[almost-review] The Last of Us

The title is a lie.
This won’t be a review.
The Last of Us is a game that every gamer has at least heard of, for good reason: it’s crazy good.

In this post I want to highlight some aspects of the game that made me love it so much. I’d love to try to express that dense feeling of immersion, that attachment to the characters and the strangely tiring desire to give Joel and Ellie a moment of rest.

So, in short: Wow.

Score

The Last of Us

10 / 10

Of course I knew it would have been good and I know what a “good” videogame usually taste like. There are the bitter ones, the sweet ones, the salty ones…

But the Last of Us is different.

I’d be tempted to say that it’s cinematographically good, but that would still not be true enough. This game is a gem.

And mind you – dear reader – I am not a fan of horror / scary stuff at all.
Gee, when I watched “The Shining” I didn’t sleep for 36 hours straight. Like, no.

But this game did the unthinkable and made me keep wanting to play it no matter how tense I was, or how many times I died. (spoiler: a lot!)

So, in the spirit of the almost-review, here are the things that made me go “wow” playing The Last of Us.

  • Survival is not only a buzzword
    Many games today (I am looking at you Tomb Raider!) have a sense of decorative danger, often conveyed in pre-scripted sequences, that usually relies on a huuuuuuge threat to be missed at the very last second. This pattern has become so common in videogames that it lost most sense of real danger – we really just want to see how many explosions Michael Bay was able to sneak in the sequence.
    The Last of Us is different. The game has very few scripted sequences and puts you back in control of the action all of a sudden, even in very tough and difficult cutscenes. Now – that’s real survival.
  • Game mechanics don’t loop
    We know how games usually work. You have a platforming sequence, then you find a lot of resources / ammo / medipack and you know that means you are going to face a fight soon, it’s a pattern.
    The Last of Us manages to break this pattern creating a deep connection with your characters, triggering an impressive dose of survival realism.Imagine: a big fight is over and you think you can take a brea… no, there are other enemies coming at you.
    You are tired, you have been doing your best but you have only 3 bullets left.
    No medipack.
    They are shooting at you.
    F**k
    Find cover.
    Do you have time to craft another medipack?Fighting in the Last of Us is never obvious and you never take it for granted. All enemies are dangerous and you need to keep alert and keep track of your resources.
  • Let’s keep it real
    A little touch that adds a lot to the game is the realism of the crafting system. Not only it take some good time to reload / craft medipacks, but you can’t do it while you are in water.
    The first reaction might be “why?” – but then you remember that you wouldn’t be able to do it in real life, either.
    So why should Joel?
  • Scarcity of resources. Paranoia.
    Talking about realism: how many times in the game I found myself thinking “thank god there is some alcohol left in this kitchen after all these years!”
    The ruins of the world around you give this constant feeling of scarcity and you come to almost subliminally appreciate when you actually find a string of bandage, some broken scissors, something that you can scavenge and use.
    Other big plus: resources are not casually placed around the map, but there is a sense of purpose. You won’t find ammo in a swamp, but probably in a place where other humans live. Likewise food is usually in the kitchens / bars, creating a sense of context that makes – again – this experience so much more immersive.
  • Emotional rollercoaster
    Sometimes while playing I found myself panting in destress, my hands feeling tired from grasping the controller too hard after a long fight.
    The Last of Us never stops telling you a story, even in the smallest details. In the violence of the melee attacks, in the dialogues between the characters, in the face expressions, in the environment that keeps reminding you that the majority of the human population didn’t survive this pandemic. To survive in this world, Joel and Ellie have to fight in every.single.moment.
    And you, with them, feel the tiredness of this never ending path to … what? peace?
    No, peace is utopic. Sometimes all you wish for is a full night of sleep.
  • It feels like them
    After the first few minutes of gameplay I couldn’t help but start feeling like the character I was playing.
    It was such a natural movement to do, to lean into the game- masterfully crafted by Naughty Dogs.
    To name one thing that made the trick for me, the information that the character have it’s the same that you do. You are not an omniscient god witnessing the story -you become the protagonists because know / see / hear as much as they do.
  • Messy fights in the darkness
    One moment that struck me for its realism was a random fight. My stealthy attempt failed miserably and I ended up smashing bricks on people’s heads in the darkness. It was so hard to understand what the hell was going, everything was confusing and it was hard to see where enemies where and I was so nervous all the time.
    Yet again, this games puts me in first person inside the character. Wow.
  • A blurry, yet intentional, finale
    I’m not even going to spoil how good it is. Just flipping play the game already!
  • Some of the best motion capture / animation / acting I’ve ever seen
    Bonus: the crew was just amazeballs. Watch in awe with me.
  • The best women characters in a videogame
    This is a tricky point. Women are so easy to stereotype when it comes to videogames. Even though we do have some female protagonist (hello Lara Croft, Bayonetta) I have never come to appreciate them as much as in The Last of Us.
    If you think of Joel e Allie, how their relationship starts and how it evolves, there is an incredibly rare element to it: it’s authentic.
    It roots deeply into their personal stories creating a meaningful relationship, a care for each other that manifests in a powerful, unembellished style. They are both equally important for each other: they are both excellent hunters and they both are emotionally wounded and find comfort in each other’s company.Different reasons, different stories – beautifully enthralled in a whirlpool of  danger and fear or being alone.
    Bonus tip: play the DLC “Left Behind”: there is a little surprise about Allie’s story there that made me even prouder of NaughtyDog.

 

Bonus: the insightful review of my hero Matt Lees, who always finds the most absurd and beautiful metaphors to review games.

If you, dear reader, didn’t play the Last of Us yet, do it.

Trust me when I’m telling you that you don’t want to be the last of us doing so.

[almost-review] Horizon: Zero Dawn

I finished it.
Boy oh boy. This is a good one.

Score

Horizon: Zero Dawn

9 / 10

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Let’s get straight to the point: should you play Horizon: Zero Dawn? Hell yes.

I have been looking forward to playing this game for – well, since I saw the first trailer.

We all learn from the most tender age to be diffident with trailers, as they usually let you down big time. But I’m an optimist – what can I do??

WHY AM I WRITING THIS ALMOST-REVIEW?
This won’t be a full review, as the title suggests.
I’m writing this post because I want to highlight the aspects of the game that I loved the most. And also because I want to make sure to let you know, dear reader, why you should play Horizon as well.

When I’m thinking of the best games I’ve ever played (such as Journey, Ori and the Blind Forest, The Witcher 3) is never just about the story. It’s the story and the design. And the animations. And the soundtrack.

I like my games the way I like my books – immersive to the point I forget to eat.
And if you follow me on Instagram you know that I eat all the flipping time.

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This is a snap I took with the ingame photo mode ❤

Let me tell you what made me love Horizon: Zero Dawn so much:

  • It copies the good stuff

    No shame in taking the good stuff from other games and implementing it.
    Super smooth character animations and interaction with the environment à la Assassin’s Creed? Yes please.
    Intuitive bow&arrow crafting + aiming Tomb Raider style? Bring it on.
    A compelling, story driven quest system like the Witcher 3? Oh God, yeah.
    A breathtaking, procedurally generated environment? Please marry me.

  • You feel like a real hunter

    In Horizon you really feel like you’re a hunter in a world inhabited by dangerous robots that don’t really like when you get too close. You need to stay alert when you’re travelling around because even the weak robots can seriously injure you if you underestimate them. And rather than relying on you to get into a gear-frenzy mode to get more dps on your bow, the game forces you to work on your strategy first and be efficient with your resources.

  • More carrots, less sticks

    I’m not the best at first person shooters because my aim is sh….ockingly bad. The best thing is that Horizon is totally fine with that and gives you options: moderate damage by hitting enemies anywhere or catastrophic amount of damage and environmental effects if you hit specific areas with specific ammo type.
    Nothing new here, right?
    Here’s the cool thing: the game doesn’t punish you if you’re a sloppy sniper and you can be totally rubbish like me and still bring the trophy home.
    BUT!
    Incredibly enough, I was finding myself naturally trying to aim precisely.
    Why? Because the game rewards you so wonderfully when you hit those critical spots. Slow motion aiming, huge explosions, critical damage, combo effects, total badass feeling – let me tell you. Hormones pumping. There’s nothing more satisfying that creating a chill blast in mid-air freezing all those bloody robotic eagles that were trying to kill you.

  • A jaw-fracture-dropping storyline

    Common sense would be that at the base of every single game there should be a compelling storyline – right? Well, not really. Sometimes we tend to compromise with the story “because the graphics is so good” or “the combat system is amazing”. With Horizon you don’t have to choose, you get the whole package.

    And frankly, the storyline is just a-ma-zi-ng.
    I won’t spoil it but really – you should play it.

  • Side quests are not boring

    Basically every quest I found was meaningful. No “gather 4 fox skin” or “kill 2 dinosaurs” for the sake of it. There is a purpose behind everything you do and the quests are actually stories with actual characters with actual personalities.

  • Aloy is a badass

    After killing giant machines and countless foes single handedly I would have not tolerated to be talked down by some arrogant NPCs.
    To my delight, Aloy was never shy in putting them back into their boxes during their dialogues – making me feel quite proud of (being) her.

  • Check out those animations!!

    Aloy’s animations are so fluid and satisfying! I genuinely enjoyed climbing rock walls, pillar jumping or climbing on top of the Tallnecks around the world. It’s in the details – like the different animations to jump on/off your mount depending on which angle you approach it – that you see the love that’s been put into the development. And make your character feel a lot more real and cool.

    On this note, I highly recommend the slideshow by Guerrilla Games about their Player Traversal Mechanics design for Horizon: Zero Dawn.

These are only some of the elements that struck me about this game, so rich in beauty, playability and storyline.

QUALITY OF LIFE PRO TIP: go get the Shield-Weaver Armour quest as soon as possible – you will thank me later 🙂

What do you think about Horizon: Zero Dawn? Let me know in the comments!

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170317184655
On top of a Tallneck