Movie Review: Demonic (2015)

June 13, 2015 in Game Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

demonic-horror-movie-news

This is a weird one. Demonic is produced and concocted by Aussie legend James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring, Furious 7), which is why the posters want everyone to know it’s “presented by James Wan.” It stars the reliable Maria Bello and rising star Frank Grillo from The Purge: Anarchy and soon-to-be Crossbones from the Marvel universe. It should be pretty good, right?

Well, it’s not. The warning signs were there. The project was supposedly announced in 2011 as House of Horrors, but went through developmental hell before getting its release date repeatedly pushed back from 2013 all the way to 2015. That’s never a good omen.

The story is about a bunch of young people who conduct a seance in an abandoned house where people once got slaughtered in an occult-related incident. It starts off after something has happened to the youngsters and one of them is left to tell a detective (Grillo) and psychologist (Bello) what happened, and they have to piece together the mystery from footage they took to document the experience.

Not exactly original, but the use of a non-linear format and a combination of traditional filming techniques and found footage is at least more intriguing than just found footage. And you can sense some of James Wan’s signature tricks throughout the movie, which does have a decent eeriness and unsettling atmosphere to it. I won’t deny there is a handful of effective moments horror fans should be able to appreciate.

But something obviously went wrong during the filming and production process because Demonic is all over the place. Whether it’s story, character development or tone, everything comes across as a fragmented, disjointed mess. At times I wondered if I had missed something important or wasn’t paying enough attention, because it felt like stuff that should have been there had been left on the cutting room floor.

The characters involved in the seance are also not very memorable, and neither Grillo nor Bello’s presence manage to change that. It’s unfortunate because Demonic appeared to have the potential of being one of the better cliched horror films in recent years. Instead, it’s no more than just an uneven experience littered with a few good moments.

2.25 stars out of 5

‘The Last of Us’ Diary: Epilogue — Left Behind

June 5, 2015 in Game Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

left_behind

Those who have followed my series of posts on The Last of Us know I think it’s the greatest video game of all time. And so it is fitting that I made Left Behind, the independent add-on to the main game, my first official DLC purchase.

It cost only about US$10 and offers around 2-3 hours of gameplay, which sounds about right, but more importantly, Left Behind provides added depth and welcome insight for fans of The Last of Us. Relatively speaking, it doesn’t offer nearly as much action as the main game — despite an epic final battle — though the DLC makes up for it in different ways, such as giving players more background into Ellie’s character and answers the question of what happened immediately after Joel collapsed from the injury sustained at the university (this part is skipped in the main game).

Before I say anything about the game, can I just point out that it sucks having to wait all that time to actually download the DLC and to install it. I know it’s arguably more convenient than going out and buying a hard copy version in a store, but it’s a real ball-busting feeling when you’re all hyped up to play the game ASAP and suddenly realise that you have to spend four hours to download it. It sucks even more when after that when you see that you have to wait another couple of hours for it to install before you can get down with it. But I digress.

Anyway, the first thing to say about Left Behind (not to be confused with that shithouse Nicholas Cage movie that made me wish the world would end) is that it is a standalone DLC that does not require you to have The Last of Us. Having said that, it’s not a download I would recommend for anyone wanting to use it as a “test drive” to see if they would want to purchase the full game. This is one for the fans, people who can’t get enough of The Last of Us and its characters.

It's such a shame that Left Behind shares the same name as this trash. Look at that face for God's sake.

It’s such a shame Left Behind shares the same name as this garbage. Look at that face for God’s sake.

It’s good to see the makers of Left Behind go for something different as opposed to just an extension of the main game. The control mechanisms are exactly the same and the enemies are the same, but the experience is a different one. It’s deeper, more contemplative; it’s driven more by character development than zombie action.

Left Behind is split between two subplots from The Last of Us. Half of it takes place between Joel’s injury at the school and the part of The Last of Us where you get to control Ellie for the first time. It’s basically about finding much-needed emergency medical supplies to save a mortally wounded Joel. It’s the half of the DLC that offers the action, as Ellie needs to fend off both the Infected and Hunters around an old shopping mall in a race against time.

Heli

Get to the choppa!

The other half of the DLC takes place before Ellie and Joel meets, and introduces the friend she mentions in The Last of Us, Riley (motion captured and voiced by Yaani King). The Ellie here has spent her entire life in a military boarding school, so she’s more innocent and naive about the outside world. This half of the game is almost all exploration, also in another dilapidated mall, and is mainly about having fun and being a kid, like photo booths, riding carousels, playing arcade games and engaging in water gun fights. It also introduces options for the first time as Ellie is allowed to choose certain courses of action from a list of alternatives.

Carousel

Why don’t we just ride real horses?

Some players might find this boring, but fans who fell in love with The Last of Us for its characters and engrossing storytelling should enjoy the experience. The relationship between Ellie and Riley is really sweet, and there’s a surprise at the end that has gotten a lot of tongues wagging. No big deal in my personal opinion and I don’t think it’s necessary to read too much into what was clearly just a nice moment.

selfie booth

Head on a platter

Left Behind offers fans another taste of The Last of Us, though 2-3 hours of gameplay just doesn’t feel sufficient to satisfy the appetite. That said, we should simply be appreciative that Naughty Dog gave us a DLC at all, and one that not only lives up to the standard of the main game but also adds welcome depth to the overall narrative. It also has a pretty epic final battle involving both zombie and human enemies that’s arguably better than the one in the main game. Highly recommended.

10/10

‘The Last of Us’ Diary: Part IX — The End, The Verdict

June 2, 2015 in Best Of, Game Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

last of us poster

Note: This is the ninth 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, Part 6 here, Part 7 here and Part 8 here.

Day 15 (May 19, 2o15)

Here we go. The home stretch.

Joel and Ellie’s journey take them to Salt Lake City, the final stop of their epic adventure. As with previous locations, the city is in ruins, but you get the feeling that the purpose of all the walking around in this last chapter is to provide that final burst of character and relationship development before the inevitable climax.

Salt Lake

And so the first part of Salt Lake is mostly wandering around and watching conversations unfold. Joel has clearly opened up and is finally comfortable with that Ellie means to him, while Ellie is starting to fear what may happen once they finally meet up with the Fireflies.

The highlight of this “slower” portion of the game is an encounter with a pack of giraffes spoiled by most trailers and promotional photos. Still, it’s a beautiful and awe-inspiring moment, not just because of the impressive visuals, but because it reminds you that despite everything, Ellie is still a child who grew up in this broken world and has never seen things we take for granted.

Eventually, action arrives in the form of a watery underpass section filled with runners, clickers and bloaters. While you can stealthily sneak by the majority of them, you might also want to let it rip because it’s the last time in the game you’ll see a zombie. That said, there are a lot of them, so just going in guns blazing could lead to you getting surrounded. Strategy is needed since there are no second chances when it comes to bloaters.

Once you get past that, it’s more wandering until an accident automatically leads into an unavoidable meeting with the Fireflies and a reunion with Marlene.

Marlene's back!

Marlene’s back!

I’ve been reminded that you can spoil a game that’s been out for two years, but just in case, I’ll warn those who want to experience the game for themselves that major spoilers are coming.

So, as it turns out, the only way to even attempt to use Ellie’s immunity to develop a vaccine is to do what Anthony Hopkins did to Ray Liotta — except for the feeding part — by slicing open her head and messing with the brain. Joel ain’t taking any of that shit, thereby setting up a final rampage through the hospital to rescue Ellie.

Yum!

Yum!

I admit to being a wee little disappointed with the relative sameness of what is supposed to be the climax of the action. It’s by no means a cakewalk, though if you’ve been saving up your ammunition and items it won’t be very hard to smash anyone who dares to get in your way. There’s really not that many of them either, maybe about a dozen to 20 tops.

At the same time, I can understand why the game makers decided to do it this way. While the survival horror action is fun and all, The Last of Us, since the very beginning, has always been about the characters and their relationships. It’s clear from the way they’ve handled the final chapter that they wanted to go back to the essence of the game and not overwhelm the narrative with all-out, over-the-top carnage. Perhaps they considered the battle with David in the previous chapter as the “final boss”, though I would have personally preferred a more challenging conclusion.

I like the idea of an old-fashioned hospital shootout, but I think it would have been even better with some added spice, like an enemy or enemies with full body armour, making them extra difficult to kill, or some kind of enemy with martial arts skills you need to take down without guns. Alternatively, it would have been even more awesome had zombies somehow managed to get into the hospital — perhaps intentionally let in by Joel to help him out with all the Firefly soldiers — to create a chaotic battle where you have to take on both types of enemies and use your wits to pit them against each other. Throw in a newly mutated boss if necessary. The makers of the film adaptation should totally be reading this!

Feel the wrath of my assault rifle, mother...

Feel the wrath of my assault rifle, mother…

Alas, the real climax was more subdued and more subtle. Enemies had assault rifles (which you can start using if you kill one of them), but apart from that it was largely more of the same. Instead, there was a surprising level of storytelling, as Joel would constantly stumble across notes and voice recorders that would reveal more backstory and explanations.

All of this culminates in a surprisingly anti-climatic showdown against three helpless surgeons in the operating theatre. You can kill them if you want, as I did, with an assortment of weapons, but the game effectively ends when you pick an unconscious Ellie up off the operating table and carry her to a hospital elevator. (This actually led me to think — what if I just waited outside for hours? Would they never start the operation? I wasn’t bored enough to try it out)

This ain't no episode of Grey's Anatomy

This ain’t no episode of Grey’s Anatomy

The game’s big storyline “twist”, if you can call it that, takes place entirely in cut scenes. Just as Joel prepares to leave, he runs into Marlene (of course he does), who begs for him to do the right thing for humanity and allow them to pop open Ellie’s head. I guess he could have mentioned at this point that he had killed all the doctors anyway!

Joel appears to hesitate before the screen fades to black, and the next thing we see is Joel driving. This is a brilliant storytelling device from Naughty Dog because it leaves you hanging, wondering what decision Joel makes in the end. Save humanity by sacrificing the one person he has left in this world, or selfishly do what’s best for himself and Ellie?

Drive

So…?

What do you think happens and what do you think should have happened?

I never expected Joel to betray Ellie by leaving her behind, and I was proven to be right, as we soon hear Ellie stirring in the back seat as she awakens from anaesthesia. What happens next, however, is a betrayal of a different kind, because Joel goes on to lie to Ellie about why they left the Fireflies, saying that there were dozens of other people like Ellie and that they had given up on finding a cure. His explanation is interspersed with flashbacks of what happened in the parking lot with Marlene, whom Joel shoots with a gun and begs for her life before he caps another one in her skull, saying that she’d just keep coming after Ellie.

I found this twist to be kinda poetic and true to who the characters have been from the very beginning. Joel has always been a survivor; he’s not a saviour and he’s not a hero. Call him the villain of this game, if you will, but his actions actually make a lot of sense if you’ve been paying attention to the kind of person he is. I found it interesting that some people didn’t get it and weren’t sure whether Joel was actually telling the truth.

I thought the game was over, but there’s actually a tiny epilogue after this segment. It’s another one of those creative choices made by Naughty Dog that surprises. You play as Ellie and there’s no fighting involved, just strolling through the woods as they make their way back to Tommy’s. You can tell from their conversation that Joel is fine with his decision, but Ellie remains torn by survivor guilt. The game’s final scene is a mini-masterpiece in which Ellie demands that Joel swear that what he said about the Fireflies is all true. Joel swears, and the final shot lingers on Ellie’s face as she says, “OK”, before the game fades to black.

Ellie Final

Ellie’s haunting final expression

Everyone’s going to have their own interpretation of what the ending means. Did Ellie believe Joel or did she know she was lying? And if she thought he was lying, what does that mean for the future of their relationship? The brilliant thing about it is that Ellie’s facial expression could be taken in several ways. It could be fear, it could be horror, it could be sadness, or it could be relief. Or perhaps it was a mix of all those things. Whatever it is, it’s powerful stuff.

My personal take is that Ellie knows Joel is lying and has known all along, but wants him to say it again to her face one more time. But confirming her suspicions doesn’t mean she no longer trusts him or would make her want to get away from him. To the contrary, I think knows she’s stuck with him, for better or for worse, and she’s conflicted about how that makes her feel. On the one hand she knows he will keep her safe no matter what, but on the other she’ll always feel guilty about living at the potential expense of finding a cure. She’ll survive, but she’ll feel horrible about it. It’s a morally complicated question with no right answer.

Kudos to Naughty Dog for doing something so unconventional and daring. There’s no cure. There’s no happy ending. It’s just ambiguity and a lot of mixed emotions. It’s a revolutionary ending for a revolutionary game, and I like that the game doesn’t offer alternative endings because it would cheapen the impact of the one they went with.

The Verdict

If you haven’t figured it out by now, even after I’ve written a nine-part series about my experience playing it, I’ll spell it out for you: The Last of Us is the best video game I’ve ever played. There are games that may have been more addictive, games that might have been more fun from a pure action perspective, games that have had better graphics or sound or whatever. But nothing beats The Last of Us when it comes to the overall gaming experience.

It’s simply unparalleled when it comes to storytelling, characters and immersiveness.  To be able to achieve this kind of emotional resonance in a video game is something I’ve never seen before. It’s the only game I’ve ever played where I haven’t been able to get it out of my head even days after I’ve finished it. It’s the only game I’ve played worthy of in-depth analysis like a book or a movie. I’ve looked up videos about the game and watched the documentaries about it YouTube. I’m obsessed.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Between the time I finished the game on May 19 and the writing of this post, I’ve played the DLC add-on Left Behind — which I will discuss in my next post — AND played the entire main game all over again in the “plus” version that allows you to keep the upgrades you made to your weapons and skills the first time around. It actually makes the game easier, but the reason I played it again, apart from experiencing its awesomeness one more time, is so I can savour the dramatic moments more. I was far too nervous the first time I played it, so in the second playthrough I made sure I focused on nuances and all the little things that make the game so great. I also killed everything in sight instead of using stealth. That’s probably about 35-40 hours of total playing time (the first playthrough was a little over 17 hours and the DLC was under 3 hours), and I still can’t get enough! Now I understand why some people also get the remastered version to play on PS4 (and if I had a PS4 I would too, dammit!)

ashley-johnson-avengersavengers32jpg-spptbun3

Ashley Johnson in The Avengers. She had a bigger role but most of it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Full marks to the amazing work of creative director Neil Druckmann, who absolutely should be a consultant on the film adaptation, and the acting of the cast, led by Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker. Johnson, whom some of you might know from her cameo as a waitress in The Avengers, actually won the BAFTA Games Awards for Best Performer (male and female compete in the same category) for her role as Ellie in back-to-back years, first in The Last of Us and then in Left Behind.

Here’s her acceptance speech in 2014.

And again in 2015.

Of course, The Last of Us also took home Best Game, Best Action and Adventure, Best Audio, and Best Story. In a year that also gave us GTA V, that says a lot. There’s another 2oo+ awards the game has won, but I’m not about to list them all here. Suffice it to say that they are all well deserved.

I have a feeling I’ve already said too much, but the fact is that I can’t say enough good things about it. Granted, it’s not perfect — no game is — but The Last Us is about as close as it gets.

10/10

‘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!

‘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.

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