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

July 6, 2013

The Last of Us: A Very Special Post

You know how they say fish is brain food?  I think I’m starting to believe that.

I sat down one day to eat some fish and salad, with an episode of Monk playing not far away.  As it was playing, I actually started getting invested in the show; I regret not watching it in its prime, and in spite of liking the show now I still can’t seem to commit to watching it on its usual time slot.  Still, I’ve seen enough of it to know about certain plot threads -- and this episode in particular seemed primed to explore the mystery behind the man who killed Monk’s wife.  I was ready for that episode.  I wanted to see where it went.  I started thinking about The Last of Us, for whatever reason.

Something about the mystical combination of salmon and Randy Newman got me thinking about the game in earnest.  And then, suddenly, I had a thought.  An insight.  It all started to come together.

It helped to explain why, even with hours left to go on clearing the game, I have the opinions about it that I do.  And that opinion?  Well…

WARNING: Hi there.  You know, we’ve had a lot of fun tonight, but on a more serious note it’s important to remember the importance of protection…from SPOILERS.  Spoilers ruin stories for people that haven’t gotten around to experiencing them in person.  For some people, that’s okay -- and they don’t mind reading posts like this.  For others, that’s no good.  So be wary of spoilers.  Know what you want out of life -- and then, reach for your dreams.

The More You Know. 

…There’s no easy way to say this.  But first, ROYAL GUARD!

There we go.  Perfect.  Now that I’ve got my defenses up, attacking me would not be in your best interest.  Not unless you want to eat a Royal Release.  So let’s keep things civil, yes?

Okay.  Right then.  So, I know the five of you are wondering “Where’s the Let’s Discuss post?  Where’s the Let’s Discuss post?”  And it’s coming, I guess.  It’d help if I was done with the game yet, but I’ve made some serious progress.  I think.  I hope.  I pray.  I mean that in the nicest way possible when it comes to this game, though…except, actually, I don’t.


If you guys want to know what I think of The Last of Us without having to read several thousand more words, here it is.

It’s good…but I’m SERIOUSLY starting to hate it.

Let me make one things clear: I don’t think The Last of Us is a bad game.  You could do much worse than this game, and if you’re a fan of Naughty Dog’s work then you’re in good hands.  So don’t let me be the deciding factor in your choice on taking the plunge -- and by extension, don’t let me color your perception too thoroughly.  My thoughts and opinions are my own, and I don’t expect anyone to uphold what I say as the secret eleventh commandment. 

That said, based on the time I’ve spent with the game I don’t understand why everyone is going gaga over it.  And I mean everyone -- perfect scores, feature articles, analyses of what makes the game so great, discussions by gamers across the internet, and even retroactive potshots at then-GOTY shoo-in BioShock Infinite. Everyone is stiff in the trousers over The Last of Us, to the point where based on their input alone, you’d think that it’s a perfect game that revolutionizes the medium and storytelling at large.  It doesn’t.  It sure as hell doesn’t.  But it is a strange day, indeed, when the most honest discussion about the game (besides Yahtzee, obviously) comes from a Dunkview video -- and even then you’ve got to take that with a grain of salt.  Or sugar.  Or whatever powdery, crystalline substance you prefer.

I said Last of Us is good, but I think I have to go into further detail.  What I should have said, possibly, is that it’s good enough.  It’s fine.  It’s competent.  It’s functional.  I would call it more of a jack-of-all-trades type of game; it does plenty of things, but it doesn’t do any one of them in an outstanding fashion (barring the graphics, I suppose, but that’s something made possible by dint of opulence as much as it is creative vision -- if not more so).  It is, in my eyes, at best, when it’s firing on all cylinders, an average game.  And it’s reached a point where, if this game were to take multiple honors as the Game of the Year -- and it will -- then I would be genuinely surprised, confused, and maybe even offended.  Especially if the key determinant of top honors is the ability to ride a horse.

I’ll explain a few reasons why I feel the way that I do in a moment.  But first, I want to explain that insight from before.  If I had to sum up my problems with the game -- and plenty of others, now that I think about it -- in a sentence, it’d be this:

The Last of Us plays as if being loved is a right -- when in reality, being loved is a privilege.

The game came out on June 14th (same day as Man of Steel).  So that means it’s been out, and in my possession, for almost a month.  My brother plowed through it first as fast as he could, and cleared it as soon as he was able…at least when he wasn’t giving the multiplayer a shot.  I sat down with the game for the first time on -- or near -- the Wednesday after release.  I haven’t been playing it every day since, but when I do sit down with it, I try to put in a couple of hours at a time.  I don’t know exactly how long I’ve been playing, but I’ve recently learned that a basic playthrough could last for about seventeen hours -- maybe more, maybe less.  (I’m guessing more in my case, considering my lack of speed and my general ineptitude at stealth and gunplay.)  Whatever the case, whatever point in the story I’ve reached, I’m only now starting to get to the actual character development between Joel and Ellie.  Give or take a day, the reason I’m playing the game has only just entered the game.

See this picture here?  This promotional material that's been floating around for a while?

I JUST saw that scene.  I JUST saw it, in spite of that presumably being the main draw of the game.  (Side note: that’s not the area it takes place in; you’re in an urban area overlooking some soldiers as Joel teaches Ellie how to play the role of The Littlest Sniper.)  To its credit, there is a scene hours earlier that I like, and if you search around the levels you can trigger short bits of conversation between the two…but in the grand scheme of things, I have yet to be rewarded for my time investment.  It goes past Joel still being a grizzled, curmudgeonly survivalist, or Ellie’s dialogue alternating between variations of “Whoa, holy shit, that scared the shit out of me!” and “I’m young, but I’m tough, so just give me a chance!”, sometimes within seconds of the gameplay ending and a cutscene starting.  I’m getting stuff out of Last of Us, sure…but I’m not getting NEARLY enough.  Nowhere near enough.  Not yet.  And the way things are looking, I wonder if I ever will.

Last of Us, you know I don’t have to play you, right?  I don’t mind a slow start.  I don’t mind a more subdued and subtle game.  I don’t mind a deliberate pace, where it’s not wall-to-wall action and thrills.  But you have to give me something.  Don’t assume that I’m going to fawn over you from start to finish, and call you Game of the Year just because you exist and are long.  Earn your praise.  Respect my time and effort.  Stop dragging your ass and do something.

Right now, I’m convinced that The Last of Us is a victim of its own hype -- of expectations that couldn’t possibly be met by anything or anyone even with the pedigree, resources, and good intentions offered.  And my problems stem from the fact that (besides its much-too-plodding pace) the assumption is that because certain elements are in there, the game is automatically a masterpiece.  Something worth being loved.  Something decided by virtue of existence -- by right itself.  Because it has instant-kill zombies, it’s the tensest game in years.  Because it has on-the-fly weapon crafting, it’s innovative and demands tactical brilliance.  Because it has a girl you’re in charge of protecting, it’s a deep and emotional journey across America.  Because the visuals aren’t just shades of brown and gray, it’s a fully-realized world full of meaning and merit.  All fallacious lines of thinking.  All of them born from exaggeration -- delusion by the game and by the specter of hype that’s pervaded the industry from top to bottom.

It’s a game’s duty to make a case for itself however it can via its elements.  Gameplay and story are two major ones, if not the most pared-down bits of the whole package.  There are others, obviously.  But whatever the game does, it has to do them reasonably well.  It has to use those elements to prove itself worthy of our time, and our love.  The Last of Us…well, it just does things.  The presentation is top-of-the-line, sure, but barring a bit of good sound design (shooting a gun feels appropriately fearsome) nothing about it has impacted me in any meaningful way.  Not yet.  When the most impactful moment in the game thus far is a cutscene from the first fifteen minutes of a supposedly-seventeen hour game, I’m inclined to say something has gone wrong.

One of the things that I mentioned about BioShock Infinite was the need to “think for yourself” -- you know, unless you wanted to have untold havoc and despair wrought across the land.  I said as much in the context of that game’s themes, but obviously they carry over into real life.  And in a way, they carry over into The Last of Us; there’s no denying that there are elements that help to make the game what it is, but if you look past the surface level -- the mere inclusion of these things -- you may start to realize that what’s on display isn’t quite as incredible as one would hope.  They’re not things that are in place to earn your love and respect; they’re just tools.  Tools meant to shuttle you into a mindset, and a state of being.  The game isn’t trying to win your favor; it acts as if it already has it.

It’s likely that the gameplay isn’t going to evolve any further outside of getting the odd-weapon or tool at my disposal, so I think I can make a statement about that to support my claim.  I’ve heard that the combat (such as it is) in this game is supposed to inspire dread and weariness instead of the thrills of the common shooter or stealth game.  On that note, it succeeds…but that’s not exactly a good thing.  Clearing an enemy skirmish doesn’t make me feel happy, but it feels more like tedium than anything -- and “tension” is sorely missing, as I said earlier.  Joel is just too powerful to given any skirmish the threat level it needs, and he just gets stronger and stronger as the game goes on; if you’re fully stocked on items, conflict is a triviality.

Ammo may be rare in this game (or so I’ve heard), but that’s a non-issue in my experience.  Between the pistol, the revolver, the rifle, the shotgun, the bow, the bombs, the smoke bombs, the Molotov cocktails, the melee weapons, the upgraded melee weapons, and the occasional brick, even when you’re low on supplies killing the enemy du jour is never an issue.  Even if you don’t find a lot of ammo lying around, remember that this is a game operating under the rules of a common shooter -- meaning that if you get a headshot (and you will) that’s one guy down.  The fight’s pretty much over once you pull out your shotgun, which gives you an EXTREMELY high chance of a one-hit ill if you aim and pull the trigger. 

And remember, stealth plays a huge role here -- so in a lot of cases, you don’t even need to shoot to murder dudes.  In one instance, I had a pile of bodies sitting inside a doorway by luring them to a certain spot and starting up Stranglepalooza.  And again, you can utterly destroy onrushing opponents by mashing Square and attacking with a flurry of punches or weapon strikes, leading to a cinematic kill that loses its oomph each time you use it.  Even the one-hit-KO zombies aren’t a problem; the Bloater is supposed to be the baddest SOB you’ve met so far, but two Molotovs and a gunshot is all you need to take them down.   They can spit at you, sure, but you can run away, get behind them, and pepper them with attacks before they even get near you.  When I’m in a room that looks like something lifted out of Silent Hill, my first thought when confronted with a scary noise shouldn’t be “Oh, it’s just a Clicker.  I can take him down easily.”  That's especially true if the source of said noise looks like this:

That doesn’t leave the non-combat gameplay in a very good place.  “Exploration” is a part of the game, but outside of a semi-spacious area or two the world you’re supposed to experience is a linear one.  It looks good, sure, but like I said last time, once you get over the whole “nature is reclaiming the earth!” angle, and go from one dilapidated, junk-riddled area to the next, the adventure starts to get a little redundant.  What sort of message is The Last of Us trying to impart via its environment?  In the wake of an apocalypse, the world becomes hollow, silent, and harsh?  Okay, I can buy that…but how are you going to show that consistently and differently from area to area?  This is something that Infinite succeeded at fairly well, in spite of also being a largely-linear game; there was a general idea and message that it tried to get across, but each area -- a festival, a factory, a casino, a church, a museum, and more -- had its own message to get across that contributed to the whole.  Infinite also had the advantage of putting in people, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for Last of Us.  What IS a deal-breaker (or very near it, at least) is that Last of Us doesn’t have as much to show for all its graphical fidelity and somber airs.

Too many locales in the game seem too eager to scream “This is gone, and we’re never getting it back!” at the top of their lungs.  Ellie finds an arcade cabinet that doesn’t work.  Lost forever.  You head into a music store.  Lost forever.  You spot a backdrop showing a sunset-drenched beach in a hotel.  Lost forever.  You find a school.  And then another school.  And Ellie references a third school.  Lost, lost, lost.  And that all ignores the literal writing on the wall in many cases; what could have been a powerful and poignant image ends up getting overused and hammering in the ideas that have been obvious since hour one.  It all begs the question: if so much of society and culture and daily life are lost, what’s the point of living?  What’s the point of building up a society that’s dependent on murder and selfish pragmatism?  And as I’m almost certain I’ve said before, if the enemy in the zombie apocalypses is the complete collapse of societal norms instead of the moaning flesh-eaters, then why aren’t people trying to rebuild society in earnest instead of fragmented alliances and guerilla warfare?  How did society fall apart so thoroughly in The Last of Us in the twenty-year gap between the outbreak and the start of Joel’s mission?

And that only makes me realize that for all the emphasis on “survival”, important elements are left out with reckless abandon.  Example: what are Ellie and Joel eating?  When do they sleep?  Where do they sleep?  How much time is passing?  How are they getting their fluids?  What happens when they need to use the bathroom?  I know that this is a question you could ask of a lot of video games (pretty much every Zelda game comes to mind), but those problems are only magnified in the case of The Last of Us.  If this game is so focused on creating a theme of “survival”, then having Ellie and Joel stuff their backpacks with more than guns and junk could have added HUGE amounts of potential to the proceedings.  (The Devil Survivor games handled the survival aspects superbly in its story, making that a thrust of several conflicts and conversations instead of relegating it to background noise.)   

I mean, think about it: how awesome would this game have been if you had to manage your status -- like hunger, thirst, sleep, and more -- on your way through these levels?  Metal Gear Solid 3 did it, after all, as did Dead Rising in an unlockable mode.  If not getting those supplies had an effect on the gameplay (making Joel’s aim waver and his mind play tricks on him, OR making Ellie testy and less capable in a skirmish), then that could be a real game-changer; it would reinforce the theme of survival far more thoroughly than just balls-to-the-wall combat, and add a gameplay twist that -- while not necessarily new -- is certainly something that hasn’t been done very often.  Not as often as stabbing dudes in the back because you’re the silent predator slash ultra-skilled ninja.

But that’s a tangent for another day, maybe.  Like I’ve said before, I have a habit of seeing things as what they could (or should) be, not what they are.  So let me pull back a bit and answer the underlying question here: what does the game do with its world?  How does it reward the player?  Why does it deserve to be loved?

Now, admittedly, this is going to be subjective (and you could say that about this entire post), but as it stands I don’t feel like the world is being used to its full effect.  It has a very “look, but don’t touch” air about it -- which is a complaint you could throw Infinite’s way, but again, Infinite offset that by having a multitude of unique and eventually transforming areas worthy of such a guided tour.  Last of Us’ world feels too static to get every facet of its point across (another complaint you could lob at Infinite, but work with me here).  At the start of the game, Joel’s daughter Sarah explores the house at night, giving us a glimpse at the family’s life and character -- for example, given that he had an exercise machine, physical fitness was a priority for Joel.  Moreover, exploring the area lets you conduct your own little investigation, from listening in on the TV to reading a newspaper lying around.  That investigative element is something to be valued…and yet it goes completely missing throughout the rest of the game.  Sure, you can find files, but this is an interactive, audiovisual medium.  Is there no better way to convey backstory than through a mechanic abused by Resident Evil more than a decade ago? 

Well, audio logs could probably do it.  Find a file?  Rather than stopping the game and its flow to read it, you can listen to it being read as you go on your way, especially considering that there can be huge swaths of time between one firefight and the next.  It doesn’t have to be some mechanical whiz-bang, either; just make it like a journal entry, and a voice-over will play and relate the intent (and emotions) of the writer.  Even if Joel can’t hear it, the player does.  There.  Easy.  Simple, yes?

But getting back on topic, I feel as if The Last of Us could have -- and should have -- done more with this world, at least up to this point.  The most common interaction with the environment is finding ways to climb up stuff; you have to look for ladders to lean against walls, look for planks to set down between gaps, and give the partner of the day a boost up a ledge.  And you do this constantly.  Constantly.  I mean sure, you get to swim a little, but it’s there and gone before you know it.  (That’s actually something I’m thankful for, as I revile swimming in video games.)  With this being a Naughty Dog game, it’s only natural that Joel ends up pulling a Nathan Drake and having something fall from under him.  Or just falling in general.

And there ARE scripted events -- plenty of them -- throughout the game, so this isn’t exactly a steep demand.  Even if you’ve cleared an area of zombies and wandered around wondering what you’re supposed to do or where to go, taking a look at every nook and cranny, the moment you trigger the next event zombies will rush at you in spite of there being virtually no way for  more of them to run to the area you’re in.  (It’s worth noting that the zombies’ hearing range is markedly inconsistent.  Start up a generator, and zombies will go apeshit and run at you from dozens of yards and multiple floors away.  Throw a bottle from the opposite corner of the same room, and the zombie won’t even care.) 

It feels like the stuff that happens in this game is triggered less by your exploration and more like stepping in front of the automatic door of a supermarket; go here, and trucks full of soldiers will drive by.  Go here, and zombies will come out of nowhere.  Go here, and oh God there’s one last guy you didn’t kill and now he’s trying to drown you.  Like Uncharted before it -- and plenty of other games this generation -- The Last of Us is trying its absolute damnedest to be a movie.  And it’s convinced that because it’s like a movie, it will be loved.  That’s its right.  It doesn’t have to do anything else because it hits all the bullet points, and therefore will be praised.

I think that there are three big problems with The Last of Us, at least at this stage of my playthrough.  The first is that the game has pretty much jumped headfirst into the uncanny valley.  This goes back to it trying so hard to be a movie, and to a lesser extent a symptom of being so heavily tied to realism; by putting on such airs of realism, it makes the divergences from that realism glaring, jarring, and outright harmful.  Ellie and Joel have yet to even bring up the topic of food, much less eat it -- and I know that’s a concern in this universe, because it’s written on a wall at one point.  The only time enemies exist is when they’re on patrol; the lack of people is forgivable given that they’re supposed to be in safe houses or something, but that just makes me wonder why we’ve only seen one of those (Joel’s) so far. 

You can only climb on and up certain items, and explore only certain places in accordance with whatever the game’s linearity demands; in spite of there being small gaps on your way through areas, Joel will only squeeze through them every now and then instead of often.  Allies are only noticeable when the game decides they’re noticeable, letting them scurry about without a care until it’s time for them to get munched on by zombies; they won’t even move from their hiding spots unless Joel gets in trouble, and they have a knack for teleporting around like Nightcrawler.  The photorealism and gravitas only serve to highlight the gap between what one can do in reality and what one can’t do in a game.  Leaps in logic and ability are more tolerable in games because of hardware and resource limitation -- but Last of Us almost gleefully highlights the disparity.  And you just can’t help but notice the little things. 

The second big problem is that, if we take Naughty Dog’s suggestion (and outright claims) that the game is supposed to explore the relationship between its characters, then so far it’s done a lousy job of it.  As it stands there’s no discernible difference between any of the named adult characters besides physical appearance.  They’re all grave, world-weary survivalists that soldier on and do what needs to be done, but still have a spark of humanity and kindness in them.  That’s it.  So Tess is pretty much Woman Joel.  Bill is Pudgy and Well-Equipped Joel.  Henry is Black Joel (doubly so because he’s also taking care of a fourteen-year-old).  They’re almost interchangeable, and their place in the grand scheme of things -- the plot, but more importantly character development -- is dubious.  Tess is dead, and Ellie and Joel left Bill behind hours of game-time ago.  I have a sneaking suspicion Henry won’t be around for much longer, for whatever reason.  Then again, the fact that a black man survived for so long in a zombie apocalypse is a miracle in itself.

So what about Ellie and Joel?  That…is not exactly going smoothly.  As I said, there is a good scene or two and some good conversations between them, but it’s not nearly enough -- and again, it’s coming way too late into the game.  It’s almost as if Last of Us was afraid to let Ellie be Ellie, so for the early parts of the game she’s just a mouthy piece of the plot that COULD contribute more, but ends up getting shoved aside or ignored, pushing her further into the role of spunky/bratty teenage daughter (because THAT’S who I want to spend twenty hours with!).  If anything, the relationship between her and Joel actually moves backwards at points; immediately after saving Joel’s life -- and presumably taking her first human life in doing so -- Joel immediately starts bitching her out for…reasons.  Ellie calls him out on this, and frankly I’m on her side; why not thank her?  Why not comfort her?  Why not let this relationship bloom, which we know it will because it’s on the front of the damn box?  Why not deliver immediately instead of this slow simmer, so the plot -- such as it is -- can go in a different direction than the old “and his heart grew three sizes that day” arc?

But the third problem -- and maybe the biggest problem -- is the same one I mentioned near the start.  The Last of Us plays as if being loved is a right -- when in reality, being loved is a privilege.  I can tell you right now that this is not the Citizen Kane of video games; in all honesty, it’s more along the lines of The Walking Dead than anything else.  And by that I mean The Walking Dead TV series…you know, the immensely-flawed, frequently-silly, regularly-infuriating TV series that everyone seems to watch anyway.  I would bet that all the below-the-surface ideas behind Last of Us could be used in, if not copied for, TWD (and vice-versa).  Humanity is more monstrous than any zombie!  Without law, society would break down!  People will go to extreme measures to get what they want!  All things that Last of Us is proud to put forth…and all things that are hardly unique to zombie fiction, let alone TWD.

Whether this is emblematic of the fact that zombie fiction has been tapped dry, or because there isn’t much to say about the subject (via this game or otherwise) is a debate best saved for another day. But whatever the case, Last of Us isn’t doing its best to compel me.  And it doesn’t take that much to compel me, even if the product in question is Gritty McGritterson.  The expectation was that I’d be getting a game that, while not 100% original, would at least give me something to latch onto and leave me tangled within.  What I’ve gotten so far is a game that ACTS like it’s a moving, horrifying experience, but so far has been notably inadequate at that.

The thrust of the plot -- and the object of the game -- is to get Ellie from Point A to Point B so that maybe she can make a cure for the infection.  Okay, fair enough.  So there are (at least) two ways to go about it.  You can make it about the journey, and put Ellie and Joel through their paces on their way to the finish line.  Or you can make it so it’s not exactly about the journey, but the particulars therein -- experiences and developments that change these people in perceivable ways.  So far, I’ve gotten neither.  If it’s about the journey, then gameplay-wise and story-wise it’s been an even, uneventful, and almost repetitive experience, devoid of any of the shocks so many others have been shouting about from the rooftops.  If it’s NOT about the journey, then Ellie and Joel haven’t moved nearly far enough --even with so much time passed already -- to justify so much praise…to say nothing of huge swaths of time devoted to mutely exploring areas that visually say in five thousand words what can be said in five. 

Simply put, I don’t feel like The Last of Us is trying as hard as it could be to be the game worthy of all its praise -- and when it does try, it puts the focus on all the wrong things.  I’ve talked in the past about liking games that are simple and natural; games should act within their means and act on their own merits to create a lean, focused game instead of pining to be something that it’s not (which means that any game that tries to be an “epic, cinematic experience” deservedly invites a few raised eyebrows).  I wouldn’t say that Last of Us has that problem…buuuuuuuuut I feel as if the game has the opposite one.  It puts these things in, but I don’t feel as if it’s actually doing anything meaningful with them.  That’s not to say that there’s a lack of effort in this game -- clearly there isn’t, and I’m not about to devalue Naughty Dog’s work -- but it’s just too lax in its application to affect me at this stage.  At least when it's not being remarkably heavy-handed..  

It’s 2013.  I can’t even begin to fathom how many baddies I’ve punched out, stabbed, or burnt; it’ll take more than just high-res violence to disturb me at this point.  I see the big, fertile world on display, but I’ve seen bigger and more fertile worlds.  This commentary on the violent nature of man and natural disposition for chaos isn’t going to do anything when that’s a lesson we’ve learned elsewhere.  And when the key factor that could elevate the game is undercut by a noncommittal “We’ll get there when we get there” mindset and engineering ways to force Joel to carry the game and narrative alone, you aren’t winning any awards from me.

But you know what might?

Metal Gear Rising, I feel, is a game that thoroughly understands that earning even a minute of the player’s time is a privilege.  It knows exactly what it wants to do, but more importantly knows exactly what it needs to do to earn favor.  Within the first ten minutes of the game, you’re suplexing a warehouse-sized mech through the air, then running across its sword while said mech is in midair to slash it to pieces.  Play a little longer, and you’re rewarded with a combat system that’s at once loaded with spectacle and full of strategic and reflexive opportunities.  Play a little longer, and you get to meet with a colorful cast of characters that are sure to slice their way into your memory.  Play a little longer, and you’ve got a good shot of seeing just what makes Raiden tick -- and how he’ll overcome the struggles within his cyborg heart.  However long you play, you’ll end up being rewarded; you can take away something, which by my guess would be something very near childlike glee.

Little wonder, then, that I was swapping out Last of Us to play Rising on a regular basis -- I needed a chaser, and I got it. 

Platinum Games seems to understand games in a way that other developers don’t (they pretty much have to, since it’s in their title).  Vanquish, Bayonetta, MadWorld, Anarchy Reigns...and before that, God Hand, Okami, and Viewtiful Joe.  They all bring something to the table, and while that may not necessarily be the story in all cases, they understand the medium and how to compel on their own terms.  They may not be a runaway success story with millions of sales to their name, but underneath the bombast and absurdity of their games there’s an earnest nature-- and modesty, even -- that drives them to make the best game they can.  They’re out to reward the player.  They want that love, but they know they have to earn it.  And if fan reaction is anything to go by (rather than raw sales figures), I’d say they’ve succeeded. 

Where does that put The Last of Us?  Let me be honest: even after all I’ve said, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad game.  It’s just that right now, I don’t think it’s anything above average.  I see things that I like, and I see things that I dislike -- and the things I dislike are things that keep it from reaching superstar status.  I don’t know how far I am in the game, but the fact that I’ve met a third partner character must mean that I’ve gotten somewhere.  And if that’s the case, then so far this game just comes off as a never-ending prologue.  Not a good place to be in, if you ask me.

So I guess you can think of this as an informal declaration that, no, I don’t like The Last of Us.  I don’t like feeling this way about the game, but it can’t be helped.  I’m trying my very hardest to like it, and even love it…but then again, why should I have to try to love it?  Why can’t the game meet me halfway?  Why can’t I just leave games be and NOT over-think things?   

Who knows?  All I can say right now is that I’m going to keep playing the game.  I’ve made it this far, and for the sake of the game, this series, and myself, I intend to see it through to the end.  I don’t have to play The Last of Us…but in spite of everything, I want to.

So I guess that’ll do it for now.  Maybe next time, I’ll be able to say something a lot more pleasant…and avoid any rage that comes my way.

...Wait a second.

Why the hell isn't Ellie the protagonist of this game?


  1. I red-boxxed Last of Us and I agree wholeheartedly on most points. Save the ammo thing. I'm just past the city that has the aforementioned touching lets teach Ellie how to snipe scene and my ammo is constantly running dry on one gun or another. Oh and--

    OMG RANDOM Google Final Fantasy VI 'The Impresario' OC REMIX!!1111 ...

    --Sorry. Anyway. Last of us. I know how they could have made this game into a great turn of the typical game fare. Joel -- Replace with a Single Bad Ass mom. Replace the little girl you mentioned in the start of the game with her SON. Twenty years later, have Joel take Tess' spot. Hell the Protagonist could be Tess. (I'm kind of giving the game bonus points for the MC being an old dude.)

    Also. Black People. Not really in a bad way persay. Unlike Uncharted which was a glorified 'Kill Whitey' convention (Yahtzee's words not mine) there is a wide variety of creeds trying to kill Joel including Caucasians but every time EVERY time, when Joel gets jacked up in a cut scene it's a black dude.

    On an aside. I like how the badguys give this air of being tougher than you. The death sequences are very well put together and when I died on bad guy 1055 mercenary he killed me with a special melee move I had done on countless others... Nice touch Naughty Dog. Couple that with the clip to back when you die to cut short the lamenting over Joel's corpse with the typical 'You Died' in red text for thirty seconds.

    -End Rant. Good review man. I'm interested to see how our opinions line up on the back half.

  2. The Impresario, huh? I know OC Remix released that new album -- and downloaded a few -- but not knowing the songs from the game it's hard to know which ones to grab without a second thought. Well, let's crack her open and see what we got...

    *listens to first thirteen seconds*

    Bless you, sir. Truly you are the messenger of the gods.

    Ahem. Back to TLoU. Admittedly, I seem to be a little too eager to have punch-ups with baddies instead of doing the sensible thing and shooting them -- ESPECIALLY if it's a terrible idea. To some extent I have to applaud the game for not always making a quick game of Punch-Out a smart idea; on the other hand, the fact that I can succeed as often as I do by hammering Square makes me raise an eyebrow. And then my other eyebrow as I ram a forearm into some dude's neck.

    That aside, I agree with you. I'd argue that Ellie could (and should have been) the protagonist, but Tess would make a pretty good option, too. She's not a bad character, that much is obvious -- and it's interesting to note that she took on the role of nurturer shortly after Ellie gets put in her charge -- but I just feel like they could have done more with her. It's just a shame that she had targets painted all over her body...but alas. Such is life.

    Well, I'll just have to see how and where the game goes from here. I've got my issues so far, but I want to believe -- or at least hope -- that everything from my current checkpoint to the ending makes me regret ever speaking ill of the game. I really do. Good luck on your end, as well.

    RE: Yahtzee, though...I have to be honest. I'm seriously hoping that "fuck you, got mine" is added to his repertoire of phrases.

  3. ...To think the game that was praised at the best thing of E3 2012 would end up being this bad. Actually, no. That's what happens when things are overhyped. Oh well.

    I browsed through both this post and the last, and I think this game seems a bit pretentious. And the 10/10 ratings across the board adds more than needed. One reviewer I find decent - if not very nitpick - opted for an analysis of the themes rather than talk about the bare basics of how the game plays. But when he wasn't overanalyzing the "zombie VS wasteland" stories, he simply said this game is "fantastic" and "oddly life affirming." ... ... On the one hand I can understand exploring themes and ideas in a game, but that's not what a REVIEW is.

    Maybe I'll delete the DMC demo I got and try out this one to see for myself.

    The only thing that kept me away from this game is that it's another part of the zombie Kool-Aid our culture is drunk on. This zombie-survival genre reminds me of one too many crappy run-of-the-mill horror flicks made by drunk college drop-outs. However, I can somewhat forgive Telltale's 'The Walking Dead', as each chapter is an entertaining use of 2 hours.

    One last thing: "Why the hell isn't Ellie the protagonist of this game?"

    A while back, I think you made a similar complaint with 'Bioshock Infinite'. Elizabeth is a very, very well-received character in the game (one of the best). Yet she's an escort you have to protect. She's even on the BACK of the game box so the world can see the protagonist who you play in the first perspective. Classy.

    Crazy theory and feel free to call me mad: Marketers don't believe a female protagonist in a game can make sales... unless she's extremely hot or she's naked. Why? Because there are people who still think gamers are 30 year-old men - with no sex lives to speak of - living in their parents' basement who have no real motivations or goals in life. I dunno.

    But when I saw clips of this game, I groaned when I saw yet another brown-haired buzz-cut, caucasian male with a gun. This trend is getting really, really, really, really OLD.


    I opened a few cans of worms that probably should have been left shut. Still, this is my few cents.

    Good luck with this game.

    At least 'Revengence' is still fun to play in between your sessions of 'The Last of Us'. :)

  4. "But when I saw clips of this game, I groaned when I saw yet another brown-haired buzz-cut, caucasian male with a gun."

    But he has a beard! A beard! That makes ALL the difference!

    Appreciation of virtual facial hair aside, you've clearly done your research; I DID say that Elizabeth could have been the player character for Bioshock Infinite. But even so, there's a key difference between Infinite's Elizabeth and TLOU's Ellie (and it is just marvelous that their names are so similar) is some strategic word choice.

    Elizabeth COULD have been the player character. Ellie SHOULD have been the player character.

    Ignoring the fact that both ladies show more emotion in ten minutes than their male partners over the span of several hours, there are some defensible reasons why Booker is the leading man. He's not the best character, but he's the lead for a number of storyline reasons. The same can't really be said for Joel; he's not terrible, but it feels like there are some important elements missing that could make him a lot better. As-is, he isn't all that interesting, even in -- or especially in -- comparison to Booker. He's just kind of...there. And that's what seriously pisses me off the most.

    As for the "oddly life-affirming" bit...well...yeah, I can kind of see it, but not in the way I would've expected. I would've figured TLOU would be life-affirming in the context of its universe, but the more I play it the more I realize that it's more life-affirming in the context of our universe. Appreciate what you have, because it'll all be gone someday! Hold fast to friends and family! Things like that. In-universe, TLOU -- like so many gritty stories before it -- makes all but about 5% of its characters irredeemable assholes, up to and including the player characters. But that's a topic for another post.

    My complaints aside, I'm not quite ready to call TLOU a bad game. It's not to my preferences and standards, but I can understand why people might like it. I disagree with them on several points -- strongly -- but I can sympathize. I'm not saying "avoid this game"; I'd say you should just approach with caution, and (as you've wisely done) don't get swept up in the hype.

    Try the demo, watch bits of it on YouTube, or go see the Two Best Friends Play videos they've been uploading. If it seems like something up to your speed, give it a go. If not, stick with Telltale's Walking Dead and be done with it. As for me, I'll be finishing the game soon. Apparently I'm almost at the end...