With a new year comes a new face to the Codec Moments team and bringing with it, a new perspective. I’m Cevyn Scott and I’m glad to be here amongst old and new friends to bring you my opinions, and often-times ramblings, on video games.
For the past six or so years, I have been deep in the brush of PC gaming, enjoying the highs and the lows of what comes with such a venture. The birth of the free-to-play market, free content updates and outstanding independent development being amongst the highs, the glitchy ports, crash laden releases and DRM experimentation being a mere handful of the lows. It’s been an educational experience and one I don’t plan to forget, or stop partaking in, any time soon. I’ve made some friends that won’t soon be forgotten, played some games that have further molded me into the gamer I am today and naturally lost myself, more than a few times, in games that I consider closer to artistic genius than mere interactive entertainment.
But now, I embark in a new, but not entirely unfamiliar, direction. With the launch of the new generation of console I felt the urge to make my return to those I had met in the early days of the PlayStation Network, when the words ‘one hit shotguns at the bus yard’ resulted in unanimous groans of disapproval over the Resistance: Fall of Man’s integrated party chat. So too, do I return to the (somewhat debatable) simple plug and play format and to the comfort of being able to sit on a sofa as opposed to at a desk. And what a return it has been. In my short time since coming back, I have had the luxury of being exposed to a wealth of fantastic games, but I want to talk firstly about two in particular, both of which I have eagerly wished to play for some time, though sadly lacked the system to do so.
Before I get stuck in, it is important to note that what I have to say here is not a review of either game, but merely a commentary on what I, personally, thought of them, that in no way should be taken as recommendation for or against each title. So, without further ado…
The Last Of Us
Being in possession of eyes and ears, it should be no surprise to anyone that I have, at very least, heard about this game. I went in a skeptic, I must admit. No matter where I looked, I heard un-waveringly positive feedback towards Joel and Ellie’s adventure across a land that had been brought to its knees. I remained defiant, wanting to be as objective as possible but firm and critical of what lay before me… then about fifteen minutes into the game, that stoic indifference took it’s first knock. Over the following hours of gameplay, that armour of belligerence was chipped away at piece by piece until all that was left was a burning desire to keep Ellie safe with little regard to anything other than that task. I couldn’t offer what I would have done with the ending myself but felt what I was given was not exactly what I was heading for. That being said, if nothing else, it was a fitting culmination. What will stay with me is not the destination but the journey, which was jam packed with heart, joy, sadness, empathy and passion.
The combat – which I found set a real example of how gameplay can affect a story just as much as words, characters, locations and tones – was tense, claustrophobic and fast paced. It really felt like one false step in the presence of a clicker (or five…and two bloaters) could bring the house down and ruin everything! Everything you had worked for, everything that was to come and everything that was at stake. Naughty Dog took what I consider to be a mundane premise that I claimed to have ‘seen a thousand times before’ and molded this out of it. Were I wearing a hat, it would be tipped, raised and eaten.
I could go on praising the efforts put forth by this game but little of what I could say would be entirely refreshing. One thing that must receive an honourable mention, however, is the method in which the trophies are distributed. A single playthrough of almost any game out there without any intention of pursuing trophies will generally net me between 30 – 50%, give or take. A complete playthrough – that is, seeing the story from the opening scene to the beginning of the credits – of The Last Of Us earned me 5%. After taking a look through the list it became apparent that, not unlike the harsh struggles of the games two main characters, I was not going to be showered with gold and approval over every menial task accomplished. Perhaps capping out upgrades and hunting down hidden items is not what I would call difficult but it’s was a truly appreciated step away from ‘You watched an opening cutscene! Ding!’
Beyond: Two Souls
Ok, for the sake of integrity I should be honest and upfront about something. I love Ellen Page. I think she’s good looking, I think she’s a good actress, She’s Canadian (and Canadian’s are awesome) and I struggle to dislike anything she is involved with. Does that mean that I’m biased towards Beyond: Two Souls? …Yep. Good thing this isn’t a review, either, huh?
Being that this is a David Cage/Quantic Dream project, it was never going to be straight forward. I can’t praise the gameplay because it’s so uniquely ‘not quite gameplay’ that talking about it comes out like ‘at one point you move the right analogue kinda funny to open a door.; but what you can always be sure of, when the above credentials are involved, is story. I stand against the notion that the game lacks plot. OK, so it doesn’t have the same plot structure as your standard epic, it doesn’t move from point A to point B in a way that allows you to see things unfold as and when, but I struggle to see that as a bad thing. When Christopher Nolan made a film play backwards people loved it, even more people retroactively loved it when the Dark Knight rose. When Tarantino gave us Pulp Fiction, that film was all over the place – How’s he alive now? I just saw him die!. Did that devalue either of them? Hell no. And it shouldn’t devalue this.
From my perspective, in Beyond, you’re not getting a person’s story, you’re getting a person’s life. I didn’t struggle to follow the narrative at all and, much like reading a book, considered each different evolutionary stage of Jodie a different character in a different chapter that I would soon return to. How did this seemingly innocent, if not slightly odd, young prepubescent child become the shaven headed cold eyed woman reluctant to utter so much as a word to this sheriff? That’s what I was there to find out.
I’m not someone who requires a high visual standard to take joy from a game. A good looking game is all well and good but if it’s not fun, I’ve no time for it. And, inversely, a game that is ugly as sin and that makes me dizzy may not be great to look at but if it’s enjoyable, I’m overlooking any and every visual flaw. But if course, there is a grey area between the two. Some amazing looking games are still extremely fun, some hideous games can also be dull, terrible abominations. Beyond: Two Souls, if nothing else, is proof that there is still a LOT to get out of the hardware in the PS3. I struggle to think of a game that was as consistently well polished as this. Admittedly, that may have something to do with the ‘lax’ gameplay features but it’s noteworthy, none the less. Ellen Page looks like Ellen Page. Willem Dafoe, likewise. And the entire host of characters, for that matter, look about as close to actual human beings as they could, all while not looking quite as iffy as Aaron Staton or Adam Harrington in L.A Noire.
My favourite encounter has to be the hour I spent, as Jodie, with the homeless folks Stan, Tuesday, Jimmy and Walter. A short but painfully honest glance into something that we all could run into at some point. The compassion shown by those with so little in the face of Jodie’s pessimism was a stark contrast, as well as an important element of her character to show early in the story despite occurring a lot later in her life. Here, in what some would consider her darkest hour, we saw her true heroic potential. Combined with her singing ‘Lost Cause’ on the borrowed guitar as dispassionate passers by stopped and watch, giving the player a chance to take it all in. Though I was given the option to skip this scene some thirty seconds in, the option was most assuredly ignored. Across the several hours I spent playing this game it was not all heart-warming approval, however. If I could speak directly with David Cage I would very much like to point out to him that there are some instances and circumstances where dialogue serves little purpose and can even ruin a scene that has done so well without it. But it’s not my place to say.
I don’t really want to get down and deep into the nitty gritty of this one as anyone who hasn’t played it should definitely do so with fresh eyes. What I will say is it’s not perfect, little is, but I really, really liked this game. It was more mature than Indigo Prophecy but, in it’s favour, wound a little less tight than Heavy Rain. Both of which I thoroughly enjoyed for their own merits and with that in mind. Beyond: Two Souls is my favourite Quantic Dream experience.
These two games, amonst a few other PlayStation exclusives, such as Ni No Kuni, have been an extremely positive welcome home and there’s still a lot left unaccounted for, both in the past and the future. Here’s to 2014.