The Most Mind-Blowing Final Levels In Video Game History

It takes a lot to make a video game masterpiece: stellar level design, intuitive controls, beautiful textures, focused sound-design, polished animations, an effective art style, precise code, and on and on. But, above all, a dazzling final sequence is what make these games truly mind-blowing.

(If you don't already know there will be spoilers in this list of video game endings, you probably aren't reading this sentence. Have a nice day!)

Wolfenstein: The New Order

B.J. Blazkowicz is going to kill Deathshead if he has to rip down the outer wall of Castle Wolfenstein to do it — and in a thrilling sequence late in 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order, that's just what he does. Writers Jens Matthies and Tommy Tordsson Björk reconstructed Blazko into a heavily armed yet disarmingly human hero. Voiced by the incomparable Brian Bloom, Blazko is the Nazis' worst nightmare: a Polish, Jewish, blond-haired, blue-eyed beefcake, hell-bent on ensuring the Thousand Year Reich ends tonight.

Upper echelon level design, intense gameplay, franchise nostalgia and thrilling storytelling combine in the Castle. You blast your way through Nazis, Nazi dogs, Nazi robots, in hallway after hallway, over swastika'd floors, beneath strange, cryptic statues. Secret passageways allow for optional stealth combat. Farther into the compound, open areas protected by mounted guns restrict your movement.

You move through a laboratory full of creepy submerged human body parts and then you're tackled and poisoned and stabbed by Obersturmbannführer Engel's despicable errand boy. (Frau Engel watches via a video feed.) He stabs you, leans in, and whispers, "This woman is my life, you understand? My everything." You do understand. (How many times have you muttered something to Anya, as if she could hear you, Blazko?)

Then you pull the knife out of your chest kill the dirtbag the way he tried to kill you. You then meet up with Anya and the rest of the captured fighters who are in the middle of an escape. Blazko helps them escape, then the elevator malfunctions and traps him inside with just enough time to say a heartbreaking goodbye — which isn't so much a goodbye as an admission that the dream of a life together is just a dream. This brings us to the epic showdown on the rooftop with not one but two giant robots — the first inhabited by the brain of whichever soldier you let die, the second inhabited by Deathshead himself.

It's a thrilling video game ending made mind-rending by targeted narrative decisions. Blazko's relationship with Anya and the dream of a life together motivates him to forge on — even, paradoxically, at the expense of having an actual future with her. It's sad but it's truthful, and it pushes a well-designed, exciting final sequence over the top. It's so good, we can almost forgive MachineGames for follow-up Wolfenstein: The Old Blood's inexplicable mediocrity.

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2's final gameplay sequence knocked our neural networks offline with its epicness. Forget about the boss fight with the Human-Reaper larva who looks like giant robotic ragdoll — the mind-shattering fight with the Oculus and the crash of the Normandy are the truly exhilarating set pieces. From Joker and EDI in the cockpit to the end credits, the tension never lets up.

Brace your face for a serious battle out in the Collectors' territory. You have spent 40 gameplay hours getting to know and fighting alongside whomever you chose to be the unlucky Specialist on this suicide mission. The thought of losing them raises the emotional stakes of already nerve-destroying action sequences. We still have nightmares about being trapped in a firefight as the bar of the "Specialist in danger" meter burns down.

To get through, Shepard will need to make quick decisions and move quickly, taking cover, getting up close and personal with deadly aliens in narrow corridors and orchestrating kill shots at long range with minimal cover against an onslaught of Harbingers, Collector drones, and other minions of the Collectors — at the end of which you and your squad square up against what's basically a Jaeger from Pacific Rim. Destroy it and you're treated to a dramatic escape and an explosively satisfying ending which incorporates a ton of your previous actions and decisions. Now that's mind-blowing.

The Last of Us

Shooting your way through the heavily fortified hospital, mowing down the Fireflies with whom you sought to meet up, sliding uncomfortably into the role of Joel the psychotic killer — it's all such a thrilling experience. It's all about the details: the authentic layout and haunting lighting of the hospital, the idle chatter and horrified screams of your enemies, and the pain audible in Joel's snarls and threats, which indicate he is all the way gone from the civilized world that the Fireflies represent in their willingness to sacrifice Ellie for a chance at a cure.

We'll never get over losing Sarah and Tess — and neither will Joel. Their memories add new meaning to the game's rage-fueled final moments and devastatingly honest ending. Losing Sarah and hearing the gunshots that killed Tess embolden Joel to do everything he can — including the wanton killing of enemy combatants and at least one cold-blooded murder of an unarmed civilian — to rescue Ellie from Marlene and the Fireflies from their brutal collective mentality. If civilization means life among the Fireflies' casual savagery, you can count Joel and Ellie out.

The more you think about the game's ironic use of the hospital setting as a battleground, the more you understand why the video game's ending sequence takes place in an idyllic wilderness. (It's only natural.) Joel's actions in the hospital prove he is "beyond rehabilitation," so to speak. He has become the survivalist Bear Grylls pretends to be. What matters to him — what's real and worth fighting for — isn't some far off hope for a better tomorrow — it's the local, the immediate. It's his life with Ellie, as her guardian, comrade, and — at the very end — her co-conspirator and equal. Dang, Naughty Dog. The Last of Us meets William James's criteria for a religious experience of the educational variety.

Super Contra

The original NES Contra from 1987 is a side-scrolling platformer interspersed with pseudo-"3-D" special stages. That mix of gameplay is what Contra fans expected before plunking quarters into 1988's Super Contra arcade game. Imagine our shock when we discovered the totally new top-down perspective in Stage 2. Shock turned to awe as we discovered how natural it felt. Then in levels 3 and 4, the game returned back to the side-scrolling perspective. Stage 4 ends spectacularly with a tense boss battle with a giant winged alien — but that's nothing compared with the finale.

Stage 5 switches back to the top-down perspective. You're in a tunnel. The tunnel splits and opens into a wider area ... and out come the creepy, super-fast bugs the size of people. Meanwhile, killer sandworms use their giant maws to break through the ground all around you. You forge ahead and blast your way through a wall, only to discover a beast with six eyes, six nostrils, and one enormous, creepy smile. Kill it and an even more devilish three-headed and three-necked monster takes its place. Defeat it and you earn the right to hold your gun sideways over your head for the choppers, hero-style. Once again, the alien hordes were no match for two men with sweatbands, gym-bunny bodies, and big sexy machine guns.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line ought to come with a voucher for cognitive behavioral therapy. This deranged 2012 third-person shooter splices the creepiest aspects of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness with a sandy post-apocalyptic Dubai, Jake Busey, Kid from Kid 'n Play, and voice actor Nolan North's angstiest performance yet. Spec Ops: The Line is as sadistic as games get, using one of the bleakest narratives in gaming history to make you feel guilty for playing it.

Everything from the murder of the Radioman onward is action-packed psychological horror-gaming at its finest, backed by a simple yet effective cover system and responsive controls. By now, Walker and his squadmates have killed dozens of unarmed civilians and (probably) hundreds of American soldiers. Lugo, Adams, and Walker shoot their way through the radio tower and confront the Radioman and — they think — wrestle the microphone from his hands. And yet, the Radioman surrenders without a fight. As Walker moves to grab the mic, Lugo convinces himself that the Radioman was secretly giving info to the Damned 33rd, the American soldiers you keep having to fight. Lugo puts three bullets in the poor sap's head.

Walker announces that he's "here to rescue" the people of Dubai, only to be taunted by the voice of Konrad on his personal radio. (Nobody else hears Konrad's voice.) Konrad signs off, too. With neither the Radioman's banter nor Konrad's scornful voice to act as a buffer between the player and Walker, dead air ensues, as haunting as the first time you realized Walker and company were gunning down American soldiers to '70s arena rock songs.

Now the real chaos begins. Walker and his squadmates shoot their way to the rooftop and hop into a chopper. From the air, they mow down every soldier they see. Now you're treated to an extended version of the incredible opening sequence — but this time you know that the people you're obliterating are American soldiers, and you suspect that Walker, your avatar, isn't at all the hero he pretends to be. In the end, it gets worse, culminating in a doomed firefight in which the Damned 33rd sends pretty much everything it has your way — infantrymen, heavies, RPGs. Then you're treated to one of four reality-shattering endings, depending upon the twistedness of your decision-making throughout the ordeal. Keep a spare mind handy — yours may go on the fritz.

Mega Man 2

Mega Man 2's soundtrack rattles your brain and stirs your soul. If somebody were to record the Music of the Spheres and convert it to MIDI with a minimal loss in quality, Capcom would be well within its rights to sue them for copyright infringement. Yet the game's biggest, most mind-blowingest moment is when the music suddenly drops out in the second skull stage of Dr. Wily's Castle.

That said, all six of the Castle's stages rank among the best levels ever constructed. You may get post-traumatic gaming disorder from the dragon floating over abyss and the impossible platforming sequence that led up to it, not to mention the the walls' bricks coming alive, combining in mid-air to form flying deathbots. Plus there's the giant tank with the big stupid face, the numerous near-misses with spikes and murderous projectiles, and the truly malicious level design. Seriously, those platforms move way too fast. Finally, when you're ready for an insane boss fight, you get ... every insane boss fight that you've already beaten. Survive this trial and you've earned the right to be slaughtered by Dr. Wily himself — all to the sickest chiptunes Capcom has to offer.

Then it all goes silent and you fall. Screen after screen, down you go, plummeting in silence. Then you fight Dr. Wily (in an alien form) in some sort of space simulation. Defeat him and you'll walk the earth like Caine in Kung Fu in a cinematic, through the rain and snow, through all four seasons and look out on the peaceful valley. Do you know why Mega Man sets his blue helmet in the grass? It's because that game blew his mind, too.


Metroid is technically all one level, so you could include Samus' entire adventure on this list, and you wouldn't be wrong. Everything about this game makes your brains swell in the best way — y'know, the metaphorical way. Plus, it introduced us to Samus Aran, the NES's answer to Ellen Ripley, with her many abilities and rapid-fire hand-cannon that put Mega Man and pretty much any other NES hero to shame. Six years before Sonic, Samus proved the appeal of curling into a ball and rolling around in an action-platformer. But what we really remember Metroid for is the Mother Brain.

How insane is that final sequence? You'll need to survive the mounted guns and enemy projectiles and then somehow get through the series of blast doors. Good thing you've got missiles. (You have been hoarding your missiles, right?) Get through, bombard the Mother Brain in her tank — how's that for mind-blowing? — and be ready to leap from tiny platform to tiny platform like your life depends on it, because it will. "Time bomb set! Get out fast!" Have more haunting words ever appeared in 8-bits? Now that's some pixel-perfect nightmare fuel, guaranteed to blow your mind.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Let's go back in time to 1998, when The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time expanded our notions of what a video game could be. With a time-bending story, two distinct Hyrules, and deep optional mini-game activities (bombchu bowling, anyone?), the game's world is a thing of beauty.

The game could have ended after the solid boss battle with Ganondorf at the top of the castle — but Nintendo had to go and blow our minds. Ganondorf activates the metaphysical self-destruct sequence on his Hyrule summer home, and the castle crumbles as Link escapes with Zelda's help. (That's how we like to think of it, anyway.)

The escape could have worked as a cutscene, but it's mind-blowing as a timed gameplay sequence. Link would be trapped and crushed to death without Zelda's magic to lift the bars on the doors. (Does anybody else feel like she is just indulging Link in the rooms with the monsters, where she surrounds herself with protective fire? Couldn't she use that same fire magic to incinerate the baddies, if she really wanted to? It makes you feel feel better about your purchase, regardless, and helps you forget about the atrocious "Willst thou get the girl? Or play like one?" ad campaign.)

Down goes the castle and out of the rubble rises a mutated, horned monster — Ganon, and you've lost your Master Sword! Blind the beast with your light arrows, grab your sword, slash its tail, and put that bullheaded gargoyle down for good. Minds officially blown.


Would you kindly abandon all hope, ye who enter here? After Jack's plane crashes, he swims ashore to a lighthouse and winds up in an elevator — a Bathysphere — descending to a city hidden in the depths: Rapture. Underwater paradise lost, Andrew Ryan's megalomaniacal utopia is in ruins, overrun with splicers geeking on plasmids and gunpowder. Big Daddies lumber about, stalking anyone who would do a Little Sister harm.

Ruthless gangster Frank Fontaine (disguised as the kindly "Atlas") sends poor Johnny to meet Jack's Bathysphere, but a splicer gets to Johnny first and mutilates him. Atlas enlists Jack to come to his rescue — which is suspicious, since there's no real reason for Jack to be here and no reason for Atlas to know Jack would be coming. It seems Jack's plane crashed right on time. Anyway, that's how it begins.

We count the final sequence as Jack's pursuit of Frank Fontaine through the fire at Point Prometheus. Encouraged by Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum via radio, Jack pursues Fontaine through the flames. By now, as the player, you're feeling Jack's anger. You were "destined for great things," and here you were, made into an errand boy for a cold-blooded killer. It ends with a spectacular showdown between Jack, equipped with a Big Daddy's armor suit, and Frank Fontaine, all jacked up on an inhuman dose of ADAM, commanding the elements like he's trying out for the X-Men.

The pitch-perfect set-pieces alone would've made Bioshock a memorable experience, but it's near-perfect story (triteness of the happier end cutscenes notwithstanding), solid AI, innovative controls, and AAA-quality gunplay mechanics turned it into a must-play. But the final hours of Bioshock's gameplay, when you've got all the gadgets and plasmids at your disposal, leave you blithering with glee.


Most bullet-hell games are monotonous. Not terrible, not great — just a bunch of algorithmically determined patterns, an infinitely scrolling background, and generic spaceship sprites. Then there's Ikaruga, a masterpiece which combines the two-color world dynamics we're used to seeing in platformers (Giana Sisters, among many others) with sparkling math-propelled patterns otherwise reserved for ecstatic states of consciousness.

Ikaruga didn't just freshen up the genre with then-state-of-the-art 3-D visuals and techno-licious sound design: it turned air combat into a thing of ballet-like beauty. What makes Ikaruga special, however, is that you can beat it without firing a single shot, and it's when you're earning the coveted "Dot-Eater" achievement that this great video game's ending becomes totally mind-blowing. To survive, you must switch colors in rhythm with the white-to-black flicker of the Orb-Ship of Mind-Doom (not the final boss's actual name), as it pelts your ship with curved homing lasers and fills the screen with face-melting spherical murder-sparkles. Now that's a bullet-hell you could happily spend an eternity in.