Posts Tagged ‘the last of us

The Last of Us: One Night Live

I just got done watching The Last of Us: One Night Live, a theatre-style rendition of several pivotal scenes in The Last of Us featuring the original cast members, including Ashely Johnson (Ellie), Troy Baker (Joel), Annie Wersching (Tess), Merle Dandridge (Marlene), and Hana Hayes (Sarah). Interspersed throughout were live musical performances by the game’s composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, of some of the game’s most memorable pieces, which were haunting and inspirational all at once. Neil Druckmann, the scriptwriter, set the stage for each scene throughout the evening as well, directing what was a truly magical show.  I can think of no other game or game studio with the gravitas to pull this off so well.

Most importantly, this live show managed to remind me how incredible game development is in the creation of narrative, how many disparate elements come together to form a harmony. While there are many examples of great games that do all of these things very well, The Last of Us nevertheless manages to be much greater than the sum of its parts and find a way to not just be fantastic, like many other examples, but actually become a hallmark of the medium.

This title’s gameplay and graphics, while all excellent, are not the high-water mark we would judge other games against in this new generation. That said, this confluence of narration, formed of writing, acting, programming, and artistry, will long remain the standard by which we must judge game storytelling going forward. The Last of Us has taken upon its shoulders the whole medium and raised it to a height many of us didn’t know was possible. I believe this unexampled success will remain its greatest achievement long after its lofty sales numbers are forgotten and its gameplay and graphics are rendered outdated and quaint; the power of its storytelling is indelible.

It is my great honor to play it once more, remastered on PS4.

Written by Michael

28 July 2014 at 11:39 pm

Posted in Games, Musings

Tagged with , ,

Top 10 Games I Played in 2013

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Due to how slow I can be at getting to new titles and finishing them, this list includes games that were published before 2013 – the only requirement here is that I played and beat it in 2013.  I have not added any PS4 titles either, since I intend to do a First Year of PS4 Retrospective at some point after November 15.

1. The Last of Us (PS3)
No surprise here.  This was Game of the Year for many sites, and it truly was one of those situations where all the hype and anticipation I had for it was rewarded by a title that exceeded what I thought a video game narrative could accomplish.  The ending of this game stayed with me, even vexed me, for days after with its profundity.  Naughty Dog turned in four spectacular games this last generation, and I believe they represent the very best of what the industry currently offers.

2. Tomb Raider (Xbox 360)
This game is really excellent – and is actually the last game I finished on Xbox 360 before liquidating that collection.  I think there were many who went into it with suspicion due to how poorly the series had been going in recent years, but I think Crystal Dynamics turned in a worthy reboot.  This title features some of the best third-person platforming and combat I’ve ever seen (truly), and the portrayal of Lara Croft was extremely well done (kudos to the lovely and talented Camilla Luddington).  For a long time, Lara was presented in a very objectified way, with her cartoonishly out-of-proportion features.  After years of this sexist portrayal, this reboot presents us with a very reasonable and human portrayal of the character.  I liked it so much I purchased it again for PS4.  (My God, it’s beautiful in 1080p/60fps.)

3. Journey (PS3)
For only being a couple of hours, there is no better example of a profound and moving experience in such an efficient package.  As I said in my review, Thatgamecompany’s take on multiplayer is especially noteworthy, as it manages to bring a sense of companionship and cooperation to a game that literally features no verbal communication whatsoever.  You don’t even know the name of the person you might end up journeying with until the credits roll.  And it works.  Beautiful, haunting score, and dazzling graphics.  This game is truly great.  And it means so much to so many different people; this was so strongly evidenced by hearing Shuhei Yoshida (President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment) in tears as he described how it comforted him through tragedy (PlayStation Blogcast 099: Best of a Generation at timestamp 1:41:05).

4. Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series set the bar for action/adventure platformers this last generation.  (It wasn’t until Tomb Raider that I thought a game had better mechanics for it.)  This title was developed by Sony Bend, however, and they did an extremely admirable job with it.  Using the same voice actor for series star, Nathan Drake, as well as the same sound design (including Uncharted’s great score), Golden Abyss was just about everything I wanted from a handheld version of this now classic series.  Indeed, this title alone convinced me that the Vita was worth owning, and I was rewarded with many other great experiences because of it.

5. inFAMOUS (PS3)
This is quite an old game now, but I didn’t get around to playing it until I heard for the millionth time how great this series is.  What’s so great is that you ostensibly play a superhero, and you feel powerful right from the start.  Despite this, the game designers at Sucker Punch found ways to give you more powers as the storyline progresses, to the point that you feel nearly godlike at the end.  (It’s still quite challenging in areas, despite your abilities.  I died a lot until I started being more strategic about my approach.)  inFAMOUS 2 is supposed to be even better, and with inFAMOUS: Second Son for the PS4 coming soon, I’ve got a lot more heroics ahead of me.

6. Gravity Rush (PS Vita)
Project Siren developed what is probably my second favorite Vita game.  Admittedly, I didn’t get it at first, and I nearly gave up on it after a few minutes.  I’m thankful that I stuck with it, however, because this title is pretty rad.  You play a character who has the ability to control gravity for short periods of time, which allows you to engage in challenging forms of combat, exploration, and platforming.  Its anime tropes and sensibilities are welcome, since I don’t possess many games like this.  The story is compelling but not always well executed upon (there are some dangling plot threads that it’s announced sequel will hopefully tackle).

7. Unfinished Swan (PS3)
Like Journey, this is another great indie title.  This one is by a developer named Giant Sparrow, and it’s a spectacular first effort.  You play a boy who gets pulled into another world through an unfinished painting of a swan – one where a king from long ago used a magic paint brush to build his own kingdom – and your objective is to pursue that swan who manages to lead you through a beautiful world full of charming narration and wonder.  Unfinished Swan also features a story that teaches an important lesson about the impermanence of human legacy and how it’s more important to appreciate the here and now of life more than your longterm contributions.  I’m excited to see where this studio goes.

8. Limbo (PS3)
Limbo features some of the simplest but strongest art direction you’ll see in video games, using inky black silhouettes and bright, blown-out lighting.  Limbo is also one of the harshest games I’ve played, reveling in its unfairness and darkly comical death animations, which you’ll see much of since you will die many, many times – be that by the creepiest giant spiders ever portrayed skewering you, drowning, getting cut in half by buzz saws, electrocution, being crushed, or any other sick idea the designers had.  But there is a masochist pleasure in playing this indie game, which like Journey features no spoken dialog or narration, but still manages to convey a sense of purpose, a goal to achieve and a reason to achieve it.  Bravo.

9. Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
Despite being maligned by various members of the video game press, I think this game is about on par with Heavy Rain, which received far more acclaim.  But the tricks Quantum Dream employed this time weren’t all that different, and I think there’s a certain fatigue in playing Heavy Rain and then following it up with this one.  There’s also a sense of frustration for some of those people, who were engrossed by the illusion of choice that Heavy Rain used, whereas Beyond: Two Souls has a much more lead-by-the-nose, linear plot line – a vision that the writers wanted to execute on and not dilute with branching plot alternatives.  The decision to tell the story out of chronological order also baffled many, including myself.  That all said, I found the acting to be hugely compelling (kudos to Ellen Paige and Willem Dafoe for their powerhouse performances), and the conceit was far more intoxicating and intriguing an idea than the one featured in Heavy Rain to me.  It’s worth the time, if you can get past not having as much agency in it as some other games.

10. The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (PS Vita)
This is a game that would probably have been higher on my list if its performance on Vita weren’t so terrible.  (And I blame Telltale Games for that, since Vita runs every other game I’ve played on its so well.)  That said, there’s a lot to like here, including good voice acting and general sound design, as well as a compelling story lines in each episode – the ending, in particular, is quite impressive.  Telltale made a great decision to not try to create a game directly involving the comic book or television show cast, but instead the developers chose to simply use the “universe” of The Walking Dead and create all-new characters and situations.  Also great is the included add-on 400 Days, which is a set of vignettes about the early days of the zombie outbreak following previously unseen characters.  Very strong stuff.  As for Season Two, I’m now debating whether I should simply switch to PS3 for it, in which case I would feel compelled to re-buy and re-play Season One on that console for the ability to transfer my save.  (That’s a great feature this series has.)  Alternatively, I would have to wait for a Season 2 port to Vita and hope it has good performance.

Looking back at this list, I’m pleased to see three indie titles (Journey, Unfinished Swan, and Limbo), as well as two games by small studios (Gravity Rush and The Walking Dead).  One of the defining developments of this last generation was the fall of the second-tier developer, that is, the ones who made your so-so games (usually rated 5, 6, 7, and occasionally 8 on gaming review sites).  The top-tier developers have remained strong, and are usually the ones who have major blockbuster releases each year, and have regrettably crushed those smaller developers with their onslaught of successful sequels.  In the vacuum that has resulted in these bankruptcies and mergers, indie studios have arisen and really taken the gaming world by storm with thoughtful, innovative titles, the likes of which has come to help define the PlayStation 4’s launch lineup due to Sony’s embrace of these guys.  The notion of playing a handful of large-scale AAA titles per year and filling in the rest of the time with indie titles excites me.  Because of this, I think that gaming is healthier than it’s ever been.

PlayStation Game Reviews – September 2013

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I’ve been playing some PS3 and Vita games lately, trying to get caught up before the PS4 hits this November.  There’s still more to come, so stay tuned.  Moreover, I’ll have some thoughts on the next-generation console war, as well as a review for the PlayStation Vita soon.  In the meantime, here are my micro-reviews:

Snap Judgments

God of War HD (PS3)

This venerable PS2 title was remastered with HD textures and higher-res character models, and largely looks pretty good, especially considering the original title came out in 2005.

God of War follows Kratos, a mortal given god-like powers after he makes a deal with Aries, the God of War, to save him from defeat on the battlefield.  In exchange for his salvation, Kratos becomes a killing machine with the sole purpose of fulfilling Aries’ will — that is, until something grievous happens in Kratos’ personal life, and the two had a falling out.

The game harkens back to a time when games were harder, partially by design, and partially by awkward control mechanics and level layout decisions.  I cursed this game a bunch of times while playing it, and it’s story is pretty thin, so it was hard to push through at times since the only reward was for me to just say I finally beat it.  (Which, granted, was a pretty big reward in itself.)

That said, much of it is fun hack-and-slash, and the cutscenes are enjoyable in a B-move, unintentionally hilarious way.  This is one of PlayStation’s most important series, and so I will probably playing II and III, even if the original title is a bit trying.  C+

Journey (PS3)

A PlayStation Network (PSN) downloadable title, this game has gleaned numerous awards and industry accolades for its beauty, originality, and moving musical score.  The game opens with your character gazing up a far-off mountain; reaching it is your singular goal, and journeying to do so will feature jaw-dropping deserts, abandoned cities, underground ruins, and other locations I don’t want to spoil.

It features the most unique multiplayer I’ve ever seen, in that you don’t find people in a lobby, or see other player’s game tags floating above their heads while you play.  There is no chat whatsoever.  All you can do is chirp notes at one another.  You are nameless, and so are your potential companions that the game auto-matches you with.  It’s not possible to ruin someone else’s experience, and everything you do is cooperative and meaningful — and I would argue necessary to fully appreciate the story Journey is trying to convey.  When you travel alone in this world, there’s a sense of loneliness that’s only cured upon finding another traveler, and the excitement in doing so is tangible as you both greet each other with chirps and by jumping up and down.

While you complete your pilgrimage, the game shows you mini cinematic clips to give you background on what happened to your ancestor’s civilization, but with zero narration.  Only mural-style art and melancholy music.

And it’s incredible.  A+

Heavy Rain (PS3)

Quantic Dream’s critically acclaimed mystery thriller ties the lives of four main characters who are impacted by the recent kidnapping of a ten-year boy when it is learned that the culprit is the infamous Origami Killer: the boy’s emotionally distraught father, a reporter covering the high-profile case, an FBI investigator, and a retired police officer.

This game is very impressive for a lot of reasons, mostly for the way that subverts your expectations for what a game can and can’t do.  But I will say that it features the most unusual gameplay I’ve ever seen, because nearly all of your actions are pantomimed with the controller.  This is mostly done on the analog stick in some way, with very few button presses.  Heavy Rain also features heavy doses of quicktime events.

I kind of hated this at the beginning, but as the game went on, I grew comfortable with it.  That’s not to say I liked it, but it was fine for me by the end.  What made this better was the fact that failing these quicktime events didn’t result in a game over screen in most cases.  In fact, I remember reading that Quantic Dream’s head feels that game overs are actually the developer’s fault, not the gamer’s.  The net result of this is a fluid story that changes and adapts to how well you play, and to the choices you make.  No two playthroughs are exactly the same.

Much of the storytelling is pretty great in fact, though I will say the ending is quite jarring and will put off some people.  There’s a plot twist that doesn’t feel earned, but despite this, I still look back on the entire game fondly.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that most of the voice acting is good, but some of it was done by French actors who did their best to fake American accents, but this isn’t always successful.  I found this to be distracting at times.

Still, an important game in the grand scheme things, showing that games can be art.  Their next effort, Beyond: Two Souls, looks very good and I’m extremely excited for it.  B+

The Last of Us (PS3)

Given a perfect score by many outlets, I feel as if I have very few points to make about the game that others have not.

Naughty Dog cemented themselves as the best studio making games today with this title, featuring one of the most compelling stories, art design, creative direction, and voice acting you will ever see, period.  Not just in games, mind you.  Anywhere.

The game takes place in a post-pandemic world, in which much of the human race is either dead or infected with cordyceps fungus, which renders those people into zombie-like beings in a kind of living death.  (That said, these are not actually zombies.  The infected ramble as if sick with fever, and writhe in pain.  As the game progresses, one gets the impression that these are still people in there, but people who now lack the ability to control their own bodies.)

The frightening thing about this game is that the infected are not the worst things you’ll face.  It’s other survivors.  The Last of Us manages to paint one of the bleakest pictures of humanity and humanity’s lack of grace after the fall of civilization.

By the time you reach the end, you’ll ask yourself whether humanity can survive this.  What you should be asking yourself is whether it should.

For two days after beating it, I was filled with a strange disquiet.  I realized the reason for this was because my answer to that question was “no”.  A+

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)

The very first game I downloaded and played on the PS Vita was this title.  The Uncharted series on PS3 is one of my all-time favorites, and so I leapt at the opportunity to jump back into that world with some of my favorite characters to ever grace video games.

There was reason to be skeptical, however.  Naughty Dog, the creators of the PS3 trilogy (and the aforementioned The Last of Us), took no part in actually creating this title.

Instead, the game was developed by Bend Studio, a subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment of America (which also owns Naughty Dog, it’s worth mentioning).  And they did a fantastic job.

The game features a lot of touch and motion controls, trying to show off the Vita’s capabilities.  (It was a launch title, so these are obligatory.)  For the most part, this works well.  You can do charcoal rubbings of reliefs you find by rubbing your finger on the screen, or reveal hidden lettering on a piece of paper by actually holding the Vita up to a light (using the camera on the back, obviously).  The only time this failed, as far as I was concerned, was in the combat system.  Bend has you swiped in different directions for counter moves, and it’s kind of annoying to lift your hands away from the joysticks or analog buttons to complete those actions.

Simplistic but fun story, solid voice acting.  Overall, a worthy entry into the series.  B

Gravity Rush (PS Vita)

This is my second PS Vita game that I completed, and I feel like I should start by saying its very anime in its sensibilities.  How you feel about anime will affect how you feel about this game.

It’s gorgeous and features an interesting mystery surrounding its reasonably compelling main character, Kat, who has the ability to change the direction of gravity to explore and fight enemies.  It’s pretty fun.

And awkward.  Not just in its gameplay mechanics, which features more motion control than I want, but also in its general storytelling, which is, again, very anime.

Still pretty cool.  And while the story purposely leaves some loose ends for a sequel, it’s still quite satisfying by the end.  I look forward to this becoming a series.  B+

Premature Judgments

I’ve also started a lot of games, but I haven’t finished them yet.  Even so, here are a few thoughts:

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game (PS3)

An arcade style, side-scrolling beat-em up, which harkens to the golden era of arcade gaming in much the same way that the eponymous movie and comic do.

I am reminded of The Simpsons Arcade Game, in the way that you can play with others in local co-op, pick up items to use as weapons, and even through people.

This game is hard.  I’m not sure if I can beat it alone, but the game allows for couch co-op, allowing me to involve friends.  The couple of boss battles I’ve played (the first two evil exes) were pretty cool.

I’m leaning towards a B-.

Okami HD (PS3)

Okami is often referred to as the greatest Zelda game ever made, except for the fact that it’s not a Zelda game at all.  But there are some superficial similarities to The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, at least insofar as both games feature wolves.  Beyond that, I’m a bit dismissive of the comparison.

The HD remake of the PS2-era title is gorgeous, and the artwork is inspired, almost looking woodcut and painted.

The companion, whose name I can’t remember, features the worst sound I’ve ever heard for mimicking speech.  And much like Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, this character is incessant with trying to teach you gameplay and give awkward summaries of world-building background information.

Even so, that really doesn’t detract too much from the overall game, and it’s quite stunning to take part in a complex Japanese-style myth.

I’m not very far, and I fear the reason I haven’t beaten this game is because I’ve fallen out of love with this kind of game, but I will endeavor to complete it nevertheless.

I’m leaning towards a B+.


Another cornerstone franchise of PlayStation (along with Grand Turismo, Uncharted, God of War, and others I’m surely neglecting), I actually had almost zero interest in playing this game until I saw the preview for inFAMOUS: Second Son on the PS4.  That game looks amazing.

Even though it’s not technically necessary to play the first two games in order to appreciate the third game, from what I understand, I still really want to.

And so far, I’m fairly satisfied with it.  In spite of its awkward controls and slightly obnoxious mission system, inFAMOUS really makes you feel like a superhero.  And the game rewards you for defeating your enemies with style and general badassery.

Graphics are passible if a bit underwhelming for a game that came out in 2009, two and a half years into the PS3’s life cycle.  But art direction is solid, and the use of comic book-style cutscenes is very cool and rare in this medium.

Really solid so far.  I’m leaning towards a B.

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (PS3)

When I saw this game come up as a free download on PlayStation Plus, I had high hopes that it was a compilation of the early titles in the franchise.  Sadly, this is not the case.  Instead, it’s an arcade-style, on-rails shooter that takes you through the chronological best moments of the series in a kind of executive summary of each original title’s story.

It’s very strange, and kind of terrible.  But I’m playing with someone else, and that makes it kind of enjoyable, in a share suffering kind of way.

I’m leaning towards a C-.  (It’d be a D- if I were playing alone.)

The Unfinished Swan (PS3)

Another heralded PSN title that is often connected to other high-concept endeavors (like Journey, Flower, and so on), this game follows the story of a boy who recently lost his mother and is now living in an orphanage.  His mother left him a bevy of unfinished paintings, but he was only allowed to take one.  He chose her unfinished painting of a swan.

He is awakened one night to discover the the swan has gone missing from the painting, so he enters the now blank canvas to pursue it.  Gameplay begins in an all white scene, and your only tool is an infinite supply of black paint.  As you cast splatters of it, it reveals terrain, buildings, nature, and tons of other objects in the world.

The game is kind of a maze, as you use the paint to reveal the path ahead.  It’s visually quite stunning.

The heart of the game is its narration and story, however, and so despite the seemingly simplistic-sounding gameplay mechanics, it’s quite compelling.

I’m learning towards a B+ on this one.

Machinarium (PS Vita)

Machinarium is a clever puzzle game about a robot-filled world — and I mean that literally, all living things in the game are mechanical, including owls, cats, and rodents.  The game centers around a much-bullied robot whose sole purpose is to make it back into the city he was thrown out of, exact revenge on those who have abused him, and reunite with his one, true love.

It’s very cute.  And the excellent artwork suits this game well.

But I must admit that I’ve had to refer to a guide more than I normally do with games.  I’m not very big into puzzle games and generally only tolerate them when I’m in the rare mood.  (I had Portal 2 waiting for me to play for nearly half a year before I finally dove in, and I absolutely loved the first one.  I’m just impatient with the genre.)  That said, I’m trying to do as much of it as I can, and it’s quite enjoyable.  My only complaint is that it’s a port of a PC game, and so the developers mapped a floating cursor (a mouse pointer, really) to the left analog stick.  This is clunky and kind of insulting given the excellent touchscreen the Vita possesses.

I’m leaning towards a B on this one.  Better controls would have raised this potential score higher.