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What makes a boss battle good? Surpassing that, what makes a boss battle great? A better question; what makes a boss battle the best? A combination of using the skills you’ve learned, coupled with a good motivation for defeating said boss, and a rewarding payoff all combine to provide the best boss battles.
Take, for example, the final mission in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t beaten the game. The mission is titled ‘End of the Line’, which sets you up for a payoff right there. The name has a finality to it, there’s no more questions, everything will be answered.
The set up goes like this: You’ve tracked your former best friend, Big Smoke, to his hideout; a 4 story crack den, complete with a reinforced door, armed guards, and heavy weaponry. He was responsible for your mother’s death, and now he’s turned your city against you. Meanwhile, a disgraced police officer, Frank Tenpenny, was found not guilty of a number of crimes, which is now tearing Los Santos (based on real life Los Angeles) apart. Frank and Big Smoke have to be taken out to restore order to the city, to your gang, and most importantly, to your family.
So you steal a police tank, and ram through the front door of the crack den, and get out, guns blazing. You work your way through all 4 stories of the place, taking guards down around every corner. You finally confront Big Smoke, and after a few minutes of exchanged gunfire, Smoke turns the lights off, forcing you to chase him around in near darkness, shooting and avoiding being shot all the while.
Finally, Big Smoke goes down, and Officer Tenpenny walks in. After getting Carl to load money into his suitcase, Tenpenny attempts to kill Carl, then flees the crack den – but not before starting a fire on one of the lower floors. So now with the lights out, a fire burning below, and more enemy gangsters pouring into the building, you grab a pair of night vision goggles, and fight your way back to the street.
Tenpenny is in a firetruck, and your brother, Sweet, jumps on the back in an effort to keep him from getting away. So you do the only sensible thing – jump in a convertible and chase after the truck. You’re taken on a tour of the warring city, until eventually, another rookie cop tries to stomp on Sweet’s hands, causing him to fall. You catch him in the car, and Sweet takes over the wheel, with you manning the gun.
At this point, you’re tasked with keeping enemy gangsters and cops from catching up to you, while Sweet stays with Tenpenny. Eventually, you reach the overpass over Grove Street – your home – and Tenpenny loses control of the firetruck, and crashes through the barrier, and onto the street below. You and Sweet pull up to the downed truck just as Tenpenny emerges, badly injured and bloody. He collapses in a heap, having succumbed to the injuries from the crash. Sweet tells you to leave him, and the cast walks away to the Jonhson house.
The final mission has everything, and it truly takes the skills you’ve learned before to finish. Once you beat that mission, the city returns to normal, your gang is respected again, and most importantly, your home life is in a much better place than when you started. Rockstar Games hit the nail on the head with this one.