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Master Chief: "How much time was left?"

Cortana: "You don't wanna know."
Halo 2 (About 7 seconds)

The video game answer to the Magic Countdown.

In timed gameplay sequences with a timer ticking down on-screen, the game will invariably act as if the player accomplished their goal just in the nick of time—even if they did so with plenty of time to spare.

For example, let's say you have just defeated the Load-Bearing Boss, and you now have ten minutes to escape from the building before it explodes. You, however, make it out with a good three minutes to spare. The second you leave, there's a Cutscene of the building exploding, which is nonsensical because, well, according to the timer, it shouldn't have exploded for another three minutes.

Obviously, this is done because the developers want to show the building explode for dramatic effect, yet there isn't really any reason for your guys to stick around as the timer counts down. Hence, Story Overwrite.

When this happens after a non-timed mission, it's a Take Your Time.

Examples of Always Close include:


  • Devil May Cry 4 has a mission where Dante has to escape from a building that is about to self destruct, and no matter how much time is left on the countdown, the cutscene that follows always shows it crumbling within a few seconds of Dante walking out of it.
    • Later in the game, at the end of mission 20, after defeating Sanctus for the second time, the gigantic Savior statue ceases functioning when it was right about to land a punch to Dante, who was outside battling it. The video shows a shortcut of Dante holding the giant fist with his Rebellion (which would have very likely hurt a lot, if not outright killing him), and then pulling it to the ground, which causes the entire inert statue to move with it.
  • Subverted in Freedom Force. Apparently, disarming a nuclear bomb isn't very fast.
    • In one level of Freedom Force, the player must get Minuteman to an atomic bomb to disarm it. However, whether the player arrives 5 seconds or two minutes before it's set to detonate, the cutscene will show him disarming it with only seconds to spare.
  • The "Mike Lips (sic) Last Lunch" mission in Grand Theft Auto 3.
  • The escape from Ganon's Castle in The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time.
  • Averted in Metal Gear Solid, in that the expected bombing raid never actually occurs even if you stay still and wait for the timer to run out. The timer's only there to add tension.
    • One of the special features in the special edition of MGS 2 ret-conned this. Nastasha Romanenko's book, "In the Darkness of Shadow Moses" is unlocked by reading the reviews of it. Once you get to the actual book, it's explained that Richard Ames, who had been sitting with Nastasha the whole time and was the one who convinced forced her to help out in the first place, aborted the bombing run because "they" (the Patriots) didn't like it. He then proceeds to arrange Jim Houseman's death, explaining that the cover story will be that Houseman had gone insane and ordered the airstrike as a last desperate effort, then committed suicide. And he tells him this. Kind of makes it hard to feel any sympathy for him when he dies in the game. Of course, since the after credits conversation in the last game revealed that George Sears, the President, aka Solidus, the Big Bad of MGS 2, was behind the Shadow Moses Incident in the first place, there needed to be an explanation as to why the bombing raid was called off, since the first game said he did it. Of course, it was Campbell who relayed this information to the player.
    • However, on some difficulties Revolver Ocelot will plant a timebomb in your inventory. The bomb explodes as soon as you throw it away.
  • The final escape from every Metroid game. In the later games, this goes for the opening sequence as well.
    • Averted in Metroid Prime's ending sequence, as it skips to the end of Samus' escape, not allowing you control of her after you beat the final boss.
    • Also, on the highest difficulty of Zero Mission, it's nigh impossible to get out with more than fifteen seconds left. Or so my experiences tell me.
    • Possibly justified in Metroid Fusion, where you could say that your ship's computer refuses to re-dock until it sees the final boss out of the way.
      • Fridge Brilliance: Why doesn't your ship just shoot the boss, then? It's being piloted by cute and cuddly yet highly intelligent creatures who may have just enough knowledge to pilot the ship. [1]
  • There's a sequence in Okami where you're being dragged down a flooded river on a log and have to connect it to vines using the flowers on the shore. (It Makes Sense in Context) It's timed, but no matter how much time you have left, you hit the Inevitable Waterfall just after you connect the last vine.
    • Ditto escape from inside the Water Dragon.
  • The final mission of Prototype has you fighting a big scary monster, while a bomb threatens to blow up all of New York. Even if you kill the monster with 1 second left on the bomb's clock, the cut scene still shows the main character being able to helicopter the bomb out to sea in time to save everyone. The cutscene starts with about 1 minute on the timer.
  • In the Playstation/N64 Spider-Man, Spider-Man must throw an activated bomb into a safe in order to render the explosion harmless. Once he does so, the bomb immediately explodes, regardless of the amount of time remaining.
  • Justified in the only timed game of Kirby Super Star, "Revenge of Meta-Knight" - the final escape sequence gives you a mere 40 seconds to traverse an obstacle course and get off the Big Bad's ship before it crashes into the ocean, in a game where the timer usually starts in the high four-digit range. You're cutting it close before the level even starts.


  • Exception: In Zork: Grand Inquisitor, an improvised bomb does not explode when placed in a locker; it actually waits until the end of the countdown. (You do get inexplicably transported to the site of the explosion if within sight of it, though.)
    • However, though a cutscene says Antharia Jack has 3 hours before he gets Totemized; whether you destroy the dam five minutes or five hours after the cutscene, it still has the Totemizer shutting down seconds before Jack steps in.


  • The Metroid level in the Adventure mode of Super Smash Brothers Melee, although its difficult to make it with more than a few seconds left, so the explosion might make sense.
    • Even if you have 40 seconds left, it still explodes the instant you're out of there.
      • Note that they never show you actually escaping the planet, just it exploding, then panning over to Pop Star for the next stage. Also, the game actually gives you a bonus for waiting until the last second.

First-Person Shooter

  • In the game Descent, clearing each level required you to shoot the mine reactor and trigger an explosive meltdown. Once the reactor was shot, you'd have only a minute to reach the exit before it went critical. No matter how much time remained on the clock, once you hit the exit you were immediately treated to an Outrun the Fireball cinematic as if you escaped at the last possible second.
    • Descent also has it in reverse: a quirk of the game mechanics let you escape up to two seconds after the timer has run out, as the screen is Fading To White. You're already inside the fireball, but the movie still shows you as getting out ahead of it.
  • In Golden Eye 1997, the player as Bond has a set amount of time to race from one end of a park to the other to rescue Natalya from a Time Bomb. No matter how much time remains on the countdown, as soon as you reach her, a proximity fuse on the bomb activates giving you only 5 seconds to get to cover before it blows.
    • Played with in The World is Not Enough. There's a time bomb in the second level. Finish defusing it with the timer reading "007", and you gain access to a secret area.
  • Lampshaded in Halo 2. You can Take Your Time in the first level, but when you stop the bomb, Master Chief asks Cortana how long was left. Her reply: "You don't want to know."
    • Happens twice in the same game, when at the end, Tartarus activates Installation 05. The player must "quickly" defeat Tartarus so that the Index can be removed to cancel the firing sequence. No matter how much time it takes, or how many friendly mooks die, when the Index is removed, the Halo is shown on the verge of firing but apparently fails due to lack of charging time.
    • Another Halo example from the first game, the timed escape after you explosively overclock the Pillar of Autumn's reactors. No matter how fast you get to your escape craft, you're treated to a cutscene in which Master Chief escapes in the nick of time, helpfully pointed out by Cortana, who yells "We're cutting it close...!" as MC leaps aboard the vessel and fires up the engines. However, you usually are cutting it close, more so on harder difficulties, so this may be a partial aversion.
    • Also played straight at the end of Halo 3, in something of a Call Back to the above sequence. Instead of a timer, the level collapses behind you, and Cortana updates you at certain points with how close the new Halo ring is to firing. It always finishes charging up right as you get to the last ramp.
  • In the Modern Warfare series, no matter where you are operating in the world, the chopper to get you will only have enough fuel to wait for about 30 seconds before ditching you.
  • In Time Crisis 4, the Big Bad sends out squadrons of unmanned stealth bombers to destroy several major American cities. In the final battle, you are warned that "if you don't stop him, the entire country will go down in flames." You can kill the final boss as fast as possible or take your sweet time, even losing lives from running out of time, but the following cutscene always shows your characters stopping the attack right before the bombers' weapons reach their targets.
    • Also used in Crisis Zone, where no matter how long it takes to defeat the Big Bad, you always manage to shut down the nuclear reactor just in time. Interestingly, the control room still explodes
    • Hell, the whole series does this.
  • Subverted in Time Splitters 3, a supervillain has tied Harry Tippers' love interest to some train tracks, after getting to the front of the train it appears that the train stopped just in front of her but the camera zooms out showing a good distance between the 2, prompting him to proclaim "Ha ha, not even close"


  • Conker's Bad Fur Day, and its mostly-remake Conker: Live and Reloaded, have you escaping from the Nazi Tediz base at the end of It's War. It doesn't take long, assuming you can get past the lasers, but the end cutscene has Conker running for his life.
  • A particularly silly variation on this happens in Sonic Adventure 2. In one stage Sonic has to race up a walkway to grab a rocket before it fires. Not only is there a visible countdown timer on the screen, but a voice is actually counting down until launch. If you get to the handle early enough, you end up with the countdown going something like, "10... 9... 8... 7... 6... 5... 4- * Sonic grabs handle* Fire!"
    • There are two handgrips on the rocket. Good luck reaching the higher one with more then half a second remaining on the clock. The timer sequence more or less sounds right if you manage to get there before it leaves without you...
    • In the same game, when Eggman Doctor Robotnik sets a timer to blow up Prison Island, your characters will always escape at the last second.


  • Inverted in Portal, though without a visible timer. You're told that you had destroyed the Weighted Companion Cube in a record short time, no matter how long you delay and dawdle around in the level.
  • Comic aversion in Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic. Should you activate the Mega Scuttler bomb (voiced by John Cleese), it will start to count down from one thousand. If you interfere with it during the countdown, it will complain, lose its place, and start again at one thousand. Should you let it complete its countdown it will slow down, prevaricate, complain that it doesn't really want to explode, then restart the countdown at one thousand. Should you complete the game without deactivating it, it gives you an alternate ending sequence where it finally decides to blow up the ship shortly after you get back to earth.

Real-Time Strategy

  • World in Conflict pulls this one several times. Sometimes is just the officier you had to help being grumpy, but there is a by-the-book example later on: Clearing Liberty Island from Sovjets before an airstrike hits them and the statue of liberty. There is even an alternate cutscene if you fail
  • Supreme Commander has a mission where the goal is to survive enemy attack for thirty minutes while they work to teleport you out of the mission zone. At the end of the thirty minutes, you are nuked several times no matter what you do. In the end, you always gate out with a cloud of radioactive dust behind you.

Role-Playing Game

  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, one quest late in the game, "The Defense of Bruma", has you going through a HUGE Oblivion Gate—on a timer—to close it before a giant siege engine can make its way out and destroy the town of Bruma. No matter how quickly you close the gate, you'll always see the siege engine fall apart just as it gets out of the gate when you are whisked back to Tamriel.
    • Slightly subverted, in that, the number of surviving characters depends upon how fast you close the gate (but also on the amount of allies you bring). Anyone Can Die. Except critical main quest characters. You probably don't want to hold off hordes of enemies with just the "invincible" characters, though, and they can be knocked temporarily unconscious, to boot.
  • Justified in Final Fantasy VI. In one scene the player character has to enter a derelict house and rescue a child before a timer expires. Another character is holding up the structure of the building; the timer is how long his strength will hold out. When he sees you emerge, child in tow, there's no more reason for him to exert himself. So he jumps away, collapsing the building right then regardless of how long is left on the timer.
    • But mostly followed when the Floating Island is ready to come crashing down. However, WAITING until the last second will award the player with the survival of Shadow, who was previously executing a You Shall Not Pass on the Big Bad Kefka. If you wait till the last second, he breaks off the fight and escapes. If you don't, he gets to the ship in time to see you fly off, and is Killed Off for Real.
  • The escape from a mako reactor in the opening gameplay segment of Final Fantasy VII. Because the given time limit is extremely generous, this is perhaps the most well-known example.
  • Averted in Mass Effect, which has several timed missions but never an escape cinematic for them. There's only one mission where you DO cut it close (Therum), and that sequence has no timer; the entire escape occurs in cutscene.
    • One of the few examples of you actually having a realistic time limit occurs on Ilos. You have 20ish seconds to get a considerable distance before a portal closes. While artificially intelligent mega-walkers are shooting at you.
    • Played straight with the final boss of the sequel, though.
    • Also played straight in the Arrival DLC, where even if you complete the mission with over an hour and a half left on the clock, you escape the Project with less than 30 seconds to spare before it hits the Mass Releay
  • The Neverwinter Nights mod A Harper's Tale has a sequence in which you plant a bomb in some mines to cause a cave-in and cut off drow access to the nearby mining town. The fuse is short enough that you have just enough time to run for the exit, and if you dally at all you are blown up in a horrible fashion.
  • In Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door, an escape from a room with a descending spiked ceiling has your partner commenting on how close it was even if you had half a minute or more left.
  • Persona 3 does this with the first storyline boss. No matter how much time you have to spare when you beat the boss, the Shadows speed up the monorail's collision course to create a No Time to Think situation.
  • In Wild Arms 5, shortly after your fight with the Professor for the Mirror of De Soto, the detonators that Greg set within the cave will begin to go off, thus causing massive cave-ins all over, but there's no time limit, so you could actually stay there as long as you needed to.
    • In Wild Arms 3, there is a sequence where you must exit a cave full of dragon fossils in 10 minutes before the cave explodes, but a boss will stop you just before the exit. The moment you defeat this boss and leave the cave, regardless of time remaining, the detonators will explode and cause a massive cave in, preventing you from entering that dungeon ever again.
  • Inverted in Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines in the Griffith Park level. You're trapped in the park with a very angry werewolf and a forest fire. You have a choice between running around for four minutes until the next car arrives to escape on, and tricking the werewolf into getting crushed in a large set of doors. If you kill the werewolf, the car shows up immediately afterwards, no matter how much time was left on the clock when you did it.


  • In the operation "An Explosive Patient" in both versions of the original Trauma Center (even though the operation itself is otherwise different depending on version), in which you attempt to defuse a bomb, as soon as you've completed all the other steps you'll trigger a failsafe and suddenly be given a small handful of seconds to do one last thing. It's the only level in both games where Time Remaining doesn't affect your rank.


  • In the finale of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Fisher has to disarm a smallpox bomb in an airport before the time runs out. Afterwards he asks how much time was left on the bomb. The response? "You don't wanna know."
    • In the first game, the fourth mission starts with Fisher infiltrating the CIA headquarters. His intended entryway is a stopped ventilation fan, which starts up again either about two minutes after the mission starts, or when Fisher gets past it, whichever comes first.

Survival Horror

  • Narrowly averted in the fourth Resident Evil game. The tower full of C4 that you just escaped from blows up as soon as you open the gate to the next area, no matter how much time is left - but the timer is set so short (three minutes) that whenever the player triggers the Cutscene, it's only about five seconds ahead of time anyway. You hear the explosion from the next area.
    • Interesting inversion in the second (or third?) Resident Evil game. No matter how long it took you to beat a certain boss who attacked you while you were waiting for the freight elevator, the elevator always arrived right after you beat him.
    • Similarly in the second game, the cable car you are riding will arrive at its destination precisely the moment after you defeat the monster riding on top. Ditto for the cargo elevator sequence.
    • Averted in Resident Evil: Outbreak. When Nikolai sets the bombs in the University to explode, the players can easily escape with minutes to spare. Then they have to sit around in the next area waiting for the timer to run out so they can reach the next area. The same is true of the lift in Birkin's lab.
    • In Resident Evil 1's remake, Jill is pulled from the Descending Ceiling room within inches of becoming a Jill Sandwich.
    • In Resident Evil Code Veronica, after Chris fights the last boss, he makes a narrow escape from the self-destruct. In the updated re-release, the countdown is the same but the game adds a cutscene fight with Wesker into the middle. Chris still narrowly escapes the self-destruct.
    • Averted with the time bomb in the third game, which gives you only six seconds to escape the hospital.
  • After you defeated one of the bosses in The Thing (the video game sequel to the film), there's a bomb countdown and you need to run back to the elevator. The thing is, even if you arrived at the elevator with 30 seconds left, the bomb will explode, killing your teammate in the process.
  • Played oddly in Silent Hill 2. When Pyramid Head chases James and Maria down a hallway, James has to run into an elevator to escape. Because Pyramid Head moves rather slowly, James himself is not in any real danger, but Maria moves much slower, and if Pyramid Head kills her, it's game over. In order to avoid this, you have to bolt down the hallway, completely leaving Maria in the dust. When you get to the elevator, a cutscene is triggered that shows Maria running at full speed towards the elevator, with the doors closing just as she approaches, looking like she'll just barely make it through. She actually doesn't, and is killed by Pyramid Head.

Third-Person Shooter

  • Max Payne provides a classical example. Firstly, no matter how much time you take to get to the conveniently unprotected PC in the bottommost laboratory of the Deep Six bunker after its self-destruction sequence is initiated, the final countdown will only begin after Max takes the elevator up from it. Secondly, it is possible to get out of the facility while the countdown is still in the double digits, and you can actually hear the pleasant female voice on the intercoms saying "Twenty-three... twenty-two... twenty-one..." as Max already outruns the fireball.

Rhythm Game

  • The iDOLM@STER 2 - How the guests appear for special Quintet performances. After the third time this happen the Producer should know better by then, instead of having his idols almost freak out every single time.

Non-Video Game Example

  • As always, a lampshade is hung on the concept in The Order of the Stick (this strip, to be specific).
  • In Galaxy Quest, this was the case with the self-destruct sequence of the Show Within a Show, which apparently had to be stopped at least a few times. As a result, the recreation of the ship features a self-destruct that can only be stopped with one second remaining.
  • Parodied in Spaceballs: The Self-Destruct Mechanism is activated, and a computer voice counts down to the failure. When she skips a number, Dark Helmet angrily demands to know what happened to said number. The reply is a chipper: "Just kidding!"
  1. There is the matter of your ship's sentient computer, though.