Mitchel Waite © 2020

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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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Batman: Cape and Cowl Exhibition

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.

Istanbul Trip

Istanbul…..what can I say? An amazing city? Great people? Beautiful architecture? One of most mesmerising sunsets I’ve ever seen in the world? Delicious food? Memory-searing scents?

Yes!

‘Blade Runner’ BFI Photography Competition

To coincide with Blade Runner: The Final Cut coming back to the big screen as part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear & Wonder season, they also ran a photography competition. “We want YOUR photos of real life scenes that resemble the world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The best entries will be featured on bfi.org.uk, with three prizes up for grabs: 1 x BFI DVDs worth £100 and 2 x Blade Runner limited edition posters.”

Unfortunately the deadline for entries has now ended, but here’s my 3 submissions plus a few extras that were on the shortlist.

Sukh’s Sunday Session

On Sunday I travelled over to Kensal Green to see Sukh play an afternoon acoustic set at Paradise.

The full collection of shots can be found over on my Flickr account. Check out Sukh’s official website for more information, or Spotify to listen to his debut album, Kings.

Sukh will be next playing at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London on April 21st.

London Shots

Happy (belated) New Year! Christmas was certainly a busy time seeing family and catching up with friends. However, I managed to escape into London with the camera and finally head up to the top of The Monument (near Bank), Borough Market at London Bridge and then around City Hall by Tower Bridge.

The full album which I continuously update is available to view on Flickr.

PS4 Share

Sony’s PS4 console has a nifty little button on its new Dual Shock controller. Behold, the ‘PS4 Share’ button. For years there have always been moments that you couldn’t capture or record without having to buy an additional piece of hardware to feed the TV link through to a computer. But now, it can be snapped as easy as swiping to open your smartphone camera.

Here are some highlights of insane graphics and intense action.

Returning To Paris [2014]

At the end of August I took a few days holiday to roam the streets of Paris with my camera. I’ve been to Paris before, so didn’t feel the need to spend my time queuing for the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, etc. So instead I set off each morning from Bastille and just walked…..snapping away at Parisian street life. My first port of call is to scale to a high point of a new city when I first arrive. I decided to head to the viewing gallery of Tour Montparnasse (for amazing night time views of the Eiffel Tower) and The Sacre Coeur (for panoramic daytime views of the city). Montmartre has become one of my favourite spots in Paris alongside the Notre Dame area (The Shakespeare & Co. bookshop is a must see).

The rest of the album can be view over on my Flickr profile.

Secret Cinema Presents… Back To The Future

Back To The Future, to me, is undoubtedly one of the best trilogies to come out of Hollywood. It has comedy, action, an eccentric scientist, time travel disruption, and car sounds effects that anyone would want in their Renault Clio. On Amazon I saw an in car flux capacitor that lights up when plugged in to the cigarette lighter, and I needed it (immediately skipped over “wanted it”). As a kid I had white Nike’s with a red swoosh because they were a character as much as the DeLorean. Ultimately it’s a film that captures its time, and it still holds up in 2014. So when Secret Cinema announced summer performances of the Back To The Future (part I), I had to try and find myself a new pair of Nikes….

Right from the outset, this sounded more ambitious than prior Secret or Future Cinema events. I previously attended ‘Secret Cinema presents The Third Man’ in Barbican and ‘Future Cinema presents Ghostbusters’ at The Troxy. So I wasn’t really shocked by the opening week cancellations. I suspected this to be down to ticking the right boxes for health & safety sign-off, being in the Olympic Park grounds at Stratford and all.

This was more akin to the Future Cinema events, as you knew what film you were purchasing a ticket for. There were none of the cryptic email clues of Secret Cinema, which is really good fun during the build up. But, there has to be trade offs if you are paying £55 a ticket. Prior to the day itself I checked out the Hill Valley Store in Shoreditch, and you could buy a complete 1950s outfit there and have your hair styled too. I bought a £10 T-shirt and a pair of 3D glasses instead! (hey, I already had the Converse, rolled up jeans and leather jacket). On the day, I have to say we did go in too early. We passed through the queue at Peabody Farm in under 10 minutes, and after that we were walking up through the empty Hill Valley ‘burbs. It had an eery abandoned theme park feeling to it. None the less, within the hour, the head count quadrupled and Hill Valley was a bustling town. A gas station, travel agent, TV store, high school and of course, a bar. The film screen was in front of the clock tower centre piece, and everyone congregated on the grass in front of it to watch the film. Actors in character were working the crowds, and we had the pleasure of being labelled ‘slackers’ by Mr. Strickland.

Come performance time, the atmosphere in the crowd was booming. The screening was accompanied by actors playing out key scenes. There were cheers when the DeLorean screeched through town, Marty scaled over Biff’s car and George McFly’s punch. The highlight was Doc Brown zip-lining from the top of the clock tower in the final act.

Overall I absolutely enjoyed it. It’s a crowd of people that actually want to be there and have an equal appreciation for the film. No distractions from talking or texting, the simultaneous live performances immerse you so much it felt like watching it again for the first time. Even on the journey home, the grin was still sprawled across my face. Then the next day, the Part II and III DVDs were fired up! The only disappointment was the quality of the disposable cameras that were on sale (so most of it will stay a secret!).

Vietnam Trip [2010]

Whilst digging through the photo archives recently, I rediscovered the shots from my Vietnam trip. I travelled there back in 2010 at Easter time for about 18 days. I met up with some friends of mine that were travelling around South East Asia for 6 months, and tagged along on this portion of their trip. I arrived in Hanoi, then with our backpacks we made our way on sleeper buses down to Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang and then finishing in Ho Chi Minh.

It was an amazing trip and a fantastic way to see the country. My only regret was missing out Ha Long Bay (due to the volcanic ash cloud grounding all European flights at the time), but I guess that means I need to go back at some point! The full set can be viewed over on my Flickr profile.