Category Archives: Review

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[ First Impressions ] Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

It’s finally here. It’s finally freaking here. This is one of the games I’ve been waiting for, for so long. I finally got myself a copy of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for my PlayStation 3. Okay, I’ve had it for a while now and I’ve only played a few hours in but I can say one thing about it that is undeniable: it was well worth the wait.

Before I go any further, I should say something: I’m a huge Metal Gear fan. If you’ll believe it, I got my start playing Snake’s Revenge; I ended up thinking “well, okay, the original has to be better than this, every first game is”. I ended up playing Metal Gear for the first time, as a result and the rest, as they say, is history. I have a slight bias, as you might have guessed, and that bleeds into almost all of my experiences with the franchise – except for VR Missions. That game just shouldn’t have happened. Ever.

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Seriously, though: fuck you, VR Missions. Go to hell.

Since I haven’t played through the entire game proper – as I actually like to take my time and enjoy a game instead of concerning myself with its length – just yet, I’ve decided to address the two main issues that people have with this game instead of doing my normal “first impressions” review:

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“This Game is too Short!”

Perhaps the biggest qualm everyone has is in response to this video where a guy performed a speed run of Ground Zeroes where he skipped all cutscenes and knew exactly where to go and what to do and was able to complete the game in ten minutes. People had been complaining about the potential length of this game from the moment Kojima explained that it would be much shorter than Phantom Pain but since this video was uploaded the outcry has gotten louder and more heated.

Far as I can tell, this guy has been through the game a few times, which proves a point to me before this video even gets started: replay value is there. Some people do go through awful games just to prove they can be the best at something but most people that I know only go back through a game that they can, at the very least, tolerate.  That tells me that he’s put a lot more than just ten minutes into this game. That also tells me he’s tried many different methods, which brings to mind another point I’ll be addressing later. If you can make a debate about being able to complete it in ten minutes, I’d make just as valid a debate about the time you would need to put into the game in order to be able to complete it in ten minutes.

To expand on the replay value, this game takes a concept started in Metal Gear Solid 3 and expands on it infinitely; you are given a set number of missions related to the story and side missions to complete but you are also given an infinite number of ways to accomplish them. Grand Theft Auto is lauded the way it is for its typical mission structure – shoot this, escort that, blow this up, perform these favors – but rather for its open-endedness and rewards based on how much you screw with things. You’re basically dropped in an enemy camp with little more than your vague mission objectives, especially early on. You could sneak your way through, plow your way through, knock people out, save all the hostages on your own time; there’s a number of things you could do that are completely unrelated to the missions.

This game, yes, does give you the option to breeze right through it with reckless abandoned. By the time I finished this article I actually saw somebody complete this game in not 10 minutes but 7 minutes! It’s crazy the length some of these people will go to to prove a point but the proof is there: you can complete the game quickly. Does that mean you should? Not in a million years. Does that mean you will be able to without playing it thoroughly, at least, once? Probably not without help.

That brings me to my next point, which deals with the next huge point of contention everyone seems to have with this game:

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“Why is the Game so Expensive?”

Of course, this question is in direct correlation to its length, in most people’s minds. However, cost should be directly correlated to its value and a lot of gamers out there feel that a game isn’t worth a lot if you can’t drown yourself in it, in terms of hours played. Truth be told, though, the value of a game can’t be strictly about its length: a lot of people typically don’t feel this way, either, but it seems that people expected this entry to be longer as Metal Gear Solid, as a franchise, is well-known for convoluted plots, double-crosses, plot twists, and endless possibility in gameplay and storyline depth.

This game’s light on story, I’ll give you that; this game is used as a prologue to Phantom Pain - which, by the way, is going to be so awesome if this one is any indication at all – and its save data will likely be able to be used in conjunction with the game, directly, so the story here should be treated more as an introduction to the background of Phantom Pain, which is something that I think is going on. If you go through the cutscenes, extra recordings, background information, and listen to as much as possible, like most real fans of the series would and are usually used to doing by now, you would use way more than 10 minutes just in doing that alone. It’s very clear that this game is extremely deep, replayable, and has all kinds of production value that you would come to expect from Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions.

To directly answer this question: you’re paying for more than the game’s apparent length. You’re paying for way more than that. you’ve always been paying for more than the gameplay experience and that’s part of why the franchise is so beloved by so many. Kojima even brought the price down from its previous price point – probably seeing the ire that the price point would cause in the general public and was likely already creating.

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The Answer and The Rant

I didn’t even realize that headline could pose as ideas for new Metal Gear Solid villain names. You heard it here first! All kidding aside, though, the answer to every single complaint regarding this game’s expense and length can be summarized thusly: don’t buy the fucking game if you don’t think it’ll be worth your time and shut up enough to let the people who are enjoying it, to enjoy itYou would think that would be a simple concept to grasp but it’s been trending among casual gamers for the last five or so years to complain about video games that aren’t catering to their tastes. Listen up, and listen good: this game is, basically, extra content for those who would love to learn more about Phantom Pain and the era that game will portray. It is a more than friendly price for fans who have put a lot of time, effort, and care into this franchise and I think that this game gives anyone who loves Metal Gear plenty to do until the next entry comes out. This will open all kinds of doors into what Phantom Pain will bring us and I, for one, love what this game brings to me.

This is where I get kind of ranty, though: there are punks among the legions of “writers” and “journalists” out there who are hating on this game. There are plenty of people who call themselves professionals of the industry who think Kojima is milking this franchise but seem to forget that all kinds of companies have been doing this before, even, the 8-bit era came around. There are people hating this game that I could run logic circles around, for days, and someone decided to imply that they have better things to do than have a “Twitter debate” with me; coming from someone who also responds to tweets with the verbal equivalent of “dat tweet doe.” You can’t tell me you have better things to do when you spent a 5-10 tweet thread going over why a friend of yours on Facebook why they won’t let you access their wall. Come on. This guy writes for IGN

If you want to hate something, that’s fine. If you don’t want to buy something, that’s cool, too. If you want to rant and rave about how you don’t think something should be praised as you feel it’s going to be, that’s fine. Scream it from your rooftop, as loud as you can… but for crying out loud, I should be able to shut my door and shut you people out. I’m just trying to enjoy my games and, as a gaming journalist and enthusiast, you people are making it extremely hard to do so when you take every chance you get to nitpick on everything and complain about everything that doesn’t convene you. Ground Zeroes wasn’t meant to be long and if you thought it was you clearly haven’t followed its development. Get off my damn lawn and stop screaming about how I should agree with you!

One comment on an article on IGN probably sums it up best:

People buy some yearly franchises, maybe multiple ones, that are basically the same things re-skinned with new stories and a couple new features at full price every single year. Think of sports and the shooter series. Yet one series that has a passionate following that rarely releases games comes out with a prologue at half-price and the whole world explodes. Gamers make me sick.

For crying out loud, people. You’re just ridiculous. Companies have been doing this for eons. Why are you just noticing now?

Yes, before you say anything, I know my bitching about someone else’s bitching makes me a hypocrite but I really don’t care. Scream all you want and ruin your own experience but stop fucking with mine, alright?

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[ Review ] Beyond: Two Souls

Are any of you old enough to remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? I used to read those things by the case load. I loved the ability to read a book but have direct control over what happened to the characters and how those choices affected the situations. Most of the endings were, more or less, different variations of the same things but the real beauty were the few books that took this idea and made the endings wildly different but still in context. This is primarily why I fell in love with Quantic Dream’s work: they gave me a brilliant story that, while outlandish and unorthodox most times, handed me control over how events were going to go forward. They gave you the ability to make certain choices, choices that had real and lasting consequences – not in the Mass Effect sense where it changed the world around you but in the sense that it made your character develop and change in certain ways – and held you accountable for those choices later on so that your challenges were more personal.

Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit in certain other countries) started it out for me but I didn’t really start following Quantic Dream until I heard about Heavy Rain and got to complete it for myself. Unraveling the case of the Origami Killer has got to be one of the best told tales in gaming to this date – the only problem here was that I have a hard time calling it a video game. While this kind of video game was right up my alley, it felt way more like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that I was mentioning before; you’re on one path of many but you’re still moving towards the same ends. Add into the mixture that that means you’re spending more time watching what’s going on than taking part in what’s going on and you have something that’s more of an interactive movie than a video game.

What you have here with Beyond: Two Souls is something along the same lines: they tried a few new things and it works to some degrees. It works against the game somewhat but when you consider the context of the game and the story as a whole it makes a lot of sense. When taking in everything about this game, you have to wonder a couple of things: a lot of people are terribly judgmental about this game for its being so damn erratic and throwing gameplay elements at you without really showcasing them but is this really because this game’s potential wasn’t fully realized or that this was done on purpose to immerse you in exactly the way Quantic Dream wanted for the player? That’s a tough one to figure out, I think, without directly asking the creators…

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The Gameplay

There isn’t a whole lot to this game in terms of gameplay – it seems like a big point of contention with this game right now and it seems people were expecting way more than what they got. When you’re actually offered more direct control over the game, you’re doing one of four things: you’re in a slow-motion segment where you have to push the right stick in the direction that Jodie’s momentum – which, I’ll tell you now, isn’t always obvious – is moving towards, you’re making a decision or conversation, you’re moving around the playing field, or you’re pressing a combination of buttons in order to progress Jodie’s actions. Jodie’s success or failure seems to depend on how well you can do those things – whether you succeed or fail, though, doesn’t stop your progress, apparently. Never have I failed a sequence and have that land me in a “Game Over” sequence. Everything just kept trucking along, my failed decisions, actions, or choices being chained to me like a large weight, whose consequence would be apparent to me later. While this is an interesting way to go about it, that certainly removes any sense of urgency or motivation when you get the feeling that you just can’t lose, especially if you’re not attached to the characters.

As a game, my primary beef is that the game – like so many people before me have probably stated – could have been so much more in terms of what you can actually do to affect the story and its characters. Not every choice can be as drastic as whether or not you jump off a ledge to your doom but, rather, during some of the action sequences, I want to control, with greater influence, how I go about the situation, much like in games like Metal Gear Solid 4; if I fail, then the enemy captures me instead of killing me, throwing me into a brand new circumstance to get myself out of. If I get knocked out during a fight, then I get back up after being robbed or scolded or whatever and would have to live with that judgment. They didn’t necessarily have to sacrifice interactivity to preserve their concept, yet they did. Can’t say that I like that, too much.

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The Story

This is the game’s raison d’etre: to tell a brilliant and layered story. The story of this game revolves around the character, Jodie Holmes, through three main points of her life. Jodie’s quirk is that she was born with a gift; she is spiritually bound to an invisible entity she calls “Aiden” and Aiden can manipulate the world around them to suit their needs. This manifests in a way that the world around them isn’t ready for and that sets Jodie on her way through the journey of her life, which takes her all the way from a scientific testing facility, to a course with the CIA, all the way to the Department of National Defense.

I’m going to go no further into it so that way I’m not spoiling anything for anyone but there are two things about this plot that I really enjoy and it actually has nothing to do with the super-epic main plot arc. First, there’s a lot of seemingly insignificant moments in the plot that are deceptively consequential and incredibly human; second, the ending ties up nearly everything that’s come to pass neatly and leaves a lot wide open for interpretation and discussion without confusing people. While this story isn’t exactly told in a neat fashion – going back and forth between three integral phases of her life in an erratic way won’t exactly win many fans – the nonlinearity isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory; Christopher Nolan’s Momento is an example of a movie that was presented in a very similar way. It was all over the place until the very end where everything came together and the reasons for everything, including the way the movie was told, are explained. Some of the explanations in Beyond are kind of a stretch but they do serve to tie things up nicely if you think about it in just the right way.

Aside from that, let’s talk a moment about the star acting in this one – not all of the supporting characters are on their top notch game, here, but the performance Willem Dafoe, Ellen Page, and Kadeem Hardison give (as Nathan, Jodie, and Cole, respectively) are among some of the best acting performances I’ve seen in gaming hands down. Given, this isn’t always saying a whole lot but this is still an incredible performance and Ellen Page is often found stealing the show and carrying the narrative along on her back alone. Given the scope of the game’s plot and the demands it makes of her, personally, her performance here is astonishing and just admirable.

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The Lighter Side

Emotion is the core that drives much of the narrative in this game and, for that, it actually seemed to really grab the attention of my wife-to-be, Daisy, when I was playing it; you have to keep in mind that Daisy isn’t much of a gamer, so that means a lot when a guy like me when she actually gets in the zone with me and gets involved, so I asked her to write something for my article to show what she, the casual gamer, thought of the game:

Warning, some spoilers ahead!

I occasionally look up from Facebook and wedding planning to check out the game Kenny is currently playing; having just felt the loss of the awesome music from Grand Theft Auto V, I noticed he was playing something different, a game with a sweet-faced little girl with some sort of troubling issues of a presence that seemed to protect her/control her. At first, I was like “Well, this is some weird shit” but then I slowly pushed my laptop aside so I could actually see what was going on. I don’t game, I only watch sometimes. I have only ever really watched through Mass Effect and The Last of Us (which was entirely too creepy and gory for me). I was so into what I was seeing, this poor little girl, being tested and not having much of a life outside this facility she was in and this “presence”. It kept shifting: one time she would be a little girl; the next, she was at an awkward party where I relived every awkward shy girl party moment I have ever experienced; the next, she was grown up again, fighting off war lords..(can this girl not catch a break?)

This game doesn’t go in order so I was even more intrigued (and upset for people with OCD) to find out why. I kept asking him questions and if I missed anything when I had to get up for something. I started to really like this girl, she was strong and always fighting this constant battle to be who she wanted to and just be a normal girl. I liked the characters (well, most of them). As we were bounced around through her life I became emotionally attached to her, I wanted her to live and find out what this presence was all about. This game REALLY has a great story, it’s not “just a game.” I felt like I was watching a movie the whole time and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Parts of it reminded me of The Last of Us, even I thought she looked a little bit like the girl from that game but it’s very different.

- That was an awesome call on her part because Ellie from The Last of Us actually looks a lot like Page, a likeness that has often led some to believe she was originally created to be portrayed by Page but that didn’t work out.

I looked it up and found out Jodie Holmes was actually Ellen Page, which is funny because I had no clue but I kinda thought that was who she looked like. She did an excellent job and was a very strong female character. I’m not one of those feminist types by any means at all but this is a kick ass game with a strong female main character. Which I think, sometimes, us girls need to be reminded of. She stands up for herself, she pushes limits, etc. Even goes through different looks and phases; that part was very real to me: the partying, the dating stuff that we all go through and you are basically watching her do that. In one scene, she is so excited a guy is coming over she apparently forgets to order pizza or find her phone, she even goes through the “what should I wear” routine.

- That scene is when Ryan comes over for an impromptu date – you have to compete with Aiden’s jealousy and the fact that getting everything together for the occasion is way harder in this game than it should be. Why does a portable phone have to be so damn small? Seriously, hasn’t everyone used cell phones for the last ten or so years?

To sum it up, as a gamer wife to be, I see a lot of games, some I look up and don’t care much about; this one was amazing, I almost want to play it myself, I hope there is a second one or a movie. And come on now, you can give her the option to “kiss” which I remember screaming out ..”now kiss, kisss” then “why didnt you make them kiss, God come on” and you can relive all your awkward teenage moments! This game is a 10 for me and I didn’t even play it! I was shocked to find out in the end who/what the presence was: the game is entirely worth it for that, I had came up with various theories throughout and none were true. However, I would like to see it played again now knowing more stuff to see if the connections make more sense! I’m kind of really sad it’s over now. Guess its back to wedding planning for this girl!

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The Final Verdict

One would buy this game for the same reason one would buy a movie; not so it would consume every moment of your free time that you could spend watching movies, but rather so you could revisit a great tale that you enjoyed, at your convenience; which is exactly how I would recommend any of Quantic Dream’s games. You should experience it at least once but don’t hold onto it if you don’t plan on checking out all the story branches and getting all the trophies.

Just keep in mind that the game is, above all else, an interactive drama; you’re not going to get much actual replay value from it. If it hasn’t interested you, yet, and nothing I’ve said has sparked interest in you, nothing in this game will and, in buying it, you’ll have wasted your cash. This is one of those “once in a while” games that you’ll keep around to kick back with, play it differently, and see if anything different happens.

Great experience but the whole gaming part falls kind of short.

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[ Review ] Saints Row IV

I never really liked Saints Row, originally. I didn’t see much of anything special in the original game. It was just a game where you took everything adult contemporary and mafia-styled out of Grand Theft Auto and replaced it with hip-hop culture references and dick jokes. The audience that plays this game seems to be set up into two camps: either you embrace its hilarity, its machismo, and its sometimes downright goofy mindset, or you take the game too seriously and you judge it based on the fact that its extreme nature has gone way too far. The original game was just a hip-hop thug sandbox game that I couldn’t really appreciate – when the series started going over-the-top and shouting obscenities from the rooftops, I started to see the game series for what it was: plain old fun that stands out as coherent yet completely insane. I really appreciate that kind of humor and to see a game that promotes itself on a simple mantra, apparently – make a game fun and everything is secondary – really catches my attention.

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The First Twenty Minutes

Volition plugs you into the action pretty quickly and sets up the premise of the game pretty tidily; while on the campaign trail to become the President of the United States, your character, the leader of the Third Street Saints, is on a mission to take down the largest threat to the world; Cyrus Temple, who is so opposed to the Boss’ rise to power that he enlists a terrorist organization to crush the American government for allowing it to happen. After plowing through the cannon fodder, you and your team eventually make your way to Cyrus himself, taking him down a peg, so to speak, only to find out that he launched a nuke from beyond the grave. Being the badass he is, the Boss takes off to dismantle the nuke while riding it, while the crew gives tearful goodbyes over the radio in the likely event that the Boss doesn’t make it out of the situation alive; all while Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” is playing in the background. Once the nuke is dismantled, the Boss leaps from the nuke, the nuke blows up in the air, harmlessly, and the he lands himself directly into the Oval Office, cementing his presidency. This sets the tone of the game pretty nicely, for what you’re going to have to expect, gameplay-wise; learn to expect the unexpected and anything, literally, can happen.

During the Boss’ questionable presidency – it turns out he might not be good at leading a nation as he might have thought he was – an alien empire called the Zin decide to invade, abduct Earth’s best and brightest, and kill any that gets in his way. The Boss manages to stage a counterattack from the White House to find that the invasion was a lot bigger than he had planned and finds himself abducted as well. The game gets turned on its side and curb stomped as the Zin Empire decides to imprison humanity and enslave them using a simulation extremely reminiscent of The Matrix, in an effort to break them and make them completely loyal to the Zin. This sets the tone for what to expect from the story – everything gets crazy and there’s little to no setup for it all. Things just happen and there’s no grand explanation or agenda to it: just go in, do what you need to do, kill who you need to kill, and be on your happy way.

The simulation, though, gives you your first surprise as you’re thrown into a parody of a 50′s-styled TV show, directly referencing Leave it to Beaver. This is another thing you’ll notice – there’s a lot of in-jokes, there’s a lot of references, and the soundtrack works extra hard to get you laughing and immerse you in what’s going on. Everything from here on is just more of this kind of stuff.

While the first part of the introduction made it seem like there was going to be just more of the same, it makes it pretty clear, pretty early on that this game is going to be very much like previous Saints games but very unlike anything you have seen from a Saints game so far. That gets cemented when the Zin invasion starts and the story starts throwing curve balls at you left and right. The general impression felt here is to expect the unexpected but expect whatever comes to be a full-on Saints experience.

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The Gameplay

As soon as you get through the initial fluff to set up the gameplay, you’re pretty much plopped inside of a virtual version of Steelport that has been changed up by the Zin Empire – you’d think that if an alien race wanted to force the entirety of remaining humans to submit they would have been more subtle about it – and things start out, initially, in a way typical of past Saints games: run around, steal cars, kill people, do what you need to do in order to accomplish your missions. Things change massively, though, once everyone starts realizing the simulation is, for all intents and purposes, a computer program and can be hacked into. Almost immediately after that point, which occurs extremely early on, you’re given access to powers that, initially, allow you to jump extremely high and run extremely fast. After that’s set up and you’re put through the requisite missions to introduce you and familiarize yourself with your powers and new features, things kind of settle back into your normal Saints structure: you have your story-related missions that progress the story, you have your side missions that relate directly to your new powers, and then there are your loyalty missions. You do a great amount of lather, rinse, and repeat, as to be expected.

I did not expect a Saints Row game to be one of the greatest superhero games of all time. Where other superhero games are limited because they spend all their time setting up a story or limitations based on your character, Saints Row IV says “fuck it” and gives you your arsenal of powers and the freedom to do whatever you like with them. A lot of people complain about this because it really takes away the use of vehicles and vehicular combat; this is true and yet not true. I find speed running to be extremely inaccurate and found myself, until I could get the upgrades necessary, running out of stamina often enough to find it annoying and found myself going back to cars just to have hassle-free speed with nitrous. That goes double for a lot of your other super powers – there are strong pros but the cons are just, simply put, annoying. It might appear to make vehicles useless but vehicles are still way more convenient and accessible than your powers, at times. Gliding around still isn’t flying and you don’t get the kind of flexibility you would in a combat situation as you would in a combat helicopter. It’s easy to overlook vehicles because of your super powers but they shouldn’t be ignored because of them. I feel as though that part of the game is ignored because of these super powers and I feel they shouldn’t be. The vehicle customization is incredibly cheap to do with yoru in-game currency and still very much in-depth.

Developing yourself as a character is less about how your character performs and more about how you look, really. Your weapons options, more or less, are human weapons and alien weapons: you take your pick between the two for each slot and make the appropriate upgrades. Your character can be customized pretty deeply, though there’s a lot more depth in customizing your look as opposed to your character’s ability; you find these things called data clusters which are scattered just about everywhere – if you look around for a couple seconds you’re bound to find at least one – that are used to upgrade your super powers, cash upgrades everything else and these upgrades change the balances of the game pretty drastically. This turns into a situation where, if you’re having trouble completing a mission, you screw around for ten minutes or so to find data clusters in order to exponentially increase your character’s abilities.

I found myself pretty bored by the time I was about five or six hours in but I found that I was playing this like I was past Saints games, by completing side missions to earn cash so I could upgrade various things. Once I got back on track with the story missions I found myself engaged, again, in the game: this game parodies everything. There are some segments that parody everything, new-school and old-school. I caught glimpses of Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Tank!, Zork, Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto, even other Saints games. Its fun goes deeper than just the gameplay and you have to engage yourself in the story to get lost in that because, once you pull that away, added features or no, this is just another sandbox game; this one just has really cool super powers. Even those get tiring without a premise.

As far as everything else, you’re, more or less, looking at Saints Row: The Third with super powers. That will give you the best idea about everything else, gameplay-wise, about this game. There’s not too much more than that, really. If you like that kind of thing, you will love this game, almost guaranteed.

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The Verdict

No, I’m not commenting on the story, this time out. It’s really a throwaway plot with elements blatantly stolen from other games and movies and when they’re not stolen they’re parodied. It’s a satire of itself, the entire gaming industry, and games like it. It’s not something that should be taken seriously but more something you should just have fun with, like the rest of the games. This goes right into my point about summarizing the game as a whole: some games are fun because they’re immersive, some games are fun because they tell great stories, some games are fun because the production value and attention to detail are high; this game is fun because it focuses on the fun factor of everything in the game.

This game might not be a massive epic that tells a feel-good story about the group you got to know. This game is all about doing it better, doing it bigger, blowing up more, doing it more badass, and doing it louder than those before it. While a lot can be lost in trying to make this game more fun, Volition has done it right and they’ve made it big.

Should you go out and buy it? Most definitely. Volition has nailed down gaming entertainment without getting too serious or big for its intentions, which is probably why they felt this would be the last in this series. It would be way too hard to build on this, after seeing the end of this one.

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[ Retro Review ] NARC

I don’t know if many really fondly remember this game or not but I know I do – as you may know, my brother was largely responsible for my delving into gaming and this was one of the games we played competitively. It was really difficult because unlike games of its time, resources were not shared, I’m pretty sure you could peg the other player, and the end of every level had a clear winner; where Battletoads was steroids, NARC was more like adrenaline. There was a lot of concentrated chaos on the screen at once and a battle in-game would often turn from a competition between brothers to a competition to get through the game and complete it. It took way more skill to be the best as well as get through the game to its end, as well, especially if you didn’t know where to go and what to do; there were sections of the game where a little exploration was used. That being said, I poured a lot of time to beat my brother at this game and still get through the rest of this game so it sits pretty nicely in my mind as a part of my gaming history and a game I currently have in my collection.

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The Story

At face value, this game does not have a lot going for it, in terms of story. There were a lot of arcade games like this back in the day and the ports were no exception. Your premise was simple; you receive a memo from the Narcotics squad in Washington DC, tasking you with a mission: take down Mr. Big, a known drug trafficker and suspected terrorist. I give this game’s story a lot of credit, looking back on it; all the drug references are thinly veiled and the hierarchy that’s typical of a massive drug ring are laid out in plain sight. Even in the NES port the game seems way more adult than I initially thought – the references are a little more veiled than the arcade version but they’re still there and, having played through it again recently, I understand them way more clearly than I did when I was a kid.

Your journey takes you on a one or two-man personal war against drugs and street crime in general. You take out drug pushers of all kinds, right from the junkies, to the dealers, to the cultivators and chemists, all the way up the chain to Mr. Big himself, who turns out to be the head of “K.R.A.K Industries”. I know, it’s laughable, but give them a break; the guys behind this game, Williams, were sending a strong anti-drug message and I suppose they wanted to inform people of the kinds of creeps that are out there and encourage those kids conquering the game to “contact your local DEA recruiter”. There’s a lot of strong symbolism in the game if you give it some thought and it’s really interesting to see the kind of work that went into this game, compared to other games, especially those that had such strong and compelling messages to tell to its players.

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The Gameplay

If there’s anything that can be said about this game is that it can be intense; whether borne of frustration, anxiety, or just plain sucking, you can often find yourself taking cheap hits and getting yourself cornered. This game was not forgiving and it certainly encouraged one to pour in the quarters. What you had was your basic run-and-gun gameplay, allowing players to move along an isometric field of view in all directions, facing off against your typical fodder by using either your automatic rifle or rocket launcher. There wasn’t much more to it than that. The difficulty usually came from the amount of obstacles or enemies you had on screen at any one time and what they were all doing – some shot bullets, some came in to stab, some threw needles that froze you in place, among others.

The one thing that I found particularly ridiculous and did nothing but add to the time where you were a target for bullet hell was the safe keys. Every level required you found a safe key to unlock the door to the level’s exit and some were harder to find than others. Some literally counted on a low drop rate from a particular enemy type. The entire time while you’re waiting for this thing to pop up you’re constantly being fired at and dropped in on. It was kind of frustrating and just felt like a cheap quarter-eating tactic… that worked.

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Does It Hold Up?

The simple answer to that questions is: no, not really. While the game is great on nostalgia and reminds me of the journey I took to school my brother so hard it almost hurt, it was incredibly grating to get through it now without that drive. I still enjoyed it but not on a “oh, wow, this game is still great” level but, rather, on a “oh, wow, this game is actually pretty fucking annoying in spots” level. On the plus side, though, playing this on the NES, now, I find jumping much easier to pull off than I remember it being. Not sure why that is.

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[ First Impressions ] Tales of Xillia

If you know me as a gamer at all, you know that traditionally Japanese-style role-playing games have a special place in my gaming heart and you would also know that I have played a great number of them, most of them in the 90s and early 2000s. I was always willing to give a lot of other western releases a chance but, in all honesty, I showed a huge amount of bias, even if it wasn’t always backed with the know-how, back then.

would you believe i actually thought this game was american-made when i first got to it shortly after release?
would you believe i actually thought this game was American-made when i first got to it shortly after its release?

With that in mind, I got back into the Tales of… series again after seeing a few videos for a new entry for the Playstation 3 entitled Tales of Xillia that actually received a proper sequel before actually seeing a North American release. I was rather hesitant because, it would seem, that games that come straight out of Japan with only the most vital localization done cater to a much different audience than when I was into them; it’s shown in everything from Persona to Final Fantasy. Let’s face it – those of us who got into gaming early on in the industry’s life are of a way different class than those who got into gaming during the PlayStation and XBOX era. Seeing another Tales entry get a lot of hype got my hopes up – I hadn’t played a lot of any Tales game since the SNES titles. I played a lot of them afterward but never got in the same kind of replay as I did from the SNES games – can’t quite explain why because a lot of my initial creative writing inspiration that still sticks with me today came from the PlayStation entries, among other games from that era – when I hear about another Tales, the nostalgia kicks in and I’m hoping I can get a lot of the same kind of experience I got from my past with the franchise.

Did I get that? Well, yes and no – the franchise feels as though it’s grown up a lot since I was really into it; not in the sense that it’s matured but in the sense that it’s changed. Is this good or bad? Well, yes and no – that depends on which side of the weeaboo fence you sit on: if you’re the kind of person that obsesses over animé, manga, Japanese culture in general and get all the jokes and quirks that come with it, this kind of thing will be right at home with you. However, when I was into that stuff, I was into the deeper end of the storytelling market in Japanese animation; stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Perfect Blue where the themes were not limited by culture or language and those themes were extremely thought-provoking and mature, at times.

gaming - proving less is more since 1983.
gaming – proving less is more since 1983.

I can’t really say I don’t know how much progress I’ve made in the game, so far, though I would assume that I haven’t gotten very far because there’s been no huge reveals in the story quite yet and I always consider myself about halfway when I get a better idea of the scope and scale of the story. Everything has been given a very thinly-used cel-shaded look so that everything from the characters to the scenery still has that distinct Japanese animated look to it without having to drop to cutscenes in order to do some story progression. Of course, that’s not to say those animated cutscenes don’t exist but they’re minimal. While everything is quite beautiful, with this in mind, the arenas are quite cramped – I’m assuming that they did this in this way to save on loading times – leading to a somewhat claustrophobic feeling: being able to see wide-open spaces and areas that feels like you should be able to traverse over a lot more space than you’re offered. You don’t get that corridor feeling that a lot of people complain about in some games, nowadays, but it certainly feels like I’m being forced and you’re being cramped.

This pretty much explain, long-winded-like, how I feel about the game to this point – I’ve been doing a lot of battling, a lot of talking, a lot of walking around, a lot of escaping and a lot of implication but I don’t feel like I’ve really accomplished a whole lot. There’s been a whole lot of hand-holding in regards to tutorials but I don’t feel it’s actually helped in a way that actually produces results. It feels as though the game is saying, to me: “you know, this is a JRPG, guy – you know what to do.” Battling, leveling, movement, extrapolation feels as though it’s modeled to give you a lot of freedom but it’s strictly for appearances as it also feels as there’s only one real way to succeed.

The best example of this is the Lilium Orb: a device that is used to allow character leveling customization. It works kind of like a simplified Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. When you gain enough experience points, you get points that you can put towards activating parts of the Orb, which add stats to your characters. Activating certain sequences of these parts adds skills or abilities and sometimes expands the Orb as a whole. While you get a great deal of freedom in how you get to build your characters, there’s clearly a role each character plays and that role suggests that you have to take a specific path in order to have greater success in battle. You can do it however you want but you probably shouldn’t.

not everyone's cup of tea, i hear.
not everyone’s cup of tea, i hear.

Am I saying that Xillia is a bad game? No. Am I saying that this is a boring game? No. Xillia is a game that feels like I’m being led along in the great big world I’m presented while on a leash. This is still to say that Xillia is a great experience – battling is intense, at times, everything looks great, the voice-acting isn’t killing me, the music feels appropriate and catchy, the characters show some anti-stereotypical behavior and things seem very progressive for the genre but I still feel like I’m being led along and that gives me the impression that there’s so much potential here that can be tapped into and it just isn’t tapped into, yet.

That might be part of the situation, too – I feel I’m still early on in the game and perhaps the game takes that leash off. I’m really hoping that that’s the case because if they don’t start making some serious story-related revelations soon I think I’m going to start pulling my hair out. As great as this game is it also feels a little long-winded and repetitive at times.

Tales of Xillia is a great game so far – I just expect way more, having played this much, and I want to see more from this game. This is, literally, the only reason I’m continuing, at this point, as I’m running into small snags in the gameplay more and more that serve only to aggravate me. I like this game and I want to find more to like instead of feeling restricted and aggravated.

yes, i know.

[ Quickie Review ] Three-Way Quickie

Like I promised, here’s some quick reviews – games I’ve either breezed through, don’t feel deserve or need a full review, or games that have already been done a million times and I feel I don’t need to extrapolate further on – for the games I’d mentioned before: Remember Me, Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection, and Two Worlds II.

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Remember Me

Playstation 3, XBOX 360

Pros

This game is extremely straightforward and easy to get into. There’s a lot to see and hear here and it’s often a treat to take in a lot of the sounds and sights. The developers have made it clear there is a message here that they want to portray and they don’t pull any punches with it.

Cons

While the game is presented well, it’s executed poorly. Also, the game’s thematic messages come off a little strongly and a bit vengeful. While it’s appropriate in certain contexts, I feel that, in this case, I’m the guy watching some guy burst a blood vessel over something insignificant.

I wouldn’t call Remember Mebad game, by any measure of the imagination, I just wouldn’t call it great, either. It’s a case of a game that got way too big for its britches and feels weighed down by its themes of oversharing, propaganda, and government in control. I know this isn’t the first time that these themes have been approached in a game and I know they can be done well – but a good game has to be built around these themes and this game just comes across as a simple button-mashing third-person action title. It almost feels as though the developers made this game as accessible on purpose so that way they could push their thematic message to a much greater audience but instead of feeling like I’m being talked to in a way I can understand, I feel as though the developers are talking down to me, as though to say: “You’re an idiot that would never think these things, so we’re here to think them for you, to present them to you in an easy-to-digest game because an idiot like you would never really understand if we just told you them.”

That said, if you completely removed the story and themes from the game you would have a fairly stripped down melee combat game in the same vein as Dyansty Warriors. Is that cool? As much as it can be, I guess, when you add in arbitrary features like combat-based healing (normally, this comes in the form of enemies dropping stuff that heals you but this game actually insists you use certain combos in order to heal yourself) and corridor movement… it feels as though this game could have been much better instead of feeling like a vehicle for someone’s bitter message.

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Metal Gear Solid

The Legacy Collection

Playstation 3

Pros

This is a must-have collection for two types of people: the collectors and the people who have been itching to get into Metal Gear Solid but haven’t had a good reason to, yet.

Cons

This collection isn’t really all that much extra for those of us that already own all of the HD versions of these masterpieces. It’s a really friendly price for newcomers and collectors but there’s just not enough here to justify spending extra money on something you, essentially, already have.

This game compiles most of the canon content that’s ever been released in the Metal Gear saga, focusing mostly on the Metal Gear Solid series, especially the HD renditions of said games. There’s not a whole lot more to be said, really: great for collectors and newcomers, not that great for existing owners. Also included in the package is an art book – it’s less than I was expecting, honestly. While there is art inside, it’s only snaps of promotional material and posters for the games contained within the package. It’s really kind of disappointing to me – I was hoping for actual art from the series artist, Yoji Shinkawa. If it wasn’t priced at such a friendly point, I would certainly take issue with this; however, I have something I didn’t shell out a lot of money for, relatively, so I’m actually pretty thankful.

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Two Worlds II

Playstation 3, XBOX 360

Pros

Truly a “poor man’s Oblivion”, meaning that there’s a lot to be seen and done in this game. There’s a ton of characters and everything looks great. This game has great ambition and it’s apparently a huge improvement over the last.

Cons

Truly a “poor man’s Oblivion”, trying to do a whole lot but falling short just about everywhere. Most spots aren’t incredibly terrible and it’s still playable but there’s just about as many annoyances as there are things to do.

You notice that I put the same thing twice for both rows, there: it’s true in the sense that being a “poor man’s Oblivion” is its greatest strength but also its greatest weakness as well; the thing about this game is that it’s extremely ambitious. There’s a lot of content to be had but the motivation to seek it all out just isn’t there. The story reeks of your typical epic and all the puzzle pieces are there to make a great game but it just falls short on every aspect. However, even though the title feels ambitious, the title also gives me a feeling that I shouldn’t really expect triple-A quality out of this one and the fact that it has fallen short doesn’t really disappoint me that much. I mean, there’s some things that just wouldn’t make sense in a triple-A title: having to draw your weapon manually, an excruciating prologue laced with tutorials, maps and other side information actually put on the face buttons instead of halfway buried in the interface, clumsy controls and, finally, really bad graphical cover-ups. I just feel good for the developers to have come this far and to have their story enjoyed by some in the North American market, instead of feeling the need to bash them – this feels like stuff that has been borne from inexperience and not incompetence. You tell me.

Finding it in a bargain bin was exactly where I was expecting to find it but you can still find copies going for full price and that’s the only real shame here – I spent fifteen dollars on my copy in the USA and I wouldn’t spend a dime more. That was a great deal, I realize, but that’s all I feel it’s worth and if the localization team wants anything more than that, they can kiss my ass.

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[ Review ] The Last of Us

This one doesn’t need much introduction; unless you’ve been hiding underneath a large rock in the gaming world for the last year, you’ve heard of this one. In case you haven’t heard, it’s also doing really well among critics and fans. If this, still, isn’t enough to convince you, many are already making game of the year predictions – myself included – and the ending is disturbing a lot of people’s shit and causing a general ruckus. That’s usually how you can tell a seriously high-quality game apart from the rest, these days – see how much dramatics it’s causing and you can almost gauge how good it is by how many people are fighting over it. Seemed to work for Mass Effect 3.

I shouldn’t have to say this but this review won’t be spoiler-free. You have officially been warned and normally I try to be as neutral as possible when talking about a game that not everyone was able to get their hands on for a while, I feel I’ve waited long enough to write this review that everyone that intends to buy this game has already played at least a little of it, so here goes, my review for The Last of Us:

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The Game

Once you first boot up the game, you’re not initially treated to anything incredibly unique: The Last of Us is a cover-based, third-person shooter with a strong emphasis on scavenging and melee combat. As you progress, though, things begin to change – you find that there’s many ways to progress through the game and how prepared you are for every combat situation can drastically change how – or even if – you progress further.

The best way to explain how combat goes down in The Last of Us is to demonstrate it: you’re in what used to be an office cubicle farm, stationed in a building that’s almost toppled over, leaning on another skyscraper. Lights are down and the area is positively filled with these things called clickers – if you haven’t read my article about the infected in this game you definitely should now – and you’re already faced with a few options: there’s about ten clickers in the office, meaning that if you make any amount of loud noise, you’re going to be swarmed and, unless you have a good plan, you won’t be able to get the clickers off of you. Your one-hit melee weapons and your shivs are the only things capable of taking out the clickers at close range once they’re closing in on you and once they grab you, the only thing that can save you are shivs. Even then, the shivs only get them off of you and you need to spend points towards the ability to do just that. I try to keep my shivs and modified melee weapons aside for emergencies. If you used a long-range weapon, in this situation, you will immediately alert them all to your presence, demanding that have at least two shots per clicker for even your high-powered weapons, if they’re not upgraded. You could sneak by them, find alternate routes, but even that is absolutely fraught with danger – one slip-up and you’re gutted. This is where the survival and scavenger instincts come into play and turn this usual cover-based game into something special: when you start, if you take one path, you find a lead pipe lying there at your feet, which is the best melee weapon you can pick up from the ground. You can also find ammunition lying around on the person of many infected. Factor in that you can makeshift a kind of proximity bomb and Molotov cocktails – which send shrapnel firing off in many directions once triggered and sets an area of the ground on fire on impact, respectively – and you have a great deal of options. What I did, personally, in that particular situation was this: I threw a Molotov cocktail at a couple of the clickers that were close enough together where I could hit them both and after the fire died down and enough of them came around to investigate the noise and burning, I threw a proximity bomb and the shrapnel took out the stragglers. This strategy, though, wasn’t perfect and I still had to defend myself against a couple others that were walking around elsewhere.

This is a great example of the beauty of why combat works in this game and doesn’t feel stapled on. It compliments the setting of the game and the story that goes along with it all. You’re not some high-powered mercenary fighting off gun-toting thugs on a aircraft carrier, you’re a goods smuggler fighting off what appear to be plant zombie things in the shattered and broken remains of what’s left of the planet – which, I might add, seems like there’s not much of it left to speak for. Of course, things change when you introduce the human element and, yes, you will be fighting various human varieties of enemies, too. How you have to approach each combat situation is changed centrally around how much attention you’ve been paying to the world around you and how many resources you’ve gathered in the meantime. 

Everything else is just your basic exploration-type gameplay between combat segments, really: something already familiar to Naughty Dog veterans like myself but a fresh change of pace in how it’s handled. There’s a lot of extrapolation through dialogue between characters and you get a real feeling for how much of an impact that exploration is actually making for your party. It’s another thing that feels more organic, even if it’s less integral than the combat and story segments. Everything feels incredibly organic and it flows very nicely with everything else in the game.

With that in mind, though, the game is not without basic flaws: you have path-finding problems with the non-player characters, periodically, and sometimes the environments don’t respond the way they should. These are all things that can be fixed with time with patches but they shouldn’t really have left the factory with some of the periodical glitchiness that does come up. While this could be excused by trying to stay in context of the game’s story and environment, I was really unimpressed with the unstable difficulty level. It could be completely tense for a time, keeping you on the edge of your seat, and then for no reason at all, the area becomes a complete death zone. I’m not going to spoil it for you but there’s a spot where you’re just exploring a building, trying to get through, which is tense enough because things are too quiet, but you drop through the floor into a literal hotplate for the infected, complete with runners, stalkers, clickers, and a couple bloaters. Did I mention that the only way to proceed further out of that section is to start a gas generator, guaranteeing you alert each and every one of them? It’s that kind of difficulty spike that’s really unnecessary, to me, but it can be explained away in the context of the setting and plot and that’s the only reason I’m not cursing it.

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The Story

This is the big one, folks: the one game of the year that will blow your socks off. While Bioshock Infinite gave you Shyamalan-style twists that were fantastic and otherworldly, The Last of Us presents us with a very realistic, scary, and terrible circumstance: a pandemic washes over humanity that expands so quickly that humanity has no time to react in kind. This pandemic comes in the form of a fungal plague that actually exists in reality but only for a select type of ants; this fungal plague mutates so that it is able to perform its functions on humanity, effectively turning those infected into shambling shells of their former selves, resembling zombies. We gain control of our main character, Joel, who lost his daughter as a direct result of the panic caused by this pandemic, and has not been able to cope with his loss since. Fast-forward twenty years and you start to see Mother Nature taking her planet back and the infected are sporadic all throughout the world, or so it seems. All have their stake in the shaken world around them but there are two main factions known to Joel and the citizens left in the world – the governments, as broken as they are, and the Fireflies, who are basically rebels against the government faction: the government is trying to get everything in order and reestablish the control they once had while the Fireflies appear more concerned with humanity and its recovery from this pandemic and also its freedom from governmental control.

Joel makes a living – or what resembles a living in this climate – being a goods smuggler, a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, taking from government supplies that are stocked but not given to those in need, and distributing it among those in his community. Joel also takes contracts, it would seem, so he seems to be a jack of all trades. After settling up a feud with a personal enemy of his, him and a personal friend – there seems to be a romantic tension there that’s never really addressed – receive a contract to smuggle a young girl out of government control and to a hand-off point where a Firefly agent would receive her and transport her further. The contract starts out as one in trade for guns and ammunition but, as the escort goes on, things complicate further.

There’s a lot that happens after but there’s a lot of heart-wrenching and mind-blowing that goes on here that any post-apocalyptic tale-done-right will wave around – society has crumbled, people are showing their true colors, there’s no room for tact or professionalism, and some have turned into psychotic bandits. You’re faced with humankind at its worst and you’re merely just trying to find your way through without losing Ellie, Joel’s escort.

Ah, Ellie: the raison d’etre, as it were: I’m going to get a little spoiler-heavy, here, because the relationship between Joel and Ellie is a big part of this game and a lot of the plot is involved in Ellie, so… just skip it if you don’t want to be spoiled, I guess. Ellie is Joel’s contract from the head of the Fireflies and you learn early on that Ellie appears to be immune to the infect as she’s harboring a bite and she hasn’t turned over. After the transport to the Fireflies goes awry a couple of times and Joel losing his partner-in-crime, Tess, Joel takes it upon himself to transport her to the Fireflies, much to his dismay. What you see is a serious internal confrontation going on – Joel lost his daughter and seriously blames himself for not being able to protect her. He’s had this boiling in the back of his mind for twenty years and he’s not exactly apt to let that bitterness go anytime soon. Ellie, not knowing this, tries to get him to open up but she’s got some personal wounds of her own to deal with, not to mention the weight of the fact that she may be humanity’s only hope in overcoming the pandemic. As you’d guess, they don’t always meet eye-to-eye but then something happens: they realize that they’re perfect for one another – Joel is looking for someone to protect in his daughter’s stead, where he could actually help and feel like he actually has value; Ellie, on the other hand, is tired of being such a big deal and just wants to give in to the feeling of becoming a daddy’s girl. They start licking each other’s wounds and, after some time, come to rely strongly on one another.

That brings us to the controversial ending which, even though this is spoiler-rich, I’m not going to give away. Let’s just say that things happen as you should have expected and yet not, at the same time, leaving a lot of possibility open for DLC and any kinds of sequels, though talks of either have been limited. Naughty Dog has been adamant in saying that Joel and Ellie’s story has ended but I feel that they are kind of being dodgy about this; that they are choosing their words carefully so that way they can take certain paths and not run into the hellfire Bioware had to face a year and change ago. The way I see it, there will be some side-stories told in the form of DLC soon – could be a story of how Joel and Tess got together and their story explaining all the romantic tension, a story of the Fireflies and the government, a story of what happened shortly after the pandemic started, away from Joel, maybe telling it from the perspective of a drafted soldier. However, there does leave room for a sequel – what happens to just Ellie? The fact that Joel survived for as long as he did after being wounded bad and then not having proper antibiotic treatment is a miracle but he won’t be around forever: Ellie will have to launch out on her own and I think that will offer a different story altogether. Yes, Joel and Ellie’s story may be done – the one they had together – but Ellie’s story, alone, is not.

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The Final Verdict

This is a game you cannot miss, this year. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t at least try it – you can download a demo from the PlayStation Network and the demo also comes packed in a very decent game, God of War: Acension – so if you haven’t at least tried it, at this point, you’re avoiding it, and you’re missing out on one hell of an experience.

I’ll basically repeat to you something I said to a coworker of mine who was deciding on whether or not to purchase the game because he “had heard things from both sides, saying that it was equally bad and good” and wanted to, at least, check it out because he enjoyed the Uncharted games: I would pay three times the money I initially paid to buy this game. I almost feel like buying ten copies to support this kind of approach to game-making. I want more games like this: not games that take place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-not-zombie wasteland – no, that can get overdone really quickly. I want games that have this kind of in-depth storytelling, that have this much attention to detail, that have this kind of graphical prowess that accepts the weaknesses of the system but also plays to its strengths, that plays to what’s necessary to the narrative and not, particularly, everything the market demands – yes, it is a cover-based combat game but it doesn’t pander to all the standards demanded – a game that just makes all the extra efforts in all the right ways. Mass Effect 3 went from credible artistic integrity to trying to hard to keep everyone happy over time and, while that did work, for the most part, I did lose a little respect for Bioware, going forward from that, even if going with EA would have been a dual-edged blade to begin with. The Last of Us is a game that brings out the best in gaming while telling a story that stays true to its context. It’s a brilliant melding of mediums and I don’t think I’ve seen a game that has brought these together so well since Metal Gear Solid 4.

Buy it. Enjoy it. Complete it. Discuss it. That’s what I think.

Oh, yeah. They got off really lucky.

[ First Impressions ] The Last of Us

I’m going to warn you now: this is not a spoiler-free review. I’m not going to ruin the game for you but I’m not tip-toeing around. That’s all you’re getting.

Have you ever watched I Am Legend? You know, that movie with Will Smith about the end of the world at the hands of some kind of manufactured disease that turns humans into some kind of monstrosities similar to vampires or zombies? In case you haven’t, Will Smith’s character parades around a metropolitan city, living day to day, trying to reach out to what remains of humanity while coming up with a cure, as he’s a military scientist, in spite of the fact that the city is overrun with these monsters during the nighttime. He tries to eke out some semblance of a normal life with his dog and his… imaginary friends. Later on in the movie, it’s implied that there are quarantine zones where the military is holed up, securing survivors. Over the course of the movie, too, you see how Will Smith was forced to respond as this disease is released on humanity and causing immediate and desperate evacuations.

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I Am Legend – Alternatively: “Will Smith as Will Smith in Will Smith”

There’s a lot of parallels in I Am Legend and The Last of Us. Not just in its story but in its presentation. It moves quickly to establish a very serious tone and gets only more serious and dire from that moment. The Last of Us opens with a segment showing the main character, Joel, with his daughter at the onset of the pandemic – some kind of parasitic plague that acts like cordyceps unilateralisa naturally occurring organism that is capable of altering the form and function of ants – that mounts against humanity so sharply and quickly that humanity has almost no time whatsoever to respond. A lot of people die and things just get worse from there – this pandemic has turned infected humans into a shambling semblance of their former selves. The infected either continue to change and grow or they start breaking down and become more plant than human.

Fast forward twenty years and you have an embittered Joel trying to get through life the best way he knows how: as a goods smuggler. He and his partner, Tess, are confronted with an extremely awkward contract from a rebel cause called the Fireflies: smuggle a child out of the military blockade and into a Firefly compound. Joel is given no real information other than the girl is extremely important and that the contract comes from the leader of the Fireflies, making this even more important.

"I'm sorry, you want to smuggle what in where?"
“I’m sorry, you want to smuggle what in where?”

You don’t really need to know more than that to know that your journey will take you across the wasteland and things go from bad to worse to even worse at almost regular intervals. This game makes absolutely no mistakes about the tone and tries to be as realistic as it can be about the circumstances presented. These creatures that you’re faced against have one purpose and one purpose only: to spread the infection.

That brings me to the gameplay: this game seems to borrow elements from many triple-A titles but keeps all the gameplay elements in context with the story. Like Tomb Raider and Fallout 3 before it, the name of the game is that of resourcefulness: you have to conserve every bullet, you have to make every item, you have to find every resource you can and you can only upgrade your weapons at workbenches. If you’re not resourceful, you will not succeed. You sometimes have to pick your battles based on how your inventory counts out. Combat is a very important part of the game and it actually plays very differently depending on what you’re fighting – the infected come in different varieties and sometimes you’re fighting fellow survivors.  For example, there are two main grunt types: runners and clickers. The clickers’ heads have been deformed to the point where they have absolutely no vision so, like bats, they make this sound in order to find their way around using echolocation. They are easy to navigate around if you’re careful and strategic but one slip-up could mean disaster, killing either you or your inventory. Runners, on the other hand, haven’t been infected as long as clickers so they still have their sight and enter into rage as soon as another uninfected human is seen. They often move in larger numbers and can overwhelm you easily if you’re not careful but they are easier to fend off via melee combat. Humans operate in much the same way they do, realistically, like in other stealth combat games before it, nothing really new, there.

Everything feels very organic and flows very well together – there’s a lot of times where I caught myself thinking I was in an exploration section just to be jumped from behind by a runner and find out that the area is crawling with infected. Combat scenarios and story exposition doesn’t feel disconnected, either, which is great. It drives home the sense that no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, you should never assume you’re safe – and if you’re safe and calm, there’s a good chance you got lucky, in the context of the story.

Oh, yeah. They got off really lucky.
Oh, yeah. You got off real lucky.

They took everything they did right about every game they made before and propped them into this game. They have learned from other developers, for sure, as well. I see flavors of many games and experiences past. I was still shocked by some of the story’s twists that I’ve discovered so far – which doesn’t happen very often – but those twists are definitely not new for the whole “zombie, not zombie” style of story: this is something that I’d like to point out. This game is nothing new. This game doesn’t do anything that games past haven’t done. Why this game is a shining example of how games should be made is not in the new ground it paves or risks it takes but rather in the attention to detail, the writing, and refinement this game shows. There is definitely a sense of what people really want from a game in this and there is an extreme sense of care and detail that went into this. I am reminded of how Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty felt when I first played it: I went in with great expectations and anticipation going into the game and I was taken for a ride – not a path I haven’t been down before but rather given a ride that made the journey from point A to point B extremely worth it.

Given, there’s a lot of the game left open to me so it’s possible that my opinions will change but as it stands, right now, I am so impressed that I’ll be hard-pressed to find a better title this year for the PlayStation 3. I think it’s sold out around the world for a reason – hype alone can’t always do that.

No, we don't need you this time.
No, we don’t need you this time.