I’ve seen many sad scenes in video games: from the baby Metroid sacrificing itself in Super Metroid, to Kat taking a needler in the head in Halo Reach. But there is one scene that hands-down takes this title. And not only does it take it, it twists the knife to make it hurt more, and then it pours lemon juice on the wound. I’ll cut for spoilers just in case, but the game’s been out since September so I’m not sure how much of a spoiler it’ll be. But better to be safe than get all sorts of irate comments, right?For me the saddest scene in a video game actually drove me to tears. And it’s been hard for me to pick up the game since seeing it. Granted a lot of the problem is I got insanely busy, but still, after that scene? I can’t imagine what this game would throw at me next.
The saddest scene in a game would be Dom Santiago’s death in Gears of War 3.
What makes it so powerful is having a context of what’s happened in the Gears world from the beginning. Dom’s always been one of my favorite characters in the franchise. His gentle, compassionate sense, as well as his humor and his ability to kick ass and still be a nice guy makes him an excellent balance to the gruff monotone intensity of Marcus Fenix; to the wise-ass complaining of Baird; and to the sometimes over-the-top exuberance of Cole. Add to that the side story: in Gears 1, Dom has a good relationship with the Stranded populations, because he gained their trust while he was searching their shantytowns looking for a woman. That woman, we find out, is his wife, Maria.
I read the novelAspho Fields, which takes place a bit before the first game, and gives some awesome background to story and to character. Dom and Maria fell in love very young, and she got pregnant when they were 16. Rather than become a deadbeat or continue to act like a sixteen year old male, Dom married Maria and got a job so he could support his new family. His intense love for her instilled in him a sense of responsibility that made him see this situation as a blessing. So when we find out that his two sons were killed because of the Locust invasions, and then that Maria’s gone missing, there’s all the more sense of sadness. We feel for this man who’s out saving the world, but still looking to resolve his own private turmoil.
It gets worse in Gears 2, when he gets such a strong lead that it leads him to the heart of the Locust empire. He does manage to locate Maria. But by then she has been so tormented by the Locusts that she is unrecognizable to anyone–except her husband, whose love for her helps him see her even beyond the specter she’s become. She stares blankly at him as he hold her; she does not respond to his affection, nor does she recognize him or speak to him. The reunion we’ve been hoping for is beyond anticlimactic: it’s painful. And it hurts even more when Dom doesn’t take her with them; but he doesn’t even just leave her. He recalls who she was, and sees what she now is, and he shoots her to spare her any further agony.
That? That was sad. It was heartbreaking, because of what I knew of the characters and the story, and it made me want to kill even more Locusts and save Sera if only to prevent more of that happening to people as truly goodhearted and well-intentioned as Dom.
But Gears can’t leave well enough alone. Gears 3 was highly anticipated this past fall, and it boasted a new, improved multi-player function. But it also meant our Gears were back in the saddles. And since Dom had found Maria, and since things had gone the way they did, I wondered what would come of him and his story.
I shouldn’t have asked.
One of the missions in the first half of Gears 3 involves traveling to the town on Sera that Maria hailed from. I went in with Dom and knew that it would be a tough place for him to be. But what happened was worse than anything I could imagine. The team is overwhelmed by Locusts while trying to complete a mission. The only way to save themselves is for a huge explosion to occur, and Dom takes it upon himself to make the sacrifice. He drives a huge vehicle toward a gas tank, thinking aloud to Maria and saying that he’s coming home. Meanwhile, Marcus, who’s been like a brother to him, watches helplessly while a piano version of the song “Mad World” plays. Dom rams the vehicle into the fuel, dying.
And finding the peace he’d been seeking in his search for Maria, but was denied when he did actually find her.
It was the combination of knowing all the backstory, having played the games, and hearing that music. The lyrics to the song, if people aren’t familiar with it, go “I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad, the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” It’s pretty depressing, and the whole song fits the mood of the moment. But hearing it all instrumental and peaceful, in the midst of the chaos and Dom’s sacrifice, while his best friend watches on helplessly, drove me to tears in a way no other sad game scene has.