Tag Archives: The Last of Us

Good Stealth, Bad Stealth

This is day 19 of Blaugust.

This post was inspired by an article over at Midnight Resistance (this was going to be a comment, but there are no comments!) In the post, Andi complains about stealth sections in non-stealth games and asks readers to tell about their least favourite stealth sections.

I am usually not a fan of stealth in games. I’m too impatient to wait for enemy patrols to pass by or throw rocks as distractions. Here are some games that feature stealthy parts that I really didn’t enjoy.

The Last of Us

TLoU

I’m sure I’ve complained about this one before. I found the stealth sections, particularly in the first half of the game, extremely frustrating. Ammo and supplies were low, Joel only had a access to a couple different weapons. There were many areas with a good half dozen infected standing around and you had to stealth around, taking them out one by one. Usually one or two could be taken out fairly easily, but the others required you to throw bottles and things to distract them. I don’t mind stealth so much when sneaking by enemies allows me to avoid combat altogether, but in most of these sections combat was inevitable.

My biggest issue? I have a shotgun! I want to use it. Technically I could use it, but it alerts all the enemies in the area and taking on more than a couple at a time generally resulted in a horrible death. So I was forced to stealth around, stabbing zombies in the neck until there were only one or two left. These sections slowed the gameplay to a crawl and were the main reason I wasn’t overly impressed by my first few hours with the game.

Arkham… Anything

The first time you hang upside down from a gargoyle to make a surprise snare of an enemy and leave them dangling by their ankles it’s quite a rush. Same thing with dive bombing out of the shadows to take down a henchman with a gun. But the sixth? The tenth? The twentieth? It gets kinda old.

All of the Arkham games (at least the first 3, I haven’t played Knight yet) are filled with gargoyle rooms. Here the enemies are numerous and usually armed so you need to sneak around to take them out, lest Batman get overwhelmed. Honestly it gets old after a while, especially in the rooms that have a dozen enemies or more. Get to the face punching, Bats.

Dishonored

Maybe it’s unfair to put this in here since Dishonored is a stealth game. Or an action-adventure game. It’s up to the player. Sort of. You can choose to go around killing everything, or you can ostensibly get through the game without killing anyone (or at least very few people). How many people you kill can impact the ending of the game.

I tried to go the no-kill route when I played. That lasted about 12 minutes. Since the no-kill experience was ruined I had no choice but to turn into the most murderous bastard alive. The problem? The combat sucks. It’s clunky and not fun at all. So while the stealthy route is presented as a choice, it’s not much of one. You either go the mechanically solid but very slow stealth route, or you go through the game being subjected to the shitty shooting mechanics. In this case, the best choice to me was to quit.

But wait…

There is one game that, surprisingly, had stealth sections that I found very enjoyable.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein the New Order stealth

Wolfenstein is one of the best games I’ve played this year. It has a good story, really solid shooting mechanics, and all the weapons feel unique. It also has stealth. What is it that makes stealth in Wolfenstein feel so rewarding, while most games make it feel like a chore?

I can’t totally put my finger on it, but I have a few ideas. The first person perspective makes things more interesting. Whereas in The Last of Us I was watching Joel stab a zombie in the neck, in Wolfenstein I felt like I was stabbing things in the neck. Hmm… that sounds a bit psychotic now that I’ve typed it out. Anyway, the first person perspective was certainly more immersive.

Wolfenstein also made great use of sound to let you know when you were safe or not. From dogs softly snoring to Nazis in mech suits stomping around, you didn’t necessarily have to see your enemies to know they were there. I find relying on sound much more interesting than the magical ability to see through walls.

The biggest reason, I think, is that failing at stealth in Wolfenstein had a much different result than failing in other games. If you got spotted in The Last of Us, the ensuing scramble would likely bring every enemy running. And then you’d die. If you got spotted in Batman when you hadn’t taken out enough armed enemies, everyone would start shooting. And then you’d die. When you get spotted in Dishonored you have to take part in unenjoyable combat. Or die. In Wolfenstein, what happens after you’re discovered is still enjoyable. It might make things a bit harder, but it’s not a death sentence most of the time. Plus, the ensuing firefight is always a heck of a lot of fun.

What are your thoughts on stealth? Any particular examples stand out as good or bad uses of it in games?

This is the Way the World Ends

Warning: This post will deal with sexual violence against women, and include examples of it from literature, movies, and games. Read at your own discretion.


Plague has struck. It starts slowly. A sniffle here, a fever there. Then it spreads, faster and faster. Soon, everyone is sick. Then most people are dead. The few humans who were immune start to band together and rebuild, but not everyone has the same goals.

Death comes, but it doesn’t stick. The dead get back up and start walking. Start feeding. Soon the world is overrun. Those left alive are no longer living, they’re merely surviving; going from place to place in search of food and shelter from the horde. Of all the limited resources, trust in other people is the most scarce.

War. Two nations are at a standstill and then someone presses a button. It doesn’t matter who fired first, but soon the warheads are dropping and the world will never be the same. Survivors separate into factions based on differing ideals, and soon a different kind of war is underway.


The apocalypse is rife with opportunities for storytelling. There are so many ways that humans can destroy themselves, and just as many avenues to explore about starting over again. Stories about the end of the world usually describe people at their best – banding together to rebuild – and at their worst. Part of humans at their worst that gets shown in these stories tends to be men capturing, subjugating, commoditizing, and raping women.

Apocalyptic and dystopic fiction was always one of my favourite genres so I’ve read/watched/played a lot of these narratives and unfortunately, I can think of more of them that use this device than ones that don’t. Five years ago, this may not have bothered me. But now that I’m aware of the issue and see how prevalent it is, it’s impossible to stop seeing it.

Rape, or threat of rape of female characters tends to be used for one of three, often overlapping, purposes.

To show how bad the situation is, or how evil a villain is.

  • In the book Blindness a group of violent infected take control over a hospital and the women are subjected to rape in exchange for food.
  • In the movie Waterworld, the male protagonist considers trading the two main female characters to slavers.
  • In the show The Walking Dead, threat of rape is used by The Governor to get information from a woman he has taken captive.

So they can be saved.

  • In the book Dies the Fire a mother and her children are captured by a group of survivalists. The mother is killed, and one of the daughters is about to be raped before she is saved by the male protagonist.
  • In the book The Stand, two of the women who become part of the Free Zone were rescued from a group of other survivors who had repeatedly raped them.
  • In the game Dead Rising one of the psychopaths (who is female) has captured a group of women and is torturing and killing them. You must kill the psychopath and save the women.
  • In Dead Rising 2 one of the psychopaths kidnaps and tries to forcibly marry a woman so he doesn’t have to die a virgin. You must kill the psychopath and save the woman.
  • In the movie 28 Days Later the two main female characters were taken as the “answer to infection”. They were dolled up and handed over to male soldiers to be raped. Ultimately they escape this, saved by the male protagonist.

For character development

  • In the game The Last of Us, Ellie is taken by another group of survivors. Their leader tries to take her under his wing, but when she doesn’t cooperate he decides to kill her. When she injures him, it’s suggested that he intends to rape her before killing her. In the chapter after this experience, Ellie is noticeably quiet and withdrawn.
  • In the book Dead: Revelations a young girl is captured by a man and repeatedly subjected to rape, physical abuse, and psychological torment.

The severity of the sexual violence against women that is portrayed varies, but the thing most of these examples have in common is that it’s completely unnecessary. It’s not driving the story forward. It’s not adding any real character development.

The use of rape rarely tells us anything we don’t already know about a villain. In The Walking Dead, we know that The Governor is a bad guy. We’ve seen him manipulate and kill. We’ve seen him send his own people into the zombie-fighting arena for sport. Why do we need to see him force Maggie to take her shirt off and threaten her with rape in order to get information when we know the thing that makes her vulnerable is sitting in the next room? This seems like something added for shock value rather than any real narrative reason.

Similarly, adding rape to the all too familiar “save the women” trope is a lazy and gratuitous way to make male protagonists more heroic. In The Stand, Dana and Susan’s backstory of having been part of a harem wasn’t even mentioned in the original release of the novel, it was added in as part of the unabridged re-release. Did mentioning their ordeals before they joined Stuart’s group add anything to either of their stories? Did adding in rape somehow make their characters more understandable? relatable? interesting? Not really. In Dead Rising 2, the woman you save from being forced into marriage and sex isn’t even distinguishable from any of the other dozens of survivors you save once it’s over.

What about adding rape for character “development”? When I was about halfway through The Last of Us, I was ecstatic that I had yet to see any questionable content about women. I knew how poorly the genre could treat women, and given the dark setting I expected to hear something that indicated women were a commodity in the post-infection world. But I didn’t. Then, Winter came. We were now playing as Ellie instead of Joel. Ellie gets taken captive by David, the leader of another group, who tries to assimilate her into it. When he realizes she’d never join them he decides to kill her. When she fights back and injures him, apparently killing her isn’t enough and he attempts to rape her first. Why? What purpose did this serve? We already knew David was a bad guy, this didn’t do anything to change that. We already knew Ellie was strong and could defend herself; her fighting off a rapist rather than just a murderer did nothing to change that. At this point Ellie had been captured, injured, faced with cannibalism, separated from her only friend in the world and feared for his life. She had been left alone – something she had earlier admitted was her greatest fear. If the goal was to emotionally traumatize her, they had done all they needed to do. And then, almost flippantly, with a couple of seconds of cinematic and 2 lines of dialogue, rape gets added to the equation. I guess she needed to be punished for being so uppity? Fucking awful.

While I think most authors add rape to their stories without worrying about the consequences out of laziness, ignorance, or a desire to be edgy, some seem to use the end of the world setting as a sandbox for depravity. The book Dead: Revelations is probably the worst example I’ve seen, where there are more female characters being enslaved and abused than not. That’s one zombie series I will not be reading any more of.

The only one of the examples above where the inclusion of rape adds any nuance or social commentary to the story is 28 Days Later. It raises questions about who the real monsters are and shows how those in charge of the safety of citizens can be the most dangerous ones, especially when it comes to women. That’s 1 out of 10 that doesn’t make my skin crawl too much, not a very good ratio. Incidentally, 9 out of 10 of these examples were penned by a male, with Dead Rising 2 being the exception.

A scary thing about this post is that I didn’t have to go looking for any of the examples I’ve used here. They’re all from books, movies, or games I’ve finished where the violence portrayed against women has stuck in my head. I’m sure there are more examples that I just don’t remember. The amount this happens in fiction and in the dystopic, end of the world genre in particular is staggering. Adding rape to fiction with fantastical elements, which end of the world stories often have, seems especially gratuitous and hateful. The dead getting up and eating people? Totally believable. The hand of God coming down and setting off a nuclear blast? Sure, why not? Women not getting subjugated and violated by men? No, never, not going to happen.

Media affects how and what people think. Lazily throwing instances of rape into dystopic stories in order to show how dark and dangerous the world is, to prop up male heroes, or to “develop” female characters normalizes it. Yes, rape is something that happens in the real world, but casually adding it or eluding to it in fiction is just not necessary and does more harm than good. Many people are all too familiar with it, and don’t need fiction to remind them of the trauma. We also don’t need reminders or reinforcements that men often have power over women’s bodies. We get to see that in the news, and in our governments. We get to hear men comment on a women’s physical appearance before giving any heed to the things she has to say. We get to hear the vocal subsets of small-minded, awful men who think women need to be punished for having sex, or not having sex with them, or wearing certain things, or just existing in their space.

If rape doesn’t add anything to the story… why add it to the story?

The Last of Us Remastered (Review)

When The Last of Us came out on PS3 in 2013, it was met with much fanfare and critical acclaim. A ridiculous number of publications gave it a perfect score. I never played it then, because I was usually playing something on the 360. However, when it was announced that it would be remastered and re-released for the PS4, I was really excited to finally play the game of the generation.

Of course, given how well reviewed the game was, it would be difficult to live up to the hype.

The opening of The Last of Us was absolutely wonderful. It was cinematic, everything looked great. You’re introduced to Joel and his daughter and their relationship is established quickly and easily. The problem (infection) is introduced in a way that is both mysterious and frightening, and the fact that the game puts you in the shoes of a young girl at the start makes things even more bewildering and intense. The opening has drama, emotion, it sets the world up brilliantly.

Then we skip forward 20 years. We’re reintroduced to Joel and his companion Tess and then… not much happens for a while. We walk around – for a few minutes this is interesting because we’re learning what the world has become. But then we continue walking, through basements and abandoned buildings. A few lines of dialogue are exchanged between Joel and Tess, but it’s pretty quiet. Joel is very stoic and doesn’t give us much to relate to. We come across our first infected enemies, but the fight is a tutorial and they are very quickly and easily dispatched. After an amazing opening, we’ve now spent about 30 minutes doing nothing but walking along a set path without much action or story progression and it’s really jarring. At this point, my interest was really waning.

Things happen slowly. The first big fights are slow – you have so little ammo that you pretty much have to resort to stealth kills which require patience that I don’t possess. We finally meet Ellie and discover the point of the game but relationship between her and Joel also builds slowly. It wasn’t until Bill’s Town that things started to pick up, and it wasn’t until the journey to Pittsburgh that the game really got its hooks in me and I became totally invested. That was almost halfway through the game. There were major pacing problems.

I feel like I’m reviewing two different games here. The first half looked really pretty and had some good writing, but from a gameplay standpoint, it just wasn’t that fun. The last half, on the other hand, was brilliant. In the first half of the game I didn’t enjoy the combat at all. It was too slow, ammo was so scarce. Dying was frustrating because all I had to look forward to was another abandoned building to walk through. In the second half of the game, I enjoyed combat so much more. I had a wide variety of weapons to choose from and if I wanted to fight rather than sneak around all the time, I could. Plus, the action scenes were usually followed up by some really great character development and storytelling. The pacing was 100x better in the 2nd half of the game. So let’s focus on that now.

The storytelling in The Last of Us was so, so good. Once I got far enough into the game I loved Ellie and Joel and totally believed their relationship. The dialogue was great, and the wonderful animation of the characters made things seem even more real. It was the little moments that made this game special. The first part that really got me was Joel and Ellie in the truck, heading to Pittsburgh. They had this dialogue that was so natural, and filled with humour and pain. The music helped cap it off and it was really beautiful. The stories told in the collectible documents you find around the game were also really compelling. Getting a glimpse into the lives of other people in the game world who you would never met was intriguing, and usually sad.

There were a lot of really exciting set pieces later in the game as well. Using the sniper rifle in the suburbs to save the rest of your group was really one of my favorite combat scenes. There were also a few parts of the Winter portion of the game that were different and got very stressful.

Speaking of Winter, getting to play as Ellie for part of the game was a welcome change, and I appreciated the opportunity to get to know her character better. Winter was one of the more intense episodes of the game and was really enjoyable to play. Unfortunately, something that happened right at the end left a bad taste in my mouth. (Minor spoiler warning) Ellie gets captured, hurt, the people she loves are in danger. She faces down enemies who are also cannibals, has to kill many of them, is under constant threat of being murdered and eaten… and then at the very end (this clearly wasn’t enough to traumatize our 14-year-old heroine) it’s implied that she’s also threatened with rape. I was really disappointed by this. It’s such a lazy, common, unnecessary way of putting female characters through the wringer. During the rest of the game, the writers were brilliant and handled character development (and my emotions) with surgical precision. Why they felt the need to start swinging a big machete at this point is beyond me.

I’m not going to give anything away about the end of the game, but I thought it was really well done. The story that had been developing and the relationship between Joel and Ellie that had been building all came to a head and there was major pay off. It was a satisfying ending, and the fact that it was put together like a great movie made it even better.

The DLC, Left Behind, was also included with the game. During this you play as Ellie, before Joel ever comes into the picture. Left Behind was a perfect 2 hour gaming experience. It has the same great writing as the main game, though the dialogue between Ellie and her friend Riley may actually be even better. The pacing is great. It’s not as action-heavy, but the game wastes no time. Every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

The Last of Us is a really difficult game to rate. It starts with a bang, but within the first couple hours of gameplay I was often tempted to just put it down because the excitement dropped off so much. If it hadn’t been so critically revered, I probably would have put it down. Ultimately I was rewarded for sticking it out because the last half of the game was amazing.

Rating: 9/10 – The Last of Us is one of the best written stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Though it drags at the start, in the end it was totally worth playing. It’s an emotional roller coaster that really gets you invested in what’s going to happen next and makes you care about the characters. The gameplay isn’t as good as the story, but it gets better as the game goes on and is very enjoyable by the end. The perfection that is Left Behind is what’s bumping this rating up from an 8 to a 9.

Feelings

Video games that can make me really feel things are a rare and wonderful thing. When I play games, I’m mostly just looking to be entertained and have fun. But some games go beyond that. Here are a few of them.

I’m trying to be as unspoilery as possible here, but that’s hard in some instances – so read at your own risk.

The Dig

The Dig

Wonder.

I’ve been fascinated by space since I was a kid. The Dig came out when I was 12 and put me in the shoes of an astronaut who got to explore an entire alien world. Every step of the way was filled with wonder and curiosity as I tackled puzzles and discovered gorgeous new vistas.

Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus

Awe. Sorrow.

The first time I spotted a colossus in this game, there was a sense of wonder. It was so gigantic, so impenetrable. The thought of fighting it was thrilling. Then, as the game went on, excitement started turning into sadness. These were not natural enemies – if anything, they seemed to be protecting something. I was an outsider, invading their lands and destroying them. Each kill felt more difficult and painful.

 Dragon Age Origins

Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins

Delight.

This one’s a bit embarrassing, but I found the whole courtship with Alistair completely delightful. I was like a blushing schoolgirl, endeared by his nervous stammering. That whole scene with the rose made me giddy. I may have immediately replayed it when it was over.

The Walking Dead: Season 1

Lee and Clem - The Walking Dead season 1

Grief.

Not many video games have made me cry. This one made me sob. I cried for Lee, for Clementine, for myself. I knew what was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier.

Stanley Parable

Stanley Parable corridor

Panic.

I started the game sitting in an office, at a desk, in front of a computer. I ran through the corridors, made different decisions each time. But in the end (or the beginning) I always ended up back in that same office. The first time it happened didn’t affect me too much. But the 2nd, the 5th? I began to feel trapped. Helpless. My choices were futile.

Every day I go to an office, sit in front of a computer. Is this a game, or is this my life? Panic. Let’s turn it off now.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider on the tower

Exhilaration.

The opening scenes made my heart thump in a way that doesn’t happen often. I could feel every injury with the vibration of the controller, the sounds, and the blurring and colour draining from the screen. I held my breath every time I had to push the right button or die.

I’ve spun out my car and ended up facing the wrong way on the highway and had steadier hands afterwards than I did during the first playable parts of Tomb Raider .

The Last of Us: Left Behind

Joy.

Ellie and Riley, two girls living in a world that had become violent and terrible, sneak away and just have fun.

This scene was absolutely brilliant, a reminder of the amazing powers of imagination and friendship. The game goes on to another scene which gave even more feelings of being carefree and joyous.

And then it ripped my heart out.


Feel free to share your gaming feels with me.

What I’m playing this week

With the long weekend, I’ve had a lot of time to relax and play video games this past week. Here’s what I’ve been playing:

The Last of Us

I never played The Last of Us on PS3, so I was really excited to start the remastered edition on PS4. There was so much hype around this game that would be difficult to live up to. I finished the game yesterday and I have many feelings, which will probably turn into a dedicated post. In short though, I thought the story, characters and writing were excellent. The dialogue is so natural, definitely some of the best I’ve heard in a video game. The relationships were believable and I really cared about Joel and Ellie. However, in terms of gameplay, I thought it was just okay. It’s probably my impatience talking, but I just didn’t enjoy the stealth elements very much. I’d be ducking around corners, and throwing bricks to distract clickers, then more often then not I’d decide “fuck this, I’m gonna start throwing molotovs now.”

Last of Us - Left Behind

I started the Left Behind DLC yesterday, and I’m really enjoying it so far. It has the same great writing, but so far a lot less of the less enjoyable gameplay aspects.

Resident Evil 5

My boyfriend and I are always looking for games we can play co-op, so he picked up RE5 for the 360. We played about 20 minutes before we had to stop. Resident Evil’s clunky tank controls worked okay in the first couple games. Those were horror games with fixed cameras, and having not particularly responsive controls added to the atmosphere and unease (much like they did in Silent Hill). However, now that the RE series is more about action, the controls ruin the entire experience. Want to go around a corner while running? Too bad (unless you have extra thumbs so you can use both analog sticks and hold down A).

Speaking of Resident Evil, it’s being remade for the newest consoles. This quote from the announcement is relevant to my interests:

The original “tank controls” remain, however there is also a modern option where the character moves in the direction of the analog stick.

Saints Row IV

Another title to try co-op, this time on PC instead of console. We played the beginning of this on the weekend, and oh my goodness, it is so much fun. I had never played a Saint’s Row game before. The format is very similar to Grand Theft Auto, except Saints Row is just off the rails ridiculous. The first mission of the game had us overcoming a terrorist threat and becoming the President. Then we shot down some alien ships. Then we were put into a 50’s style simulation, complete with music and characters that could have come from Leave it to Beaver.

Saints Row 4

I’m going to neutralize the alien threat, and look damn good doing it.

The game is filled with costumes, weapons, crazy side quests, and awesome music. The humour is totally juvenile, but I’m having too much fun to care.

Blackwell Deception

I got games 1-4 of the Blackwell series in the Steam Summer sale, and I’ve been making my way through them. I just finished the fourth game, and I’m looking forward to playing the last game in the series soon. Blackwell Deception, like the previous games, is a good, old-school adventure game.

Remember Me

I’ve been playing Remember Me for a couple weeks and I’m getting close to the end. I’m loving it. The futuristic setting reminds me of The Fifth Element (minus the aliens), it’s got a kick ass female protagonist, combat similar to the Arkham series and fun platforming elements. I’ll probably write up a full review once I’m done.

Remember Me

What have you been playing?