Mitchel Waite © 2020

Author Archives: Mitch

Why I Loved The Last Of Us Part II

I went dark on selected social media platforms and news feeds shortly before the release of The Last Of Us Part II (TLOU2) and decided to stay away from them until I’d finished the game. To wait this long to experience Ellie and Joel’s next chapter and have it spoiled by seeing a thumbnail or headline that gives away a plot twist would have been devastating (believe me, there were a few close calls). After rejoining the internet, it’s fair to say that I, along with one half of TLOU2’s players, was shocked at the divisive reception that the game had received.

I reached the end of Seattle Day 3 with Ellie and expected to begin the coda section imminently, reaching the conclusion of Part II. All of a sudden, I’m playing as the “villain”, Abby, with a completely fresh skill tree to build up. This character flip and the death of Joel has divided the internet with some of the hardcore fans of the first game feeling betrayed by Naughty Dog and the game’s marketing. I was as hyped as you could be in wanting to finally play this game, and honestly, I couldn’t see it taking any other direction. There had to be consequences to Joel’s actions in the first game. TLOU2 didn’t re-use the same formula; the themes were much more mature (which, it seems, there’s a surprisingly large male chauvinistic and narrow-minded fan base out there), Joel was still very much a key part of whole game and I was thankful for every extra hour playing it. Listening to the game’s writer/director, Neil Druckman, on the official podcast, he describes the first game as a movie but Part II as more comparable to a great novel. I started the game hating Abby and I was shocked when I started playing it from her perspective back on Day 1, but the lines started to become blurred at the end as to who actually was the villain. That’s a great piece of story telling and something that I feel could only really be achieved through video games, with the player becoming complicit in the actions along the way. Abby didn’t have to die at the end and after playing through the story from her perceptive, I couldn’t see why some players felt cheated by the ending.

The graphical fidelity of TLOU2 is unparalleled. The first game looked fantastic when it was first released on the Playstation 3 in 2013 and so does the remastered version on the Playstation 4, even in 2020. I’d say that the average video game with a focus on its story will take around 20 hours to complete. My runtime for TLOU2 clocked in at 29 hours and 58 minutes and a large part of that time was spent in awe of the surroundings. It was almost too detailed and I did have a slightly overwhelming feeling of sensory overload with the need to explore every single corner of the environments before moving on. I disabled the L3+R3 photo mode shortcut when I first started playing the game with the intention to be fully immersed “in the moment”, but this quickly changed after the first few hours and I was snapping away like a tourist (and much like in real life!). I love this feature in AAA games and I’m currently using photo mode in a New Game+ play through to capture some more of those unique macro shots (you can see a handful of my shots so far in the gallery of this post).

Needless to say, as expected if you’ve played the first game, the acting is of the highest quality. It has a much darker tone and the addition of Mac Quayle’s heavier electronic input to Gustavo Santaolalla’s acoustic score (who’s scored films such as Babel and Biutiful) provides a soundtrack that conveys the theme of duality to consequences that carries throughout the game. The electronic soundtrack is used during tense moments of survival and dread, whilst the acoustics are used to bring the emotions up with optimism and hope.

Collectible tracking has also improved in TLOU2. Whereas in the first game displayed a summary of each chapter at the main menu, meaning that you had to reply an entire chapter if you missed anything, TLOU2 goes a level deeper and breaks these up. Going back to the novel analogy, you could say that Seattle Day 1, Seattle Day 2, etc are parts and the bookmarks within them are now chapters. This allows the player to reply specific sections where collectibles have been missed rather than an entire chunk of the game. With the “collectible tracking” accessibility option, it can place a tick next to previously collected item, reducing the frustrating risk of missing things on a subsequent play though using New Game+. I’ve replayed some chapters and the game does have a fair amount of replay-ability value. I say this as I started replaying Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End a few months back and felt that the pace was off when skipping cutscenes. It left me with short bursts of gameplay, when all I wanted to do on my second play-though was to get lost in the stunning environments. TLOU2’s cutscenes are much more fluid and there aren’t many major interruptions during gameplay. Not to say that it’s light on the story (that it most definitely is not) but the slow and tense pace offers longer sections without having to be removed from the experience with loading screens.

The Last Of Us Part II is another epic milestone in video gaming and a sequel worthy of its predecessor. I’m already looking forward to seeing a remastered version debuting on the PS5 and being wowed by the technical achievements all over again. It’s one of those stories that I wish I could experience for the first time again too.

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Annihilation [2018] Review

Annihilation is a rare film, and Alex Garland is a rare writer/director (not forgetting the source material’s author in Annihilation’s case; Jeff VanderMeer). He is the only person I can think of that has captured the sci-fi trends that Hollywood has missed in the last 20 years.

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New Year, New Digital Me

Happy New Year fellow photographers, lighting professionals and cinema lovers. You may notice that things are looking a bit different around here now. Two things have taken place over the festive period. Firstly, I’ve switched to a dotcom domain, and secondly, I also took the opportunity to give the website a fresh coat of paint.

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Blade Runner 2049 [2017] Review

Where to even begin with this. I’m won’t sit on the fence teasing you so that you read the entire post to find out what I though. I’ll put my cards on the table now; I absolutely loved Blade Runner 2049.

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Ghost In The Shell [2017] Review

It’s happened. Hollywood have finally got their hands all over the manga holy grail; Mamoru Oshii’s classic, Ghost In The Shell. It’s actually not that bad…

Ghost In The Shell has always been a loyally protected and somewhat feared property. The original 1995 manga film still resonates with technological themes 22 years later, and it’s almost perfect in the sense that no one knows what else they can creatively add to it. Without this we wouldn’t have had films like The Matrix. However, there’s always a balsy producer in Hollywood whose blind determination cuts through the fandom and spins the wheel of chance.

Rupert Sanders’ direction is flawless on the visual elements of the movie. It really has superb cinematography with inspirations from the original movie, Blade Runner (of course) and interestingly (mentioned by Mark Kermode in his review), The Fifth Element. Ghost In The Shell has a great balance between CGI and practical special effects, and it’s so much more engrossing for the audience when approached in this manner. The pacing and score of the fantastic opening jump scene sets a technologically sinister tone and raises some existential questions of the “cosmetic” cybernetic enhancements freely available in this world. “What effect does it have on the soul?” Unfortunately, we never really examine these themes in any real depth, and this is where I think the 12A (PG13) rating has hindered the real success of the movie. Not the “whitewashing” controversy of casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role (there wasn’t any other choice in my humble opinion – great choice), as Paramount executives have said on the record. If the movie took a little more inspiration from the morality and satire of Paul Verhoven’s Robocop, then it would have added that much needed layer that the majority of viewers were expecting (i.e. people who know the original).

As mentioned, I think Scarlett Johansson (no stranger to action roles) was perfectly cast as Major. As was Pilou Asbaek as Batou. “Beat” Takeshi Kitano dominated every scene he was in, but I felt he was underused in some way. I’m a big fan of Michael Pitt too after first seeing him in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, but I feel like the gravitas of his character could have been pushed further if it had the 15 (R) rating.

Overall, Ghost In The Shell was an enjoyable movie that scratched the right surfaces, but was too focused on the visual elements to develop the necessary themes further. I think it’s something that will grow on people when viewed in a few years time, but won’t dethrone the manga original for Western audiences.

Hitman – Season 1 [PS4] Review

IO Interactive made a bold move by releasing a AAA title with an ‘episodic’ business model. More so for the fans than the industry, episodic content is something in the eyes of today’s gamers associated with pay-for-play kids games that give parents their much-needed quiet time. It screams ‘find out how to squeeze me dry of as much of my money as possible’. In the UK, economy and exchange rates aside, Sony Europe seem to simply switch out the $US Dollar symbol for £GBP in their online pricing. Downloading a brand new AAA title via PlayStation Plus will set you back £59.99 (not including DLC), when you can pick up the disc copy on the high street or Amazon for £40. Even though the depreciation is heavy if you hold on to the disc for a while, you still have the option to trade it in or sell it on via eBay (or even purchase second hand, cheaper, if you can wait a few months after release). Otherwise it’s just locked on your hard disk, hoarding that much-needed storage space that AAA titles and their various content updates demand.

However, IO Interactive seemed to have struck a balance with the pricing. Hitman: The Full Experience Game Pack cost me £44.99 via PlayStation Plus, which gets you:

– 6 locations (or “episodes”), with heavy replayability values
– 2 shorter bonus episodes
– “The Sarajevo Six” (6 exclusive PlayStation 4 contracts)
– Weekly online contracts (“Elusive Targets”)
– Escalation modes
– Developer and community created contracts
– Various bonus suits and equipment items to unlock

For all of this I haven’t paid a penny more. I could have purchased these individually as and when they were released, for around £8 each. It feels so refreshing to know that the developer isn’t holding anything back because they see an opportunity to cash in on DLC. As the episodes have been released in consecutive months it has given me time to fully explore and appreciate the content. Other games have been somewhat exhausting, but Hitman still feels like a new game to me after purchasing it 12 months ago. Each new episode and elusive contract feels like an event, with the right amount of content for both heavy gamers or casual gamers who perhaps cannot invest a lot of time in it.

Now on to the good stuff; the game itself! The making of documentary sums it up well; it’s the globe-trotting glamour of Hitman 2, the sandbox gameplay from Blood Money and the mechanics from Absolution. IO have attentively studied the feedback from Absolution; which graphically looked stunning, but lacked the glamour, grandiose assassination set ups and level variety due to its North American locale. Hitman brings the tone back to a classical level with its trademark dark tone (people seem to overlook Contracts, which I thought was great). There are tonnes of ways to get your target. You can “go loud” or sneak around in the shadows for the “Silent Assassin” mission rating. The locales have an abundance of screwdrivers, scalpels and hammers to kill or incapacitate an NPC. It feels great to have this freedom from a Hitman game. The locations themselves are beautifully detailed. Whilst I was still familiarising myself with the new direction of Hitman with the opening Paris episode, the next one in Sapienza stole my nostalgic heart. It was like returning to Hitman 2: Silent Assassin on PS2 (the first game that I played in the series).

There is plenty of side content and replayability to keep coming back to. Contracts mode is back from Absolution in an improved manner, along with the ability to create your own and upload to the community server. I must confess that I haven’t explored this feature in great detail yet, so isn’t really accounted for in this review.

It’s not the perfect Hitman game (yet), but the monthly episodic nature of each location puts it within arm’s reach of its Danish developer. It’s a game that can directly evolve based on reviews and community feedback throughout a season, just like an addictive season of your favourite TV show. To gain that extra star for a full house, I only ask IO to bring back the briefcase sniper rifle from Blood Money!