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.
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!
Coinciding with the launch of PlayStation VR, I managed to sign up for a free trial in London. Overall the event was fantastically managed and well organised. I had a specific trial time and only had to wait about 10 mins. It wasn’t packed full of people and the staff were actually really accommodating and knowledgable.
Of course, out of the selection of games including first person shooters, horrors and driving simulators, I became the Batman.
The headset itself was comfortable and not that heavy. You can adjust the focus and there wasn’t any movement calibration required. I was given bat cowl headphones and two motion controller sticks, and found myself sitting at a piano in Wayne Manor.
Alfred handed me the key to unlock the piano. After hitting a few keys I defended in to the Batcave. I suited up, tested some gadgets and was ready to enter Gotham.
This was the ultimate tease as the trial ended right before this. It lasted for around 20 mins, but I was immersed right from the get go. It’s not as sharp as your 1080p TV due to the focus, but it didn’t prohibit or break the immersion. This was my first VR experience and I haven’t felt gaming immersion like this before. It felt like the ultimate escapism. Wii on acid. The VR kit comes with a hefty price tag (all in all the package without the game will set me back around £420), but after today it will be justified somehow.
Coinciding with the release of the Batman: Arkham Knight video game, a free pop-up exhibition appeared in Shoreditch, East London at Kachette last week. Around 20 different capes and cowls were on display, all designed by different collaborators ranging from fashion model Jodie Kidd to British TV/radio presenter Jonathan Ross. Each design was wildly different to one another; some were fasion-led, some were treated as an art installation and some just channeling their passion and inspiration from the iconic superhero.
Plus, getting to stand inside one of the head cowls was pretty awesome too! I need to work on those shoulders a bit more though.
Naughty Dog just keep on going from strength to strength. They’ve truly utilised the full power potential of Sony’s PlayStation 3, and the results are mesmerisingly beautiful with their latest output, The Last Of Us.
As the player, you are thrown head first into the downfall of an apocalyptic USA as single father Joel. After seeing a his home town become overrun by the mysterious zombie-like Cordyceps spore virus, we flash forward 20 years later where he encounters 14 year-old Ellie. They get thrown together and we find out Ellie may be the key to curing the virus and finding a vaccine, and they set off cross-country to find the Fireflies. The character relationships in this game are the real reason for its critical but somewhat cult success. The father-daughter bond between Joel and Ellie and the struggles on their journey are the most heartfelt and believable ever created in a video game.
The first thing that will strike you with this game are the graphics. As with the Uncharted series every pixel is so rich, detailed and smooth that a small part of you could almost weep. The world created by Naughty Dog, even though a deserted one, breathes with so much gritty realism and life. There are particles in the air, flickering lights, leafs blowing on the ground and water leaking from pipes. It’s ironic that given the circumstance of the setting the game’s locations are visually beautiful (in an eerie way). Over the seasonal timespan of a year we travel through “alternative” America; Boston, Lincoln, Pittsburgh, and Salt Lake City (not your typical New York City or L.A.). To me, being set in these smaller communities adds to the realism and emotional impact off the story, as in some way this could be happening in your town.
The gameplay and mechanics in The Last Of Us is as solid as a rock. Whilst there is a heavy pre-install required and initial long loading times, the cutscenes are seamlessly integrated allow the story to have great fluidity. Whenever Joel brushes against an object or wall he will react differently according to it’s size. There are countless other little touches that amazed me as the player, such as having to shake the PlayStation controller when the batteries are low on your torch or Joel raising his hand to his eyes when you walk out into daylight. The simple and intuitive player mechanics aren’t going to change the world, and they’re not meant to otherwise it would detract our focus from what’s happening on screen. It feels like every topic to immerse the player just one more level has been implemented by the developer.
The Last Of Us in an important entry in the gaming catalogue. Its well-written characters and tense story along with its powerful visuals completely immersed me in the world. Whilst being distributed as a video game it paves the road for a a new form of storytelling. The emotional impact is greater than the vast majority of Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic exports, the only one with a similar tone being The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel. The cinematic scale of the game compiled with it’s poignant soundtrack (notably from the same composer of Babel and Biutiful) at times made me forget that I was actually playing a video game. One in particular [spoiler] was during Joel’s do-or-die escape around the hospital corridors with Ellie in his arms at the end. There are moments like this in The Last Of Us that will stay with you long after the completion trophy chimes. If you haven’t picked up this title just yet, I highly recommend that you add it to this year’s Christmas list.
This is THE most outrageously fun and random game I have ever played. It’s riddled with more 80’s sci-fi action film references than swiss cheese has holes. There isn’t much to say to give this review any depth as it is pure, guilty, nostalgic fun. In an alternate 2007 during the aftermath of a nuclear war between the US and Russia, you play Rex Power Colt, an elite cyborg commando (voiced and modelled on Michael Biehn) who is tracking down a rogue agent, Sloan. That’s pretty much that. Along the way there are references to Predator, RoboCop, The Terminator, Blade Runner, Aliens, Miami Connection and even Rocky IV (there’s a comprehensive list of all the references over at Collected Cinema). They range from weapons, mission names, montages, soundtrack influences and quips from the hero character himself.
There’s plenty of content that your £9.99 gets you in Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon (FYI, you don’t need to purchase Far Cry 3 to play, this is a stand alone mod). Aside from the open world main objectives there are weapon upgrades, collectibles (VHS tapes, TVs, documents), Blood Dragons to kill and enemy bases to capture. Probably around 6 hours of content in total. The action is fluid and as you’d expect if you’ve played Far Cry before. You can choose to go loud or go quiet in your attacks, and you can take control of jeeps, boats and jet skis. This games looks outstanding too, the art direction is fantastic with it’s overdose of moody neon glows and polished graphics. The stand out aspect for me is the soundtrack; it flocks in about every single piece of nostalgia from Brad Fiedel’s Terminator soundtrack to Rocky IV’s.
Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon is a fun and hilarious stand alone game that’s worth every penny of it’s £9.99 price tag. Whilst some may be confused by the game’s marketing, leave every assumption you have at the door and make sure you play this game. If there’s any game that cries out for a sequel after you’ve completed it, it’s this one.
As gamers are becoming more and more tired of annual instalments of AAA titles, especially of certain FPS military shooters, Ubisoft have managed to narrowly escape the crossfire of these conversations. Assassin’s Creed 3 is a frustrating, glitchy and unevenly paced game for the first 40% or so of the main story. After the lengthy learning curve and when Connor finally gets down to business, the game reaches the same heights of playing as Ezio in AC2.
The story of AC3 is one of the series most compelling yet. [Spoilers!] Set during the American Revolution of the late 1700s, the main character you take control of is Connor; a half British, half native American who is inducted into the Brotherhood of Assassins. However, you begin the game as Haytham, who is part of the British chapter of the Templars and is dispatched to new American colonies. Once across the Atlantic he gets romantically involved (briefly!) with a native American, and in turn, conceive Connor whom the player will eventually take control of.
18th century Boston and New York look look amazing, as well as the Frontier and sea locations. Each of them breathe with life more than ever before and zap you with their pulse. The snow locations and changing weather cycles add a freshness every time you drop in to each place, and little things such as the snow slowing down your pace polish it off nicely (in a similar fashion to GTA’s detail). The naval battles are easily the best part of this game for me, and it’s offers a nice variation to the gameplay. You can either escort an ally vessel, attack an enemy fleet or sail to a remote island following a treasure map (my personal favourite).
Overall, Assassin’s Creed 3 is a great game once you pass it’s very frustrating first chapters. It pushes the envelope in terms of graphics and immersion, although I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. It gives the impression that the developers had to overlook certain fundamental bugs to meet the release date and decided to rely on firmware updates to fix them. For AAA titles such as this, consumers long for the time when this option wasn’t at the developer’s disposable (don’t get me started on planned expansion packs). However, AC3 will be enjoyed by fans and newcomers to the franchise.