What’s Wrong With Games

This article/rant was, again, was originally written for Uproar Comics. Continuing my quest to have some kind of content on my blog now and then.

Video Game Characters

Media and somewhat brainless parents alike are fond of blaming computer games (I don’t the term video games – it’s too American) for…well, just about everything. If you haven’t heard arguments about how a game caused someone to go and shoot people, or fly into a rage and kill their family, then you’ve probably been residing beneath a rock for many years. The mildest argument is that games reduce people’s IQ, and they’re for children, so if you’re an adult and play games, you should grow up and get out more.

Let’s take the first part. A lot of violence and killing has been attributed to games. Mostly, I think it’s fair to say, by the atrociously incompetent and biased Fox News. Fox News is quite well known for exaggerating, misleading and outright lying. They bring in ‘experts’ who aren’t experts in anything relevant to their news story.

An easy, well known example of Fox’s hate-spewing is when they set their sights on Mass Effect. It was a long time ago now, but still stands up as a good example of biased reporting from the media. The following could be applied, with a few names and terms changed slightly, to almost any news story about a game.

Faux News

The news report/discussion started out by showing a short trailer for the game. As the trailer came to an end, their headline and subtitle popped up. “SE”XBOX. That was the headline, ‘cleverly’ placed quotes included. Followed by ‘New Video Game Shows Full Digital Nudity And Sex’.

Now, for anyone who played the game, it was immediately apparent that Fox either had gone into this without doing any research whatsoever or had simply decided to outright lie. For those who haven’t played, there is one scene in the game where, if you have chosen to pursue a romantic relationship with one of your companions, it results in a bedroom scene. The scene consists of a brief montage, lasting about a minute and then fading to black. If you count seeing a person’s back as nudity, then the subtitle is spot on. To watch the scene in question, click here.

It then cut to the reporter – and frankly, with Fox, you have to use the term loosely – already with her nose turned up as though she’d just watched someone kick a puppy. She went on to claim that the game contains graphic sex, where the player gets to decide what happens, ‘If you know what I mean’. Well, actually, she didn’t know what she meant.

From here, it pretty much went downhill. Lies, a lack of understanding, a lack of simple common sense, a fake ‘expert’ who knew absolutely nothing about games (a ‘psychology specialist’ and author), and a dedication to shutting down the one person who was there on the side of games. That person was Geoff Keighley, fairly well known in the industry as a game journalist and presenter.

They claimed that the game was played by adolescent males, who were being taught to see women as objects – ignoring, naturally, the fact that the game could be played as a male or female and that the relationship is an entirely optional outcome of an entirely optional, genuine relationship.

Of course, the first thing Geoff Keighley asked the ‘expert’ is whether or not she’d ever played the game. She answered no, with a laugh, as though it were obvious. Well, actually it is obvious, from each word that comes out of her mouth. That kind of shows the level the media are working at when reporting on games, doesn’t it? The reporter hadn’t played the game and even the ‘expert’ they brought on to talk about it hadn’t played the game. This style of ‘reporting’ is repeated again and again, not just by Fox – although they certainly seem to have it in for games. I think games may have run over their dog once.

Halfway through the report, the reporter said goodbye to Geoff Keighley, after talking over him and allowing the ‘expert’ to be incredibly condescending and spew more lies. She then turned to a panel of people, all of whom were, of course, fully against games (and fully ignorant of them). ‘Luke Skywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas’, one of them called the game. They seem horrified at the idea that they might have to be involved in their child’s life, by actually looking at the box to see the rating! How awful for them! You don’t have to do that with films or TV, do you? You don’t have children to look after them responsibly!

That is just one example, old yet somehow fresh and current. Actually, after that, the Fox ‘expert’ had to issue an apology, admitting that before the show she’d simply asked someone else what they had heard about the game.

The sad thing is that people – parents mostly – who know nothing about games, don’t know any better than to listen to these reports. The fact that the words ‘expert’ or ‘specialist’ are used when they bring people on to attack games makes them think that they should listen, not even considering how the person’s expertise is in a field entirely unrelated to games.

5000 years of gaming

Games have been called murder simulators, sex simulators, they’ve been referred to as training devices. After a school shooting in 2009, the (old) game Counter-Strike was blamed. The shooter supposedly ‘enjoyed the game’, and they claimed that he used it to train to shoot people. They said he was dressed like the characters in the game. In reality, he was wearing black. That’s their idea of dressing like the characters. Clearly they’ve never been to a convention and seen cosplay.

How does one go about using a game to train in firearms proficiency anyway? Are real guns controlled by an Xbox controller? A Playstation controller? A Wii remote? When I’m playing a game, do I get the same recoil from the controller as I would from a gun? You can’t use a game to train like that.

There was a story about a year ago about how a man killed his baby daughter because she knocked over his Xbox. Is that because of games? Or is it because he was on hour 6 of a gaming session, because he was a moron? Because he was scared he didn’t have the money to pay back his brother for a broken console? Is it because he was broken in the head?

The baby had signs of a broken arm, suffered weeks before she died. The parents had a history of neglecting the child. Even the killer’s comments in court showed there’s something wrong with him. Sociopath, psychopath…I’m not a doctor.

FarmvilleSo do we think that it’s fair to say that the kind of people who would commit such violence would do so with or without games? Those who snap over a game would snap over bumping their arm on a door, or burning their mouth on a hot coffee. I don’t think Hitler played Call of Duty. I don’t think Genghis Khan played Counter-Strike. Games are just the newest scapegoat for a sick and violent species.

Similar things were said for television. The last thing was comic books. When comic books were new, they were an evil blight on children. According to ‘studies’, one particular comic book taught ‘sadistic tendencies in kids’. That comic was Superman. The symbol of hope. The boy scout, who does no wrong.

Japan is perhaps the world’s biggest consumer of games. The Japanese, in broad generalising terms, can’t get enough of them. And yet it has a relatively low crime rate per capita. Far lower than that of America. Recent statistics put the murder rate at 1.02 compared to America’s 5. Murders with firearms are at 47 compared to America’s 9,369. Total crimes is listed as 2.85 million compared to America’s 11.88 million.

But that must be because games have lowered Japan’s IQ so much that they don’t know how to leave the house to commit crimes, right? Because games make us so stupid. Except that tests have shown that games improve cognitive flexibility. They encourage creative problem solving and ‘thinking outside the box’. They improve reflexes and reaction time. They improve the capacity for learning.

Level Up

Now compare that to TV. Tell me how gamers are lazy. Explain how it’s better to sit on your sofa in front of a TV, letting it all just wash over you, not having to think for a moment, just staring at it for hours. That’s far better than a game where you have to think about how to proceed, solve problems and puzzles, engage in and push forward a storyline. Right?

And as for ‘Aren’t you a little old to be playing games?’, perhaps the answer should be ‘Aren’t you a little too intelligent to spew disproved, old-fashioned nonsense?’ Statistics show that, in America (keeping with a large country), the highest percentage of gamers are over 36 years old. The average age of gamers is 30. And in case you’re wondering, the myth about it only being ‘for boys’ is dispelled by the 45% of female gamers.

It’s so immature to enjoy interactive storytelling, isn’t it?

So the next time someone suggests that games promote violence, or are for children, you can gently suggest that they take ten seconds to look up the facts.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age Table

I never expected Inquisition (see what I did?!) to be brilliant. I didn’t expect it to be BioWare back to form. And it wasn’t. But it was pretty good, and in some places very good; it was certainly a big improvement over Dragon Age II.

I bought Dragon Age: Inquisition on release day and have been taking my time with it so that, by the time I embarked upon the final mission, I’d finished all the side quests. I did manage to miss one party member, though, due to not discovering that Orlais has two upper levels until hour 101. I finished it on New Year’s Day.

I’m not entirely sure what to think. I wrote a blog for Uproar about Bioware and mentioned how this game could remake or break the developer. I think, on the whole, it has done them good. They still made some of the same mistakes they did with some of their past games, but mostly they did a good job.

First off, the voice acting was pretty good – nothing special, but good – for all but one character: your own. You choose between one of two male voices when you start – an American one and an English one – and I assume the same goes for female builds. I chose the English one, because American doesn’t sound right in fantasy to me. What a mistake. Flat, boring, unemotional for the most part. When he did put emotion into things, it was all over the place. He’d sound accusing, angry, surprised or confused, when he was meant to be anything but. Mostly, he just sounded like a dimwit – not how you want your Inquisitor to sound. Compared to the very good voicing of Hawke in Dragon Age II, it was a big step back.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game was the world itself. The areas you can travel to are both huge and varied. One of the worst things about Dragon Age II was the blatant reuse of areas, one lesson BioWare clearly learnt well. No one area looks like another, no matter how small, and the environments are varied enough – even the similar ones – that you could tell where in Thedas you’d been put if the game launched you there randomly. The detail in most of these environments is impressive too, given the size. Except the desert. That’s far too big to be so empty.

Dragon Age Dales

The combat is pretty much the same as it was in Dragon Age II, except instead of mashing the attack button, you simply hold down the right trigger and the fighting is done for you. Overall, it’s fine, though the blows just don’t feel like they have the impact that they did in the previous game. You feel more like you’re swinging a fish at the enemy instead of a sword. And the top-down view thing is entirely pointless, at least on easier difficulties.

Then there are the downsides. The AI is terrible, with the party members getting stuck or deciding to stand still and not follow you (which means if you switch to them thinking they’re right behind you, you’re transported miles away and then your previous character is teleported to them). In fights, some of the ranged characters would run right up to enemies to attack them…from range. Given that ranged characters have less defences and lower health, this was quite irritating. Not to mention moronic. But BioWare decided that we didn’t need the detailed character behaviour options that helped make Origins so good. Basically, you can tell a character to do what another does, or do their own thing. The former means that they totally ignore enemies who attack them, and therefore die a lot.

Enemy spawning is very annoying. If you wipe out a group of enemies, don’t look over your shoulder as you walk away, or they’ll have respawned again. That’s if you survived the encounter. Not because the enemies are tough, but because of the glitch that causes your character to run into an enemy and then launch into the sky and plummet back to the ground.

Glitches being another irritant. They are mostly small, and BioWare did fix the worst ones. I missed a lot of what was happening for first several hours because dialogue would often freeze, and I would have to press the skip button so that I wouldn’t be left with someone just staring at me in silence. That of course resulted in me missing lines. When it happened multiple times within a single conversation, I was left clueless.

And what about the lies BioWare told? There were a couple of things they claimed would be in the game – and claimed very close to release – that aren’t. While this is pretty typical of BioWare, that doesn’t make it acceptable. The main thing I remember is them saying how once you liberate a keep, you would decide what kind of keep it should be. You don’t. At all. It doesn’t matter, but it annoys me that BioWare are so changeable and liberal with the truth.

Their claims of all these hard decisions is perhaps the chief example. They say that every time, of course, but usually there are hard choices. They said these would be some of the hardest yet, that there would be no easy or ‘right’ choice. Well…where the hell were they? The hardest choice I had to make was deciding whether I should take Solas or Dorian on missions. The only other thing that was hard was a choice regarding Blackwall, and it seems like both options turn out exactly the same anyway. They used an example in one gameplay video of a village under attack at the same time as Inquisition forces, or something like that. The choice was between helping the Inquisition and helping the village. Nothing like that ever occurs in the game. Ever. This is the culmination of two other games, with the fate of the world in the balance, and there isn’t a single hard choice.

Which reminds me of the video where they showed how, on approaching enemy forces, you could set fire to their boats so that they couldn’t escape. They said there were be things like that throughout. There are not.

There’s no actual danger. There is one point at which your enemy, Corypheus, launches a devastating attack on the Inquisition, but other than that it’s an easy ride. No party members are ever in any danger, where they could be killed off. Again, this is unlike gameplay videos and trailers suggested. Which reminds me of just how many scenes from trailers and gameplay videos never made it into the game. Good scenes. Dramatic scenes. Did BioWare have to decide between delaying the game and cutting a load of it out, and chose the latter? They certainly seem to have bitten off a hell of a lot more than they could chew.

Overall, I’d probably give Dragon Age Inquisition a maximum of 7/10, and I would recommend it. But it suffers from BioWare’s continuing cluelessness. This isn’t the end of my review/rant, but everything from here on will be full of big spoilers.

I used the Keep thing online to make all the choices that I made in Dragon Age Origins and DA2, which weren’t saved to my Origin account for some reason. Most things seemed to make little to no difference, but I wanted to have Alistair in my game, so I chose to have the Hero of Fereldan kill the archdemon, and Alistair rejoined the Wardens. So he was indeed in my Inquisition playthrough, and turned out to be a fairly important part. However, after he played his part, he left to return to the Grey Wardens at their headquarters. I thought that this was to get their help with the whole world ending crisis thing, but apparently not, because he never came back and wasn’t mentioned again until the credits.

Another familiar character to make an appearance is Hawke. This was handled incredibly badly. It was built up to be a big surprise, and yet just as I was about to meet him, the game asked me if I wanted to use Hawke’s default appearance or customise it. That’s like taking someone to a surprise birthday party and then at the door, telling them you hope they like surprise parties! Why the hell didn’t they just do that at the start of the game? And then there’s Hawke’s end. You have to choose between him and Alistair – I suppose that could count as a hard decision, but it makes the most sense that Hawke be the one to die, so it isn’t. And so the hero of Dragon Age II is given a pathetic, badly-animated non-death. He runs at the enemy, and then we just assume he died. Brilliantly handled, as always, BioWare. Because who cares about a character you not only spent tens of hours with, but controlled the whole time?

Then there’s the end. A weaker, more empty and all-round crap ending I haven’t witnessed for a long time. It kind of comes in two parts. First there’s the final fight against Corypheus and his dragon. Morrigan takes on the latter with her new dragon shapeshifting powers…and loses. So much for ‘I can match the dragon’. Then you just chase Corypheus around, hitting him. It’s not even a hard fight. All the dragons in the game were harder. The nightmare demon thing in the Fade was harder. Then after the fight there’s a cutscene of the Inquisitor creating a rift to suck Corypheus into the Fade. It’s not remotely dramatic or climactic. It doesn’t even make sense to me. He wanted to be in the damn fade, and you JUST PUT HIM THERE! I know the suggestion is that he’s dead and not there physically, but… Oh, never mind.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Before this, you’re told that Inquisition forces can’t assist you. They’re on their way back from another fight. So exactly what was the point in building the Inquisition? Really? In reality, all it took to defeat Corypheus was for Morrigan to get her dragon power and the Inquisitor to swing his sword a few times. In the end, the Inquisition just seemed kind of pointless.

So unlike Origins, where there’s a huge battle at the end and all your companions are up to their eyes in it, this (again, the culmination of two games and with the fate of the world in the balance) end with me, a dwarf, a knight, and an elf against an archdemon-a-like and a darkspawn magister god-wannabe. So after you defeat him, suddenly all your other companions appear from nowhere, along with random Inquisition soldiers – including a scout who was the only one there with you when you caught up to Corypheus, AND THEN DISAPPEARED! Oh, yeah, big heroes.

Then part two of the ending is back in Skyhold, where there’s a party. After the Inquisitor stands and stares at people while they applaud. No Cassandra next to him, of course. The other advisers are there, but one of the two that created the Inquisition is down with the unwashed massed. Makes sense. I suspect this is BioWare pretending that they learnt from the atrocity of ME3, and wanted to give closure for the party members. They didn’t. It’s weak, empty and pointless. You basically go between them all to get a few lines of conversation from each. It’s for appearances and nothing more. It’s not even done well. Where are all the characters that you met throughout the game who aren’t companions? Where’s that little dwarf scout? Where’s Dagna? Where’s that mage leader, etc., etc.? Where’s Iron Bull’s company? He made a big deal out of saving their lives, and yet they aren’t there when he turns up at the end to pretend he actually did something to help, and they aren’t there with him celebrating. It’s pathetic.

Then after that, it just…ends. Nothing about the final fight or the ‘end’ actually feels like the end of a game. There’s no aftermath, no picking up the pieces, no drama. You can continue to play after the credits, but there’s nothing new, nothing has changed. It just adds to the empty feeling, especially if you’ve finished all the side missions.

There’s an after credits scene that seems to partially explain something Solas says after Corypheus is defeated, and perhaps sets up Dragon Age 4. It seems he is in fact the Dread Wolf, but I don’t really understand. I thought the Dread Wolf was a trickster who…well, tricked the other elven gods, and yet he seems to be just like we knew Solas to be. And what happens at the end? Does Flemeth/Mythal possess him, or does he kill her, or…what? I suppose it’s meant to be confusing and a tease.

So I think that’s about the end of my ranting. I actually thought less and less of the game as I wrote this, and more things came to me. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of my problems with it, nor indeed the things I liked about it, but it’s long enough already, and it’s hard to properly review a game that lasted 107 hours. It was a good game, but not nearly good enough to make me think BioWare are back on track. I won’t be buying their next game.

Reminiscence and Ranting Ramblings

I was awake until about 3am thinking and ranting to myself. While Kira decides what she’s going to do next, here is a diluted version of my ramblings:

Somewhere around this time in 2007, I was leaving college with a shiny HNC. Unfortunately, that was the highest qualification the college was allowed to give us for the course – Interactive Computer Entertainment (ICE) – even though it was, according to the lecturers, a degree-level course in terms of modules and other terms I didn’t understand. But anyway, I had one. With distinction. That’s a lie. We could only pass or fail the course, but I got plenty of distinctions in the individual assignments, so it’s a lie I will perpetuate in a self-important manner.

From here, I went into Incubation, which is basically an office run by a company called NORIBIC, for start up companies. I was going to make games! Computer games, obviously. There were two of us, and neither of us could program, but that didn’t matter. The course coordinator, who was a programmer, told us to get on with the 3D side of and he would do the programming for us when it came to it. For the purposes of this rant, I shall call him Dick, which is a completely random name, and certainly not chosen for reasons that shall become apparent.

So we got to work creating. We would make a demo of one or two levels as proof of concept, and try to get funding with it. Then we needed programming. We had characters animated, but we needed them to walk about. We needed scripted events. So we asked nearly every day for about three weeks, until finally Dick came to ‘have a look’. By this time I had blindly stumbled my way through some of the programming and got some switches and whatnot working. He looked at this code and all was well, apparently. He then went to have a look at the built in code to see how he’d go about doing what we needed.

He stared at the code. He stared at the code some more. He drummed his fingers and stared at the code. He sipped his coffee and stared at the code. Then he said, ‘I don’t know what any of this is’, and walked out. And that was the last we saw or heard of Dick concerning our programming.

So that was that. All that time. All those months. It must have been at least a year we were working on everything, and Dick pretty much destroyed it in one move. We could have perhaps found a programmer from somewhere to do what we needed done, but we let ourselves go into a downward spiral of crappy game ideas that only postponed the need for a programmer, and then my partner disappeared to Belfast without a word and I never saw him again.

In hindsight, I realise I was the only one taking it seriously. He was only there to feel like he was doing something with his life, without actually doing anything with his life. So I don’t know what would have happened even if Dick hadn’t exaggerated his skills and willingness to help.

So I’m left with dozens of 3D models I can’t use for anything, and that no one else can use because they had to be so low poly in order to not crash the crap game engine we were using, and questions of ‘what if’. We worked on three games in the time we had, and two of them would have been pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. But it wasn’t to be.

At least the memory of Dick led me to the memories of the ICE course, and how much I enjoyed it. I went from knowing just about nothing about game design to being one of only six people to pass the course, getting distinctions and merits left, right and, on occasion, centre. Mine became the name most called out in class when people were in need of help, rather than the lecturers’. And perhaps the thing that raises a smile most when I remember it: the music assignment. I put together a music track for our main music assignment and when the lecturer heard it, he told me I wouldn’t even get a pass. It was too late to change it, so I just submitted it. Then came the day we had to go and collect our assignments. I went in expecting the fail he told me I’d get only for him to ask to shake my hand, and give me the only distinction that he’d given out that year. Apparently the write-up that accompanied the music track changed his mind. And now…I am a writer.

Anyhoo, luckily for all of you, some unfortunate news while writing this has ended my urge to write anything or rant any further, so…bye.

The Last Of Us

I got The Last of Us on the day of release and I’ve been playing it since. I finished it and started again. I’m still not quite sure what to think of it. What I am sure of is that it certainly doesn’t deserve the 10/10s it’s been getting. I’ll try to explain why, without giving away spoilers.

The story is of Joel and Ellie, a forty-something year old man and a fourteen year old girl, basically trying to get from one part of post-apocalyptic America to another. The post-apocalyptic setting is due to a virus that alters people. Some kind of cordyceps-like fungus grows inside them and first makes then extremely violent and aggressive, and then pretty much takes over and deforms them. Basically it’s a fancy zombie apocalypse.

So while crossing America, you have to contend with these infected people as well as normal humans. These come in two forms: soldiers and hunters. Soldiers are obviously…soldiers. There to supposedly keep the peace and keep people safe. But they’re not very pleasant inside the quarantine zones, and are all-out murderous outside them. The hunters are survivors who are not allowed into quarantine zones due to limited space and supplies. Instead, they prey on other survivors and…well, eat them. So, zombies, cannibals and stereotypically evil soldiers.

Joel is a smuggler. That means he smuggles mostly medication and weapons into his quarantine zone in Boston. Thanks to a pre-apocalypse section of gameplay at the beginning (20 years before the main game), we know he has good reason to hate the soldiers. Of course, that’s pretty much the last time he shows it, but it at least helps us see why he might have become a smuggler instead of sitting back and doing nothing like a good citizen. He and his partner, Tess, are tasked with taking fourteen year old Ellie to a group of rebels deep in the city, outside the quarantine zone. And so the story begins.


I say story, but there is actually not much of that. The basic premise is very simple, which is ok, but there’s not a lot to beef it up, which isn’t so ok. It is acted very well, and there’s a few sad moments that make you think it’s a deep and meaningful story, but when you stop at the end and think about everything that just happened in the past fifteen hours or so of gameplay, there isn’t that much. If there was more to the relationship between Joel and Ellie, then it wouldn’t be so bad. That relationship is handled pretty well, with them resenting and distrusting each other at first, right up to Joel seemingly seeing her almost as a daughter by the end. However, it progresses a little too fast. There aren’t that many defining moments in their relationship, and those that there are, are brushed over quite quickly. For example, at one point, Ellie has to save Joel’s life by shooting a man. This is the first time she has ever killed, and is momentarily upset and sickened by it, before…being perfectly fine and back to normal. Meanwhile Joel is just annoyed that she didn’t stay put like he told her. Now the suggestion is that he’s angry because he didn’t want her to have to go through that, and doesn’t want her to get hurt and so on, but never does he address the fact that this fourteen year old girl just had to shoot a man in the head at point blank to save the man who is supposed to be protecting her. I know this is part of the bleakness of the setting, that these things happen and there’s not always warm, comforting words to make you feel better, but I didn’t feel it, or a few other parts, were handled that well.

That said, the story and the relationships (both between the two protagonists, and them and the occasional other survivors they team up with) are good and believable. You can’t help spending a lot of the game with a little knot in your stomach because you’re afraid something might happen to Ellie or Joel or even to their new and temporary friends. Ellie is a particularly good character. She’s funny and likable. She can handle herself, but she’s vulnerable and frightened at the same time. You want to help her and protect her, rather than just doing so because the game says you have to.

So overall, the story and the characters aren’t the problem. Even if the whole thing is severely lacking in nuance. There’s some. Ellie’s animations, for example, change over time. First she’s quite guarded, and spends a bit of time with one arm crossed over her, holding the other in that unsure, slightly defensive manner. Then later, when she comes to better know and trust Joel, she’s a lot more open both physically and in character. She tells jokes from a joke book she finds, she teaches herself to whistle, she talks to Joel about how the world used to be, before her time. So if these small problems were the only ones, I would have given the game 9/10. But they’re not.


The game’s biggest problem, and a big let down, is the combat. Trailers and previews of the game made it seem as though Joel would have a problem handling just one or two enemies at once. That every kill would be a choice, and a moral dilemma. Perhaps that you have to make the choice between killing someone in order to get badly-needed supplies, or leave them and risk running out. But that isn’t so. Not even close. You find yourself in the midst of anywhere from one or two to a dozen enemies at once. If a single one spots you, then like magic, everyone else knows that you’re there, and precisely where you are. I’d hoped that kind of crap was being buried in an unmarked grave as we draw closer to next gen. But apparently not.

If this was only a problem if you were careless and got yourself seen, then I could perhaps forgive it. But that isn’t the case either. On many occasions, you are forced into combat against waves of enemies. In one part of the game, you are actually locked in a room and forced to fight about four or five waves of enemies, before what is basically a mini boss fight. I’d love for someone to explain to me how that has any place in a game like this.

The game is billed as both a survival horror and an action adventure. I don’t think it can, or should, be both. The most tense and exciting parts of the game are when you are pitted against just one or two enemies. For example, there is a part where you get pinned down by a sniper on a street in the suburbs. You have to sneak around the side, avoiding getting shot, while your allies draw his fire. As you reach the house, you suddenly realise that he isn’t firing any more. You get inside, and the house is silent. So where the hell is he? That makes it tense and exciting. The problem is, Naughty Dog (the developer) decided that wasn’t enough. So they threw in about six or seven other enemies for you to fight on your way to the house. To me, that ruined the atmosphere. To me, that kind of thing transforms it from a survival game into a shooter. The best moments of combat were when you were fighting only a small number of enemies. The combat system doesn’t even lend itself to anything else.


But the developers don’t seem to know which they wanted it to be either. Joel is strong and pretty fast in cutscenes, but in-game, he’s like an old man. If you hear footsteps running up behind you, then it’s already too late. You can’t turn in time to hit the attacker before he hits you, which can be fatal. You can’t sneak at any kind of speed. There’s no urgency to his sneaking as he gets closer to an enemy he’s going to take out. He can’t roll or slide into cover. Surely, if you’re being shot at, you get to that low wall or crate or whatever cover as quickly as possible? But not Joel.

To me, the game plays as though Naughty Dog were afraid to stray too far from the Uncharted formula. The waves of enemies scenario may work ok for that, but it doesn’t fit in a game like The Last Of Us. It’s a shame they didn’t have the guts to properly pull off the kind of game it was trying to be. One that is more story driven than combat driven, one that deals with occasionally upsetting themes, one that doesn’t fall back on ‘well we can always sit here and shoot everyone’. I think I finished the game with something like 450 kills. 450!

So the combat reduces the game from a very solid 9/10 to an 8/10 at the most.

And then there are the glitches. They aren’t numerous, but they are annoying. Especially in a game from a studio known for highly polished games. The first I noticed was enemies getting stuck. You’d perhaps get spotted by someone, and everyone else, no matter where they are, immediately knows that their friend has seen you. Because they’re telepathic, naturally. But then they run in circles. Or they run ten feet, turn around and run back, only to turn and do the same again. The biggest and most annoying glitch that I came across was with the ‘focused hearing’ system. Holding R2 causes Joel to kneel down and listen hard. Doing so allows him x-ray vision, naturally. So you can see through walls and know exactly where enemies are. Except, about 40% of the way through the game, I started to lose people in my focused hearing. I’d look around using it, see no one, then turn a corner and come face to face with an enemy. This was particularly irritating in the final section, which is all-out action, and I couldn’t see where anyone was until I got shot in the face. I didn’t really mind the focused hearing, but something a little better would have been nice. But most alternatives would have required Naughty Dog to add in decent AI. And then there’s the allies who come into cover with you, and then…push you out of it. Into view of an enemy. Thanks, Naughty Dog. The game wasn’t hard enough, so I’m glad you added that in, despite the fact that you thought it was ok to make Joel’s allies completely invisible to enemies. Ok, perhaps that’s not a glitch, but it’s still damn annoying.

So in the end, what had the potential to be one of the best games of this generation ended up being a little too shallow and scared. 8/10 I think. I wrote a post a while ago about what I think next gen should be and do, and The Last of Us came close. But just fell short. The plus side is that The Last of Us is THIS gen, not next gen, and if this gen can still produce something like that, then there’s reason to hope. However, the downside is that the game wasn’t let down by technology, but by people. People being too scared to properly address the difficult subjects and move away from the idea of each quiet, exploration and/or story section being nothing more than a stepping stone to the next shootout.

Overall, the story is good enough, the characters and relationships are good, the acting is very good, the setting is good and the combat is good when it’s both optional and minimal. But it doesn’t deserve all those 10/10s.

The Last Of Us

The Next Generation

I am going to talk (moan) about something completely unrelated to books – because I’ve never done that before…

I want to talk briefly about next gen console gaming.

The jump from Xbox to Xbox 360 was very exciting for me. The jump from Playstation 2 to PS3 not so much, in my case, because it was just too expensive. The leap in graphics was amazing and the kinds of games that were being shown were very impressive.

This time, I’m not too excited about it. There’s the usual feeling of getting something brand new, but I don’t think there’s a lot to be excited about, unfortunately. Graphically, there won’t be as big a leap as there was to the current gen. But it’s more than that.

My concern is that developers won’t make the kind of effort required to truly move into a new generation of gaming. Next gen, to me at least, should be about more than just pretty scenery, more happening on screen at once, and all with a smoother frame rate (and considering that Knack, one of the games shown at the unveiling suffered from slow down in a pretty simple-looking section, even that is a bit iffy).

To me, next gen is about the opportunity to make much more in-depth games. Games with proper stories, proper acting, real choices. I suppose games that are entirely ‘run from point A to point B and shoot anything in between’ have their place, but games will never evolve much by sticking to those.

I don’t just mean RPGs. Take the latest Tomb Raider. It details how Lara Croft went from innocent, starry-eyed teenager to hardened killer and survivor of any situation. For me, it failed to deliver the emotional impact it tried to simply because the characters she cared about (and that were meant to too) were never properly developed, but I won’t go into that. It was for the most part a fairly emotional storyline (whether it fully delivered it or not) that was not there simply as an excuse for shooting everything that moved.

Tomb Raider is also a good example of subtle detail that I think should be in all next gen games. Lara’s facial expression changed the longer the game went on. From wide eyed deer in the headlights, to glary eyes and ‘don’t test me’ frown. It may have been my imagination, I’m not sure, but I think the longer the game went on, the less girly a manner she held the handgun. Those are good touches. Little things like that will help make next gen. Or should.

So to me, developers need to start making sure writing and acting is top notch, and not rely on the ‘well it looks pretty, so it’ll sell’ angle. The new technology should, in my mind, be used to give the player a much deeper experience, even more so than a good looking one.

When I talk about choice, I don’t just mean in a (pre-ME3) Mass Effect or KOTOR kind of way. Being able to choose your path through a level, or choose the way you take on (or not) the enemy, too. Having plenty of things going on in the background, that isn’t necessarily a part of the story that can be interacted with and investigated. Basically, making the game more than just the facade of a world.

And my concern is that most developers don’t share that view of the next generation. Judging by the small amount we’ve seen so far, it’s going to be more of the same. Just nicer looking. Killzone 4 we’ve already seen. Battlefield 4 is being unveiled soon. It’s more of the same. More ‘Let’s make our way through this deserted area of town…I wonder where everyone is…oh, what a very big surprise, we’ve been ambushed…let’s shoot anything that moves then do it again in the next area’. There’s a degree of mindless entertainment in such games, but they get extremely boring very quickly.

Think of the best films you’ve ever seen. Clever, emotional, exciting. The kind that end and you realise you’ve been sat an inch above the seat, leaning towards the screen for the past hour with your mouth wide open. How many games are like that? Yet they’re interactive. Surely they should have more of an impact. Where are the Inceptions? The Dark Knights, the [insert brilliant movie comparison]…

Where is the real writing? The real acting? The real depth?

The games industry is bigger than Hollywood, and yet it isn’t taken seriously. The media still blames it for just about everything. If there were less mindless kill everything games, and more intelligent, story-driven games, wouldn’t the industry start being recognised for what it really is? Or can be.

Even Heavy Rain, which is basically an interactive movie, had terrible acting. Developers need to realise that they can’t just drag in anyone off the street to do their voice acting. They need real voice actors. People who can actually act.

But, I think so-called ‘next gen’ will be more of the same. And as a gamer, I find that depressing.

Star Wars 1313: Drake’s Lawsuit

I stayed up until 4am this morning, watching E3. I suffered through the ‘comedy’, the dancing, the acting; I picked my jaw up off the ground after watching Watch_Dogs gameplay; I sat up, ultimately, to see what Star Wars 1313 was all about. I knew it was about a bounty hunter on Coruscant, and that it was meant to be ambitious and doing stuff never before seen, but that’s all. I looked forward to it.

Finally, after blabbering on about some rubbish, they got to the game.

They showed an in-game cutscene first. It was absolutely incredible looking. Nearly as good as Watch_Dogs had looked. I thought if the whole game was going to look like that, it would be hard to disappoint. I shouldn’t have thought that. I must have jinxed it.

After about 30 seconds, the cutscene was over, and it was back to the studio for talking. I was a tad irritated that they’d cut it off so quickly, after making such a huge fuss about it all week, but I assumed there’d be lots more to show.

Let’s ignore the fact that the whole thing lasted only a little over four minutes, talking and all (so about two minutes of actual game). That’s not what annoyed me. Granted, I’d stayed up till a ridiculous time mostly to see this game they’d been raving about. So when I saw only two minutes or so of actual gameplay, I was a tad annoyed. However, what really pissed me off was what they did show.

They showed Uncharted in space.

The first bit of proper gameplay they showed consisted of the player character (I don’t know or care what his name is) having to climb up the outside of a ship as it fell to pieces around him. My first thought was, ‘Drake?’

Nathan Drake must have cryogenically frozen himself aboard a time-machine-ship en route to a galaxy far far away, because that is who I saw last night. The sequence was nothing short of identical to the kind of climb-up-this-before-it-falls-apart sequences found in the three Uncharted games. And not just obvious similarities. Even the way the character moved, climbed and jumped was the same as Drake.

Another 30 seconds or so, and it cut off again. As impressive as the graphics were, all I could think about was the settling in of doubt and mild outrage. I replayed it in my head to ensure I’d seen what I thought I saw. I did. By the time I’d done so, the third and final piece of gameplay began.

This time, they were aboard another ship (or inside somewhere, anyway, I wasn’t really listening at this point).

This scene was very reminiscent of the plane in Uncharted 3, with crates and people sliding from side to side. But again, this wasn’t the only similarity. Nath…I mean, our brand new, unique bounty hunter character took cover behind one of these crates and began shooting enemies. It was somewhere around here when the proper outrage set in.

He was getting hit every time he popped out of cover to fire, so he blind fired. Now of course most 3rd person shooters let you do that, but there was just something about it that again made me think Nathan Drake was in disguise as a bounty hunter. Then, he moved from cover to cover, on the other side of a crate from an enemy. Then, there was no mistaking this bounty hunter’s true identity.

He reached over the crate, grabbed the enemy, pulled him over, and killed him on the ground. It was very nearly identical to two such attacks in Uncharted 2. The animation, you would swear, had been taken straight from Naughty Dog’s files and mixed together into something ‘new’.

They claim this is ambitious, and that it’s never been done before. Bullshit! It’s been done three times before for the PS3 and then again for the handheld. The only ambitious thing about it is the way they think they can blatantly rip off one of the biggest game franchises in recent history and get away with it.

Granted, they probably will get away with it. But still…

Star Wars 1313 had better introduce some massively original gameplay elements and a brilliant story on top of this stolen gameplay, or else I think they could be in trouble.

I understand the host’s excitement, because visually it looks amazing. But looks aren’t everything. And they can be fairly deceiving. Here’s the video, and a video of similar gameplay from Uncharted (go to 1m 15s). Spot the difference. Which is Uncharted, and which is Uncharted wearing sci fi makeup?