The original Fallout was bracingly dark and gritty for the time, and nowhere was this more so than in the game overs. The regular game over would have gravelly-voiced Ron Perlman glibly informing you how your pitiful life has come to the end in the wastes, and how “not even the carrion eaters are interested in your irradiated corpse”. The giant-foreheaded actor would be sure to note how the inhabitants of your vault you’d been assigned to find a life-saving water chip for, would surely all perish for your failure.
Of course, this is just the appetizer. If you failed later on in the game, then you’d get the REAL cruelty. If you chose to surrender to the insane villian of the game – the cybernetic Master – the ending would see your struggling body wrapped in in a burlap sack, your thrashing only getting more animated as you’re lowered closer to a bubbling vat full of the transformative Forced Evolution Virus. Then you’re submerged, and as the music rises to a crescendo, there’s a wretched, mutated hand emerging from the goop. The implication is that you’re now to be a lobotomized mutant servant in the Master’s army – serving his goal of genetically re-ordering post-apocalyptic California.
Just to make sure you know it’s not just you who is suffering for your cowardly submission, there’s a secondary cutscene showing the door to your vault having been blasted off. It then cuts to grainy black and white security footage of the vault’s corridors, showing your friends being clubbed senseless or perforated by the gunfire of angry supermutants. Finally, you see your vault overseer – who trusted you with the livelihood of your home – being pulled out of his chaingun-equipped chair as he desperately tries to fight off waves of supermutants. You can hear the thuds of him being beaten to death as the screen finally, mercifully, fades to black.
It’s pretty clever though. After all that, you’re going to want to try again to mentally bleach all that from your tortured mind!
4. Return to Zork
Zork will be remembered by old fogies as the most famous text-based adventure game. It’s notable for being set in a bizarre world where a modern setting seems to blend seamlessly into magical fantasy. A FMV-based sequel was released in the nineties called Return to Zork, and my God did it send chills down my spine as a child.
There are countless ways to die in Return to Zork. You can even die on the very first screen if you irritate the vulture perched atop a “Welcome to Zork” sign. You even get a ghastly close-up of the beady-eyed creature as it flies towards you, talons extended as it makes ready to rend you to shreds. There are quite a few particularly sadistic ways you can die, seemingly designed mainly to make you feel like a buffoon – such as when a bridge looks crossable from your POV, but turns out only to be half-finished as you walk lemming-like into your watery grave.
When you die, the screen goes dark and you hear a wicked, blood-curdling laugh. Seriously, it’s the vocal embodiment of pure evil – like Dracula laughing at a kitten with a hurt paw. It then fades back into a church where a stained glass window has melded itself into a mural – depicting the manner of your demise. What always creeped me out the most was the mural depicting a pair of eyes in the darkness with the caption “You were in the dark. Grues like the dark”.
If this regular game over wasn’t bad enough, Zork had a special way of punishing you if you chose to commit a crime. Yup, in classic Zork tradition, you can randomly stab pretty much any NPC to death. No sissy messages telling you not to do such a monstrous thing like most point-n-clickers! Want to murder the tutting schoolmistress? Sure! Want to shank the comical town drunk? Go ahead! However, there’s a price. A mysterious overcoated figure will arrive to sternly tell you that you’ll regret your crimes. To punish you, he decides to take all your items and scatter them all over the gameworld – rendering Return to Zork unfinishable.
For an adventure gamer; not being able to combine random bits of crap they’ve found with other stuff is truly a fate worse than death!