‘The Last of Us’ Diary: Part VII — Hey Brother!

May 24, 2015 in Game Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Fall

Note: This is the seventh part of a multi-part series detailing my experiences, observations and thoughts on The Last of Us on PS3. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here and Part 6 here.

Day 13 (May 17, 2015)

The Last of Us needed a change of pace after the heavy tragedy of Sam and Henry, and the game makers clearly recognised this when they decided on the events of the next Act. First of all, they moved time forward, changing seasons to autumn.

That’s one of the things the game does extremely well — creating the feeling that there is a real passage of time. Most video games don’t take the time or effort to do that — it’s just one scene to the next — but here it’s important to get the sense that Joel and Ellie are growing closer and that they have been through a lot together.

After a bit of exploration, Joel and Ellie arrive at what appears to be a massive compound with security gates. Their attempt to open the gate prompts another major coincidence (one I can live with) — the reappearance of Joel’s brother Tommy.

hey brother

This meeting was set up beautifully given that Joel had just said, moments earlier, that he and Tommy did not part on good terms after a difference of philosophies about the new world order. “I believe his last words were; ‘I don’t ever want to see your goddamn face again’,” Joel said.

If you don’t recall, Tommy was the guy who saved Joel’s life by killing the soldier who was about to kill his brother all those years ago, but I guess Joel’s inability to cope with the loss of Sarah, his daughter, drove a wedge between the siblings. As the story goes, Tommy joined the Fireflies after growing sick of the shit Joel was doing to survive. His appearance at this juncture, however, means he must have left the Fireflies, and his warm embrace of Joel when they meet again suggests he has let bygones be bygones.

Hey, Brother!

Hey, Brother!

I know what you’re thinking about right now — Sawyer from Lost!

I swear, the makers of this game must have been huge Lost fans. First it was Michael and Walt, and now Sawyer. I mean, just look at the resemblance.

Even the accents are similar

Even the accents are similar

I don’t know if or when the movie’s gonna be made, but Holloway has to be the No. 1 pick for the role of Tommy. It’s not a huge role, but it’s a pivotal one, and Holloway hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since Lost, meaning he should be amenable to such a role should it be presented to him. A-listers like Bradley Cooper aren’t likely to say yes to such a minor role, so it opens the door for guys on the second and third tiers to jump at the chance.

Since parting ways, Tommy has joined the Fireflies, left the Fireflies, and hooked up with a blonde lass named Maria who runs a compound with her daddy. The place reminded me a little of a mix of all the compounds in The Walking Dead, from Woodbury to Terminus to the Alexandria Safe Zone. There are people working odd jobs all over the place and others seemingly living in harmony. But most importantly, there are horses!

Horsey

Every post-apocalyptic world needs horses as the primary means of transport

It’s a shame we didn’t get to spend too much more time in Tommy’s compound, which apparently isn’t that safe anyway. Following a grand tour of the premises, the compound suddenly comes under attack by Hunters who have someone made their way in. So much for security. I took care of business and showed these compound pussies how it’s done out there in the real world.

Not long after that, Ellie overhears Joel and Tommy’s arrangement to have Tommy escort Ellie to the Fireflies — since he used to be a part of them and all — and Maria’s stern opposition to the whole deal. She’s a scary woman.

She reminds me of a west side story

She reminds me of a west side story

By the way, Ashley Scott, who voiced and motion captured for Maria, would be a good fit for the movie role.

Seems like a good match for Sawyer, I mean Tommy

Seems like a good match for Sawyer, I mean Tommy

The argument leads to Ellie stealing one of the horses and taking off, which is awesome, because it means Joel finally gets to ride a horse! Joel and Tommy each grab a horse and away they go, and just as I expected, the controls for horseriding are very smooth.

I'm on a horse

I’m on a horse motherf&*er

We track Ellie to a bunch of Hunters in the woods and crush them easily. Eventually, we find Ellie’s horse outside a house, and Joel finds her in a young girl’s room, reading the girl’s diary and being astounded by the kinds of things teenagers used to worry about. Remember, this messed up world is all Ellie knows because she was born into it. The diary is one of many subtle comments The Last of Us makes about contemporary society and materialism, along with the movie posters and advertising they come across throughout the game. It’s clever commentary too, not the hackneyed stuff you typically see in video games.

Anyway, this is one of the most pivotal scenes in the entire game. Ellie mentions Joel’s daughter, Sarah, for the first time (she heard it from that loudmouth Maria), prompting Joel to go apeshit and declaring that they are going their separate ways despite Ellie confessing that she does not want to go with Tommy and wants to stay with Joel.

Now, this is my take on what the scene means. Up to this point in the game, Joel’s relationship with Ellie has grown close, but he hasn’t really admitted to what she truly means to him, ie, someone who can fill the gaping hole left by the death of Sarah. In the very beginning, he thought of her as nothing more than a nuisance, a burden, but over time, and especially since Tess’s death, Joel has come to accept her as a companion and someone he can trust with his life.

It wasn’t until his meeting with Tommy, however, that the emotions of the past were dredged up from the recesses of Joel’s memory. From the start of the game, Tommy has appeared to be the stronger one. He was the one who drove over to pick up Joel and Ellie when the outbreak commenced, shielding them from zombies as they fled for safety. He was also the one who saved Joel’s life by shooting the soldier. He was the one who joined the Fireflies to “save the world” while Joel was still caught up in self-destructive behaviour.

It is therefore no surprise that Joel believes Tommy can take better care of Ellie than he can. One the on hand it keeps her safe, and on the other it keeps him from facing his true feelings about her. Perhaps most importantly, the decision shelters Joel from the responsibility and pain should something happen to Ellie, something he cannot bear to experience again. Three birds with one stone.

Ellie’s a smart gal, so she must know a little of what Joel’s thinking, but her assurances — about not being Sarah — comes across to Joel as calling out his cowardice and shirking of responsibility, causing him to react the same way he has for the past 20 years — defensively and heartlessly.

Bye Tommy

Bye Tommy

Fortunately for them both, a bunch of Hunters attack the house, and for Joel, it either resets his perspective or gives him the requisite time to come to his senses. Whatever the catalyst, he realises by the time it is to say goodbye to Tommy that he and Ellie are in this together, for better or worse. Rather than hiding from his fears, he has decided that the only way to exorcise his demons is to face them head on.

And so he makes up an excuse about being scared of Maria and sends Tommy home to his wife. As we will see, it’s a decision that will change their fates forever.

Godammit I love this game!

Movie Review: The Lazarus Effect (2015)

May 22, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller


Jesus may have raised Lazarus from the dead, but in the case of the Lazarus Effect, death would actually be a welcome relief from this disaster of a horror flick.

I didn’t have high hopes for this film, but I figured anything with a star like Olivia Wilde in the lead role can’t be that bad. Wilde plays a medical researcher (really believable already) who along with her fiancé (Mark Duplass) and a couple of other guys who could not look less like medical researchers (Evan Peters and Donald Glover) develop the “Lazarus” serum, a magical concoction they believe can bring the dead back to life.

You already see where this is heading, right?

The catalyst for moving the plot along is the arrival of a young and attractive videographer (Sarah Bolger), who has asked to tape their experiments — though thankfully, this is not a found-footage film.

I don’t consider the following a spoiler because it’s obvious from the poster. Naturally, after attaining some level of success, something happens that ends up requiring Duplass to inject Wilde with the serum. And of course, she “comes back”, but is not quite the same, and shit soon starts to happen.

The biggest problem I had with The Lazarus Effect is its complete sense of predictability. The premise is actually quite good, but the script pulled out every horror cliche in the catalogue and the story went along exactly as you would have guessed for a movie of this kind. I don’t claim to know what they could have done differently, I just know whatever they did failed to work.

There were a handful of times throughout the movie when I said to my wife, “X is going to happen” or “Y is going to say Z”, and each time I was proven right, and right on cue. Maybe I’ve seen too many horror films, but it was just disappointing to not experience anything unexpected, including the scare tactics, most of which were “boo” moments we’ve seen many times.

The cast is nice to look at and their performances are fine, though they don’t get to do much because of the insipid characters they’ve been given.

It’s a shame, because The Lazarus Effect has some interesting themes and questions about life, death and the afterlife, but none of these are even close to being fleshed out. Instead, the experience was bogged down by familiar horror tropes, wasting a promising premise and cast.

1.5 stars out of 5

‘The Last of Us’ Diary: Part VI — Say Hello to My Little friend

May 21, 2015 in Game Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Hunters

Here come the Hunters

Note: This is the fifth part of a multi-part series detailing my experiences, observations and thoughts on The Last of Us on PS3. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here and Part 5 here.

Day 10 (May 14, 2015)

After farewelling the affable Bill, Joel and Ellie keep driving until they reach an elevated bridge packed with abandoned cars, forcing them to change route. This leads them right into a trap set up by “Hunters”, basically criminals who hunt down travellers and other people for their possessions and god knows what else.

Joel, having been “on both sides” in the past, is able to see through the act and avoids the initial onslaught, but their car eventually crashes and they must take out the nasty dudes one by one. Vastly outnumbered, it’s just not a smart idea to take these guys head on, so stealth, quiet kills (either by choking or shiv) and taking hostages becomes very important.

What shocked me, however, was that some of these bad dudes had impressive weapons of their own, including my favourite, the Molotov cocktail. There was this one time when I killed one of the Hunters and was feeling very pleased with myself as I waited behind a car for his companion to walk right into my lap, and before I knew it I was on fire and screaming! The bastard threw a Molotov cocktail at me! That’s my move!

molotov

Watch this

Molotov2

Bwahahahaha!

This brings me to the subject of weaponry, another aspect of The Last of Us that hits the nail on the head. The weapons system in this game is sublime. It’s smooth, it’s real time, and it’s neither too easy nor too hard. I still stuff up way too often when I panic, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

The fundamentals are straightforward. If you don’t have a melee weapon, you can punch and kick your opponent with the square button. It’s not as simple as button bashing, however, as if you time the punches wrong or if you are out of range, your opponent will seize the opportunity and beat you up. Dudes can also grab you from behind like in a prison shower, so you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Occasionally, the game offers an opportunity to perform a counter move, at which time the triangle button will pop up on the screen. If you press it in time, you can evade a punch and then carry out attacks of your own.

Take that!

Take that!

Bullets are relatively scarce throughout most of the game, so I was a big fan of just punching it out. It’s a great stress reliever, especially when you’re surrounded by so many enemies. Even better than punching people is a great melee weapon — like tyre irons, baseball bats and wooden beams — particularly one that has been “upgraded” so that the blades get “stuck” in the enemy and you have to pull it out. The only un-upgraded weapon that has a similar effect is the axe. I may have just outed myself as a sadist, but boy it is satisfying.

The axe is Jack's fave weapon too!

The axe is Jack’s fave weapon too!

Moving on to projectiles. The game has the brick and the glass bottle, both of which can be used to divert the attention of an enemy or stun them, so you can then run up and hack them to pieces! It’s one of the most useful items in the game, especially against gangs of clickers or when there aren’t many human enemies to battle.

I already mentioned the Molotov cocktail before. My second favourite after that is the smoke bomb, which creates a cloud of smoke to briefly incapacitate a group of enemies. The most valuable aspect of this weapon is that enemies will not shoot at you through the smoke, which is particularly useful when taking on multiple baddies.

The one I use the least is the nail bomb, which sounds nasty and is quite explosive, but I tend to prefer the Molotov because I like watching my enemies burn. With the nail bomb there’s just body parts left lying around in the aftermath.

nailbomb

I really don’t know why I don’t use the nail bomb more

In terms of guns, The Last of Us has plenty for players to find and upgrade. You start off with a small handgun, but later one you will come across shotguns, rifles, magnums, guns with scopes, and even a flamethrower. I like how the game splits them into short and long weapons, so you can equip one of each at a time for ease of access. If you want to change guns you’ll have to crouch down and reach into your backpack, which could render your vulnerable to enemies. As the game progresses, you’ll get the opportunity to add one more holster for both short and long weapons.

The shittiest long-range weapon has to be the bow and arrow. I’m a big fan of Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, but the bow in The Last of Us is not a crossbow but more like a Katniss Everdeen bow. It’s quiet, but the range is limited and shaky as hell, and if you miss they’ll all know about it.

Daryl's crossbow would have been much better

Daryl’s crossbow would have been much better

My favourite short weapon is probably “shorty”, which is more or less a short shotgun. I can’t aim when I freak out, and shorty provides a pretty solid blast radius. My favourite long weapon is the good ol’ shotgun. Again, it’s the blast radius that I like, though it’s its ability to blow apart enemies at close range that brings me back to it over and over again.

Shotgun

Shotgun blasts at close range are the best

And of course there is the flamethrower, which is one of the last things you’ll find. I don’t find it super useful because it has a relatively short range, but the effects are undeniable spectacular.

flamethrower

The flamethrower in action in a multiplayer game

The upgrade system is based on these gears you can find lying all over the gaming environment. An upgrade — like faster reload time, higher clip capacity or reduced sway — costs a certain number of gears, so you should pick and choose your favourite weapons and just stick to upgrading those. Importantly, upgraded can only be done on tool benches, which you’ll be able to find in limited number of places.

And before I forget, I really like that you can actually see the weapons on Joel’s back. Realism!

Anyway, the Hunters are a bitch. After clearing out the first batch, Joel and Ellie venture into an old hotel and have to take out a whole other gang of them. Things get interesting when an accident forces the two to separate, and when Joel finds himself being overpowered by a macho Hunter he ends up being saved by Ellie.

Ellie blows some dude's head off

Ellie blows some dude’s head off

This leads to Joel trusting Ellie enough to give her a gun, though I certainly could not tell that she helped at all in the next sequence, when she was supposed to help me out with a rifle from above while I took on another batch of Hunters. She was useless. I was on my own out there, I tell ya.

Days 11 & 12 (May 15 & 16)

All that hiding from Hunters leads Joel and Ellie onto a building ledge, from which they travel around the building and through a window. Suddenly, Joel is jumped by a dude out of nowhere, but being the badass Joel is, he starts pummeling the dude until Ellie lets him know that there’s a kid pointing a gun at him.

The dude and the kid are Henry and Sam, a couple of brothers. They seem to be less wary of us because of Ellie, and soon an alliance of sorts is established. It’s clear these two are going to be our new travelling companions, for however long they last.

Henry Sam

Henry and Sam

Henry and Sam, as soon as I saw them, brought up memories of Michael and Walt from Lost.

walt and michael

Walt and Michael

I initially thought Henry and Sam were father and son, as I did with Michael and Walt, but as it turned out they are siblings in both cases. Harold Perrineau, who played Michael in Lost, is nearly 52 now, and even though “black don’t crack,” he’s just way too old now to play Henry in the movie version of The Last of Us unless they change it to a father-son relationship. So I don’t know who they’ll get. Michael B Jordan (the new Human Torch in the Fantastic Four reboot)? Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther)? You tell me. As long as they don’t get Jaden Smith to play Sam (who’s supposed to be 13) I’ll be OK.

Travelling with Henry and Sam was pretty cool while it lasted. There was a sad scene when they found themselves in a toy store and Sam wanted to pick up a toy robot, only to be admonished by Henry because their rule is to only take what they need. Later on, if you look carefully and not face Joel in Ellie’s direction, you’ll see her pick up the robot for Sam, which is a nice little touch to the game.

Toy store

Henry forces Sam to leave the toy robot

The plan they came up was to escape the Hunters at night via a guarded gate. I tried stealth for as long as possible, but eventually I didn’t know how to proceed without gunning down the dudes on top of the tower, so we ended up having an all-out gun battle. Fortunately, Henry could hold his own, and it wasn’t that hard to take care of all them.

After passing the gate, this suped-up armored car starts coming after them, and in the panic Henry and Sam decide to ditch Joel to save their own skins. Dick move on their part. Ellie comes back to join Joel because she’s awesome, and together they find another way out.

The armored car tracks Joel and Ellie down later on and they’re forced to jump off a bridge.

Bridge

Jumpin’ Jumpin’

The next part of the story takes a bit of a leap here, no pun intended. Joel passes out after crashing into rocks from the current, and when he wakes up he sees that both he and Ellie had been rescued by Henry and Sam. What are the odds?

Ellie convinces Joel to not smash Henry’s head in, and together they move on again, this time into some sort of underground sewerage facility packed with zombies.

Sewers

Smells nice

This was a pretty intense part of the game because it was such a claustrophobic environment. What made it worse as the gradual discovery that there used to be a group of people living in there, with little kids and all, led by this dude named Ish, who left a lot of diaries and notes lying around for people to find. They all died, of course, because some idiot left the door open or something and the zombies came flooding in. All it takes is one idiot.

This was also the place where Joel and Ellie get separated again, and for a little whole Joel ends up with Sam and Ellie with Henry. Mixed things up a little, I guess, but it didn’t make much of a difference, to be honest.

After the escape from the facility and a bit of scavenging came something a little different — an encounter with a sniper. This part was really fun but also really frustrating. Basically, there’s a sniper up in a building up ahead with a bunch of henchmen guarding him, and Joel must find a way to get to the sniper without getting shot. This meant plenty of stealth as I proceeded up towards the building, but it was extremely difficult to get to the sniper because it was hard to pick off all the henchmen without being spotted.

I died about a dozen times, more or less, before I figured out the best way, which was to throw plenty of smoke bombs to shield myself from the sniper while I picked off the henchmen. It wasn’t easy, but I got the job done, and after disposing of the sniper something even more interesting happened — I had to become the sniper!

Barry Pepper or Mark Wahlberg?

Barry Pepper or Mark Wahlberg?

As Joel waves Ellie, Henry and Sam to come toward him, the trio gets swarmed by enemy combatants, and Joel must use the sniper gun to pick them off before they get to his friends. I sucked at this, of course, so it took me a few tries to take out all the enemies.

Shortly after that, zombies come running, but it appeared that it didn’t matter whether I’d be able to shoot any of them because there were way too many anyway. I knew there must have been a reason for this, and sure enough, my fears were confirmed when the story led into a long cut sequence with Ellie and Sam. This could only mean one thing — someone was going to die soon!

And I was right. Sam got bitten during the zombie attack earlier and turned over the course of the night. And when he attacked Ellie the next morning, Henry was left with no choice but to shoot his little brother. Wracked with guilt, Henry shoots himself in the head.

Henry

Do it!

I wasn’t too torn up about it. I still remember Henry leaving me behind earlier! Karma’s a bitch, bitch.

Still, first Joel’s daughter, and now Sam. That’s two dead kids in one game already. Brutal.

Movie Review: Ex Machina (2015)

May 21, 2015 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

ex_machina-1920x1080

In the superhero era, sci-fi movies these days are bigger, louder and more special-effected (is that a word?), and so I was really looking forward to Ex Machina, the low-budget (US$15 million) directorial debut of career screenwriter Alex Garland, best known for penning the scripts to sci-fi semi-classics like 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go (and he wrote the novel The Beach, which was made into that movie with Leo DiCaprio and Virginie Ledoyen).

The film received an avalanche of hype as early as last year, and I’m glad to say it does not disappoint. As a pure sci-fi story that goes back to the roots of the genre, Ex Machina delivers. Despite very little action and a deliberately mellow pace, the film is gripping, thought-provoking, tense and claustrophobic all the way through.

Without giving too much away, the film begins with a young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) from the world’s largest search engine company, Bluebook (basically Google), winning a contest to meet the company’s enigmatic billionaire CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who lives in a secluded research facility that requires a helicopter to access. Nathan invites Caleb to participate in an experiment involving his latest creation, a beautiful humanoid android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). It’s Caleb’s task, through conversations and observation, to judge whether Ava has consciousness, or whether she’s just simulating consciousness. And so begins an intriguing series of “sessions” between Caleb and Ava as Nathan looks on through surveillance video.

As you would expect, things are not as simple as they appear, and soon Caleb finds himself with a lot of unanswered questions. There are mini twists and turns galore, with Caleb growing more paranoid about both Ava and Nathan, and eventually, himself. Who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? Who’s playing whom? It’s one of those films where you never stop questioning the characters’ motives and what they are trying to achieve, and it’s this mystery that provides the strong pulse to the heart of the tale. It helps that it’s not a hackneyed plot that relies on one massive twist to shock audiences — this is a fascinating sci-fi story from start to finish.

In typical classic sci-fi fashion, there is a surrealistic feel to the experience that is almost dreamlike. The high-tech facility where the bulk of the film is set is grey and sombre, and the windowless walls seem as though they are closing in on Caleb as his paranoia and claustrophobia grows. The facility is juxtaposed nicely with the outdoor scenery the characters occasionally escape to, providing a technology vs nature dichotomy that plays into the film’s layered themes.

The film would not be what it is without the spectacular performance of Alicia Vikander, a Swedish actress whom I had only seen once prior, in the disappointing Seventh SonVikander is a perfect blend of beauty, sexuality and grace, and her dancing background really helped provide the right mix of human and robot to Ava. You believe what she is — a highly intelligent robot who could easily be mistaken for an attractive human but for the see-through limbs and mid-section. Everything about her performance, from the way she moved to the facial expressions and even the way she spoke contributed to making Ava so authentic that she bordered on creepy. Most importantly, she makes you believe in Caleb’s reactions to her. Vikander’s going to be a star, no doubt about it.

Oscar Issac also impresses as Nathan, a genius with demons to exorcise. After seeing him shine in Inside Llewyn Davis, The Two Faces of January and A Most Violent Year, I knew this was going to be the case. Isaac is a chameleon capable of playing anyone, and the intensity he brings to Nathan elevates the character into more than it should have been. Can’t wait to see him in the new Star Wars film at the end of the year.

By contrast, Gleeson is the weakest link. He’s pretty good as Caleb — just not as eye-catching as the other two — though I suspect the burden of suppressing his Irish accent in favour of an American one affected his performance to some degree. Interestingly, the first time I saw Gleeson was in an episode of Black Mirror, the brilliant Charlie Brooker sci-fi series, where he played a life-like android himself. That was a phenomenal story with parallels to this one, and I’d recommend fans of the movie to check out the “Be Right Back” episode of Black Mirror if they haven’t already.

Ex Machina does have a few holes in it as the story veers towards its tense conclusion, a problem common to even the best sci-fi films, though on the whole it’s hard to ask for much more from Garland in his directorial debut. It’s also a fine film from an aesthetics perspective; the special effects are used sparingly but effectively — mostly on Ava’s semi-transparent body — and the cinematography does a solid job of balancing the emotional and visual aspects. This is a fable that will make you think about the inevitable fallibility of human nature and the future of technology, especially in an age when artificial intelligence is making it difficult to distinguish sci-fi from reality. Even Stephen Hawking said recently that he believes “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Now think about that.

4.5 stars out of 5

‘The Last of Us’ Diary: Part V — Scavenging

May 20, 2015 in Game Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

upsidedown

Shooting zombies while hanging upside down is a tense experience

Note: This is the fifth part of a multi-part series detailing my experiences, observations and thoughts on The Last of Us on PS3. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

Day 7 (May 11, 2015)

It sucked saying farewell to Tess, who sacrificed herself so that Joel and Ellie can escape the nasty soldiers. From here, it’s just the two of us (we can make it if we try). Just the two of us (you and I).

Record store

One of the coolest things about the game is just listening to conversations between Joel and Ellie as they wander through the wilderness. Shortly after leaving Tess behind, they walk into an old record store full classic vinyls, and Ellie remarks on how sad it is that no one is around to listen to it. Kinda made me upset just thinking about how there’s no one in their world listening to this.

A major part of the game that I have not gone into detail is the art of scavenging. Most survival horrors and action games require players to explore environments and look for items and boosts, but few do it as well as The Last of Us.

For starters, the game features “realistic” household goods you would expect to find in a post- apocalyptic world — such as scissors, tape, alcohol, rags, sugar, etc — and requires the player to combine them to create different usable items like health kits and Molotov cocktails. One of the most important things you can make is a shiv, which allows you to kill clickers with. Stuff can also be added to melee weapons to make them extra deadly.

Secondly, the items don’t just pop up in random places and are typically found in places like kitchens, bathrooms, military camp tents and so forth. It adds a sense of realism to the exploration and scavenging you don’t always find in similar games.

Thirdly, it actually takes time to create items from the raw materials. Most of the time that’s irrelevant, but occasionally you’ll find you need to craft a health kit or shiv when you’re under enemy attack, and in these situations you can’t just pause the game and make one because it will leave you vulnerable to attack.

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140808021751

Fourthly, the game keeps items relatively scarce so that you can’t hoard them for a rainy day. I never felt like there wasn’t enough to survive, but I also never felt like I was super comfortable to the point where a glut of enemies didn’t scare me. It helps that you only have enough space in your backpack to store three of each crafted item, so even if you can make more you won’t be able to.

Lastly, I felt like there was just the right amount of scavenging and exploration in the game. Some games have so little scavenging that you feel like it’s a waste of time, while others provide too much freedom to explore and can end up confusing and frustrating players.

Take for example the first Resident Evil game. That was a game that required heaps of exploration, scavenging and puzzle solving, so much so that you can literally spend hours moving back and forth all over the place just to figure out what you’re supposed to do next. Freedom is a great thing for a game like Grand Theft Auto, but for a survival horror it’s a little too much.

Juxtapose that with the latest entry in the franchise, Resident Evil 6, where there was so much pointless, superfluous activity even a brain dead person (no pun intended) could figure it out. There were just so many empty rooms and corridors that served no purpose, and sequences that required nothing more than the press of a single button.

The Last of Us manages to find a middle ground that creates the “illusion of freedom”. You feel like you have enough freedom to move around and explore if that’s what you like to do, but not so much that it becomes frustrating to navigate through the game.

Days 8 & 9 (May 12 & 13, 2015)

Day 8 saw the introduction of one of my favourite characters, Bill, an old acquaintance of Joel’s. Bill’s a reluctant hero who has set up traps all over the place and only agrees to help Joel to settle their ledger.

Bill

Bill and Ellie don’t get along, and that’s just fine

The plan is to find a car, and Bill apparently knows where we can find one in working condition. Bill’s extremely resourceful because he knows his way around and is pretty handy with a gun. I knew I could count on him if I ever got in trouble with runners or stalkers.

Part of his appeal is the hilarious banter he has with Ellie and the one liners he spews out. He’s such a macho, gruff kinda fellow that it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that Bill is actually gay (unless he was a lawyer talking about his old practice when referring to his “partner”). What I like about the decision is that it doesn’t feel forced or cliched — for the sake of adding “diversity” to video game characters — and comes across as just an aspect of his character that doesn’t change anything of substance about him.

Bill 2

Not that there’s anything wrong with that

It was therefore quite an emotional scene when, after discovering that the engine of the car they were looking for had been emptied out, Bill stumbles across the body his partner hanging in a house, apparently from a suicide. It was just a split second, but the pain that flashed across his face said it all. Joel would later find a letter from said partner trashing Bill and calling him a coward, a letter I would withhold from him for his sake (though I read somewhere that you can show it to him).

Bill Partner

Bill and Joel discover the body

Fortunately for them, Bill’s partner had taken the car parts and put them in his own car, which meant we now had a vehicle to get away from Boston. Sadly, it also meant saying goodbye to Bill, as we dropped him off back home after we managed to get the car started (while fighting zombies along the way). From the way they said goodbye, it looks like we won’t be seeing him again in this game.

PS: I thought it was interesting that the fact that Bill’s gay completely went over the heads of some people. OK, maybe “partner” can mean several things, but it was pretty obvious from the way he spoke of the dude and his reaction to his death that they weren’t just buddies. And just to make things extra clear, the men’s mag that Ellie pulled out in the car — a very funny scene, by the way — should have made it crystal. I guess sometimes you just have to shake your head at the stupidity.

Bill Mag

Ellie pulls a joke on Joel

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