Category: reviews

Alien: Isolation Review

I had heard a lot about how good Alien: Isolation was and I knew that it had won a ton of awards so I had high expectations for it. After playing it, I have to say I’m kind of baffled. I liked the game but, man, is it long and repetitive. How many times can you be sent on a fetch quest only to have that plan turn out not to work and then have to go on another fetch quest?

Some minor spoilers here…

To be honest, I’m most confounded by articles like this one by Danielle Riendeau because I have respected and enjoyed her work so much. (Am I so out of touch? …no, its the reviewers who are wrong.) So as much as I hate to do it, I think that digging into her post will help me to organize my thoughts on why I was so disappointed in the game (I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed)

Riendeau writes,

“[Alien: Isolation is] a truly bold, risky, brilliant game that only fails when it remembers it’s a video game.”

My problem is that it never forgets it’s a video game. I will explain why I felt this way in my subsequent comments.

“There are other enemies in Isolation: devastated, scared humans with guns, creepy androids that kill you in brutal ways — but there’s really only one that matters. The one that hunts you down wherever you go.”

I found those other enemies incredibly irritating. People shooting at you. Robots that go crazy. They are felt like artificial reason to make you crawl into a vent and make a detour instead of going directly to your goal. I have to go flip this switch. Just get out of my way and stop bothering me you stupid robot.

Isolation is a game where shooting a gun almost always means certain death. Where one singular creature — that cannot be killed — stalks the player, almost entirely unscripted, throughout the experience.”

While it is true that shooting a gun often means death because it will attract the alien, the second part of this is false. Maybe Riendeau didn’t want to give away things but you do in fact kill the Alien. Oh but guess what? It isn’t “one singular creature.” There turns out to be a hive and there are multiple Aliens.

“Make a woman hero that shows her character through actions, not cutscenes”

I recognize that a lot of this is about the main character being a woman. That’s great. That’s awesome. The more the better. However, the second half of this really confounds me. There are way to damn many cut scenes in Alien: Isolation. It really infuriated me. I’m sure that most of the cut scenes are to cover up for the limitations of the game engine but it was just frustrating when you get ready to go so something and you have to watch a movie. They even show animations of you crawling into vents or opening doors — which you do a lot and so you see them a lot. Ugh.

If the game was half as long, or had half as many fetch quests that end up failing or fewer cut scenes then I would have liked it as much as Riendeau did. I guess it comes down to what we focus on because I totally agree with Danielle when she writes:

“[Alien: Isolation is] way too long, with obvious filler content. I put in around 28 hours. Most playthroughs are likely closer to the 20-25 hour mark. This is way too long for a horror game that is 100% focused on being a tense, difficult experience.

Far worse is the inclusion of cheap, frustrating enemies in a few sections of the game. It’s tarnish on the better-designed sections. They’re a boring, rote, frustrating feature that belongs in a cheap haunted house.”

She still loves the game despite these things. I can’t love it because of them.


three thumbs up

Stupid Alien
I dislike disliking you
Need to cut it down.



Antichamber Review

Another review!

Antichamber is a fun puzzle game with similarities to Portal but isn’t as polished. I picked up Antichamber during a Steam sale a while back but never got around to playing it until recently. Featuring a mute protagonist wandering through a series of puzzles by using a “gun” that changes the world instead of shooting bullets and only works on certain surfaces, the resemblance to Portal is unmistakable: Antichamber’s use of different primary colors to signify a material’s unique qualities also evokes Portal II’s paints. However, Antichamber does distinguish itself from Portal by using non-euclidian geometries to give the game a strong focus on changing perspectives and seemingly impossible geometries (which reminded me of games like The Stanley Parable (without that game’s satire or narration) and even games like Prey).

Unfortunately, while Antichamber is quite fun, has a unique aesthetic, and has some quite imaginative puzzles, it is also sometimes frustrating and non-intuitive. One of the reasons for this is that, unlike the other games, it is fairly non-linear and doesn’t have a strong narrative. This means that once you unlock puzzles you can play them in any order you want. This allows you to go back and take, say, the door on the left instead of the door of the right. However, this means you can become confused as to which puzzles you have beat and which you haven’t.

Worse than being lost is the fact that throughout the game you gain new “guns” which give you new abilities but there is no way to tell if a puzzle requires a gun you don’t have yet. This means I spent lots of time trying to solve a solution to a puzzle, becoming frustrated, looking up the room on the wiki, and founding out that the puzzle required a gun I didn’t have yet. Maybe it is a personal failing but I have very little patience for puzzles when I don’t know if it is even possible for me to solve them. I want to know if I am trying the right thing before I spend 20 minutes doing the same thing over and over.

Even when I had the correct gun, the answers to puzzles weren’t always intuitive or clear. More than once I would rub against the walls and jump around trying to find a fake wall or a barrier that would disappear if I went through it in midair. There were even times when I had watched the walkthrough videos on the wiki and still had a difficult time progressing (to the game’s credit, however, this could be because puzzles could be solved in multiple ways and I might have been trying the wrong solution for he gun I had at the time).

That said, there really is a feeling of triumph when you figure out a puzzle and the playing with perspective to move a character from one place to another is quite fun. Combined they give a feeling of discovery that is quite engaging. It is just too bad that it frequently felt like trial and error instead of discovery.

While writing this, I found that the creator did a post-mortem for the game and GDC has it up in two parts. I haven’t watched it yet but it sounds interesting.

Five thumbs up

If it is on sale
And you like Portal a lot
Then you should buy it



This War of Mine

5506eec2f005etwomwebsitescreensho_thumbThis War of Mine is a fascinating game. It is a side-view game that shows you a cut-away dollshouse-style view of the building you are in. You control a small group of survivors (up to 4, I think) who are civilians trying to survive a war in an Eastern European city. One character at a time you give characters orders like open a door, cook food, go to sleep, or build a shovel. There are two parts of the game: day and night. During the day you control the players and tell them to eat, build things or raise vegetables. Occasionally someone will come to the door to trade, ask for help, or even ask to join your group. During the night you pick one person who goes out to into another building in the city where you scavenge for food and supplies and encounter other groups of survivors who may be hostile, willing to trade, or just want to be left alone. While one of your characters is out for the night, your home can be raided and the others can be hurt so you should leave someone on guard. Managing the physical and emotional health is a huge part of the game. Characters can be hungry, tired, hurt, sick, or depressed. Most, if not all, of these can end in the death of a character.

5506ef0cd4202twomwebsitescreensho_thumbWhen a character dies it is touching because it is (usually) not a death from combat, as in so many other games (although characters can die in combat while scavenging) but from hunger or illness. This makes it sadder because it is such a mundane death. When one of my characters in the game gets shot to death, I am frustrated but when one dies from hunger, I am disturbed.

You can keep playing with fewer characters but, to be honest, I usually quit and start over. In this way, despite the “realism” of the situation I still treat it like a game. The creators of the game try to eliminate that gameness by autosaving and lot allowing you to go back to earlier saves but this just serves to make dying more frustrating and makes me play more conservatively. The game creators might say that is the point but it is a balancing act that I’m not sure is solvable.

There are some issues with the interface that I would like to see ironed out. If nothing is happening during the day, there is a button to end the day and send someone out scavenging but there are times when you are waiting for something like a water filter to work where you don’t want to end the day. In those cases, you have to just sit there and wait when it would be nice to be able to jump head a couple hours.

Another issue is that when you go scavenging it is too easy to send the person to a place without equipment or to have the people staying behind sleep on the floor instead of a bed (which means they will be complaining the next day). There are minor complaints though and don’t really detract from the game.

six thumbs up

feeling bad is such
an addiction in this game
just try not to die

(Coincidentally, This War of Mine is one of a few games I’ve played lately that use a side view perspective which is kind of strange for me because I usually play FPS games. While they have little in common with The Swapper, Another World, and Deadlight, there is the fact that Deadlight and The Swapper similarly take place in dark settings (both in terms of tone as well as lighting) which gives them a tonal similarity.)

Console Wars Review


Blake J. Harris’ tale of the rise and fall of Sega is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly frustrating.

It is incredibly fascinating because it gives lots of details on how Sega America was able to make the Genesis as popular but unable to capitalize on that success in the long term.

It is incredibly frustrating because Harris decided to write the book in the form of a narrative and write entire conversations and even thoughts that there really isn’t any way to know if they are based on the memories of people he interviewed, historical documents, or if he just made them up. To be fair, Harris is totally up front about this. In the author’s note in the beginning of the book he writes:

“Console Wars is a narrative account based on information obtained from hundreds of interviews. Re-creating a story of this nature, which draws from the recollections of a multitude of sources, can often lead to inconsistencies; particularly when dealing with industry competitors and especially when dealing with events that took place more than two decades ago. As such, I have re-created the scenes in this book using the information uncovered from my interviews, facts gathered from supporting documents, and my best judgment as to what version most closely fits the documentary record.”

It also isn’t as if my complain is particularly unique. The New York Times found his reconstructed dialog, “stilted and phony” and noted his use of numerous cliches, “speed is blazing, a woman is doe-eyed, go-getters are scrappy.” The Telegraph also complained about Blake calling a woman “doe-eyed” and wrote:

“Conversations have an eerie, inhuman air: ‘I suppose your jumping to conclusions,’ says one character to another, ‘is a testament to the type of guys we are, and, perhaps, also a sign of the times we live in.’ Other characterisations are sketchy at best: the Japanese people mostly speak in a strangely stilted English (‘OK, then, let us now go on a real vacation’).”

Personally, I didn’t find the dialog particularly bad. I just want to know what people actually said. I wish Harris had just released all the interviews or at the very least had included tons of footnotes (Not endnotes though. Endnotes are evil!(And the Endnote application is even worse!)). Of course releasing the interviews probably wouldn’t have sold as well or gotten optioned for a movie but it would have satisfied me and isn’t that really what is important?

Moving from criticism of the style to discussion of the content, Harris makes a convincing case that the real war wasn’t between Sega and Nintendo so much as it was between Sega of Japan and Sega of America. While the style of the book makes it hard to tell if this is entirely accurate or is jingoism, it is an interesting tale with lots of things that I wasn’t really familiar with as well as a great deal of stuff that I remember seeing as a college student in the early 1990s.

This combination of things I didn’t know anything about and things that I kind of remembered happening made reading the book an interesting experience. Because I was reading it on my Android tablet, I actually spent a lot of time switching back and forth between the book and a web browser looking things up in the attempt to find out more about the people and events. Since finishing Console Wars I have started reading another non-fiction book and find that I am doing the same thing with it. I wonder if the mid-1990s notion of hypertext has been replaced by the ability to just jump from the book to an online text at any point? I found this particularly weird in the other book I have read when it mentioned someone early on and I went online to read a couple articles about that person. Then later in the book when there was a chapter devoted to him I had a hard time deciding if I had already read that chapter or not. However, that says more about me and my attention span than it does about Console Wars.

To get back on topic, despite its flaws, Console Wars is really a must read for anyone interested in the history of Sega and Nintendo in the USA in1990s. The specificity of that recommendation is meant to indicate some of the other flaws of the book because Console Wars doesn’t spend much time discussing what Sega and Nintendo were doing in Europe and only really discusses Japan in comparison to the USA, barely mentions other consoles that were out around that time, and really tapers off before and after the 1990s. Keeping those caveats in mind, Console Wars is really worth reading if you care about the subject mater at all.

Six thumbs up

The shots were fired
Brothers held for questioning
Sonic is missing.

Prototype 2

Being a latecomer to the PS3, I hadn’t ever played the Prototype games so I didn’t know what to expect from Prototype 2. Overall the game has a lot of nice touches and is pretty fun even though it lacks mission variety.

The main thing to like about Prototype 2 is the ability to run around a city and beating up bad guys (and civilians if you want) at random. To encourage you to just wander around the game has some collectables and mini-missions hidden around the city that can give you powerups when completed. One of the nice touches is that instead of making you wander around aimlessly looking for collectable 5 out of 5, if you pull up the in-game map you can see possible locations for the collectables and mini-missions which help you locate them. But because it only shows you some possible locations in the form of radar pings you still have to hunt around a little but you have some idea where to look so it isn’t totally aimless.

While playing the game I really wished someone would make a cyberpunk-GTA clone. I guess Watch Dogs was supposed to be that but I haven’t played it and it got terrible reviews. But the ability to wander around hacking into things randomly seems appealing.

Unfortunately, Prototype 2 isn’t cyberpunk. It is basically a series of fights where you get more powers and fight bigger monsters and tons of mini-bosses. Although you eventually get a few powers, the game only lets you use 2 at a time which is disappointing. The ability to switch which 2 you are using is nice but it is weird that they don’t let you use all of them at the same time – especially since the powers are only mapped to 2 buttons…

Also unfortunate is the fact that the game only has a few basic mission types: find the monster and fight it, sneak into somewhere to kill someone then fight the monsters, timed item collection, and protect the bad guy until he can lead you to something you want. The game tries to switch it up by making you wonder who to trust and things like that but this mostly happens in non-interactive cutscenes which makes me kind of uninterested and at least partially ignore them.

While playing Prototype 2 I enjoyed it but looking online it seems like there isn’t any talk of a third one which is disappointing since it was fun and I would like to see what they could improve on in a sequel. However, since the studio that made the games got shut down because of poor sales it seems unlikely that Prototype 3 will be coming any time soon.

five thumbs up

never played the first
but Prototype 2 was fun
there will be no more.

Legendary Blandness

LegendaryLegendary is a pretty generic FPS game with some odd things in its design that really make it hard to enjoy. First of all, even for a game released in 2008 it looks really dated. Wikipedia claims it uses the Unreal 3 engine but it really doesn’t look like it.


For example, here’s a clip from Gears of War, released for PC in 2007:

Now compare this to Legendary:

Now Gears of War probably had a much bigger team and the difference isn’t all that large but it is noticeable.


I also post this video to point out a design choice the Legendary team made that is really hard to understand. That Legendary video is the second part of the walkthrough after you watch an obligatory intro movie that sets up the premise and the game is still telling you things like “hold left shift to sprint.” Now the thing is that the game isn’t just holding your hand for a long time and it tells you that all the time. Instead, you can’t run or jump until the game decides to introduce the mechanic to you. In the first couple minutes of the game there was something in the way that I wanted to jump over but hitting the space bar didn’t do anything. So I assumed that you couldn’t jump in the game. Then just a couple minutes later the game decides to allow you to start jumping. You can jump from then on but why in the world would you disable the ability to jump for the first few minutes of the game? It isn’t like there are any cliffs you can fall over or something. It is just ponderous.

Another weird design choice is that early in the game pretty much the only monsters are these lava creatures. It gets really monotonous. Then they switch to something else and they never use that monster again. That  just seems weird. There’s no reason why they would confine the lava creatures to just one part of the game or that they wouldn’t mix it up more. They just don’t.

Gameplay-wise, the game reminded me a lot of old-school SiN and I’m not really sure why. Maybe it is because killing the lava creatures often requires turning on water to put their fire out and stuff like that. Even though SiN is ten years older I think I had more fun playing it. Of course I’m ten years older too so that might have something to do with it…

There are some boss battles which are pretty standard and a partner who is largely on the radio (like SiN and a million other games). Then the end is basically incredibly anticlimactic.

Two thumbs down

Legendary, huh?
Legendarily bad, right?
Or just kind of blaah…


Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

One of the weird things about Wolfenstein: The New Order is that apparently it is a sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein and 2009’s Wolfenstein (which I didn’t even know existed. and seems to be out of print since even used copies are going for over $70 and I can’t find it digitally distributed anywhere). Since this game takes place in an alternate timeline, it seems strange that they would make it in continuity with these other games (if that is the case). Even if it is a sequel, there’s nothing in it that marks it as such and the game is a pretty fun experience with a few other weird things thrown in along the way.

Most of the weird things about the game are elements that it carries over from the original Wolfenstein 3D such as the ability to eat dog food to gain back health and the collecting of hidden gold which doesn’t seem to really have any impact on anything as far as I can tell. These overtly game-y elements clash with this story which goes to some length to show the cruelties of war in general and the Nazis in particular (spoilers: the Nazis were not nice.)

That ludonarrative dissonance extends to things like having to hit “E” to pick things up which is a real pain when you have to pick things up all the time because enemies drop bits of armor as you hurt them. While the trope of picking up armor, health, and bullets didn’t really strike me as clashing with the storyline because they are conveniences, having to hammer “E” really did because it was an inconvenience.

Another weird aspect is the perk system which adds a bit of RPG to it. It is weird because you level up from doing things but the perks are automatically applied to a stat boost so you can’t pick a skill to improve. So you get better at doing the things you are already doing which seems kind of pointless. I only played the game through once so I don’t know how being better at something else really changes the game.

(Similarly, there is a point where the story branches and since I only played it the one time I don’t know if the different paths are really all that different. )

Perhaps the worst part of the game are the boss battles which don’t really vary from the old “hit the boss in one place then another” or “wait for the boss to expose its weakness before shooting it.” Thankfully it does refrain from the worst boss battle sin of having to nearly kill the boss only to have the boss regenerate and then have to kill it again and again.

While the gameplay does have some of these quirks, it is otherwise pretty solid FPS that has a nice variety of shooting and more stealthy things like crawling through conveniently man-sized vents, hiding from security cameras, and stealth. Likewise, the storyline of a world where the Nazis won is pretty well done. Many people have noted the Bioshock Infinite-style alt-universe covers of pop songs and there are some interesting bits where you will see an obviously pro-Nazi-biased newspaper clipping about how wonderful things are under Nazi rule.

The strongest part for me was the part where you have to infiltrate a prison camp. I really liked going around and getting quests from different prisoners. It reminded me of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay which isn’t surprising since this Wolfenstein: The New Order was apparently made by many of the same people who made the Riddick game.

Unfortunately, the prison level also results in trivializing the experience of concentration camps and prisoner of war camps because you end up escaping from it the same day you get there which makes it seem like the prisoners are clueless weaklings incapable of doing it themselves. It ends up giving the message that “all it took was a real man.” There was a moment when I thought the game was really going to force you to work in a prison factory but that lasts all of about two minutes. It would have been a really brave and interesting game if they had forced you to do some meaningless button mashing for a while. Of course, it also would have been a very different game, as well.

Another plot point that borders on venturing into problematic territory is the existence of a secret Jewish society called Da’at Yichud.

Some minor spoilers here….  See, the reason why the Nazis have robot dogs and moon bases and stuff if because they stole it all from Da’at Yichud. The problem is that this concept of a secret society with super-science risks perpetuating stereotypes that Jews are secretly holding out on the rest of us and maybe they are controlling things behind the scenes. As a plot point, they use it as a simple way to explain why the bad guys have robots and moon bases in the 60s but by making it a secret jewish society it gives the Nazis a kind of justification for their genocide. It doesn’t go that far but it does border on it which makes me wish it had just been a multi-ethnic secret society or something in order to sidestep those kinds of issues.

Regardless, I had fun playing Wolfenstein: New Order because it is a decent shooter, the Nazis winning WWII is an interesting premise which gives the game to have some purely evil bad guys (the scene on the train is a standout) and it is quite long for a modern game so even though there is no multiplayer you do get your money’s worth.

five thumbs up

“B.J.” Blazkowicz
Saves the world in the end but
he is no Doom Guy

Last of Us Review

Last of Us box artThe last Last of Us review? I’m reviewing the actual Last of Us game itself and not the DLC that just came out. Yeah. I know I’m late. Maybe I’ll write about Flappy Bird some time in 2015…

Now, I’m not a console gamer. So part of my dislike of the terrible shooting in the game might be because I’m part of the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race. Regardless, I’m really surprised that Last of Us won basically every award ever made. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like it. I did like it. But the parts I really liked were the parts where you are just ransacking houses which probably makes up a total of 30 minutes of the whole game.

So why didn’t I like it? Well, the reasons for that can be split into two categories: gameplay and story. And since the actual gameplay itself isn’t really much of a surprise, I’ll start with that in case there are any people that a) haven’t played Last of Us and still might and b) read this. So for the two or three people on the planet that this applies to, I’ll start off trying to avoid any spoilers and then move on to the spoiler talk.

Tastes a Little Gamey.

The worst part of Last of Us’ gameplay is just how game-y it is.

I think the worst example of this is the dumpsters. Throughout the game there are sections where you have to get over a fence or a wall but it is too high to climb over. So you have to find something to push up next to the wall so you can climb up on it and then over the wall. Almost always that thing to push is a dumpster and even though it is years after the apocalypse the dumpsters still roll around and move more easily than any dumpster I’ve ever tried to move (not that I’ve tried to move a lot of dumpsters. Maybe there are some that are super easy to move even after years of neglect but I haven’t seen them.)

If there aren’t dumpsters nearby then there is sure to be a conveniently placed ladder or board around which gives the game an excuse to have a nice interaction with the girl, Ellie, who is often tasked with being boosted up to wherever the ladder is.

Now, these scenes with dumpster moving and ladder fetching do make for a nice diversion from the combat as it gives you a chance to flex other mental muscles than shooting. Unfortunately, I needed that break because I hated the combat in the game. Again, maybe it is because I’m not a console player, but the aiming and shooting of the game was just painful.

<minor spoilers>

….. The few times you play as Ellie, the shooting is better. I read someone mention that Ellie is a better shot than Joel but I didn’t interpret it that way. I interpreted it as the game making it easier because Ellie is a kid. When playing as Ellie it seemed like Clickers went down easier than they did when playing as Joel. But, I might be wrong…

<end of spoilers>

OK. Let’s talk about the crafting system. It is really just terrible. I hate games where you have to gather items to make something that will just break or wear out so that you have to find more stuff. I’m looking at you Dead Island… In Last of Us, all the zombies and crafting made me feel like I was back looking for the red herb in Resident Evil. Luckily, because I could make shivs to open doors I didn’t need to be the master of unlocking… (Ha! in searching for the famous RE clip I found out that Last of Us does have a “Master of Unlocking” trophy!)

While the presence of so something like the crafting system is an obvious feature, one thing that I found equally annoying but less obvious was the ever-present waist-high wall. A big part of the combat is also crouching behind things. Conveniently, everything in the world is just the right height to hide behind. Even in sections where you aren’t fighting, the presence of these waist-high obstacles makes it feel like you are going to be fighting in that space eventually.

Last of the Plot

OK, now I am going to start talking about the plot.

Big Spoilers ahoy ….

The place where the waist-high walls was most irritating was also the point where the writing was the worst: the power plant. When Joel’s brother says something like, “We’ve been getting some bandits attacking us lately,” is there any doubt that as soon as you get done arguing with the brother that the power plant is going to be attacked?

And that predictability is one of the main problems with Last of Us. With a few exceptions, everything about the story is cliched and predictable.

Another example is the cannibals. Now, it wasn’t entirely predictable that the cannibals would turn out to be cannibals but it was obvious that they were Bad Guys™. Similarly, there’s a scene near the end where they are trying to build tension by not showing if Ellie is alive or not. But of course she is because she is the main character and they have already killed off one girl so they aren’t going to kill off another one. But they hold the camera on Joel for a really long time before panning over to Ellie to try to build tension and for me it was just tedious.

(Spoilers in this clip for the end of the game)

Tedious also describes how I felt about all the billions of cut scenes. I really don’t understand why developers so often feel the need to put in little cut scenes when it would be more dramatic to allow the player to actually do things. Maybe it is limitations in the game engine and it seems like Naughty Dog is pushing the PS3 pretty hard. But it is still frustrating to me because in too many instances it is hard to tell when the cut scene ends and I’m allowed to start playing again.

I think a lot of this comes from trying to be “cinematic” (whatever that means) but one scene early on shows that despite all their aspirations not everyone at Naughty Dog understands how cameras and editing really work. It can be seen in this clip about 10:55 in:

In that clip we have Joel’s brother save Joel from a zombie and blood splatters on the camera lens. Then the cut scene switches to an angle from inside the overturned truck and the blood splatter is still on the camera lens. That isn’t how it works. That would be a different camera and it wouldn’t have any blood to be splattered on it in that exact same way. Now, it could be argued that because the blood fades quickly that this was not a misunderstanding of how camera angles work but it was distracting enough that I remembered this scene from early on in the game and I even took the time to find a clip of this scene to make sure I wasn’t misremembering it.

Regarding cut scenes, I think the choice of what to cut out in the cut scene was also frustrating for me because I found the cut scenes tended to cut from combat to combat (or puzzles where Ellie has to get onto a floating platform again) and I would much rather have had more of the moments where they were just driving or walking down the road. I guess I wanted more of a The Road feel (even though I really hated a lot of the movie so much and I’ve resisted reading the book). One of the parts I liked the best was the part where you play as Ellie hunting down a deer. It was such a nice quiet and methodical scene that I wished that there was more things like it in the game. Now, I don’t want to turn the game into Big Buck Hunter but, like the parts where you are going through drawers in abandoned houses, I wanted more exploration and self-paced scenes.

The last thing I want to write about is the end.

“Apparently, there’s no way to extricate the parasite without eliminating the host. Fancy way of saying we gotta kill the fucking kid.

Oh noes! They want to kill Ellie!! Who could have ever predicted that? Except for anyone that really thought about it, I mean.

So the scientists wanting to kill Ellie was really cliched. It would have been more interesting if, like the college, there wasn’t anyone there. But that isn’t the worst part.

The worst part is that the reason they want to kill Ellie makes no sense. Because people turn when they get bit, they have established that the fungus that causes people to turn is in body fluids. So whatever prevents Ellie from turning has to be in her blood too. So they could just look at her blood. Even if it is in her brain why do they have to kill her? Can’t they do a biopsy? When someone has brain cancer they don’t just kill them (and there is also the fact that the fungus is not a parasite.). While you could argue that this is an extreme situation and they don;t have the facilities to operate, the very least Naughty Dog could have done is put in a line like that.

OK, so trying to kill Ellie doesn’t make any sense. Fine. I also really hated that I didn’t have any choice as to how I reacted to the news that they were going to kill her. I really didn’t like the fact that the game didn’t allow me to choose whether or not I would allow Ellie to die. That would have been a much braver game design choice.

There’s a post over at where they try to argue that it is a good and powerful storytelling choice to not allow the player to have a say in how Joel reacts because the player is not Joel. In the post Chris Plante wrote:

I like to think of the player as the driver on a road trip and the hero as the person riding shotgun. The player can steer the action, but ultimately the hero thinks and behaves on his own. And the player and hero are having a conversation, reacting and responding to one another, over the course of the journey.

I believe that if the player has complete control of the story — and I’m talking exclusively about big, cinematic games — then the writer has no control. Forcing the player to shoot the doctor is an elegant way of explaining this via action. You’re a participant in the story, but it is not your story to tell.

Personally, I disagree. For me the character is me and I am the character. I play a game because I want to control things. If I want to experience a person whose thought and behaviors I can’t control then I’ll read a book or watch a movie or tv show. I don’t want to ride shotgun. I hate rail shooters and this line of reasoning makes all games into rail shooters. If I can’t make the big decisions about how to behave in a certain situation then why should I make the small ones about who to shoot (and to write that who to shoot is a smaller decision than anything else in games is, of course, a commentary on what games do and don’t value. Not to mention that Joel has killed literally hundreds of people but balks at killing one more to save everyone… (and why does the game give you stats on the number of people killed at the end? Is it trying to make a statement or is it just some stat that we are meant to try to improve in the future?)).

Then there is the very end which I don’t really know what it means. I don’t mean Joel lying to Ellie. For me that was overshadowed by the choice to have Ellie be the playable character at the end. In the beginning of the game Joel’s daughter is the first playable character. Then when Joel is sick, Ellie is the playable character. Then at the end the player controls Ellie as they walk to the town where Joel’s brother is. Why? What does it mean that we are controlling Ellie and not Joel? Is it to make some kind of symmetry between the beginning and the end? Is it a symbolic handing over of the reigns to Ellie? Was it just a design derision so that the game could more easily show Joel lying? In an interview the designers talk about it a bit but it still seems like an odd choice to me.

The End.

Despite all these criticisms I liked the game a lot. I like it despite these criticisms because I think if these things had been addressed more satisfactorily for my tastes then the game would have been so much better. Maybe it would have won three hundred game of the year awards instead of just 200 or something…

Six thumbs up.

I usually
love zombies. I hate them here.
That’s award worthy…