Tag Archives: Video game

The Last of Us: Left Behind Review

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Let me make this easy for you. If you can answer yes to these three questions, then don’t waste any time and download The Last of Us’ only single player DLC – Left Behind:

1. Did you like and finish The Last of Us?

2. Was the story an important part of your enjoyment of The Last of Us?

3. Do you miss The Last of Us?

If yes is your answer three times then you don’t need to read anymore. Yes it is worth it. Yes it is as good. No you won’t like the main game less.

Recently I’ve been making a strong attempt to minimise subjectivity in my reviews and discuss/highlight the objective qualities of a game. I cannot do this with Left Behind. I just can’t. The Last of Us left an immense lasting impression on me. So much so that I haven’t been able to shake it off my mind for nearly half a year now. I have no qualms in making the following statement: The Last of Us is my favourite game of all time. I do not say this lightly, so much so that I have begun a personal crusade to play all of the frequently referenced games in the “best of all time” discussion. Half Life 2, Shadow of The Colossus, A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, Metal Gear Solid… and I still have a ways to go. I understand all this. It’s a testament to the quality of Naughty Dog’s latest game that it has inspired me to discover the “classics,” so to speak. 

Going back Left Behind. the biggest compliment I can offer is how much it served as a reminder of why I love The Last of Us. The minimalist HUD, a simple user interface that doesn’t get in the way, a live crafting system that escalates tension and sacrifice, scavenging for parts, all of these minutia elevate The Last of Us from great to something special. Choosing black backgrounds to white text may seem like a simple choice in menu design but even this ingeniously adds to the immersion that is so crucial to the experience. And that is by far in a way the word of choice when describing Left Behind. Experience. It pays to adjust your own environment to get more out of the digital one you’re about to dive into. Blacken your room, kick anyone out who’ll disturb you, use the best surround sound headphones you can find and let yourself go.

The headphone part is crucial thanks to the excellent sound design and subtle, melancholic soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla, known for his Brokeback Mountain and Babel film scores. The sounds are so abstract you will be hard pressed to pinpoint the instruments incorporated in producing such unique tones. Watching the 90 minute making-of documentary “Grounded” by Area5 TV provides some great insight into how the sounds were developed. This comes included with the Season Pass. At one point I heard rattling and clicking coming from Ellie’s backpack while she was jogging. I had to stop and take in the level of detail I was witnessing. The direction you’re facing in listen mode changes the subtly alters the sound designof the clicking and makes stealth that much more tense. It’s clear no sacrifices were made in quality when shifting from main campaign content to downloadable. 

I value the details Naughty Dog perfected to heighten the immersion, but Left Behind really shines in it’s content, just like the main campaign. You play as Ellie this time, not Joel. If you remember the winter sequence of The Last of Us (which you absolutely will), then you can recall the differences controlling her presented. Though she might not be able to stand her ground and fist fight her way through like Joel, Ellie’s character design presents certain advantages, just like in winter. Her switchblade does not break and unlike shivs has unlimited use. It could just be me filling in the gaps, but due to her smaller size and being more nimble, it felt like Ellie was capable of being stealthier and sneaking was an even more viable option than before. For example it seemed like crouch walking was faster and it was easier to hide behind objects. There were certain points where sneaking through wasn’t an option and Ellie had to eliminate all foes in the area to continue. This brings me onto one of Left Behinds strongest features. There are multiple sections of gameplay that involve pitting Clickers and runners (the infected) against the hunters. This was incredibly satisfying everytime and also surprisingly challenging to pull off smoothly. There was a multitude of strategies to try out and pick from. You could consider alerting the presence of the hunters to the infected and then swing through while they duke it out, or you can create chaos and pick off one of each around the edge. Or you could molatov cocktail a group, or just stab them with your switchblade. Then the choice is who do you eliminate first. one wrong choice and suddenly Ellie is the target of everyone’s fury. I didn’t expect a completely new dynamic that adds a layer of complexity and engagement that wasn’t present at all in the main game. And being able to do this at multiple points demonstrates confidence in the mechanic and I can say that it was almost always fun. I have to mention that towards the climax of the game there was a combat sequence that seemed oddly laid out and involved knowing the environment through trial and error, rather than observation due to the imminent failure if you don’t begin picking off your enemies early. This was different to what I’m used to, and seemed to contrast the rest of the game, though isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else it reminds me how solid the combat and mechanics of The Last of Us are. Again with the small details: when turning, if your torch I on your neck and field of view alter first and the light follows after, the quick turn mechanic (down and X) speeds up movement, the aim circle decreases in radius when standing still and changes size when you move or turn. Time and time again I find myself playing a game unlike so many others in how it treats me, as a player.

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I really don’t want to get into much of the story. Like I said, if you’ve played the main game you can expect the same level of quality in acting, writing, animation, emotion and pacing. Ashley Johnson reprises her role as Ellie while Yaani King brings Riley, Ellie’s close friend to life. They both do incredible jobs. Ellie feels real. Riley feels real. I don’t see a bunch of pixels changing colour and polygons moving around when I watch them. I don’t know, it’s a level of quality I’ve grown to not expect from AAA games. I think a huge part of this is the design and animation of the eyes of the characters, especially Ellie. Her big, green eyes feel alive. They feel like they carry weight, pertinence and expression. When I see her I’m reminded of Tish from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, a game I feel influenced a lot of The Last of Us’ excellent design. Quentin Tarantino’s more recent films have had this uncanny ability to toy with your emotions, to make you laugh your ass off then observe the darkest and saddest moments, then rejoice or breathe a sigh of relief. This is how I would describe Left Behind. There is no one thing above all else to look forward to, but know that it’ll be a strange, ultimately dark journey through a teenage girls experience in a decaying world. While she tries to hold onto something that brings her happiness, your knowledge of what’s to come battles with your expectations. It serves as an excellent demonstration of what a prequel should do. You know what’s going to happen, but you still fight it with everything you’ve got. Your heart and mind won’t be sure what to agree on. Even this encapsulates what The Last of Us, and more specifically Left Behind represents. 

 

 

There are some key things I’m not going to discuss on purpose. I’m leaving that for you to discover and form an opinion on. Left Behind tries some brave things, all of them culminating to produce one of the only rewarding and worthwhile prequels of any medium. The Last of Us is one of the most complete games I’ve played. I didn’t want anything new to negatively affect my overall feelings towards the game (*cough* Star Wars prequels *cough*). I was anxious to play this add on in fear of that very thing. But Left Behind does not hinder The Last of Us in any way. Instead it provides one of the most touching, rounded and complete side stories to a game ever. Left Behind gives me hope for DLC.

 

 

 

My Score: 10/10

(scores are given in 0.5 increments, in AKA a 20 point scale.)

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Why The VGX Awards Failed:

And how can it be made to work?

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Let me preface my words below with a little background. I am not a long time gamer. Games have been in my life since my memory kicked in at age 4 with Crash Bandicoot and Metal Gear Solid on the PSOne, however I distanced myself away from games 2-3 years ago to focus on my studies and ensure the best possible future. I then ended up in hospital and didn’t leave for a month. My education took a hit. I could not attend university as planned. I am now on an unintentional gap year.  I am 18 years old. It took these series of events for me to realise that nothing gives me joy like experiencing a great video game, not high achievement, not admission to the greatest universities not skydiving nothing. I love books and films and HBO dramas but there’s just something special about storytelling in Video Games. Having the worst day ever and instantly remedying it by playing Journey is incomparable. Losing hours to the wondrous plains of Skyrim or following the story of Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead only to have it break your heart in ways you didn’t know it could break are feelings only games can give you in that way. I was drawn back in and now cannot let go. Every gamer has their own definitive title that’s closest to their heart with significance beyond comprehension to those that didn’t experience it from their point of view. This is what makes video games a great and unique art form (yes, if you can interpret, then it is art). What makes video games not so great however is an award show like the recent VGX.

I’ll be honest and say this is my first viewing of the annual VGA’s, now VGX. The general consensus on previous VGA’s seem not so stellar however this year seems to have taken the award for being the worst. The advantage I have is no prior reference point except other award shows for other media e.g: The Oscars, The Emmy’s, VMA’s, BAFTA’s, Golden Globes etc. Though pretension has continued to plague these shows there are some central themes that are absolutely crucial and cannot be excluded under any circumstances. This is the core of VGX’s failure. There have been some excellent suggestions and criticisms of the VGX’s by great gaming voices such as Joe Vargas of the Angry Joe Show or Boogie2988 – special praises for Kotaku who instantly recognised and called out the show for it’s crippling awkwardness – as well as countless voices across: Reddit, NeoGaf, Youtube and more. What is most important to take away from the immediate response is how desperately the community wanted a video game award ceremony to be done proper. And why not? If Grand Theft Auto V can generate more revenue after 5 years of development than the most successful film in history. Avatar did in 15, how is it possible that the game is not recognised by a ceremony worthy of it’s success? Of course financial success does not warrant accolade outright but it does deserve the opportunity for serious recognition by a united and legitimate source. Needless to say, Saturday’s attempt this was not. I want to establish what the fundamental flaws of VGX were and how they could be done in a successful manner and what a video game award show should become. Might as well start with Number. 1:

1. Leave the most coveted award to the end! Imagine best short film being announced after best picture at the Oscars. There is no way this would work, nor is there any instance of this approach being implemented successfully in the history of award shows. It’s award show class 101: build up suspense by dishing out awards one by one until you reach the climax of the evening with your most important award, in this case Game of The Year.

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2. Structure your award distribution like a pyramid. Announce a group of awards that share a common theme which lays the foundation for explaining why these games were nominated. Then consecutively build upon these groups with added levels that define the games and help support your decisions. Each subsequent group should be smaller than the previous and carry more weight. This way methodology is established and the audience can appreciate reasoning. Here is a thought out and well designed award structure:

Genre’s  – establish the variety of great games that came out that year and what the cream of the crop was for each of them, proving your medium not only something for everyone but something incredible at that:

  • Best RPG, Best Action/Adventure, Best Casual, Best Sports, Best Racing, Best Fighting, Best Shooter, Best Indie, Best Co-op Multiplayer, Best Competitive Multiplayer, Best Platformer, Best Strategy and Best DLC

Performance and Presentation –  what qualities have made the games this year special in a way that should evolve gaming for the better:

  • Best Art Direction, Best Sound Design, Best Graphics, Best Mechanics, Most Innovative Gameplay, Best New IP, Best Sequel,

Ecosystem’s – recognise the best exclusives available within each gaming ecosystem, proving each of them are the best place to play and no matter where you do your gaming, there is great choice and the industry is doing well:

  • Best Playstation Exclusive, Best Xbox Exclusive, Best Nintendo Exclusive, Best PC Exclusive

Platform Types – Building on ecosystem’s, look at what each type of gaming device has been supporting over the past year and what a gamer on that platform should not have gone without:

  • Best Console Game, Best PC Game, Best Handheld Game

The Game’s Soul – What have individuals and artists put into these games that have made them that special gem this year. What has given this game its essence –

  • Best Soundtrack, Best Song, Best Voice Actor/Actress, Best Character

Makers – Who has been making these games this year and who has been the best at doing so. Recognising not only the programmers and artists but also publishers and supporters of these games that helped them get made:

  • Best Studio, Best Publisher

Next Year – Penultimately, what appears to be the game to keep an eye on and to look forward to in the year to come. Perhaps special attention could be given to an Indie game coming out the following year that looks great but hasn’t been getting a lot of buzz, thereby supporting smaller developers in an exclusive manner:

  • Best Upcoming Game, Best Upcoming Indie

And after ALL of that, you then announce:

  • Game of the Year

Between these groups of awards, Input world premieres that are exclusively in-game footage, announcements and release dates to keep your audience surprised and rewarded for viewing your show. There should also be awards and recognition throughout that do not focus on the games but rather the gaming medium. For example:

Best Internet Personality, Developer Of The Generation, Biggest Surprises Of The Year, a montage of what’s to come next year. Combine this with the announcements and a pyramid-structured award scheme, then you have a real award show that is captivating and engaging. Yes, you are allowed to put in commercials we understand you need to make money however the technique is to trick your audience into thinking the commercial are a side project and the awards themselves are the main act, not that you lured them into a trap so they can buy a bunch of products being adverts. It’s nuanced but there’s a craft there.

3. Audience. you need an audience. No award should be accepted in front of just a camera crew and host. Even if ready-made video acceptances stand (as some of these were great, Irrational, Naughty Dog, Ubisoft Montreal), there should always be an audience to applaud and congratulate. This is to fill the deathly creepy silence that’s present otherwise, demonstrated perfectly on Saturday. Media outlets and personalities across the world are watching carefully to report on your show, why not invite them to the evening so they can view live and be your audience. As much as I thought the laid back ceremony was interesting and different, it is still essential that the game of the year nominee’s be present in the building to accept that award in person if it is to carry the weight you wish it to. There has to be something that separates you from the best there is and by being their to collect it in person, the developer is making a statement that the award in their hands is that difference maker.

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Clapping = Good

4. Choose your hosts carefully. I have no problem with Joel McHale. I have no problem with Geoff Keighley. I have a problem with either and especially both hosting the Award Show. I understand the attraction of selecting a celebrity to host a gaming ceremony as it legitimises the event by bringing in outside heavyweights. However their needs to be a mutual respect for the chosen celebrity host and the Company (Viacom) choosing the host. I have no idea if McHale plays/played video games. He certainly joked that he kinda knew about Borderlands yet his ridiculously outdated nerd-gamer jokes prove otherwise. The answer to this is irrelevant. What is relevant however is that the person chosen to award individuals and companies for their accomplishments should understand the importance of those figures and appreciate their significance. It is also the responsibility of whoever is in charge of the ceremony, be it Viacom or SpikeTV, knows the personality of their selected hosts and if that is what will work in the mood they are trying to create. A 3 hour live casual award show is not the place for a sarcastic, bemused and mocking host as the jokes have nobody to bounce off of, be challenged by and to be demonstrated as satire instead of insult. “yes all us gamers are useless, antisocial, basement dwelling, virgin teens. Now the award for a multi-billion dollar generating game goes to..” A documentary in the United Kingdom, “How Video Games Changed The World” interviewed several celebrities who are/were insanely passionate about games and projected that passion in an inviting manner. Use one of those guys.

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Man I wish hands in pockets was the worst of it

5. Never, ever, ever, ever interrupt an artist promoting his product by asking if he got high while creating it. I’m sorry you had to go through that Tim Schafer.

6. Don’t announce your Award Ceremony starts at a specific time (3pm Pacific, 6pm Eastern, 11pm GMT) if you’re going to have a pre-show where you start handing out awards. That’s what your audience wants to see.

7. If you want live music as part of the evening that is relevant to the awards being distributed, one suggestion might be to try and get the nominees for Best Song in Game to play their best songs in game so that viewers and your audience can appreciate those songs in game. If this is not possible because the stars are too expensive or busy then find other incredible songs that are part of the best soundtrack awards and use them, but sparingly. Don’t make it a 20 minute segment everybody is waiting to end because it doesn’t fit with the tone. Also, do not get irrelevant jackasses to stand outside and stall for time without any preparation or instruction. Even if they got both of those things in advance the fact that I think they didn’t proves that they didn’t. It was embarrassing and by far the low point of the evening. Yes we all know you can kill people in GTAV. That’s kinda been the crux of the game since forever. No I don’t want to chant potato.

The games that were highlighted and nominated on Saturday are the reason I am a gamer and why I want to dedicate myself to games by becoming a game critic. Bioshock Infinite, The Last Of Us, Gone Home, Ni No Kuni: these are not just good for a game they are incredible marvels that deserve to stand their with the best across history. The VGX awards are why they do not stand their with the best across history. They have not been awarded that chance. It’s sad. They deserve better.

There were some really great moments scattered through the show. Though previously revealed by IGN, confirmation of a Game of Thrones Telltale game is good news. On top of that a Borderlands game by Telltale is pretty cool. I love The Walking Dead and the first episode of The Wolf Among Us was excellent. I just hope the studio isn’t overburdened by 4 simultaneous projects. No Man’s Sky might be the stand out of the entire evening, Broken Age by Tim Schafer looks interesting but that was really it. Aside from a few extra seconds of big games like The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Destiny and Thief, there wasn’t much to be excited about. Tom Clancy’s: The Division looks to have fascinating weather physics but no doubt streaming the video over the internet does not do it justice. Release dates, beta’s, new games, DLC, these are announcements there needed to be more of but it was definitely not the weakest element of the evening.

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IGN, Gamespot, Polygon, Kotaku, Game Informer, Revision3 Games, Eurogamer, Rock Paper Shotgun. There are people at these companies that I wait every single day to hear their opinions from. What they say matters to me and carries weight. Listening to RebelFM with Arthur Gies or Spoiled Games on Rev3 helps me find my own voice and discover my thoughts. I care about what these guys think when united. I do not understand how this has not happened already, and maybe the VGA’ was an attempt at this but the ideal award show is won hosted in unison by these companies, and chosen by people from these companies. Colin Moriarty announcing best PS3 exclusive, Kevin Vanord announcing the nominees for Best RPG, The McElroy quintuplets or however many there are awarding most innovative gameplay. Hundreds of people travelled from all over the world to be with the Podcast Beyond crew for their 300th podcast. A podcast. imagine the flurry of support one true award show created and voted by games journalist across the globe could have. Each site has their own game of the year awards and then come together to generate an ultimate version. This is what is needed. I only wish it were possible or there were something fans like me of websites and podcasts and reviews and games could do to make this happen.

@merthussein

Man, Spec Ops: The Line is Awesome

So after constant reminders that Spec Ops: The Line is not as it seems (a bro-shooter clone) and when the game becoming free with Playstation Plus, I finally decided to give this bad boy a go. A little back story here, I’ve been having very annoying health problems lately and ended up in hospital again. This time it was only 3 days compared to my previous 3 weeks. To anyone who has never been in hospital, something happens while you stay which makes your brain go numb. Perhaps it’s the repetition of the day or staring at the plain white walls but as soon as you leave, you feel incapable of focusing on anything for extended periods of time.

That’s where Spec Ops came in. After a nice long shower I sat down in front of my TV and started scrolling through my backlog. Nothing really spoke to me as it would be a waste to commit to these epic story driven games without my concentration being at its fullest. So I went with Spec Ops, for what I thought would be a nice, simple, third-person shooter I could mess around with until I was ready to dive into Mass Effect 2. For the first hour or so, that was pretty accurate. Then the story kicked in and boy was it good.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers as much as I can but know that 2K Games saw the story Yager Development was going for and trusted them. As you plough through the sandstorm infested desert of Dubai in search of victims and answers, your player, Captain Walker discovers Dubai, the war and most importantly his mission is not as it seems. Voiced by Nolan North, Martin Walker is an intriguing Commander of Delta Force, consisting of himself and his two men; Lugo and Addams. The conversations that ensue between these three men throughout the game are never wasteful filler and always contribute to the moral justification of your quest. Although Spec Ops presents choices that don’t affect the story per se, they are often morally ambiguous and difficult to choose, forcing you to think about it personally and not just as a player.

Spec Ops choice

The combat is fluid and satisfying. You control a single player but also give orders to the other two, such as:  “take out that sniper” or “flash bang those men.” Lugo and Addams are also competent AI that support your assault or defence. Lugo is an effective long shot while Addams resembles a demolition man with heavy weaponry, leaving you to choose your arsenal to fill in the gap. The trio offer a dynamic play style which isn’t repetitive and is relatively flexible. I truly felt part of a tight team while playing.

The game also looks beautiful. The glossy buildings, infinitely stretching desert and artificial intelligence design all make the play through an enjoyable experience. While the lip sync seems consistently off, the voice acting is spot on and very compelling. Yet another great performance by Nolan North. The soundtrack is also complimentary to the story and is presented interestingly through the radioman, who chooses what you will hear. The game avoids many war music clichés, except Ride of The Valkyries, by Wagner during a helicopter attack, made popular in Apocalypse Now. After this I was almost waiting forCreedence Clearwater Revivals: Fortunate Son but fortunately, it never came

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Watching your team go through hell and become progressively rougher brought back memories of the first Die Hard movie, wherein you could visually notice John Mclane’s vest getting dirtier and dirtier. But there is no expectation for everything to turn out well. This game is dark, unexpectedly so. It’s also very brave, as you will shoot “innocent” people and a lot of American troops and other details I will not go into as you should experience it for yourself.

Spec Ops: The Line is truly an underrated gem which deserved peoples time and attention. The developers clearly put a lot of effort to make this a unique shooter experience through its story. Unfortunately the title is terrible and doesn’t resemble the game at all. All footage of the game also demonstrates simple shooting mechanics and guns instead of focusing on what is special about this game, it’s narrative. I would recommend this title to anyone who looks for great plots in video games and also enjoys third person shooters.

Here’s to hoping for a sequel with a better title.