Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

July 19, 2013

Let's discuss The Last of Us (Part 1).


Spoilers, obviously.  So…yeah, going into this post recklessly (or at all)?  Not a good idea.




…Remember when good guys were just allowed to be good guys?  Remember when good guys were just allowed, period?  Remember when Mario was just out to save the princess, or Sonic was just out to stop Robotnik from burning down the forest?  Remember when characters were allowed to smile and laugh, and have good times?  Remember when games didn’t always have to be set in the middle of a war, a dystopia, or the middle of the apocalypse du jour?

Those were the days.  And yeah, I know those days are still around -- but they’re just that.  Days.  The rest of the year is week-by-week gloom.   And I’m just so tired of it all.  I know I’ve said that before, multiple times, but I just can’t stress it enough.  For every one thing that isn’t gloomy-grit-darkness-time, there are a half dozen more that are.  And people will eat it up regardless.

…You know what, though?  I get it.  I totally get it.  Why do I get it?  Well, I’ll explain.  But first, I’m going to let you in on a little secret -- and you’re going to want to be sitting down for this.

I don’t like chocolate.  I never have, and I never will.  My brother swears up and down that I do, because I once pretended to enjoy it (he said that he was giving me raisins, but my palate isn’t fooled so easily).  But I don’t.  I really don’t.  I’ve taken a lot of guff over not liking chocolate, or eating anything with chocolate in it -- cake, ice cream, milk, cupcakes, candy, you name it.  It’s all stuff that I avoid, because I know I don’t like it.  I don’t hate anyone for liking it, though, because I know that they’re still good people.  Our preferences are a non-issue, because we’re not trying to force each other to eat (or not eat) something we have no interest in even touching.

And that’s really the crux of how I feel about The Last of Us.  It’s like chocolate to me.  It wasn’t made for me.  It’s not suited to my tastes.  When we cross paths, it’s certain to leave me with a bitter frown, and the product itself to be devalued and underappreciated.  We don’t mix.  Period.  Trying to force myself to like it, and think that it’s a tasty experience is just going to leave me in a bad mood…and given that the time I’ve spent digesting it has already left me in a bad mood, you can bet I’m going to look like I’m about ready to smack someone.

So I’ll go ahead and say it plainly.  No, I don’t like The Last of Us.   Yes, I do think it’s overrated.  No, I don’t think it’s objectively awful; subjectively, yes, but it’s not the worst game I’ve ever played, and it won’t be the worst you’ve ever played either.  No, I don’t think it’s going to revolutionize video games.  Yes, I do think it’s decidedly average at best.  No, I don’t think it lived up to its potential.  Yes, I do hate the ending.

There.  That should pretty much cover all my bases.  So you can probably close this page now.  Maybe go look at some footage from EVO.  I hear those KOF matches were pretty hype.

…Still here?  All right.  Let’s keep going then.

So let me start by asking a question: what is the purpose of a story?  There are plenty of answers, sure, and they’ll depend on the person being asked.  I can think of a few possible ones: the purpose is to entertain.  To excite.  To teach.  To shock.  To challenge.  To bring to life.  All valid answers, no doubt.  But you could make a pretty strong argument that the reason a story exists -- the one reason above all others -- is to make the audience feel something.  And there’s a pretty good chance that, yeah, that’s the one answer that matters most.  The one thing that all the others feed into.

The one thing that, for me, The Last of Us completely failed to do across well over a dozen hours.

Let’s not dance around my bias.  I know that I don’t like gritty stories.  I know that apocalypses and dystopian worlds are going to turn me off.  I know that I want something more from a game besides violence, cynicism, and pessimism porn.  But I can get past my biases.  I can like a story, or game, or whatever if it gives me a reason to like it.  In the grand scheme of things, TLoU doesn’t.  I don’t feel like I’ve gained anything from it.  That game and everything in it was THE big chance to turn me over to its side, and let me believe that I was wrong for shaking my head in disdain at gritty fare.  That game was supposed to make a compelling argument for itself, and its kin, and let me believe that it was Game of the Year material.  It didn’t.  And it isn’t.  Not to me.

If I wasn’t intent on finishing the game for the sake of this blog, I would have stopped playing a long time ago.  But I did finish it.  I made it through every bit of the game, from start to finish.  And when the final scene played out…I just leaned back and sighed.  The credits started to roll, and I just laid there for a bit.  I thought about sitting through them to see if there was any more content during or after the credits, but my dog started getting antsy, so I got up to feed him while the credits rolled.  I didn’t mind missing any other scenes.  At that point, I just didn’t care anymore. 

I didn’t care about the ending.  I didn’t care about Joel “doing what he had to do”.  I didn’t care about Not-Ellen Page looking sad (given that she does that in virtually every bit of promotional material around).  I didn’t care about the world.  I didn’t care about the people in it.  And truth be told, I hadn’t cared for hours.  Even after I made it past the mythical “Bill’s house” foretold in my brother’s prophecies, each time I booted up the game I’d just bury my hands in my face and groan.  Hours after meeting Bill I’d often find myself thinking “what new level of hell is this?” whenever anything happened.  I’d be playing The Last of Us, but occasionally eyeing other, better games nestled on the side.  I just wanted it to be over so I could do something else. 

And when it was over?  I didn’t feel anything.  It was just…over.  The game, my playthrough, the story…nothing.  None of it mattered.  It all just feels like such a waste.  And god damn it, I don’t want to feel this way.  Not for this game.  Not for the so-called Game of the Year. 

*sigh*  All right.  Let’s just talk for a bit.  Even if you don’t end up agreeing with me in the end, I can at least use this space to explain why I feel the way I do.  I’d say that there’s a chance at redemption for the game at the end, but given historical precedents, it’ll only get worse before it gets better.

So here’s my immediate problem with The Last of Us: it’s almost completely flat.

This is the point that I will furiously contend with everyone else who argues otherwise: this game is NOT tense.  At all.  You may be outnumbered in any given combat scenario in any given area, but you have more than enough tools to stack the deck in your favor.  Joel’s Listen Mode allows him (and the player) to control the situation, and with enough skill it’s more than possible to dominate squadrons of enemies -- human or zombie -- with relative ease.  Listen Mode may be problematic in some ways, but I can and will tolerate it; it’s a necessary evil that takes some of the guesswork (and frustration) out of the combat.  What ISN’T quite as tolerable is that, even if you screw up severely, you still have a slew of deterrents on your side.  Explain to me how I’m supposed to fear these guys when well before the endgame I’m carrying around A FULLY FUNCTIONAL FLAMETHROWER

And even if I run out of flamethrower ammo (I didn’t), I still have/get a pistol with a scope, a one-handed shotgun, and an assault rifle.  And again, that’s all stuff gathered alongside a pistol, a revolver, a hunting rifle, a shotgun, a bow, bombs, smoke bombs, Molotov cocktails, melee weapons, and upgraded melee weapons (including a hatchet that’s pretty much an instant-kill).  And even beyond that, Joel can still punch most enemies to death from head-on, or strangle them into perma-sleep from behind.  The only time I’m worried for my life is when I’ve accidentally gotten too close to an insta-kill Clicker, have to start over, and decide to be more careful so I won’t have to do it over again…and again.

There’s no tension, and not just because of the combat; there’s no penalty for failure.  You just pop back a few paces to your last checkpoint, with all the items you might have used -- the key element of the survival aspect of the game -- fully restocked.  If anything, dying makes things even LESS tense; now you have the knowledge of where enemies might travel, how many there are, starting positions, and where to throw bricks/bottles.   Rewinding and trying an area over might work for a game like Braid, but here, in a world so adamant on creating an atmosphere of survival and tension, it doesn’t work. 

And there’s not much tension throughout the rest of the game, either.  This being a game that tries so desperately to be a movie, it’s only natural that there are set pieces that put Ellie and Joel in bad situations.  Oh no, the gang’s being chased by zombies…that came out of nowhere and couldn’t possibly have been able to enter the area you’re in, and even if they did you can’t help but wonder why they didn’t chase after you from the start.  (Such a missed opportunity to be attacked from the front and behind -- or better yet, have encounters where there are humans and zombies simultaneously, instead of keeping them separated by an iron gate of gameplay convenience.) 

All you have to do to escape from trouble is to run after your NPC partners.  No need for a second thought.  Same goes for when somebody jumps Joel and demands a quick mashing of buttons to survive; there’s no tension there.  Just mashing buttons; it’s not happening to you, and you KNOW neither you nor Joel are in any real danger because there’s no way you’ll lose to that.  And again, this being a Naughty Dog game it’s only a matter of time before there’s some environmental damage (i.e. something falls down noisily), but that just feels like a distraction.  That’s not the meat of the game.  Just window dressing, in a sequence where it’s extremely difficult to fail if you’re doing it right.  Though of course, you can do it wrong if characters will go off without you when you weren’t expecting a transition from gameplay to set piece.

Dunkey got it exactly right.  There’s not enough game in this game; if it was about half as long as it is now, then I bet I’d have a better impression of it.  And there are things that could be cut out; too much time is spent wandering around areas in slow motion -- which wouldn’t be so bad if Ellie and Joel engaged in as much banter and conversation as the setup would have you believe, but HUGE swaths of time are spent moving in silence with neither conversation nor music to fill the dead air.  The chief ideas conveyed here are “society is dead” and “this element of our culture is gone forever”. 

Nearly everything past the opening sequence -- from the game’s opening seconds to the time skip that puts us in the story proper -- is spent wallowing in grit, gloom, and gore.  Even if you find files scattered about (which I’d argue they shouldn’t have had to do if the game was conveying itself properly), several of them have the same general message of “shit’s gettin’ real, yo” -- even in the endgame you find audio recordings that, in spite of being in at least two separate places, have the exact same main idea with different words.  And you didn’t even need to find that main idea, because there’s a character that explicitly explains to you that main idea in a conversation from half an hour ago. 

There’s nothing worth taking in -- or at least nothing worth spending seventeen hours getting drilled into your head over and over again.  There’s nothing to be felt from the combat, because it’s about as straightforward as it gets…and it doesn’t do itself any favors by repeating the “you’re in an area full of hunter dudes” and “you’re in an area full of zombies” angles ad nauseum.  There’s nothing to be felt from a world where your most meaningful interaction with it -- areas that are at least 50% dedicated to showing off urban decay -- is to walk briskly in search of ladders, planks, and ledges.  There’s nothing to see in a world that pretends to be massive and harrowing, but is almost as boxed-in as Gears of War (and telegraphs where skirmishes will pop up by throwing in chest-high walls by the dozen).  There’s nothing to be felt from “cinematic” experiences that wouldn’t feel out of place in Crash Bandicoot, for all the influence and impact you have on them.  There’s NOTHING to hook me.  NOTHING.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  I’m thinking the same thing right now.  A story is built on the backbone of more than just its world, or themes, or even plot; above all else, it’s the characters that matter.  That’s true.  I won’t argue with that, because I’m the sort of guy that builds stories around characters (and the superpowers they have).  It goes without saying that my expectations for TLoU were based on my understanding that I’d be getting a story about the journey and transformation of these two characters -- the fledgling-yet-fiery survivor, Ellie, along with the hardened-and-hard-edged Joel.  That was what I wanted most.  As long as I got that, I wouldn’t mind the “fluff” added by side characters.  Important fluff, but fluff all the same; it was supposed to be the story of a man and his daughter.  A girl and her father.  Two travelers, roughin’ it on the deadliest road trip imaginable.

Having thought about it, having reviewed pieces of the story, and having had time to digest the story in my head, I can say pretty confidently that I’m not satisfied.  Why?  Another underlying problem with the game: almost everyone in The Last of Us is an asshole.

It really doesn’t bode well for a game when I’m more intrigued by and sympathetic toward the average goon than I am virtually every main character.  The “hunters” in Ellie and Joel’s way may be treated as little more than obstacles, but they still have conversations with one another.  They’re fighting their own battle to survive.  At times, they have more camaraderie and chemistry than Ellie and Joel.  What are their lives like?  What’s their world like?  Who are they?  What were their lives like before the end of the world?

I get that the game is trying to force a player-character disconnection.  And it excels at that…to an extent.  But here’s the problem with that approach (and it’s something that’ll feed into my talk about the ending): Joel is portrayed as the good guy throughout the entire game.  The entire game.  His actions are always excused and never questioned, with the general excuse being “because he has to survive” or “because that’s how the world is”.  Except…when you think about it, that’s not much of an excuse.  The game engineers ways to force you to take lives; even with all the stealth mechanics and tools at your disposal, many of them are aimed towards taking the lives of enemies.  Unless I’ve been playing the game wrong, I’m fairly confident that entire situations are engineered so that you can’t go to the next area without taking a life -- not just for story purposes, but for pretty much every other (if not every) entanglement. 

Not ONCE is the concept of not-killing brought up as a possibility, which you’d think would be an option -- if not to please gamers who enjoy pacifist runs, then to suit the needs of a story where “every last bullet counts” and “resources are limited”.  Joel -- and Ellie before even reaching the halfway point -- is a murderer by choice.  And that’s especially baffling, considering Ellie; if at any point in the game she had bothered to say “I don’t want to kill anymore” or “Why do we have to kill?” instead of going “Jeez, Joel!” or “Holy shit!” at the sight of my hundredth dropped body that day, I guarantee that I’d have a better opinion of the game.  (Side note: since the game doesn’t give him a last name, I’ve decided to christen him Joel Grumpybuns.)

There’s supposed to be a disconnection between the player’s thoughts and the characters’ actions, which is fine.  But the problem is that by nature, these people are being “excused” for their actions because they’re portrayed as the heroes.  That’s not an opinion; that’s their role in the plot.  Ellie is holding the key to curing the infection inside her body, and as such is a biological savior (I wouldn’t call her a messiah so hastily, but given that she’s played with relative innocence alongside her moxie, once could make the connection).  Joel Grumpybuns is tasked with saving and protecting her, and his losses -- his daughter and to a much lesser extent Tess -- are played for sympathy and justification for his actions/thoughts/gruffness.  Their methods are extreme, but the game goes through great pains to ensure that these characters are the heroes.  And the end result is that the player-character disconnection is forced into an unwilling reconnection.  The end result?  Everyone else has to be warped to compensate.

This being a zombie story, the message here is “humans are the REAL monsters!”  And to show that -- besides the general dickishness of the cast -- is to have everyone go out of their way to perform some questionable acts.  The hunters are the most obvious example, of course; as the cannon fodder enemies, they’ll shoot you on sight and rush you down for a melee strike if you’re just running around carelessly.  They’re justified in that you’re in their territory and you’re not their friend, but the fact that they go into standardized goon dialogue (“You’re dead, asshole!” and colorful variants of “I’m gonna getcha!”) doesn’t do anything to make them more than targets. 

But even then it’s more than what you get from the soldiers you encounter along the way; I don’t think their organization even get named out loud over the course of the game.  One of the first things you see them do is line up a bunch of people, force them to kneel, and shoot someone in the back of the head for being infected.  After that, if they’re not directly antagonizing you they’re driving off to antagonize someone else, indirectly antagonizing you with the threat of violence, or just plain being window dressing in a set piece moment. I guess since they’re working for THE MAN, they don’t need characterization and they don’t get any understandable justification for their actions.  People doing their jobs?  Pshaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!

I’ve compared TLoU to The Walking Dead TV series in the past (and others have made similar connections), and I stand by that.  They have similar problems, after all.  A key issue that I have with the show is that for all the energy spent trying to make the zombies out to be a genuine threat, only once or twice a season does that threat level actually hold true…and even then, it’s only for a few minutes at a time.  More than half the cast has shown themselves capable of killing off zombie attackers, whether there’s a horde of them lurching forward or a single one sneaking in for a kill; when you’ve got one character swinging a katana without a care in the world and another who’ll stab a walker with a knife, somehow it’s hard to take them seriously as a threat.  The tradeoff, then, is that these people become their own worst enemies -- both in terms of their poor decisions AND in terms of constantly defaulting to asshole mode.  Because if there’s one thing I’m always looking forward to in a story, it’s people standing around and arguing over arbitrary issues.  Can’t these people just build a moat, or a ditch, and let the zombies fall right in?  Or just retreat to higher ground and build around that?  Zombies can’t climb; they’re slow, and stupid, and if their decomposing bodies can be broken apart by basic effort from the average man, how can they even begin to support their weight if they --

What’s important about TLoU in its similarities to TWD is that there are two issues, separate, yet intertwined with the main problem of virtually everyone being an asshole.  The first problem is that like TWD, at several points these characters will suspend being characters and become mouthpieces for the sake of conflict/themes/reinforcement that shit’s gone down.  Tess ends up flip-flopping from not believing in anything -- least of all the fact that Ellie is a living cure for the outbreak -- to being ready to risk everything for a one-in-a-million chance…and note that this is BEFORE she gets infected, so it’s not a matter of desperation.  Whatever the case, she and Joel have an argument that ultimately has no consequence, and if I remember right doesn’t even get a conclusion; some soldiers start pursuing them, and they put the talk on indefinite hold. 

Henry forces his little brother Sam to drop the toy he’s been eyeing and continue being miserable for…reasons…and manages to butt heads with Joel for…also reasons.  Joel and his brother Tommy reunite after who knows how long, and shortly after their reunion their going at it over a conflict that doesn’t need to happen.  Tommy rages at Joel because Tommy’s group doesn’t have any gear to spare (which is false, because I found a pistol with a scope just lying around), and in the midst of their fight Joel Grumpybuns throws their past and how he “took care of Tommy” in his face.  Nothing comes from the argument, because it’s interrupted by another gunfight and invading hunters…who would have had to travel an incredible distance to reach the same area, given that the Grumpybuns brothers were in the back end of a power plant behind a well-fortified gate and countless other defenses, along with at least a five minute walk.  (I suppose the chest-high walls outside teleported them in.)  Nothing comes from suddenly forcing their past into the mix, and nothing comes from their argument at large; Joel just ends up packing his things and leaving alongside Ellie. 

This is, of course, after Joel and Ellie have their own argument, in which Ellie runs away to a cabin, holes up in some girl’s well-furnished room, and calls Joel out for not wanting her around.  It’s worth noting, though, that in order for Ellie to run away, she has to steal a horse from the power plant’s stables and ride off…which should have been impossible, because A) she was stealing a horse in broad daylight, B) she’d have to go through a gate guarded well enough to nearly have Joel turned into grumpy Swiss cheese, and C) her noisy escape would have had to not alert anyone who was even remotely close to watching the gate and the area ahead of it.  (How the hell is this game so comfortable with randomly repositioning people for the sake of special events?)  This one’s not quite as pointless as the others, in that Ellie brings up several legitimate points -- like when Joel fails to comfort her after she makes her first kill -- but the effect is dampened when Joel Grumpybuns declares that Ellie isn’t his daughter.  Because that’s bound to last.  And once more, the purpose of the room they’re in is to blare “See this stuff?  That’s what the world used to be like…and now they’ll neeeeeeeeeeeeeever have it again!”

There are only two named characters in this entire game that don’t devote ninety percent of their energy to being selfish, aggressive survivors (with “survivors” apparently coming to be a synonym for “dicks” in the future).  Not five minutes after we meet her, Tess shoots a guard in the face just because he was doing his job and got in her way -- and not even a half hour later, she shoots an old business associate in spite of him being remorseful and trying to bargain…and also holding no shortage of information she’ll never get.  Bill has gone into full-on hermit mode in a town he’s taken upon himself to make his kingdom…and would rather live there, in a place crawling with zombies, than head anywhere else.  (Even Bill’s dead friend Frank has been bitten by the douche-bug; a cutscene that tries to force some last-minute sympathy and redemption for Bill is immediately spoiled when you find a note left by Frank saying that he was going to leave Bill behind ; he’s effectively giving Bill the finger.) 

Henry abandons Ellie and Joel on the grounds that the incoming zombies -- which are never, ever a threat -- would have killed him and his brother, and declares later that Joel would have run away if he got the chance.  (Joel the character probably would have, but Joel the player’s proxy would have had to save him in an impromptu mission objective.)  Tommy may get into an argument -- Joel wants Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies in his stead -- that goes to a weird place, but he has a point in that he’s got a mission to protect and develop the power plant so everyone can stop living in squalor.  But then Tommy’s wife comes out to make the argument drag on even longer, and doesn’t add much to her character besides “doesn’t want to see her husband go.”  The only genuinely good people in this game -- and even that’s debatable -- are Henry’s little brother Sam and Firefly leader Marlene.  Both of them die.

And then there’s David.  But I’ll get back to him.

I was more than willing to accept TLoU as a groundbreaking or challenging title, provided that it offered something more than just top-of-the-line murder.  It didn’t.  And it isn’t groundbreaking or challenging.  It puts on airs, but it regularly presents itself as an average game with several tons of gravitas strapped to its ankles.  The second problem with the game (and one arguably shared by TWD) is that for all the posturing as an emotional experience, it’s too even, too lax, and too blasé to be as emotional as you’d hope.  Why?  Simple.  TLoU can’t challenge you -- or me, at least -- because it doesn’t challenge itself.

I said in an earlier post that after Tess’ death and the escape from trouble that follows, Joel Grumpybuns pretty much tells Ellie flat-out that they aren’t going to talk about her ever again...and while I was joking around that it would completely remove every trace of her from the story to follow, I was just saying that as a joke.  Turns out Joel was serious; outside of Ellie paying a bit of lip service to Tess in one of the VERY last lines in the game, and Bill trying (and failing) to work her into a conversation, Tess and her impact on Joel and the story at large is MIA.  Can you imagine what would have happened if Joel did decide to talk about Tess?  Can you imagine what it would be like if Ellie just kept pressing Joel about her until she forced him to crack? 

There’s a distinct lack of consequence in too many aspects of the game.  The gameplay shows it off readily; even if you screw up and get spotted, it doesn’t take long for you to be able to organize another Stranglepalooza -- and sometimes it’s easier to do so because you screwed up.  Death is a slap on the wrist in this game, and while that’s true of a lot of titles, it creates an unintentional disconnection between the player and the game.  What’s the point of being careful if you can save yourself from dozens of hairy situations?  What’s the point of caution if a Molotov toss or a shotgun blast is enough to wreck an enemy’s day?  What’s the point of combat if it’s a tensionless affair that just acts as a roadblock between you and the next bit of meandering across a landscape story segment?   

But where the lack of consequence really kicks in is how certain events -- and their aftermath, more importantly -- are handled.  Sam ends up getting infected (because of course he does), forcing him to become the group’s next target.  When the deed is done, Henry loses his mind and shoots himself -- and then the screen cuts to black, there’s a subtitle that says “Fall”, and the next thing I know, Ellie and Joel are gallivanting across the wilderness.  Um, are we not going to talk about what just happened?  What was the aftermath of that?  How did it affect the characters?  Did you just relegate a vital source of drama to off-screen character development?  Why the hell couldn’t I see Ellie and Joel talk about that, instead of nothing?

And believe it or not, that’s not the only time it happens.  Joel gets into a punch-up in another school, and ends up falling on a spike of rebar.  You spend the next few minutes stumbling through halls and bleeding out as Ellie guns down whatever enemy comes your way -- that is, until the two of them ride off on their horse and Joel collapses.  So how is Ellie going to save Joel?  Does Joel have enough strength to give her instructions?  Hell if I know.  The screen cuts to black, and suddenly I’m in the winter chapter of the game.  In a completely different location.  With different clothes.  With several inches of snow all around me.  With Joel nowhere in sight (but come on, like they’re really going to kill off Mr. Grumpybuns).  And even the winter chapter ends without a gradual glide into the next string of events…and if you’ve played that far, you know that that’s the ONE instance where a sudden time skip won’t be enough to set aside what happened.

Some of the most important moments in the entire game happen before a sudden time skip -- and because they aren’t given the proper time to be processed or explored, the effect is cheapened.  Sam’s death and Henry’s suicide are never brought up afterward, barring Ellie (again) mentioning Sam as a bit of lip-service, and you’d think she’d want to talk more about that given that he was her first onscreen friend.   Ellie effectively saves Joel’s life…somehow…but we never get to see what comes from that with our own eyes.  It’s implied that Joel is thankful, but what could have been a transformative moment for both the characters and their relationship ends up getting shoved aside.  And the transition from the winter chapter to the spring chapter -- the last in the game -- is among one of the most jarring I’ve seen in ages.  It almost makes those sequences feel like cutaway gags from Family Guy.

Thinking back on my experience with the game -- every last hour and every last sequence -- I can say with some confidence that, in my eyes, TLoU settles into a rut and rarely tries to crawl out.  It is, in its own right, a zombie too feeble and too single-minded to crawl out of the hole.  What could have been a compelling, post-world road trip ends up being hamstrung by adherence to safety and tradition.  It’s a game designed to leave you weary and disgusted, but it does so for all the wrong reasons.  It’s impossible for me to sympathize with characters that might as well be aliens, since their chief justification is “it’s a different world.”  I haven’t been challenged by the game since it started, and too much time is spent spinning its wheels or having the player faff about with ladders.  The few moments where there MIGHT have been a chance to shake up the story are glossed over, as if the mere presence of them without the consequences to follow are enough to win me over.  And with nothing to grasp from the gameplay, the world, the themes, and certainly the characters, then what in the fuck am I supposed to like about this game?

*sigh*  Chocolate.

I think that’s about all I can say for now, guys.  But I’ll be finishing this up soon enough.  It’s about time I put this zombie that’s been hounding me down.  And once I do, it’ll all be over.

Guess that’ll do it for now, then.  See you soon.

This game sure knows how to make me sad and tired.  I’ll give it that much.


  1. Yep. Tell Tale's 'The Walking Dead' is the only zombie survival game for me. Sure, I hate how it ends with no visible, descriptive, narrative, or hinted end of the apocalypse in sight - just like every other zombie story in the universe. But at least Lee and Clementine had a really damn convincing and heartbreaking relationship. At least you have the "choice" to save people or kill them off.At least you can "choose" to be a nice guy, a uninvolved nobody, a leader, or a dick. At least the most detestable characters had shades of sympathy to them (don't get me started on Lily and Larry).


    "Remember when good guys were just allowed to be good guys? Remember when good guys were just allowed, period? [...] Those were the days. And yeah, I know those days are still around -- but they’re just that. Days. The rest of the year is week-by-week gloom."

    Agreed 100%. And I'm the one who likes jerkasses with a heart of gold.

    ... I think I said this in a comment long ago, but I can be quite the pessimist. A realistic pessimist. From my perspective, the glass is half empty until someone pours more water: then it is 5/8, 3/4, or 7/8ths full. Grittiness is perfectly fine if a reason for the grittiness is reasonable, understandable, or predictable enough so emergence is not broken. Like that mixed-bag Superman film of this year, 'The Last of Us' APPEARS to be a serious, dark tale for the sake of being dark, mature, serious, and depressing story.

    *WARNING: controversial point alert. I may be flamed... but bare with me.*

    Sometimes when talking about stories like this, I always think of 'Shadow the Hedgehog'. A similar thing happened there. SEGA made a "dark, mature, serious" game for audiences to gobble up. Only... it was a joke, a failure in the eyes of the public and Sonic fans... right alongside '06.

    Alien invasions, excessive destruction, backwards character development, left-fieldy gunplay, sloppy and incomprehensible story progression, and childish cursing aside... AT LEAST past all that garbage - at the bare bones - they were trying to end a needless subplot by letting Shadow remember his reason for existing and to live to help people. It's a fine message - redundant - but at its core, SEGA did not want Shadow to come off as an asshole. (At certain moments of the game, he isn't.) There was an intention to make him likable, to make us sympathize with his struggles, even with the insane crap that's thrown at him for stupid reasons.

    So I guess it all comes down to execution. 'Shadow the Hedgehog' is dark and mature in a juvenile way. 'The Last of Us' is dark and "mature" in an misanthropic way. 'Man of Steal' is dark and mature in a misleading way. One's a fart joke. One's the Grinch who refused to find the meaning of Christmas by killing the Whos in Whoville. The other is a leader declaring his/her country invincible while comically denying the fact that his/her country has no resources, money, or integrity to make the comment valid.

    ... *shrugs*

    I'm tired of triple A games trying to be movies while failing on basic storytelling. I'm tired of triple A games forgetting to make a game that tries to be engaging. I'm tired of triple A games having gunplay. I'm tired of zombies. I'm tired of grizzly blah colors. And someone please - for the love of the masculine sex - get RID of the short brown-haired, tall, thin, grizzly-faced, caucasian men who look like actors, supermodels, or super-soldiers. Video games are so homogenous, so static, so unimpressive - save for "realistic" graphics.


    I miss the vampire craze. ... ... ... And at least the indie market is gaining an audible voice.

  2. ... This game. The more I hear of it, the more i don't like it.

    I'm even sick of the ads on Youtube, Blip, That Guy with the Glasses, TV, PSN, EVERYWHERE.

    Joel... so... generic-looking... so caucasian... hair so short and brown... face so frizzly... carrying guns...

    H-E-L-P. M-E.

  3. Heh heh. Sheploo. I don't know why that made me smile so much.

    You know, I've actually been trying to figure out why we keep getting gruff -- and regularly personality-free -- brown-haired male characters. (Seriously, not even a blonde or a redhead? WTH, video games?) I want to try and understand the method to the madness. And...I have yet to come up with a good answer. I can make guesses, though, but that's about it. A couple of theories:

    1) Developers don't put as much thought into the appearance of characters as, say, writers or the players themselves. I would assume that they have function in mind over form, so in a lot of cases, as long as the character goes through a game as inoffensively as possible it's a win in their book.

    2)These characters are supposed to be prime candidates for "forming a connection" with the gamer. Problem is, devs haven't quite figured out how to do that, so they just default to what they know. Generic-looking gun-toting heroes may be COMPLETELY played out, but you don't have to look any further than the cover of Mass Effect to confirm the obvious: that's the default, and in their minds there's nothing wrong with that.

    3) It's a double-whammy of pandering and proselytizing. The devs hold up a decree in one hand and shout "Ha HA! This is precisely what you want, gamers of the world!" And in the other hand, they read off a decree and yell "Ho HO! This is precisely what we, our GLORIOUS selves, can give to you!" There's a severe lack of awareness of other, obvious possibilities...or even the will to explore them.

    4) A lot of the things argued in this video. Side note: if you haven't been watching The Jimquisition, I'd recommend you start now. Trust me, you're not alone in your distaste in the industry.


    As for Joel and TLoU...well, it's too late for me and the game, but to be fair there are some defensible points for both (which I'll get to in the next -- and final -- post). At the very least, Joel is a BIT different in that he's in his fifties or so, and that's not something you see too often. And even if there are issues with the relationship, I'd much rather play as a surrogate father figure than someone who's just in it for himself or some increasingly-muddled war against faceless goons. But Joel doesn't do enough to make him memorable in my eyes; he's primarily a character because of his circumstances and his palling-around with Ellie -- not because he actually HAS a character.

    Truth be told, I'd argue that the overwhelming presence of guns in games today is the root of a lot of problems. Buuuuuuuuuuuut I suppose that's a topic for another day. That aside...

    "I'm sick of the ads on Youtube"

    It feels like the ads for this game severely misrepresent the game. Commercials and such would have you believe that every minute is a non-stop action-packed road trip across zombie America. If they wanted to get it right, they should have just shown a half minute of Joel poking around run-down rooms looking for supplies.

    But then again, I guess a gross misinterpretation of a story is just another shared trait between TLoU and The Walking Dead TV series. *rimshot*

  4. (Oh dear, this post is pretty old, I guess it's kind of irrelevant for me to be commenting now. Ah well.) I went into TLoU knowing nothing about it. I hadn't even heard of it until the demo came out and an LPer I like covered that. Time for a confession, I've never played the game myself. Dirt poor, had to watch an LP, thankfully done by someone who plays games almost exactly like I do. That's getting a bit off-topic, though. Point is, I went in with no knowledge or expectations of it, and I came out liking it quite a lot.

    It certainly isn't revolutionary. From what I've observed, the gameplay really isn't anything special when fighting. Lucky for the game, I adore exploring and looting, and the conversations Joel and Ellie had during the breaks between fights were well-placed and a lot of fun to listen to while (watching someone) going about business. The story has been done several times before in things like movies and TV shows, I'm sure, but as I'm not big on either it was a new experience for me to observe. And I really enjoyed it.

    To elaborate on gameplay, I'm almost certain you played on easy. Although, truthfully, the LPer I watched is not very good at games (gotta' go easy on the guy, he's got carpal tunnel), so that might explain it, but despite going the stealthy route and avoiding battles whenever possible (he was really good at that part), he still had a very limited amount of ammo and had to be careful about how he used it when he needed to. I can understand the strangling thing, but it baffles me that you were able to punch guys to death repeatedly. Mayhaps you're just incredibly MLG beyond my levels of comprehension, though. 'Tis possible. (Aaaaaaand I sound like I'm simulataneously kissing ass and being patronizing. Blech.)

    To elaborate on story, I really liked it and the characters. Yes, many of the main characters were assholes, but I interpreted it as them all being human. They can occasionally have poor judgement and make mistakes, it happens to the best of us. And hardened zombie time folks aren't usually the best of us. (Even if they are the LAST of us. AHAHAHA-)

    The story itself had me on edge a LOT. I guess you were never worried about if someone was going to die, but I've been punched in the gut before and since not expecting someone to die. (*Cough cough*Walking Dead Season 1*cough cough*Infinite DLC Burial at Sea*cough cough* *Goes to drink self into coma*) I cried preemptively a lot during the game, like when Joel pulled a Lara Croft and fell onto the rebar. (It went a lot like "You're gonna' have to be Clem now, Ellie! You're gonna' have to be Clem!" Followed by pathetic weeping.)

    I legitimately thought he died once winter kicked in, and proceeded to hyperventilate until Ellie said she needed medicine. I also cried throughout the entirety of the final level, fully expecting someone to die. (Maybe I'm just a giant baby.) So I was very happy when no one (real important, sorry Marlene) died, but then the very ending also put me on edge (I guess at that point I was just terrified that I was going to be punched right in the gut with feelings and Ellie was going to shoot Joel for lying to her or something. I'm not a rational person.) and ended up being bittersweet. It made me think, (or more specifically, speculate), and I do enjoy that in a game. (Part of why I enjoyed Infinite so much, the other part was it being an awesome game.)

    I also really enjoy chocolate, so maybe that's why I like the game. Although, if I can let you in on a bit of a secret, I don't like Oreos. Or pizza. So I can relate to you a bit in the not liking chocolate thing.

    Holy BALLS that was a long comment. Alright, TL;DR, I acknowledge the game has faults (oops, forgot to mention that part, oh well, too lazy to fix it), but I don't mind them much and like it anyway.

  5. I'd like to think that I played on the Normal difficulty, unless the cursor was on Easy by default and I just happened to click on it without noticing. That can happen. But I'm assuming I didn't -- and those MLG skills are probably just because I defied common sense and found my own method, even if it contradicts the game. (My brother's convinced that I'm an ace at finding exploits to take advantage of the game and be as cheap as possible...which is kind of true, depending on the game.)

    It's interesting that you had such a strong reaction to Joel's Magical Rebar Adventures. I've always believed that it's a product's job -- movie, game, or otherwise -- to create "illusions" that pull an audience in. TLoU is not what anyone, supporter or not, would call an epic, sprawling world, but for some it can create the illusion of that. That's a good trait to have. And it's good that these virtual people got the reaction they did out of you.

    I just wish I could feel the same way. I really do. Honestly, I think I would have felt better about the game if Joel DID die at that point; it would have been a huge shake-up that changed the face and nature of the entire game. As it stands (IMO, obviously), death in TLoU is cheap. For a world that tries to put forth the idea that "anyone can die", it does so by killing off characters that have got their death flags flying high (Sarah, Tess, Sam, Henry, Riley) and gave the others plot armor. I know, Ellie and Joel had to live because otherwise there would be no game, but falling on a rebar spike after another gunfight and getting dragged around in the cold after suffering from no shortage of blood loss should have been it for Joel. It would have sent a message to the player -- and TRULY broken the player down if they lost a character they'd formed a meaningful bond with over the course of an entire game, instead of just side attractions offering a slightly different take on the same general concept and personality. No more "different verse, same as the first" shenanigans.

    ...This game brings out a lot of bile in me, even today. But no worries. Glad you had your fun with it, and I regret that I didn't get to feel what everyone else feels. That's just the way it goes.

    Besides, I've got Tokyo Jungle. And that's pretty much given me what TLoU should have been. In my humble opinion, of course. <3