’s Edge is hectic, but again, not. A. fight. Argh. Why. Lot of designers seem to think brown mili-shooters shouldn’t even have a boss battle at all, and should instead culminate in the slow-mo shooting of some beret-wearing terrorist mastermind in the back. To them I say: Team Fortress 2, and then I say: Saxton Hale. Er.
That is not the way. Wolfenstein’s Cyber-Hitler is the way. Remember this guy? Oh how you wanted to splat him, not only because he was Hitler but because he came at you, brotherhood.
That methodology is old akubra, though. Not only was tackling humongous damage sponges never really that much fun (go on, go back and try it, yee-hawn), but today’s obsession with regenerating health bars makes them even less fun. When all you had was finite vitality, at least some semblance of strategy was required. Frustration too, it’s true: Saving and reloading like a madman was a pox necessity of the past, but I kind of miss it. Not the act itself – that was annoying – but the fear of total and utter annihilation at any moment.
That is the essence of a boss battle. To date, the closest this gen has come to that formative ideal is Borderlands, but it came a little too close. Invention is required; something to circumvent the way our eternal heroes and their ever-filling life force tempers the aging appeal of going gun-to-gun with an HP-heavy behemoth. The most memorable boss battles, to me, were to be found in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Rumbling in the jungle with The End in a methodical sniper duel that can potentially last hours remains unforgettable. In theory, it’s boring as all hell. It really is. In practice, it’s absolutely exhilarating and beyond tense – and can even be skipped entirely if not to your liking, all within the context of the narrative. Why creativity of its ilk has not been transferred to the FPS domain, I don’t know.
Ah, just get Hideo to do everything.