The Last of Us

This game was one of my most anticipated games of 2013 along with Beyond: Two Souls (I’m still patiently waiting for this title!). The Last of Us is Naughty Dog‘s latest creation and they do not disappoint; everything from the narrative to the soundtrack flawlessly works together. It’s evident that so much time and effort went into finely tuning even the clothes on Joel’s back. In the opening scenes where the outbreak is only in the beginning stage, Joel looks like a handsome, got-it-together father. 20 years later, he’s a rugged, run-down, shell of a man who’s priority is his own survival. The characterisation of Joel as well as Ellie is something I really enjoyed and will discuss further on. Also, I’m going to try my best not to spoil anything for you guys!

I was lucky enough to get my hands on The Last of Us on the day of release, but this meant I encountered the auto-save bug. I only lost about an hour of progress, however I’m not a fan of replaying horror games. Yet somehow I’ve played Amnesia four times now…I have no idea how that happened. Anyway, the bug was reported and fixed within a couple of hours, so I was able to get back into it in no time.

I am a huge fan of storytelling in all forms, but especially so in games. When a game can integrate a brilliant storyline seamlessly into the gameplay, it’s awesome. The cut scenes were used to great effect, and were woven right into the gameplay. There were no loading screens, and the graphics didn’t suffer either way, and so again it was all so seamless. It has been said that storytelling in games can affect the gameplay in negative ways, and whilst I do think this can be true I don’t believe it was the case for The Last of Us. The gameplay did have some minor flaws but they weren’t caused by the storyline, in my opinion.

I can’t really discuss the story in much detail without spoiling it, but I’m sure most folk by now know the general gist of things. It’s not the most original storyline in terms of overall plot – mass infection turns people into flesh-eating zombies, and there’s no cure except for one girl who’s immune to the infection – but it’s the way the character’s deal with this situation, and the way they interact with one another, that really sets it apart from the usual zombie games.

The detailed script could have been written for film, it’s that good. There’s just so many moments in the quieter scenes that I loved. As Joel and Ellie are walking, Ellie finds a joke book (full of puns, to be exact) and starts reading it to Joel. I don’t know why I enjoyed this part so much. Maybe because Ellie is so casually reading puns, because Joel is clearly not interested, or maybe because it seems quite a normal thing to do. Also, on more than one occasion Ellie tried to learn how to whistle. Why she thought to do that whilst all hell was breaking loose in the next room, I don’t know.

This brings me on to the characters themselves. The characterisation of Joel and Ellie could not have been more flawless. They are so believable, and I was totally invested in their survival.

I’ll start with Joel. I felt so much sympathy for him in the beginning, and then as it cut to twenty years later, you see how much he changed. I believe he’d been that rugged survivor for twenty years as it showed on his face as well as in his actions. He was totally dedicated to survival and nothing more. Then, he’s handed the responsibility of Ellie, a young girl found to be immune to the infection. He doesn’t take to her at the start and it’s not clear why.

Ellie was born years after the infection broke out, and so living in the quarantine zone was all she knew. She’s immune to the infection and is the possible cure. She takes everything in her stride and seems to be used to living on the edge; she’s eager to help Joel out but he feels protective of her. The way the two of them interact is brilliant; they are wary of each other at the start but when they’re comfortable around one another, their personalities shine through. I think Ellie really helps bring Joel out of the rut he’s in and he acknowledges this and accepts it. When they began talking about their future it was so heart-warming and lovely.

The Last of Us did, however, fall short in some gameplay elements. The puzzles were not difficult in the slightest, and it felt like hardly any thought had went into them. Take this example –  Ellie can’t swim and so Joel must find a way to help her across the water. After a few seconds of searching you find a raft floating on the water already. Most of the puzzles are of this variety and so it’s not the most challenging side of the game. Understandably, it’s not a puzzle game however if just a little more consideration went into these, the gameplay would have definitely been on par with the narration.

When I wasn’t absolutely terrified (which was most of the time), I had a lot of fun playing this game. The gameplay did lack some solid ground in areas, however the narrative more than made up for it. The plot may not have been original, but the ending…was no where near what I was expecting. It ended absolutely perfectly in that I want to know more! I’d recommend you play it just to experience the ending. Oh, and the incredible storyline and characters.

Advertisements

Beyond: Two Souls Vs Heavy Rain

So, with all the hype surrounding Ellen Page’s “fury” over whether Ellie (Beyond) is a rip-off of Jodie (The Last of Us), I thought now would be a good time to voice my opinions on the upcoming title Beyond: Two Souls, and compare it to Heavy Rain. Once I actually play through Beyond, hopefully I can make a more concise post about it!

Due for release in October this year, it is said to be more thrilling and more action-based than its predecessor, Heavy Rain. I absolutely loved Heavy Rain. I loved the flow of storytelling, and the way every scene seamlessly connected to one another but what I loved most about it was its event-triggered gameplay.  There was very little “action” – it was an interactive story above all. To sum it up if you aren’t familiar with it, a series of buttons would appear on screen and you would carry out that action, or not. Every single one of these “events” triggered a different response, and effectively determined the ending of the story. I won’t spoil it too much, but I remember not being able to complete a certain task (you had to hold down like, five buttons in a specific order and I was not prepared for it at all!  Plus I wanted to see what ending I would get, so I didn’t restart it) and I am so sure it caused me to get one of the most unfortunate endings possible. Out of the four playable characters, the worst one survived in my ending. I felt guilty for days, I kid you not.

In Heavy Rain you took control over four different characters as I mentioned above, and in Beyond you play as Jodie and her supernatural friend Aiden. I am really looking forward to this element; there are no supernatural forces in Heavy Rain and I cannot wait to see how these two characters work together. Apparently you can switch between the two whenever you like, which I really like the idea of. You couldn’t do this in Heavy Rain, which made it seem more “scripted”.

The approach that developers Quantic Dream have taken in Beyond, in order to make it more thrilling and intense, is to add more action. If this move were purely for the sake of adding in fighting to make it more appealing, I’d have a problem with it. However, since Beyond follows Jodie, a CIA operative, through a mission in war-stricken Somalia, I can understand the need for action. Somehow this makes me think back to when Tomb Raider was first showcased, and everyone lost their minds about how unnecessarily violent it was, when it is no more violent than any other game of its type just now. People judge these games too quickly and as director David Cage has said in countless interviews that there will obviously be changes throughout development. Therefore, we can’t properly analyse a game until it’s on the shelf.

Beyond: Two Souls promises to be an exciting step for Quantic Dream, and from what I have seen it should certainly top Heavy Rain in terms of graphics and most definitely with regards to the storyline. The theme in Heavy Rain centred around how far a person would go to save someone they loved; would you lie, kill, even sacrifice yourself for that person? Beyond will venture into the questions surrounding life after death, and effectively determining who Aiden is and why he is with Jodie. I’m already wondering this myself, and I look forward to finding out!

Analogue: A Hate Story

This is one of my favourite games/interactive novels to play over and over again. I first played it early last year and recently completed it again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played it through! It takes around four hours to complete, and it actually needs to be played more than once; there is no way to find all the information in one go. As well as this, there are five different endings to the game (I’ve STILL only managed to get two of these, though the fifth one is said to be near impossible so that makes me feel better). It was created by Christine Love, the writer of Digital: A Love Story and Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, it Just Ain’t Your Story, both of which I really enjoyed too.

I’m a fan of interactive games in general, and I find this one so easy to pick up and follow. However if you’re not much of a reader, you’re not in luck. You have been asked to investigate and access logs on the Mugunghwa, a ship which lost contact with Earth and has been found hundreds of years later. The reason it lost contact, and what happened on that ship, is unknown hence why your character has been asked to investigate and bring back information. When you try to access these logs, you come across *Hyun-ae, an AI curious about where you come from and what you are like. She helps you and provides you with more information. I really liked *Hyun-ae – she was pleasant and easy to talk to but if you weren’t interested in her she’d get upset and become distant. The way you interact with the AIs can completely change the outcome; I’m pretty sure more than once I annoyed *Mute to the point where she disconnected me permanently.

The logs are entries of some of the wealthy families living on the Mugunghwa. They provide details of love, scandal and hurt as well as showing how these families were linked, and how *Hyun-ae and *Mute fit into the situations. I got so caught up in reading the stories that I found it quite chilling to think that all of these people were dead, since you are reading these logs hundreds of years later. I have managed to acquire 94/97 of the logs, and in my next play through I plan on finding the rest!

What I really liked was the interaction, or lack thereof, between *Hyun-ae and *Mute. They never spoke directly, but you are able to speak to them separately about the other. You are only able to talk to one at a time, and you activate each one in the terminal with code-like instructions. There is a point in the story where *Mute gives you some questions to ask *Hyun-ae and the way you address each issue once again can alter the final outcome. The branching in this story really is incredible. There are so many different paths you are able to take to just five different conclusions.

There are a lot of issues covered within the story and I believe the focus was on the treatment of women aboard this ship. The views of the men are incredibly old-fashioned and misogynistic in general; women must not go to school, women must not keep logs, women must respect their men and be the object of their men’s desires at all times. The women however, did not take lightly to this and would keep logs, read books and teach themselves. There’s even a secret, forbidden lesbian relationship between a man’s wife and his mistress.

Close to the end is the meltdown sequence, where you must save the data from being destroyed. This is the part of the story which really determines the overall outcome and which of the five endings you will be faced with. I won’t give too much away, but when I first played through this part it tore me up; what you have to do is so unexpected (I thought this at the time, though it kind of makes sense now) and I was not prepared for it.

If you’re not aware, there is a sequel due this summer! Hate Plus was announced a few months ago, and I am really looking forward to it. It follows the story of *Mute, which I think is a great path to go down. You hardly hear about *Mute’s past and although she wasn’t my favourite AI at times, it should prove to be an interesting read.

Tomb Raider

I recently completed Tomb Raider, and so far it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year. I like to go into games not knowing very much about them, but with a game as huge as this, that wasn’t entirely possible. The hype was unbelievable, and the controversy it stirred up was massive. However, the new take on this old classic worked for me, and I’m excited for the next instalment already.

Tomb Raider is the first in the series to have multiplayer, however I’d like to take this opportunity to say I never play on multiplayer – I hate it and it hates me. Also, I’m just not social when it comes to games (as you can imagine I’m not going nuts for the “share” button on the PS4, is there really a need for that?). Therefore I’m only going to cover the single-player side of things. And there might be a small spoiler or two.

So the game begins with Lara setting off on her first expedition and as expected, it doesn’t go to plan. After being struck by a storm, the crew are left stranded on an island and Lara is captured by a previous survivor. This is where the player is slowly eased into the controls, and also where I got my first fright. Now, I’m absolutely fine with scary films and books, but any game which invokes any kind of fear just sets me off (I blame the interactivity). The background noises, the dim candlelight and the fact Lara would not run any faster were terrifying me at this point, so when her captor emerged I’m pretty sure I could have died. I literally did a few times. I was that scared at this point I couldn’t scramble away quick enough and got crushed by a boulder. Repeatedly.

After this, the player is made aware that you cannot make Lara crouch – she automatically does so when enemies are nearby, or when there is cover available. I talked about this with a few folk and some didn’t like this. They like the idea of crouching when they want. But…if you don’t need to crouch, why would you? I thought this was a fantastic element, it made Lara look a lot more natural. Her movement in the game in general was brilliant – she was so beautiful to watch.

And this brings me to the characterisation of Lara herself. The game initially portrays her as naive and vulnerable when she is captured and injured, however as she progresses through the island and through many ordeals she becomes stronger. As an archaeologist, we know that she knows her stuff, but being faced with these challenges is the real test. When she first kills another human being, she’s traumatised by the experience but soon realises that if she didn’t kill him, he would have killed her. After being captured a few times, it becomes apparent that survival is the key gameplay element in this game.

Once Lara has completed her first kill, it seems like she’s killing everything in sight from that point onwards. Before playing the game I had read a few reviews about its overly violent nature. There was a lot of hype about this and I didn’t understand; violence in games isn’t uncommon, so what was the problem? However after playing through it, it became clear that a lot of the killing was unnecessary. That didn’t really stop me, but it did get me thinking about it.

Something that I expected to see a lot of but didn’t, were wolves. One of my favourite parts of the game was where Lara had to retrieve a backpack from a cave after it was stolen by a wolf. The cave is of course your average creepy cave, and the fact it housed wolves had me treading carefully (and scared, yet again). When you enter the cave, a shadow of a wolf rushes past you from left to right, indicating you are around at least one wolf. You’re able to retrieve the backpack with ease, but you know something is waiting for you. You just know it. A wolf jumps out in front of Lara, you take care of it and look out for the rest of the wolves clearly waiting to devour you. But there isn’t any more. This anti-climax, though it’s not story-altering, was seriously unexpected and added a whole new twist to the game.

One of the really great, and most helpful, mechanics was the survival instincts. With the press of a button the player is able to highlight interactive elements including walls to be scaled and items to collect. Items that were nearby were then available on the map. The survival instincts proved extremely useful in tombs where the bulk of the puzzles lay. More than once I was left so frustrated with these puzzles; not because I didn’t know how to do them but because a few of them were down to timing. I’m too impatient sometimes.

In terms of the tombs, this is where I feel the game did not meet my expectations. Lara is a raider of tombs, yet you rarely come across a tomb and when you do, it’s pretty underwhelming. If there was a formula for every tomb it was clearly “beat the puzzle – get some salvage!”.

This now brings me on to the salvage. This will sound weird, but I loved the salvage. It was brilliant that salvage was the answer to all your weapon trouble. Your handgun needs a polished barrel? Salvage will do the trick! You were able to find salvage in crates, large containers, tombs and animals. It just made everything simpler by using salvage, and although every time I upgraded a weapon with it I had a giggle, it really wasn’t that big an issue.

What I loved most about Tomb Raider was the exploration, however the main gameplay element was clearly survival. Still, I cannot resist a game with an immersive, free-to-roam world (actually that’s a lie, I’ve managed not to succumb to the likes of WoW etc.) and this game provided many different areas, each filled with documents, relics and other hidden objectives. Sometimes it was just great to stand on the edge of a rock and look out at the world in front of you. It really was stunning at times. The map is not as large as other adventure games, however there’s enough going on in each area to keep you occupied for a good while. Trying to complete each area of the map to 100% was a task in itself. I managed to complete 98% of the whole game which truly annoyed me for hours after, but I’ve admitted defeat with it and I’m not fighting for that extra 2%. At least not just now…

I don’t want to spoil the main story for anyone, but for the first few hours it felt very Lost-like to me. Weird storms, not being able to leave, and a possible mysterious leader sparked this theory, but it soon becomes evident that this is not the case. The reason is deeper and more spiritual than I imagined, and I really enjoyed the ending and how all the pieces fit together.

Hello

Hello! My name is Leanne Gavigan and I’m currently studying Computer Games Design at Glasgow Caledonian University. I’m in third year and moving into my final year this September. This space allows me to share the games I’ve designed, and I’ll also be keeping you updated with what I’m currently working on! Most of the projects I’ve been a part of are university-based projects, but this summer I’m working with a few folk on something new. As well as this, from time to time, I’ll make room for some posts about any games I’m currently playing, or have enjoyed playing recently (expect a lot of Skyrim and Mass Effect chat).

As well as being primarily a Game Designer, I do 3D modelling in my spare time. I was introduced to 3DS Max last year and I really enjoy it; I like to just make random objects here and there (I’m quite fond of a lamp I made a while back…) but I’m starting to work on more complete settings.

Thanks for reading, feel free to share and to contact me via email at gavigany@gmail.com or on Twitter @leannegavigan.