Let’s talk about: The Last Of Us Part II


Never in the history of at least my gaming life have I experienced such backlash and a dividing of the audience as I’ve seen with this game. Having now finished it and enjoyed it, I’ve been trying to figure out and understand some of the negativity and hate thrown at this game which on a whole has been a massive critical and commercial success. Below I’ll give a short review on the game, and tackle some of the issues people are having. Warning: SPOILERS ahead.

A woman scorned…

This is a revenge tale that follows the character of Ellie, in a world struck by a virus who herself is immune from, and having to deal with the revelation that Joel, her friend and father-figure from the last game saved her from being killed by doctors who wanted to create a vaccine from her blood. Set 4 years after, Ellie’s out to avenge the death of someone she cares about on a journey where violence and hate prove a corrosive pursuit. It’s not a new idea, many movies have tackled a similar subject but in video games it’s quite unique but handled well here. At its heart it’s a stealth / action based journey set in a world not dissimilar to The Walking Dead. Characters and the performances are incredibly nuanced and deliver emotions more convincingly than any game I’ve played (it’s even better than Hellblade or for it’s time Half-Life 2). Production values and visuals are incredible, easily some of the best on PS4 (if not ever) and gameplay is slick, brilliantly realised with intense action, great atmosphere and tons of memorable encounters. It’s also particularly daring with its twists, which brings me to the criticisms, some of which I do understand.

SPOILERS AHEAD: stop reading if not finished TLOU2

Final warning….. SPOILERS

A beloved character from the first game, Joel is killed early on. Online leaks spoilt this and caused many fans to make their mind up about the game before even playing it. Also, at certain points you take control of the main antagonist, Abbie who is painted early on as bitter and evil, but as you play through her segments her driving force becomes more understandable. Yes, I took a while to warm to her and her segments take up a bit too much of the game with some parts (the skyscraper) feeling padded out or unnecessary. However her relationship with the two Scars members proves a worthwhile highlight. Yet the game asks a great deal of the player to be onboard with this character, and I can see those shocked or offended by a Joel’s death, would find the Abbie segments too big an ask. I almost wanted to stop playing when the game had me controlling Abbie whilst fighting Ellie. But I persevered and am glad I did. Where it went with it’s revenge ark – was incredibly powerful even if it made for quite a bummer ending.

the face of evil…?

Yet the hate levelled at this game … sigh. Threats to the game makers and performers, petitions to have it remade. Entitled much? I agree it won’t be a story everyone can get behind, I may even have ideas how it could have played out differently to get the same result without ‘forcing’ the player to do certain things in the name of hammering home it’s message. Yet for daring storytelling, assured game design that may not break the mould but polishes it to near perfection … I found very little to complain about. There is no room in this industry for such hate and threatening behaviour though. If you don’t like the game, just don’t buy it, don’t play it, express your opinion but keep the bile and hate to yourself. Not many game designers have the audacity to deliver a story in this way, and such a backlash might only cause the industry to shy away from such bold manoeuvres in the future.

Beauty in dark times…

I personally loved this game and have found myself coming back to many sections again for collectibles, the gameplay and for the rich and (at time’s ridiculously) detailed world these brilliantly realised characters inhabit. Is it perfect? No, structurally I’d have liked some of the fat trimmed here and there as well as more ‘choice’ given to the player rather than just violence as the only action. But with that said it’s a game I won’t easily forget.

Controlling the narrative


Since when on earth do we as game players, movie / TV watchers or music listeners get to dictate how our favourite form of entertainment turns out? Yes, we put faith in developers, writers, musicians and directors to tell a story, write a piece of music, develop a game to our satisfaction, but not for one second do we have a right to dictate how it turns out. Yes this is something I feel strongly about so thought I’d put my thoughts down in a post.

The recent Star Wars movies for example have not been to everyone’s taste (and neither do they have to be) but there has been an uprising in recent times of a certain, very vocal group of people who seem to want to alter how things turn out to their liking, and go about review-bombing, shouting their disdain on social media and in YouTube videos, as if they really believe their anger and (somewhat entitled) attitude will change how something is. Boo hoo they say, they ruined Star Wars for me! Wake up, they were not making it just for YOU. Real art is largely about the creator / designer / artist and if people like it that’s great but it’s not the point of a creative work. A creative work is to be creative!

Oh we didn’t like our favourite band’s new album? That was ‘their’ vision, not yours. You didn’t like it – move on, there are plenty of other albums out there you might like. In games, The Last of Us 2 is a prime example. It takes risks and introduces (dare I say it) bold twists and revelations to tell it’s story. It’s not just a carbon copy of its predecessor like many games before it. It’s borrowing narrative story telling from TV and movies to push the medium in a direction we don’t normally see. Yet some fans are butt-hurt because it’s not the game they expected – er, did it have to be? Were the game designers primarily focused on pleasing their fans, or did they actually want to be imaginative and creative? That’s how story telling is meant to work. We as fans don’t get to write the story. We are the audience and if we don’t like it we don’t have to play it. Jeez, write a review, post a comment but don’t believe that you can make something you don’t like change – isn’t that a little egotistical?? To such people I say: Quit your wining because Santa didn’t bring the exact present you wanted. It’s not all about you.

So yes, we don’t get to control the narrative of popular entertainment, The most tiresome entertainment is often that which panders to what is popular or expected. Thrilling entertainment surprises and takes risks. If it’s art we are here to experience it, love it or hate it but the point is we are reacting and that’s all that’s necessary. A creator should not compromise their own creation based on a reaction if it’s something they themselves are proud of. We don’t dictate it to our own agenda, that’s what personal taste is all about, we can choose to watch a different movie, we can play a different game. So enough with the hate. Quit the review-bombing in hopes of changing a meta-critic score. You’re not here to dictate, rather you’re here to respond and have your opinion but remember… it’s your opinion and like the entertainment itself … nobody has to agree.

Update


Yesterday marked 13 years since I began this blog. Wow.

In other news… Strange times we are living in I’m sure you are all aware. I’m still at work currently but the situation has felt very unsettling and decidedly weird. This blog has felt like it’s been on a bit of a hiatus with movie reviews even though I’ve had chance to watch a few flicks here and there and play games. My enthusiasm, most likely down to current world issues revolving around the pandemic has felt a bit low though. However I’m currently playing a lot of Animal Crossing New Horizons on Switch as well as occasionally playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare on Xbox One X … both games I’d strongly recommend for obviously very different reasons! I’ve also been dipping in and out of Luigi’s Mansion 3 as well as Pokémon Sword

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The prospect of the next-gen consoles on the horizon also fills me with excitement, with Microsoft putting their cards on the table whilst Sony remain a bit tight lipped and secretive, although more news day by day seems to be trickling out. I would love both machines, namely the Xbox Series X and PS5, but we’ll wait and see how they fair price-wise.

I also recently subscribed to Disney+ and have found that a solid service. Plenty of choice what with Disney movies, Marvel and Star Wars it’s a bit of a treasure trove. Along with Netflix and Apple TV at the moment, this whole social-distancing thing is at least eased with such great streaming services available.

Stay safe out there everyone!

Craig.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu


Viewed – 24 September 2019. Online rental

I only mildly got into Pokémon last Christmas when I had Pokémon Let’s Go for the Nintendo Switch. The world and all the creatures within certainly fascinated me and so a live action movie definitely appealed. This somewhat weirdly has Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu, and follows a story set in the fictional Rome City (clearly influenced by many of the worlds cities) where a twenty something guy investigates the mysterious disappearance of his father, aided by his father’s former Pokémon. However as a strange gas begins to send Pokémon crazy the guy teams up with a plucky wannabe reporter girl to discover what’s going on.

Yeah this wafer-thin, at times confused plot is mostly an excuse for Reynolds to deliver his brand of one-liner wise-crackery and also showcase the endless varieties of Pokémon. It fails to truly delve into what Pokémon is and its intricacies, so newcomers should instead take this as simply high fantasy science fiction. Justice Smith playing the main guy is only passable and next to Reynolds razor-sharp (if family friendly) line delivery … comes off poorly. Kathryn Newton as the sort-of love interest is pretty and reminiscent of the games and anime but generally not much better. Veteran actor Bill Nighy lends a bit of personality as the head of a corporation that may or may not be sinister, and the fact the movie only hints at the inclusion of Pokémon baddies Team Rocket feels like a missed opportunity.

The CGI for the creatures, the city and various sequences on the other hand, is top notch and brought everything to eye-catching life, and as a casual fan this still ticked many boxes for how I’d imagine this sort of movie to turn out. Good fun, but ultimately a bit forgettable.

Verdict: 3 /5

E3 2019 roundup


The biggest calendar event in gaming, E3 has come and gone once again, and as usual there’s been surprises, disappointments and lots and lots of games! Sony’s absence this year was jarring but not all that missed as there was still plenty to gush over, some of which, my personal highlights, I’ve detailed below…

Microsoft

I was majorly hyped going into this press conference that kick-started E3 2019 and have to admit … I came away a little disappointed. Big games announced the previous year like Gears of War 5 (now simply called Gears 5??) and Halo Infinite were shown but with little to no game play. I wasn’t really expecting much from Halo, but more was shown of Gears last year than we got in this initial press conference. A strong focus on the multiplayer was also concerning.

However, a ton of games were revealed, a good amount of exclusives such as the new game from Ninja Theory ‘Bleeding Edge‘ which looked cool but a bit too Overwatch-y for me. A release date for the long-awaited Ori and the Will of the Wisps was welcome, even if February 2020 still seems like a long wait. There just wasn’t that big ‘wow’ moment I had hoped for unless you count Keanu Reeves coming on stage to reveal the release date for Cyberpunk 2077 (April 3020) – which admittedly was rather cool. Even a reveal of-such of Microsoft’s next console ‘Project Scarlett‘ didn’t do much – what does it look like? How much will it cost? Still, 4 times more power than Xbox One X? Where do I sign?

Overall the show entertained, showed a lot but never really took off for me, which was unexpected considering all the promise of last year. Xbox is clearly in good shape and has plenty still to offer, but with PS5 on the horizon, this wasn’t quite enough to silence the nay-sayers.

Nintendo

Ok Nintendo truly knocked it out of the park with a Nintendo Direct and Treehouse hands-on that showcased a good amount of games I’d really want to play. Luigi’s Mansion 3 looked incredible, as did the personally-anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I was also really impressed with Astro Chain. Oh, and The Witcher 3 is getting a Switch port? That’s pretty damn amazing. Animal Crossing delayed till 2020? Oh well, it didn’t float my boat much anyway. There was also no sign of Bayonetta 3 or Metroid Prime 4.

However it was the confirmation and teaser trailer for a sequel to Breath of the Wild that genuinely blew my mind. I’m suddenly excited about Nintendo Switch all over again!! That’s how you deliver the goods at E3.

The other guys

Ubisoft’s conference was decent. I’m certainly now hyped for the amazing looking Watchdogs Legion, and the new Ghost Recon Breakpoint game looked cool too. A lack (again) of a Splinter Cell announcement was disappointing though.

Square Enix showed more of the highly anticipated Final Fantasy VII remake which looked lush. However I remain on the fence about Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers game. The Switch version of Dragon Quest XI looks great though.

Bethesda seemed to take a long time apologising for Fallout 76, but did manage to show off Doom Eternal and various game expansions and mobile games (a growing trend at E3). The new game from Arkane Studios ‘Death Loop‘ looked freaky and interesting, as did ‘Ghostwire Tokyo‘.

Nintendo and a few others aside , a reliance on pre-rendered cinematic trailers rather than hands-on game play footage was problematic (no Cyberpunk game play after all this time?) but this year E3 still proved it’s worth and remains for me the best way to get hyped about the games industry … an annual event I truly hope never disappears.

Game of E3: for me it’s definitely Watchdogs Legion

Biggest surprise: Breath of the Wild sequel teaser

That’s all from me for now.  Lots to look forward to on the gaming horizon.

Craig.