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Errant Signal – The Last of Us (Spoilers)

By Shamus
on Tuesday Jul 23, 2013
Filed under:


Link (YouTube)

Last of Us is a PS3 exclusive, which means I won’t get to play it. Still, I’ve read the synopsis and it sounded pretty interesting. I’ve also seen the gameplay and I don’t feel like I’m missing much. This strikes me as being a subset of the Tomb Raider mechanics: All my least favorite parts. So I’m happy to spoil the thing for myself.

While I can’t comment on the game in detail, I was really interested in Chris’ idea that this was a perfect execution of a flawed design. The cutscene » gameplay » cutscene » gameplay school of game design is ubiquitous in AAA games and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Shooters are the superstars of AAA games. Big-budget shooters need story or they’ll just be endless violence with no context. The easiest and most straightforward way to put story into a game is with cutscenes. Cutscenes make for great trailers. Trailers drive buzz and buzz drives sales.

This is a rut so deep it could be classified as a canyon.

Comments (37)

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I pretty much mirror what you said.

    What intrigues me about this game(if I understood things correctly)is that zombies are fungi based.And that already exists in nature(though the fungus attacks bugs,not mammals),so props for using real life thing in their zombie apocalypse.

    • That’s actually the thing -in- the game – the premise is that a new strain of that fungus has emerged that targets humans. It leads to some cool enemy types, and actually succeeded in making zombies both interesting and scary to me again, which I’d thought impossible at this point.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Allthough the real thing certainly wouldn’t have a thing for eating brains. That zombie virus doesn’t cause endless waves of undead but suicidal undead that want to be ingested by somebody else.

      • Torsten says:

        That would actually make a nice new twist on zombie fiction. Instead of homicidal zombies that want to kill the living, there would be suicidal zombies that want to be killed. The thing causing the zombification could be spreading on blood so the more gore and splatter the death causes the more dangereous it is.

        • Scourge says:

          I can already imagine the dialogue:

          Hero: Quick! Follow me!
          Love Interest: I.. I can’t. Go on without me!
          Hero: Bullshit! Just climb up! You can do it before THEY come.
          LI: It is to late! I am already infected!
          Hero: What?! How.. When.. when did you get bitten?
          LI: I.. Kinda bit one of them actually.
          Hero: … What?
          LI: It kinda happened in the heat of the moment.
          Hero: … What?

  2. Tizzy says:

    AT LAST! Ever since it was hinted that Campster was working on this, I’ve been waiting for it impatiently. I watched a whole playthrough of the game. First I wanted a look at the product, and then I was hooked and I couldn’t look away, while heartily cursing the notion of platform-exclusives.

    I realize that I may not have enjoyed it as much if I’d been playing: the real possibility of instant death could make certain passges rather frustrating. But it was a treat to watch.

    Even as a non-player, there is no arguing with the gameplay and story as oil-and-water point that Campster makes. It still looked like fun, though, and for me the story worked very well, much better than any story I’ve seen in a while. The disjoint aspect of the various scenes helped create a sense of scope to the narrative as well (it spans a whole year), and conveyed very well the feeling of a long, quiet journey with just a few really dramatic intermissions.

    I think we can also disagree on the interpretation of the story overall, especially the last cutscene. Maybe I need to watch it again first, though…

  3. Fripper says:

    I was really enjoying this until he started talking about The Walking Dead DLC. I haven’t played it yet and have been trying to avoid any information on it.
    He probably didn’t spoil much if anything, but I wish there had been an advisory.

  4. Henson says:

    Is it a canyon, or just canon? Y not!

  5. Infinitron says:

    Shooters are the superstars of AAA games. Big-budget shooters need story or they'll just be endless violence with no context.

    Hmmm, multiplayer fans don’t have a problem with that though.

    • Klay F. says:

      Also, Doom received still receives so much praise for being just this, while Rage gets shit on for (among other reasons) trying to ape modern AAA conventions, as does Doom 3.

      Maybe its time we moved back to this simplicity? I don’t know. The vast majority of CoD and Battlefield players don’t play for the campaign after all.

      As for me, I’ve become increasingly bored and intolerant of the “cutscene–>gameplay–>cutscene–>gameplay” formula. I still like the older games that used this formula like Metal Gear and such, mainly because I am able to take into account the circumstances/culture under which such games were released. But now? Now there is absolutely no excuse for so doggedly sticking to this formula.

      Uh, sorry for going off on a rant in this response.

  6. Alex F. says:

    I didn’t think about it when I was playing it, but I think Campster is right that this is very much a game with the a segregated story and furthermore, about the best you could possibly do with such a design.

    That said, I actually thought that the gameplay was pretty brilliant. The scavenging mechanics and low ammo capacity did a great job of playing up the whole ‘post society’ vibe. The section where you control Ellie was a nice change of pace and culminated in pretty much only the second boss battle in the game, against David. For those who haven’t played it, it was wonderfully tense, as he’s much more ‘aware’ than regular enemies, and by the end of the fight is sneaking around, using the same tactics as you. Also, I actually found the find level in the hospital the easiest because you then have the assault rifle, the only gun that you can carry more than 20 bullets for.

    Edit: Also, it has a fantastic soundtrack.

    • Elilupe says:

      I agree completely on the gameplay point you make. Every game says that it’s combat is ‘frantic’ and ‘tense’ but Last of Us was the only game where those words accurately describe it. When I got into a fight, be it with humans or zombies, I was constantly switching tactics, getting pushed out of cover and switching from shooting to using my fists. I could never just hide behind a wall and take pot shots.

      • Tizzy says:

        Also, it looked like (since I haven’t played the game) the various kind of zombies could lend themselves to interesting, unusual tactics. Some are blind, some are not, some kill you instantly, others not…

  7. ehlijen says:

    “This strikes me as being a subset of the Tomb Raider mechanics: All my least favorite parts.”

    I’m confused now, I thought you said before you enjoyed playing the new Tomb Raider?
    Did I get something wrong, has that changed or are you referring to previous Tomb raider games?

  8. AJax says:

    I’m not sure I agree entirely with Chris likening the shooting mechanics to Uncharted. Sure they’re both “Cover based shooters” at their core but unlike Uncharted’s silly bullet spongy combat, TLOU conveys the feeling of lethality much stronger from the frighteningly loud gunshots, clever enemies whom are constantly trying to flush you out and flank you to the frantic nature of the resource management.

    Although weirdly enough, some enemies will shrug off your bullets and rush like complete morons attempting to melee you. I call this Alpha Protocol syndrome.

    • anaphysik says:

      “Although weirdly enough, some enemies will shrug off your bullets and rush like complete morons attempting to melee you.”

      Now /THAT/ should’ve been a part of the Disclosure Alert drinking game.

    • Atle says:

      I agree. Tlou and Uncharted is only superficially similar in game play. They have very different feel when it comes to combat. That was one of the good things that surprised mya bout Tlou, how it managed to take the same basic concept and still make it fresh and different.

      And of course, combat in Tlou and Tomb Raider also has very different feel.

  9. Cutscenes won’t keep me from buying a game I like, but those that interrupt gameplay are definitely a downside. My “favourites”:

    – In Amalur, I approach a room, stealthed. As I enter the room, a cutscene plays (usually, it’s just a monster roaring in his “I’m so uber” coreography). As a result my toon loses stealth (serves him right, for laughing at the cutscene) and the monster is now charging.

    – In the Witcher 2, I approach a room, silver sword in hand. Cue the cutscene, which may actually convey some sort of story info. At the end of the cutscene the monster is charging and I suddenly realize Geralt has “wisely” decided to sheathe his sword, probably to rest his tired arms during the cutscene.

    Want a good example of how to use cutscenes? The Thief series. Gameplay is never affected by cutscenes, since these only appear between missions. You get the rest of the story info through dialogues you hear while exploring. And this surely didn’t hinder the story. Not only is it still one of the most interesting plots I’ve come across in a game (granted, I may be biased, as those are my all-time faves), but it’s also impressive how they managed to present so much detail without limiting the player.

  10. Lightningstrike14 says:

    Thank you sooo much Chris. I have been trying to articulate just what my issue was that had the game leave me cold and with no desire to actually play through again. You have given voice to that. Great job!

  11. Eschatos says:

    How does a game dev studio break away from the “cutscene » gameplay » cutscene » gameplay school of game design?” No cutscenes? Not every game can be or needs to be Half Life 2. Even if every new game emulating HL2 became a common theme, it would become tired and hackneyed and someone would make a video calling for a return to the glory days of cutscenes.

  12. Atarlost says:

    I suspect there are economic limitations at work here. That level of photorealism can’t be cheap and they have to sell the game at a $60 price point. It sounds like it also has uncommonly strong AI. I understand that in FPS that usually means lots of trigger work, which is also expensive.

    Branching story choices multiply the amount of work required to create a game long enough to tell the desired story. Without the money for branching paths I think reinforcing the themes of danger and mortality is about the best you can do.

  13. Max says:

    Hmm, I understand neither you nor Chris entirely. If you want a game without a story or story as a framing device go for simulations, indie games or some equivalent. However if you buy a fps game, you buy a cinematic experience. If you don’t like it, well that’s your take, I do like it and on that level I have yet to see a better game. The last of us has 3rd person cutscenes and first person sections with narration and you in full control. The occasional QuickTime event also is not that much of a problem. Is it ultra innovative? Certainly not but it’s execution is flawless in most cases. In contrast to bioshock 3 where I was bored after a few hours, the story and the character representation in tlou kept me going.

    Now of course that is personal preference but I think except for the beginnings of shooters you are hard pressed to find a shooter that didn’t use one form of cutscenes to tell their story, even if it is a staged semi interactive one (see bioshock or thief)

    • Paksenarrion says:

      I’m not quite sure I understand your argument that a first-person shooter is a cinematic experience. Even if that’s true, the cutscenes of The Last of Us are cinematic in a very different way to the gameplay. The camera during gameplay is a combat camera: it displays the information you need to fight and sneak. During cutscenes the camera suddenly exercises careful direction and editorial control.

      You would be rather annoyed if, during combat, the camera paused to zoom in on Ellie’s frown of concentration. What Chris and, I believe, Shamus is pointing at is the vast gulf between these two styles of using camera. The combat-camera is a functional part of a system: it’s a mechanic with no artistic filter. This is most clear in the segment in Chris’ video where he is unable to even find where Ellie is. The cutscenes, on the other hand, are cinematic. They are movies. They are not mechanics.

      So there is this big switch between systems-based content and expression-based content, with the player only being active in the former and, in the former, being unable to express anything about the themes of the game. This model of two-content is the “canyon” that Shamus was referring to. I think.

      I think you’re right on the money in saying that almost all FPSs use this model. But that’s not integral to the idea of an FPS, just the way the genre has been executed to date. Even HL2 is actually doing cinematic cut-scenes, just allowing the player to exercise the editorial control – giving them the chance to express their own reaction to the content the game gives them.

      But that is only the start. The more grounded “story” becomes in the actual mechanics of games, the closer we get to the glorious day when we can “Renegade interrupt” in any game by just getting sick of someone talking and using the game mechanics to alter what content is currently being expressed to us.

      • Vect says:

        Asura’s Wrath has this to some extent. All the plot-significant boss characters can be interrupted from their speeches by a button labeled “Shut (X) Up”, which has Asura run up and punch them. Granted, most of these characters tend to just shrug it off to show how tough they are.

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