Tag Archives: playstation 3

Metal-Gear-Solid-V-Ground-Zeroes-Official-Box-Art-Revealed-Focuses-on-Snake

[ 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.

36813-metal-gear-solid-windows-screenshot-vr-missions-snake-protects
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:

Metal_Gear_Solid_5__Ground_Zeroes_13915535121985

“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:

Metal_Gear_Solid_5__Ground_Zeroes_13835988332176

“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.

1367705606468

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?

ellie-joel-in-the-last-of-us-wallpapers-hd-wallpapers-games-images-the-last-of-us-wallpaper

[ Game Theory ] The Last of Us: Ellie and the Infected Revisited

Last summer I posted this article talking about this game called The Last of Us for the PlayStation 3 and one of its greater mysteries: the infection and why Ellie was immune. In order to understand what was going on I looked at the inspiration for the infection, ophiocordyceps unilateralis, more commonly referenced in the game as cordyceps, hoping to grasp how it worked and why it did what it did. I understood the concept but that was based on a misunderstanding of what a fungus really was and how it worked in the context of the game. This misunderstanding was cleared up thanks to a correction I’d gotten from a reader on my previous post, something I should have known if I’d done my research just a little more thoroughly: that fungi are no longer classified as plants and haven’t been for many decades, based on the fact that they have no chlorophyll; in addition, due to that, they cannot perform photosynthesis.

I'm about to bust some serious science chops, here, folks, so hold on tight.
I’m actually surprised that good ol’ Nye here didn’t personally slap me for that one.

It was rather shameful because I based all of this on old knowledge and I really shouldn’t have assumed. I know better, now, though, and decided to revisit the topics; this time, though, with a renewed focus on what the infection in the game really is and why Ellie is immune. I think that the two go hand in hand – while the question of “Why is Ellie immune?” is more intriguing to me, you can’t understand one without understanding the other.

lastofusthumb

What is The Infection?

According to the game, the infection, which receives no formal name, originated in South American crops. It’s strongly implied that this fungus was a mutation of the fungal infection we currently know as ophiocordyceps unilateralis. While the reasoning for this mutation is not quite clarified, I believe the mutation was evolutionary; the ants that the infection formerly spread through adapted and found a way to create immunity to the infection, giving the fungus an ultimatum: evolve or die. This infection made the easiest and simplest choice: spread through the most dominant species in the planet that shares the most common characteristics with other species. I also don’t believe that the infection, as the population knows it, didn’t originate in South America but rather the first instance of human infection was noted there.

Protecting yourself from infection through the game is primarily done through two methods: covering one’s face with a gas mask to protect one from exposure to spores and keeping yourself from being bitten by one of the infected. Given the infected, driven only by instinct, attack by brutalizing and/or biting the victims; this makes one wonder if skin contact with the spores are exactly how the infection is spread. Given that the infection needs to take root in the brain in order to perform any kind of manipulation, this makes one wonder where it starts and how it gets there: my theory is that the infection is primarily transmitted through the blood. If one were to leave their face uncovered that exposes two methods of infection via spores: through the eyes, nostrils and mouth; the latter two through ingestion and absorption into the blood via the small intestine or through the eyes, giving the spores direct access to the brain almost immediately. If one were bitten then the spores given off by an infected would have instant access into the bloodstream. From the blood they would take root in the spinal fluid and then, from there, into the brain stem and take root into the brain from there. Most of the time spent from bite to infection is spent by the body metabolizing the infection and moving it from the location of the exposure to the brain – once it takes root in the brain the changes in character and function take place almost immediately, turning the person into a vehicle for infection.

This is similar to the Rage virus from the film 28 Days Later, a point I made in the last article regarding this topic, in that the infected turn into vectors for the infection whose sole purpose is infection through the bloodstream; I might say, though, in that movie, the results are a little more dramatic as the infected could throw up blood creating the possibility of infection through mere contact with the infected’s blood. Another similarity is how the Rage virus also bolsters the infected; in the context of The Last of Usthis way the infected are able to continue on actively spreading the infection without fear of damage or destruction. With regards to The Last of Us’ infected, this happens in many different ways: the first and perhaps most noticeable are the growths that can be seen on the body as the infection spreads through it, creating a kind of armoring against physical damage, happening first around the head and facial areas where the infection is more severe and focused, at first, and then affecting the body as time goes on; the more immediate way is biologically, how it bolsters the senses, causing blindness almost immediately and probably affecting the nerves to eliminate pain sensations, bolstering and chemically affecting muscle tissue for optimal strength, agility, and tenacity, and generally alters the host to make it the most powerful, deadly, and invincible it can possibly be; and then the least noticeable, in how it handles itself when the infection is sensing weakness or oncoming death in the host by moving itself to an area, if possible, that’s extremely humid and dark, allowing for the death of the host, sprouting stems, and spreading spores even after complete cell death of the host.

What type of infected you see tells you how long the host has been infected for: much like a tree’s rings, the sizes of the growths, the strength and types of its abilities, and its overall strength and appearance can tell you a great deal. Many don’t reach its final stage – Joel calls them “bloaters” – for a variety of reasons but the fact remains that if the infected is allowed to live for a certain period of time, they reach this stage with almost certainty. This final stage is able to actually launch projectiles containing spores at their victims, also able to take extreme amounts of damage due to the growths all over their bodies.

Now that we understand what the infection actually does, why it does it and how it does it, we’re left with one very important question that was asked by Sam when discussing things with Ellie: in the primary stages of infection, is there any humanity left in the infected?

Good question. There’s no explanation that I can give as there’s no straightforward evidence that could explain this: the people in The Last of Us justify their actions against the infected like many would in their situation; because they cannot understand the infected and they cannot cure the infected – by means that anyone’s aware of at the start of the main story, anyway – they defend themselves using any methods possible, usually using lethal means to ensure their safety. However, when observing infected hosts known as “Runners” and “Stalkers,” they exhibit qualities that do not directly affect their ability to spread their spores: they are often seen moaning, acting erratically, screeching, and sometimes appearing aloof in their motions. This has always led me to assume that the infected, up until a certain point – this point being when they become what’s known as “Clickers” – the host is actively fighting the infection, suffering through the process and trying to remove it from the body the best way it knows how. I believe that while the infection starts affecting thought processes and motor skills almost immediately after taking root in the brain the brain still initially retains some of its more functions that aren’t necessary to the spore’s spread and therefore is in constant combat that it’s bound to lose because the infection, by that point, controls most important functions of the brain, leaving the rest to follow until the infection needs to do away with those functions to increase efficiency. Is there a person still left in there? I believe so but they are forever and irreversibly changed. Once infected, they are best to be put out of their misery.

Ellie12

 Why is Ellie Immune?

That leaves us with the grand-daddy of all the questions in the game and the question that the game’s storyline pretty much hinges on: why on Earth is Ellie immune to the infection? In order to explore this I would have to warn that there are some pretty heavy and juicy spoilers so, please, if you haven’t played the game yet, don’t go any further; better yet, if you haven’t played the game, why are you even reading this article?

Moving along, we know two things from the game that vaguely hint at the reasoning that Ellie may be immune: when Joel and Ellie reach the laboratory where the Fireflies are able to find a cure through Ellie, they have to perform surgery on her brain; secondly, everyone on the planet has been, at least, exposed to a minor amount of spores as spores are airborne and will travel some ways before dying off. It would be hard to believe that the human population hasn’t mildly been exposed, at some point, to the spores. The solution, after doing my research and writing this article, would lie in her blood and her brain: my theory suggested, at first, that the ants the cordyceps initially infected evolved to adapt to the infection, rendering the infection useless against those ants and leaving the infection to also adapt to their situation. I would think that it’s safe to assume that due to humanity’s obviously more complex biology in comparison to ants and to the mild exposure to the spores over the years have caused an immunity to be built over time in Ellie. If this is true, one can only assume that others have built up an immunity as well, especially in children born after the pandemic took place.

This leaves some hope for the world of The Last of Us after its rather sad ending; witnessing Joel’s collapse into an emotional meltdown left a lot of us thinking that Joel could be responsible for the eventual death of humanity as a whole… but, hopefully, this theory holds up in the context of the game… leaving hope for humanity, after all.

If the theory doesn’t hold up, the only other suggestion could be that some kind of neural or brain condition created an anomaly in the human brain that caused the spores to be introduced into a host but cause the infection to pass up the host; this still allows for the possibility for others who are immune but when Joel broke down, he may have ended up killing the only ones who were able to isolate and promote a cure, effectively dooming everyone still. Here’s to hoping that there’s still hope to be held out for the world of The Last of Us and judging from talks about making a sequel and a movie based on the world of the game, I’m going to hold out for hope. How about you?

And stay down, bitch.

[ Blog ] It’s On

Now that the first phase of the beta testing for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn on my PlayStation 4  is done, I have only one thing to say in response to playing it as thoroughly as I could: I’m going to be pre-ordering the Collector’s Edition, if possible. I’m so completely satisfied with the experience, even in its beta form; it fills in gaps that I felt were left open in other MMORPGs, including Final Fantasy XI, and fixes things that I felt needed fixing. Given, the HUD and some of the GUI things need changing in order to make it more playable, it doesn’t detract from the experience enough to keep me from wanting in. It makes me anxious to try on The Elder Scrolls Online. I’m expecting less of a cinematic and story-driven experience but if it’s anything like Skyrim and Oblivion, before it, were, I would like to get in on that as well.

That being said, if you read my last post, you can probably guess exactly where I’m going with this, now:

Oh, yes. It's time.
Oh, yes. It’s time.

It’s time to do what I’ve been meaning to do for a while; I’d been distracted by other titles. Now that the beta test is over and I’ve been annoyed to tears with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, I can return to Tales of Xillia and finish this bitch off. I played it a few times since my last post and I must say that things have gotten bumpy since my last encounter with the game. Before I go too far into where I’m at and why that is, I should probably tell you a bit about my experience with the game so far.

I kind of picked the game up on a lark, really; I’d been an off-and-on fan of Tales since its first incarnation and expected to see much of the same kinds of things from this title: tons of Japanese anime tropes, fan service, Star Ocean-style combat, decent voice acting, and a few out-of-the-blue hair-pulling experiences. Of course, I’d expected a few plot twists, every role playing game has them and, arguably, it’s how creative writing goes, these days, because you can’t have the reader getting bored; you know that having an engrossing story with interesting characters isn’t enough, these days (yeah, I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder on that one but that’s a story for a different day).

For just over half of the game, that’s exactly what I got – while, like I said before, I found the shop system to be frustrating, unnecessary, and very bothersome – it wasn’t until you reached a certain point where things start seeming like a huge plot twist was on its way, it gives you not just one plot twist, but many, one being larger than the one previous. By that point, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was committed to completing this game – which was increased by the fact that, by this point, I thought I was closer to the end of the game than I thought I actually was – I probably would have put it down but I’m glad I stuck it out because now that I’ve finally grasped the concepts needed to succeed well at this game I’ve been able to see the interesting parts of the story that has pushed me past the game’s shortcomings.

Now that I’m returning to the game I find that I have a confidence I didn’t earlier have – I now no longer have an expectation in regards to the length, plot, or difficulty of the game and am fully prepared to take on anything; maybe even moreso than I need to be. I’m ready to rock this joint. Any more of this twisty plot-twist-for-the-sake-of-grabbing-my-attention bullshit and I’m out, though.

And stay down, bitch.
And stay down, bitch.

After this, I’ll probably get back to playing Tales of Graces f and maybe try to tackle Lightning Returns, as retarded as the timing issue is on the latter. I’m out, guys; thanks for reading!

wallpaper-2235405

[ 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…

beyond2soulsthumb2

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.

Beyond-Two-Souls-1

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.

Beyond-thumb

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!

beyond-two-souls-1024x576

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.

what? me worry?

[ Game Music ] Mass Effect 3: An End Once and For All

Not only am I a great fan of game music I also love arranging and mixing some of the best stuff I’ve listened to in an effort to put my own spin on it. I think there’s a saying that goes “imitation is the greatest form of flattery” and I think these covers and mixes that I make are the greatest tribute I can offer to the composers and performers of the pieces I love.

This one is one of my favorite pieces in recent memory, from one of the greater franchises in recent memory: “An End Once and For All” from Mass Effect 3, by Cris Valesco. When listening to it, I feel the song is kind of thin but I can see it working extremely well as a piano-only piece, for dramatic effect. I think that by adding a layer to the sound really adds more to it and the synthetic feeling of it really tells of the themes behind the series, as a whole.

I hope you guys enjoy it! There will be more to come soon!

tales_of_xillia_wallpaper_by_linearlightning-d41rnh9

[ 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.

388108

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.

21609_metal_gear_solid

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.

Two_worlds_2_3

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.

the-last-of-us-logo_zps65170d9d

[ 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:

thelastofus-demo-5

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.

Ellie_in_a_jacket

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.

The-Last-of-Us-Gets-New-Batch-of-Screenshots-11

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.

0148b1fbe52e4c3dc1480187710832b1_img_full

[ Game Theory ] Dissecting The Last of Us’ Infected

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. Before I played The Last of Us, I’d only heard of this in passing; it’s a fungus that seems to spread among ants through spores in the air. The spores, once taken in by a host ant, slowly start growing inside the ant until its baser functions are overridden, presumably to benefit the fungus somehow, until the host gives up, the fungus takes over, and takes the host to a very specific spot where it is left to die, sprout several stalks which then release spores from which other ants would be infected. The process is still mostly a mystery to us and it’s been known to take out whole colonies of ants and acts in a very specific manner. What we do know is that it infects the ant, takes over basic motor function, only to drag it to a very specific area so that way it can spread its spores. All the details inbetween are difficult for us to understand  at this point and, frankly, it’s kind of scary that such a thing exists.

In The Last of Us, this fungus exists and has mutated in such a way that it takes over humans to the same purpose. While it seems obvious what the end result is, physically, there’s a lot of questions raised in-game about what the infection really is and what happens to humans when they become infected. I’ve brushed off an article type that I rarely get into, game analysis and theory, to break this one apart and see if I can answer these questions. To understand the infection, you have to start from what is plainly obvious – the progress and stages of the infection, of which there are five known types:

all runners, aside from the clicker bringing up the rear.
all runners, aside from the clicker bringing up the rear.

The Runners

Perhaps the most recognizable form of the infected, the runners have retained most of their humanity. They still have most of their motor function and the fungus has only started destroying their psyche: when the spores are inhaled, they dissolve and start spreading throughout the body, releasing into the blood and taking root in the brain. Cordyceps has only one purpose: to spread and thrive and that is the first instinct implanted into the brain as it starts breaking down the personality of the infected. Runners will thrash about, not totally understanding the commands being sent by the fungus, running at the nearest target, torn between the commands being grafted on and the need to be released from the infection. This tear in their minds, as it’s slowly being overwritten, causes a great amount of torment in the infected and it’s clear – even in the picture above – that the runners are tormented.

They seem a lot like the “zombies” from 28 Days Later, also affected by a pandemic and not reanimated from the dead. While the two are driven by two different instinctual needs, two things need to be noted: there is still very much a human being beneath the infection at this point and the basic need to spread the infection is prevalent. This stage takes place within the first two days of infection, spreading quickly and taking root in the psychosis almost immediately, depending on the nature of infection; it seems to spread quicker from a bite than from breathing in spores, as a bite eliminated the need to dissolve and, as such, can take a direct route to the important parts of the body needed to take root.

As I’ve implied, I think it’s this stage that’s caused people to associate the pandemic with zombies: the infection spreads best through bites and the infected lose most of their motor skills and personality.

a stalker that has almost become a clicker.
a stalker that has almost become a clicker.

The Stalkers

This one’s kind of hard to differentiate between the others as it’s a kind of middle-point between the clickers and the runners. There’s no set time between when an infected becomes a stalker – it would appear that the willpower, strength of body and mind, and health seems to affect the time lapse of infection. Stalkers are especially deadly because they start developing traits and abilities of clickers without the total loss of motor function and perception, making a sort of hybrid.

What’s most important to note, here, is the growth that starts forming on their head. The actual purpose of this growth isn’t actually stated in the game or any in-game literature but there’s a few things I’ve considered: first and foremost, photosynthesis, the conversion of light into energy for a plant, meaning a plant would expose itself in a way so that it can convert light into energy; the Wikipedia article for this brand of cordyceps state that it fortifies the structure of ants in some way while taking root, meaning that this could serve as some kind of cushioning or armoring for the body; it is commonly believed in some circles that human senses only cloud the human mind to what’s really important, meaning that this growth would actually take away senses that the fungus actually knows will only get in the way. Whatever its purpose, be it a mixture of those three things or none of them at all, is never fully explained.

the last stage for many infected; the clicker.
the last stage for many infected; the clicker.

The Clickers

Characterized by the clicking noise they make in order to exhibit echolocation – making use of the few senses they have left to locate their pray and attack. The brain has degenerated to a point where it’s almost entirely consumed and overwritten by the fungus – this means that sensations of pain are gone, emotions are lacking, and the only portion of humanity left is a portion driven completely insane: somewhere between where a stalker becomes a clicker, the infected retains a sense of survival and soon the fungus and infected become codependent on one another. At this point I still believe that there is still a sense of humanity in the infected, at this point, though it’s in shambles – it has been driven mad by the fact that in order to continue living it has to be the fungi’s willing puppet. So much so that when it finds a living being nearby it goes into a rage without consideration of the life it’s about to take.

Some have stated that the attacks – bite-driven, most times – are driven simply to spread the infection; though, to me, there seems to be a bit of hostility there: if you’ve ever died at the hands of a clicker, you’ll see that they simply don’t bite to spread the infection but rather they take a chunk right out of the victim’s neck. They are biting to kill. That makes me believe there is a sense of humanity still left, still hanging on, but barely there and, by this point, symbiotic with the fungus.

a bloater: the true monstrosity.
a bloater: the true monstrosity.

The Bloaters

In very few of the infected does the fungus – or injury – not kill them. In these, the fungus continues to grow to the point where they are more plant than man, becoming something Joel and a friend called “bloaters”. These infected have grown to the point where their entire body is covered in fungal growth, serving as a kind of protection but also gives it strength via photosynthesis. The bloaters seem to rely on a kind of spore bomb that is produced from these growths, which the bloater launches at its target – which seems to harm and not infect. This is interesting because the goal of this version of the infected, yet again, has changed its instinctual priority. Before, driving the infected mad was key to spreading the infection – through its flailing attack, an infected was able to spread the infection by opening a wound on a victim and coming into contact with spores, presumably from the attacker. Clickers, though, seemed to change its priority to growth maturity and self-defense. Bloaters, however, seem to take this priority to becoming entirely offensive and spreading a type of spore that does not infect the victim but harms them in some way. This could have been an oversight by the writers but somehow I doubt it.

I would assume that the symbiotic relationship between the fungus and the infected has grown to the point where its rage is pointed in a different direction: the human and fungus need each other, now, and the fungus has created such growth that it doesn’t have to worry about very much physical harm anymore. What’s left of the humanity in the infected is nearly gone, at this point, possibly driven to such a point in their insanity that they want to kill all they see that isn’t them. This role has made them extremely dangerous.

what's left.
what’s left.

The Dead

When the infected has succumbed to injury or has grown too weak as a result of the infection, they move to a very specific area to, basically, shed their human form in order to grow spouts which burst at its full growth, releasing spores into the air. Large groups of the infected dead can cause problems for those passing through as they usually choose dark, humid, and closed-in areas to discard themselves in. These areas actually attract some of the nearby infected, as it tells them this is an ideal place to discard of their humanly form.

It would seem that, injury not included, the willpower and strength of heart can keep an infected alive as it matters not to the fungus whether the human can be used as a host – it takes root in the most ideal spot and spreads its spores to find a stronger host. What question this begs is this: is the fungus really just trying to reproduce or is there some kind of larger scheme at play, using humans as drones? It’s hard to say.

this is the kicker:
this is the kicker:

Great Big Spoiler Alert

The evidence behind most of my thoughts in this is in that Ellie carries the infection and yet does not succumb to the infection. How this is done is not really explained but the plain fact is that her body has rejected the spores. Humanity was quick to evolve past this naturally occurring pandemic and I believe it has something to do with the metabolism, somehow: causing the spores to die before they get a chance to get through the nervous system and into the brain. I’m no chemist but it’s either that or something in her blood – a kind of natural defense against the spores.

In conclusion, I seriously believe that the infection does not take over the human body completely but rather creates a kind of symbiotic relationship with the host, a codependency, making the human host, eventually, rely on the fungus to carry on its common goal. It’s really interesting to think about this and incredibly scary but there it is… my thoughts.

The-Last-of-Us-joel-with-human-shield

[ Blog ] Playing The Last of Us, Pt. 1

I hate snipers. I can only think of two scenarios in which I love snipers and both of them involve me being the sniper: either we’re both snipers and it’s one-on-one – which I almost always win – or I’m the only sniper and I’m picking people off. When I’m outnumbered by grunts on foot, the playing field is wide open, and there is a single sniper with a wide open view of almost the entire area… well, I just think that’s unfair. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m stuck in a kind of open neighborhood, strewn with abandoned cars and appliances, with a sniper a few clicks away from me and many grunts along the way. This means having to avoid the grunts if possible, find alternate routes through the houses, and get at the sniper. I’m used to being able to pick off the sniper somehow but that proved fruitless. Even though I found the guy and took him out, being on the other end wasn’t that simple. Grunts came pouring out of the woodwork and then I was swarmed with infected.

I think there’s something that I touched on in my First Impressions review that I need to reiterate: how successful I’ve been feels like it directly correlates to how resourceful I am. Whether it’s scouring the area for resources, checking for workbenches, even retrieving arrows after they were shot to kill enemies, it would seem that the more I did this, the more prepared I was for what was to come. When you’re faced with a building filled to the brim with infected and you’ve got squat for resources, your entire game plan has to change. I’ve found myself unable to find a play style to carry through the game thus far. I’ve had to adjust my game plan for every combat scenario and, while I think that kind of sucks because I’m methodical when it comes to stuff like that, I’m growing used to it and learning to appreciate it. I find myself often going “alright, there’s about five clickers and a bloater here… time to set a blade bomb, throw a brick, keep a Molotov out just in case, and watch the magic happen” when things are okay but things can turn panicky in a quick second once things don’t go as planned or you find out you planned wrong. Don’t try applying situations that worked to other situations, either; you’ll find yourself in a problem before you know it. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error, early on, that’s for sure.

in other words, you're going to see a lot of this.
in other words, you’re going to see a lot of this.

In my earlier article about this game, too, you’ll see that I drew connections between this game, the movie I Am Legend and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. There’s a good reason for that – in all of these, there’s nothing really new here: all three present to you stuff you should have known and probably expected but the storytelling and presentation are so good that you’re surprised and shocked by it anyway. This is probably the best kind of experience – it’s one thing to be shocked when something happens that you didn’t expect, it’s another to be shocked by something that you expected but didn’t anticipate anyway… but in the case of The Last of Us, you’re shocked because you may have expected but it all happens so suddenly that you have no time to properly process what’s going on. That’s great writing, right there. It takes situations that aren’t all that likely but are realistic enough to be presented in a kind of “what-if” manner that really makes something like this hit a little closer to home than some fantastical tale of spaceships and overpowered heroes.

I’m about ten or eleven hours into the game, now and I think it’s time I give it a rest. I’ve had my triumphs, my shocks, my stresses, and I’ve come to yet another grinding halt that tells me nothing more than I should give it a break and attempt again when I’ve got a clear mind. I almost wanted to keep going to stay with the immersion – Joel and Ellie aren’t often getting breaks so why should I? Then I fast forward through a few more attempts and I realize I’m just playing a video game and put it down. Good gods. I’m beginning to wonder when I can see the home stretch without realizing things aren’t quite what they seem when I get there.