Naughty Dog

The Last Of Us : Left Behind

My gaming laptop died. I stopped having a gaming computer many years ago and instead bought a few high powered ASUS gaming rigs. This worked well for my gaming while I traveled for work a lot and lonely nights in the hotel was filled with suspect internet connections and MMOs. My current rig just won’t turn on and I hope it is something as simple as a power pack. Regardless it has been a few weeks and ALL of my gaming has been done on my PS4 or my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – the latter of which plays my early access titles just fine (but not much else). I need to get my gaming laptop fixed as I am itching for a few MMO experiences that I can’t have on my systems. My only curiosity is how MMOs will play out on the PS4  and I am looking forward to finally trying TESO in this format and I may also try DCUO. This is relevant to this post because I may not have finished this title so fast were it not for my void in computing power.

Hot off the heels of my completion of The Last of Us (after picking on it a bit for it’s slow start) I started chipping away at the Ellie only game play in the DLC pack Left Behind. My version came with the add-on as I got the remastered version of The Last of Us bundled with my PS4 purchase.

Warning here – some spoilers ahead if you haven’t played through it.

The short version here is that the story elements and the way they were presented in this add-on to the game is making up for the exact shortfall and game play issues I identified in the main title. It really feels like the story is the central part of the game play instead of a secondary tack on (or worse, complete garbage) Because of this I much more enjoyed the game – even more than the main game.

I am really curious if I would have cared as much about it if Ellie wasn’t as well fleshed out in the main game. I am pretty certain if this part introduced Ellie, and there was another two hour intro better introducing Joel that the game would have been completely more engaging from the get-go. I do appreciate though that not all gamers would have appreciated that sort of ramp up time. I love story – this is a big part of why I game, to enjoy and experience stories. Others have different motivations and enjoy more direct action, so this is a very personal observation.

I also am very curious how TLOU would have looked if the entire game was in more of this narrative format. Not only could we have learned more about Tess, and the in between parts of the sickness and fall out but also the fleshing out all major friendly characters – AND maybe even the bad guys (really would like to learn more about that cannibalistic tribe). There are a lot more story elements to explore in this world that were sadly absent from the main experience. This game did end up feeling long because of oft tedious game play elements (until your inventory ramped up) which could have been much better served with story elements. Still, I bet that Naughty Dog and the acclaim they received from this DLC has a good idea on how to build out their next game.

The only thing that was weird to me (and I wonder if it was a bug?) Is that my game ended at the exact moment Ellie picked option two. We know what happens (her friend dies, she lives on) but I expected to see that play out for dramatic purposes. It felt like a bit of a let down, the timing of it all. I also felt that the kiss between Ellie and her friend took away from their companionship and in no way added it the story. Felt really tacked on for the male audience playing the game. They didn’t need to add in a romance angle to youthful best friends but I get their idea to show additional layers of complexity to an already messed up world for character building purposes. Still, I felt it wasn’t needed.

I wonder if the story breaks in TLOU: Left Behind annoyed the more action oriented gamers or if it was accepted as well as I did. I know the main game would have played out significantly better for me if it was in the same format as the DLC. Still, I am really glad I didn’t get Left Behind on this one.

The Last of Us

In this post I continue my series of playing games after they are no longer hot, or the “in thing” for the first time – long after all of you have played it. I enjoy being fashionably late! Besides, this gives you the opportunity to relive your own experiences through my eyes. I am also tagging games this year that I complete with (drumroll) ‘Complete 2015’ as it will be fun to go back at the end of the year and see what games I got through, and how I felt about them. Years go by fast and even at work we have a Year Book – and going back through the year is really awesome to reflect at everything that has happened. I think you start realizing this more and more the older you get.

I touched upon playing The Last of Us in a post a few weeks ago and many of my initial criticisms still hold true.

The Last Of Us seems to consist of a not-so-convincing cut scene, followed by get from A to Z movement puzzles (where there is only one (and often tedious) path), followed by a fight sequence where you can try to stealth through it but ultimately end up shooting a gun and the entire level aggros. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. I wish I could say they have done a good job of fleshing out the characters and  whatnot but

The thing is, once you meet Sam the game really changes in two ways – the first is that the cut scenes are longer and more meaningful. The series of what seemed like disjointed, unimportant discussions and video cuts get deeper. You could argue that this is a natural way a relationship grows – from “just a job”, to curiosity, to caring, to openness and honesty and that ends up the result – whether intentional or not.

The second good part is that you have weapons and ammo and upgrades so the fighting and scenes don’t feel so cumbersome. At some points during the first few levels I considered putting it down – the reputation of the game and pieces that I did know (as well as discussions with fellow bloggers) kept me flogging through the un-fun parts and I am very, very glad I did.

My main criticism of the game now that it is done is that the initial pacing, difficulty and the learning curve  should have been softer and more deliberate – because once you get through that part the game gets really good, really fast, and the pacing picks up perfectly (aside from a couple scenes). It became hard to stop playing.

There will be some spoilers below, so please stop reading if you haven’t played the game or want to preserve the entire experience.

There were two standout moments for me. The first was the Ellie-only levels when Joel was sick and recovering when she basically slaughters an entire city of survivors who are just trying to get by and protect their families. Oh, they are cannibals too (no doubt put in there to make it “okay” to kill them) and the graphic violence that I did as a 12 (?) year old girl was, at times, uncomfortable. I will take a moment here to admit that when I did the same violent acts as the weathered, old and bitter male protagonist I didn’t have the same level of discomfort and I tried to dig deep to see if I could sort out why. Was it because Ellie was a kid and completely losing any innocence that remains? (when you die as her and have to restart levels, its far harder to watch for me). I have a 9 year old, so I think I played those levels as if it was him. I am mostly certain that it had nothing to do with her being a girl (I have played a lot of killing games as a woman adult character before). Still, I can’t deny there were times when I was stabbing shivs into the necks of fathers while they pleaded to others to usher their kids onto school buses where it just didn’t feel right.

Survival of the fittest, I suppose. By the end of the game I had realized that at the end of the day you kill humans more than infected that felt like at least a rate of three to one – once again showing that creators of the zombie apocalypse genre have little faith in mankind as they are always the biggest threat. Along these same lines, when you are slaughtering what is mostly known for the group countering the big bad government – mankind’s last hope, the Fireflies, it is all sorts of shades of grey. Not 50, but several.

The best part was the ending. When Joel straight up lies to Ellie it does create a happy yet flawed ending, mired in darkness. Yes, Ellie will get to be a kid again – learn to swim (thank god), grow up, have friendships and companions in a town with gold old fashioned electricity. Yes, Joel gets to be a father figure again and finally care for and protect a daughter that he failed at before – and which has tortured him ever since. Sadly the entire scenario is mired in an untruth and that may continue to tear Joel apart, and you can guess how Ellie would react if she ever learned the truth. That will forever be over their heads as they try to live out a meaningful, safe and happy life.

but… if they make us into a movie it will suck!!!

I hope they don’t do a sequel. I can’t see how they can make it any better, or improve upon where they left off.

It was enjoyable to play Joel and Ellie because they were so flawed in so many ways. In games like Dragon Age you get to choose your responses – be nice, be a jerk, romance, etc. In The Last of Us you control the actions of the “heroes” through the on-rails experience but never control their attitude and that was fine by me. I do enjoy the option to shape the main character after me but the entire experience would have been tarnished if you could play nice and caring Joel.

I actually sat through the credits as they rolled, semi-stunned at the ending, trying to make sense of it all – not the game choices itself, but how it made me feel and I have to praise Naughty Dog here for the writing and ending.  Praise because I did feel – I felt for the characters, the setting, the game and the outcome. Not many titles do that for me and usually positive feelings are that of accomplishment for doing something great or just winning the game. Not so here, I was sad the experience was over. The shame here is that it is a PlayStation exclusive because I highly recommend this game.

The ending was really brave. Hollywood would have never let a movie end that way and it was proof that sometimes things don’t need to be resolved – the human race doesn’t need to be triumphant, no cure is found, and happily ever after isn’t that clear cut. It is based on lies and settling and a whole helping of “real life” insomuch that real life includes the infected downfall of civilization as we know it.

Completionism

My wife went away for the weekend, meaning a couple great things.

  1. I get a lot of one on one time with the kid
  2. I get a lot of video game time.

I mean, I will miss her dearly, but sometimes you just have to fight through the loneliness. (sound convincing enough? *grin*) Truth is I haven’t gamed in weeks due to our Christmas trip to Europe (which was awesome) so i am chomping at the bit a bit. For a bit. Fitbit?

Thankfully school was cancelled today due to huge snowfalls, so after I clear off the driveway there isn’t a lot of outdoor activities for us to do. A couple errands this weekend but otherwise free to game! I already have 4 (maybe 5?) titles on tap. That seems crazy to me in some ways – in the “good old days” ™ I would have my MMO du jour queued up and log into that endlessly and advance away. Now I have a hodge podge of titles that I am either trying to complete, get further into, and/or if time permits – start! Here is what the weekend should look like barring any sort of catastrophe.

The Last Of Us (PS4)

I seem to care about as much as she looks like she does

This game came bundled with my wife-suggested purchase of the PS4 (I actually have a draft necromancy post coming up where I swear off buying one of the new consoles – but why argue with the wife!) I am a completionist and this is a good example of a title that I really want to see the ending of but am not entirely enjoying the game-play. I am at the Philadelphia level and the entire game-play part of The Last Of Us seems to consist of a not-so-convincing cut scene, followed by get from A to Z movement puzzles (where there is only one (and often tedious) path), followed by a fight sequence where you can try to stealth through it but ultimately end up shooting a gun and the entire level aggros. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. I wish I could say they have done a good job of fleshing out the characters and  whatnot but I really didn’t care about my life long partner in crime Tess (when she sacrificed herself) because I had a total of 8 lines of dialog with her before embarking on the somewhat tedious gameplay mentioned above. I know I should care deeply about Elly (that is her name, right?) but I am not feeling it. Not enough character development so far, and I feel as though they are making parts of the game long enough just to stretch out the time to completion needlessly. The other thing I am disliking about it is that when you die all the resources you used before you die are gone BUT they reset the entire encounter. So I can kill 20 guys and use 40 bullets but if I die and they reset, those 20 guys are back but my bullets aren’t. Seems unfair and unnecessary. Still, I can’t just quit. There is a DLC component that I have heard is from her (Elly) perspective but I don’t even know if I want to start when I finish the main part because if I do I won’t be able to stop until it’s over. This game is holding up my next PS4 title, Dragon Age Inquisition.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC, Steam)

I got this (and Arkham City) in a Humble Bundle and am 30% through it. This is an enjoyable (but a bit dated) game but again, I want to see how the game ends. The combat is smooth and quick and the Bat-tricks are interesting. Even the storyline has been fun. I’d like to get this moved over to my “Steam completed” folder, because my Steam to play folder is getting really small. I haven’t put in much time lately and think I can fly through this one pretty quick. I still believe that the combat style in this game would translate into a MMO Combat Innovation especially now that telegraphs aren’t the be all and end all developers hoped they would be (right WildStar?). Dare to dream. Bats isn’t even one of my top 10 superheroes but the Chris Nolan movies certainly won me over, and one of my favourite graphic novels of all time is The Killing Joke from back in my comic collecting days. What I wouldn’t give to have a Marvel Hero based game like B:AA.

The Secret World (PC, Steam)

photo credit: stitchessecretworld.blogspot.net

It’s a nice place to visit….

Hoping to get through Kingsmouth (yes, I am still only there) although I have no clue how long that will take. I have only done 15 or so missions in the area and can’t even recall what level I am. I have enjoyed TSW to jump in, do a quest, log off. It hasn’t grabbed me for longer playing sessions yet and part of the skill wheel (even the assisted one) makes me uncomfortable. I don’t have the gaming time to spend hours researching how to level – I want simple and fun. Thankfully the lower levels seem to be just that and I’m focusing on just my main weapon skills for now and the odd update to talismans to wear an item upgrade. I love the setting and wish the gameplay matched for me. Still, it’s a worthy place for me to spend my time and looking forward to sorting out the zombification of this once quiet New England town. Syp at Bio Break keeps me very interested in progressing in this game with his write ups of experiences there. Many levels to go!

Marvel Heroes 2015 (PC)

As mentioned in my Mobile Gaming piece I have a superhero itch lately. I haven’t tried DCUO (although it’s free on Playstation, isn’t it?) and with City of Heroes gone I updated the patcher and launcher and it is ready to go. This is a long shot to really dig into with the aforementioned titles sitting to be finished but it is intriguing and hard to not hit “Play”. I haven’t played Marvel in a long time and read it was semi-rebooted. What I love about their store is that if you click on a costume you are thinking of buying it shows the cover of the specific comic book that inspired the look. I think that is clever and as an old comic collector I was having fun just seeing which ones were available to buy.

Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4)

I mentioned this earlier in the Last Of US paragraph because I own this game and there are only a few things stopping me from taking the shrink wrap off.

  1. Dragon Age Keep is having tech issues with loading in my Dragon Age Origins history and Dragon Age 2 history. the DA:2 I am not so concerned about but I put in 100+ hours into Origins – I LOVED that game. Sadly, I don’t remember my own choices it has been so long! I really want that saved state to be there before I start DA:I as I am looking forward to connecting with those old characters. I actually emailed EA about it after getting good help from DAK via twitter (good, but unresolved)
  2. I still have two games to finish right now and would like to do that before embarking on the journey.
  3. 100 hours! I am a side quester kind of person and I like to do the whole thing. 100 hours of game-play for me right now is around two months of gaming time. I need to clear off some of my dance card before committing to a game that is this involved.

I tend to categorize games into ones you can complete and ones that are ongoing and it is never really a good thing to have too many of each at any time. I am already screwing up controller buttons between Batman and The Last OF Us so it can be challenging to have many control specific games on the go (which they all have.) Add in stories, objectives, maps, quests (etc.) and a portion of your gaming time at any time is spent re familiarizing. Especially after a long break like I just had.

Isn’t it crazy that I feel like I need to manage my gaming time and titles? Those good old days where I just played WoW, DAOC, or LoL where that was the game and that was the focus it seemed so much simpler. When I had time to game there was always one main one waiting. It is kind of like I am in gaming title limbo as I am not entirely immersed or compelled to really game the titles on my docket. Sometimes it feels like I am just playing to get some completed. My completionistic nature works against me here as why shouldn’t I just stop playing The Last Of Us? The levels feel like a chore sometimes. Still, I believe that is part of gaming nature to want to see things through to the end. I am even worse when it comes to bad movies – I still watch the whole thing waiting for that one scene, message, or redeeming quality to show itself for the time and artistic investment that went into the film.

Warlords Of Draenor is also weighing heavily on me – my desire to take my main character through the adventure of the next 10 levels if only to finish his/her journey in Azeroth, but that is a whole other post.

Still, much to look forward to this weekend. I hope it goes as planned.