J asks Josh: Final Thoughts on TLOU?

Glad you asked, J. My thoughts on TLOU are diverse and they seem to be changing as I get more distance from the game’s dark ending. Initially I was surprised by the emotional attachment I had for characters in a video game. The last few scenes gave me chills. Sure, I cried when I discovered that Solid Snake had been injected with an altered strain of the FOXDIE retrovirus in MGS4 (I mean, c’mon, who didn’t?), but this was different. I felt a compassion for the characters in the cutscenes and through their interactions between each other as the game went along. This empathy was deeper than a usual game, and more akin to a movie or TV show.

As I’ve gotten further away from the game, however, I’ve had trouble being as emotionally attached to the game itself due to the character’s actions being so far removed from their cutscene counterparts. Joel and Ellie wouldn’t mass murder hundreds of people; slicing their throats, stabbing out their eyes, burning them to a crisp, blowing their heads off with shotguns…they just wouldn’t do this and be the same people we see in the cutscenes of the game. I almost feel like I played two different games; the cutscene movie game, and the shooter video game.

I might have been able to go along with a clicker genocide, but why was Joel blowing the heads off of all of the fireflys towards the end of the game? These people were ostensibly not terrible human beings (and possibly even good people) attempting to save the human race. Maybe this would have worked if Joel had finally “cracked” and was losing his cookies, or if these people were truly bad (such as the supposed oppressive government, or the rapey bad guy; that was one kill that was justified)–but this didn’t seem to be the case. This was calculated mass-murder

This is where MGS (or other such frivolous games) rings a little truer to me, seriously. I mean, Solid Snake is an entirely ridiculous concept from the get-go, so when Snake mass murders a bunch of people and then grumbles about getting old due to a strain of retrovirus that his ex-lover snuck him because his evil cloned twin offed her secret uncle, well, you find yourself saying, “Yeah, that makes sense, I can see how that would happen.” Put more simply, it’s easier to suspend disbelief when you aren’t trying to create something believable. The uncanny (plot) valley and all that jazz.

Per the ending: Yahtzee noted that the ending dehumanized the characters. While certainly dark, I strongly disagree. The end was one area where I felt the character’s humanity was shown in the strongest light. Joel didn’t want Ellie, his “adopted” child, to die, even if it meant saving humanity–what’s more human than loving a child so fully? I think you could extrapolate further, and state that Joel didn’t see value in Ellie dying to save humanity because humanity wasn’t worth saving. Isn’t that obvious, considering all the horrible people they passed just to get to Utah?

One last thing I’d say is around the genre: look, I love Zombies. I really do. Hell, I wrote a derivative zombie novel myself, but I’d like to see Naughty Dog branch out now–create something truly groundbreaking (ala Bioshock). Uncharted is to Indiana Jones as TLOU is to The Walking Dead (down to the accents; apparently Jeff Foxworthy is going to thrive in the coming zombie apocalypse). I’m guessing Neil Druckmann has carte blanche now to do whatever the hell he wants, so he should blanche some damn cartes already and create something new.

All of that said, one thing is absolutely certain: the production was fantastic. The acting, script (dialog), music, art, direction… all of it was top notch, and undoubtedly the best I’ve seen in a video game (though Uncharted comes close in these areas). The graphics were incredible (especially for such an old console). The gameplay/crafting was solid. I can’t wait to see what Naughty Dog does next gen.

PS… speaking of genre-bending games, while I’d like to be done with the PS3, I’m really interested in playing Quantic Dream’s new game Beyond: Two Souls. I only played the demo of Heavy Rain as the gameplay didn’t appeal to me, but the interactive story aspects seemed progressive (old news, I know). The gameplay of B2S seems much more interesting. And the graphics and story both look interesting. Unfortunately, early reviews I’ve read state the story is lacking; including cheesy dialog, retread plot devices, and plenty of derivative ideas. That’s too bad, considering story is the aspect of an interactive movie/game that must shine. I’ve read similar reviews for Heavy Rain. I like David Cage’s goals, I’m just not sure he’s the story teller that Druckmann is turning out to be.