You seem way more invested in the game’s universe than I am, so I certainly don’t want to dampen your appreciation for what Naughty Dog is presenting. But let’s forget lore for a second. The thing that most impressed me in the trailer was the kiss. This was literally the first time I’ve seen an animated kiss in a video game that didn’t look like hot garbage. From the subtle gestures to the fact that faces aren’t clipping, it was easily one of the most impressive technical feats I’ve seen this year. So given that achievement, it feels like a waste to put it in yet another grimdark post-apocalypse. But that’s just my opinion on the matter. Maybe Sony shares the tech with a studio like Fullbright to make something cool with it?
You can’t really compare the two, because when a peaceful solution is reached what ends up happening is assimilation and both of those cultures mingling and influencing each other over time. It’s a lot less flashy and abrupt than a war and therefore a lot harder to catalogue with a natural starting and endpoint. In wars you have time frames and sometimes even exact dates and those are a lot easier to write down and pass on through history.
I wasn’t trying to say that one of these attitudes has to exclude the other alltogether. It’s often a mix. I will also grant you that rugged individualism does have it’s uses. However I still feel that the prevalence of war and suffering end up overemphasized in modern post-apocalyptic fiction.
My knowledge of history comes from a eurocentric and western point of view, if I were a historian or knew more about cultures outside of our western influence, I might have a concrete answer at hand. Until a couple of years, I used to believe that the systemic injustices we have now are part of human nature, until I learned that those narratives were constructed, by people who continue to benefit from those injustices. So even though I don’t have a concrete answer, I learned to be skeptical enough of justifications of that nature. A smarter person might know more. I’m afraid I just have my gut-feeling at this point.
My main issues with TloU and its misery porn post apocalypse have less to do with “why are people awful” and more to do with “why are these awful people so fucking stupid in their awfulness?”
TloU relishes in its suffering, drawing it out and going over the top in ways that are just dumb in world. Take this latest presentation. How and why does this group of murderers have the time and energy to set up elaborate displays of hanging bodies? Why do they have the time or inclination to string a guy up by his arms and disembowel him? I could also mention it’s ridiculous that a camp that dangerous with that many people couldn’t possibly be brought down by a single person, but that’s just video games in general.
In the original, you get ambushed by a bunch of people who murder wandering survivors for supplies. Eventually, in true video game fashion, they’re chasing you down with a Humvee and a 50 cal machine gun, just spraying you with bullets all because they want your stuff. You’re four people with backpacks, there is nothing you could be carrying that would be worth more than the hundreds of rare bullets they’re blindly firing. The murderous, rapist, pedophile, cannibal who runs the group you cross just happens to have his person butcher shop next to his makeshift prison cell, because why not.
Some random, not fully considered thoughts on the Sony conference.
The Last of Us Part 2 has me feeling conflicted. Like most, I enjoyed the dancing scene and the animation on the kiss was incredible. The violence, especially without context, was disturbing. On the one hand, good. We need more games that engage with violence in that way. On the other hand, it is exhausting that once again that the depicted outcome of the collapse of social order is dog-eat-dog sectarianism. The benefit of fiction is that it gives us the opportunity to imagine the triumph of the best parts of ourselves but we always fall back on conflict (as I was typing this it seems others have added more depth and intelligence to this point).
Sucker Punch samurai game does nothing for me, even removed from Sucker Punch’s grossness.
Spiderman has me slightly worried. The open city gameplay looks like a blast but the writing and art design seem very iffy. A big part of a Spiderman is the personality (see that recent Into the Spiderverse trailer for an example of how to do it right) and the dialogue hasn’t really been working for me so far. I hope I am wrong because it looks like it is fun to play.
Death Stranding - seriously, what is there to say on this? No deep thoughts here. I am curious because of the weirdness, but hesitant because of the baggage that comes with Kojima.
A lot of the other short bits looked neat, especially Control.
If they’re going to go with ‘Humans are more depraved than ever and are the real threat!’, then I find it more disappointing that they’d continue the story with Ellie and just go back to the well. I mean, I get that people after humanity falls are going to be depraved and desperate and violent, but they’ve already done this five years ago. At least show something that tells me you’re doing something different this time around.
I’m going to admit that my issues stem more from the genre itself, than TLoU specifically. I’ll readily acknowledge that I’m not the target audience for this and that Naughty Dog is far from the worst offender. I guess, I just expected more from them? The franchise might have a hopeful message, but if it does, it’s spending too much time wallowing in violence and despair, for me to ever get there.
I keep thinking about this quote of a writer (I can’t remember who it was) that I saw on twitter back in December, that said:
Writing despair is easy right now. Hope? Hope is hard. Because hope is radical.
(Imma stop, because I get the feeling, that I’m derailing the conversation)
You’re not pointing to the banality of evil, although that certainly exists, you’re pointing to greed, pettiness, and fear. Those soldiers wanted money and they assumed the battle would be won while they lined their pockets. Dracula wanted to send a message, and he had the power and authority to do it.
These random camps of people have neither. In the world of TloU, at least up until now, you are under the constant and unthinking threat of monsters. They are not impressed or afraid of your elaborate corpse display. Every moment you spend dicking around outside with aircraft wire and a winch is a moment that your face could be eaten by making too much noise. These people have not reinforced their position, have not organized themselves, have not cleared out the area, they’ve done nothing except go through the incredible amount of time and effort to make macabre set dressing just in case. Fuck having an exit plan in case one of the countless flesh eating nightmares comes around, I want people to know I mean business, now help me find a suitable counterweight to hoist this cadaver up.
It’s stupid. These people are not a massive army or a ruthless dictator. They’re barely scraping by on the outside with no permanent shelter in a world that constantly trying to kill them, but apparently they’ve got a ladder on standby for stringing up the dead.
I was shocked by the level of violence of what they showed of TLoU part 2. I don’t think it’s something that’s supposed to feel awesome, similar to the first game in which doing a ‘silent takedown’ on somebody, involved a long depiction of Joel strangling a man to death. I think last of us 2 was more effective in contrast to what Square showed with the jungle scene in the new Shadow of the Tomb Raider, with Lara effectively taking down a jungle full of armed thugs. Where none of the violence feels as if it has weight - though it’s supposedly setting up Lara as ‘the Tomb Raider’ and how that’s technically not a nice thing to be known as.
But what would the gameplay of games like that be like? Most AAA games will always focus on a conflict of some sort.
I think the Left Behind DLC provides an excellent proof-of-concept of what a minimal conflict Last of Us game could look like. Beyond that, it could take inspiration from “walking simulators”, Telltale and DONTNOD games, and even visual novels. It just seems like a lack of imagination to me that AAA must always focus on combat. Why not interpersonal and non-violent conflict?
Because to be blunt, those don’t sell anywhere nearly as well as it would need to for the levels of budget we are dealing with. If TLOU 2 was a walking simulator it’d flop so hard the franchise is dead forever. Nier selling 1 million copies in about a month had yoko taro over the moon, if TLOU2 sells 1 million copies in a month would be a colossal failure in Sony’s eyes.
I think this ignores the breakthroughs made in the AAA space throughout gaming’s history. The conventional wisdom at one point was to keep mainstream games apolitical, but then Bioshock sold gangbusters by critiquing objectivism. The conventional wisdom was that POC protagonists don’t move units, but then GTA: San Andreas blew everyone away. The conventional wisdom was that hard games are not what people want, and then Dark Souls changed all that.
Naughty Dog is in a unique position to change how we perceive AAA games. I am confident that a fully polished, low-conflict game from them could absolutely succeed, especially with Sony’s marketing backing them up. Will it sell as much as Call of Duty? Probably not. But a first party studio is not just concerned with moving units, but also the prestige it brings the platform. A groundbreaking AAA game focused on relationships would be just the sort of prestige that Sony should be chasing.
But yeah, capitalism sucks and makes for lame games I suppose.
Though to be fair, they kind of are. It was called Detroit: Become Human and it was a trashcan fire.
I’ve seen a lot of commentary about how The Last of Us had the best kiss ever seen in a video game. What I haven’t seen is how it also had the best seduction ever seen in a video game. JFC, no wonder every eye in the house was on Dina. I would dare anyone to stand in Ellie’s place and not have their heart coming out of their throat.
I can’t argue with people who are turned off by TLoU’s violence. I didn’t really care about the combat, because that seemed over-the-top to the point of cartoonishness that video game violence has always been. But watching a guy get strung up and disembowelled with no context was a bit rough.
One thing I noticed that made me think this game will take violence at least somewhat more seriously was the way that every single hit Ellie took had impact. And not in the “flinch 6 inches and lose your aiming line” that most games do. When she got hit with an arrow, she had to pull it out. Curious if this is a mechanic or just flavor animation.
This actually leads me to an admittedly inconsequential thing that bugs the hell out of me about these conferences. Other than when Ellie was crafting an arrow, we never saw a HUD. Off the top of my head, the only games I can think of that actually showed their HUD were Fallout 76 and AC:Odyssey. We know your games are going to have HUDs. You aren’t fooling anybody.
I still think that Death Stranding is just a bunch of trailers which will be coming out for the next twenty five years
I’m of two minds about the Last of Us 2 violence. My immediate reaction was one of repulsion-- the violence is very graphic but not in that cartoonish GLORY KILL kind of thing we get in over the top games like Doom. And, of course, somewhere there is some fucked up person getting off on that and that thought is disturbing.
My second thought is… I guess this kind of violence SHOULD be disturbing to us life long gamers who have racked up literally millions of kills (more if you want to count ghosts, centipedes and formless space invaders). In order for this to work however, the game has to handle it correctly.
I would LOVE Naughty Dog forever if they let you play the first three levels in this disturbing ultra-violent and ultra-real fashion that would culminate in an ALMOST fourth wall breaking part where Ellie’s girlfriend or another character just flat out says to both character and player, “Are you LOOKING at what you do? You just put a screwdriver through that woman’s throat like you were pulling a weed from a garden. This is NOT normal-- how can do you not see what a monster you are?” and then have the character and player have to deal with that for the rest of the game. CAN you change this? How? Or are you convinced that your survival relies on your brutality? What did Joel teach you in the end and was it something worth learning or something you need to deprogram from yourself.
I think it could raise some great questions about games and still be perfectly at home in the world of the lore here.
But… I won’t hold my breath
Part of the reason the Last of Us 1 super does not work for me and the reason this one likely won’t either is that aside from the incredibly played out “people are the real monster” message they try to hammer you with, the game wants you to feel bad about committing violence when you literally have no other options. It is your primary way of interacting with the world in that first game (besides moving ladders around, that was riveting) and I just don’t think it is at all effective about conveying how you are a bad person (until the game’s final scripted sequence).
You’re not given the chance to point a gun at an enemy to make them surrender, there’s no option to talk it out. Bandits and zombies and rapists and cannibals come running towards you with weapons and you defend yourself violently so you can move on to the next stage. How am I supposed to meaningfully reflect on those actions? It’s the Spec Ops the Line problem of forcing the player to play your game and then going “haha gotcha you’re a terrible person for even picking this game up! What a monster” It’s the most boring and lazy way to critique brutality in games.
Weird conference overall.
I haven’t played The Last of Us, so take my comments with a giant grain of salt. I still didn’t appreciate how that gameplay reveal went. That level of GRITTY ULTRA violence only pushed me away from the game and not towards it. I was under the impression that the first game did a decent job of allowing the player to make choices on when to engage in fights. Obviously this trailer lacks context, but it seemed unnecessary.
Death Stranding- I don’t know. Maybe? Okay. I would like to load Norman Reedus down with 8000 boxes please.
Spidey- Gameplay looked pretty solid. The combat looks like they took more than a few cues from Arkham with a verticality/air juggle that really works with the character. Storywise, also looking Arkham Asylum-ish with the prison break. If the web-swinging/traversal is as fun as it looks, I’m totally in.
Control- I dig the aesthetic a lot. Curious to see how these psionic powers feel or work, but this is definitely on my radar.
Ghosts of Tsushima- Absolutely friggin gorgeous, but gameplay that I saw seemed…trite. It just didn’t look like much fun at all. The climbing bits looked shoehorned in too. Just seems like a weird mash-up of ideas. I am much more interested in Sekiro.
Destiny 2- Uhh, hey can you not just drop this on us and walk away. I figured Uldren was coming back, but icing Cayde was NOT IN THE PLAYBOOK!
Hard pass on whatever that weird Rick & Morty spinoff thing was. Hard, hard pass.
Final thoughts: WHERE THE F*CK IS MY ARMORED CORE OR ACE COMBAT GAME(S)?!
Coming to this a day late but I have been thinking extensively about why I was so uncomfortable through Sony’s conference and even eventually turned it off about 15 minutes before the end.
This E3, I happened to watch the Microsoft presser live with my mother, who for some reason wanted to watch it. Prob 'cause it was a rainy day. And like honest to god, we both enjoyed the hell out of MS. There were a lot of heavy shooty games, but they were well bracketed by a lot of non-heavy shooty games. I think having Ori very early was a great tone setter for the rest of the show, and I appreciated that.
With Sony, like… I appreciate the gay a lot. Hell yes, gimme the gay. But on two separate occasions I was hidning my face behind a pillow because jeeeeeesus fuck she really hacked that guy’s head off.
And that tone didn’t really change at all. The next game was grim and violent (albeit beautiful) and by the time the RE2 reveal happened with someone viscerally getting their throat ripped out, I literally felt bad for my family watching this. Like, there just wasn’t enough to step away from the violence, and that was really really rough to watch as someone who just wants something else from her games than really vividly depicted violence.
Like honestly, DS had the best trailer for me. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I love the scope and the intense loneliness of it. I know someone on the podcast, I think Patrick, was like “with Kojima you are waiting for the other shoe to drop” and I agree, but this is the guy who gave me Quiet but also gave me the Boss. He is the definition of Problematic Fave, in my opinion, and I am guardedly hyped about DS more and more as we get more info.
ALSO JUST FOR TINHAT FUN my theory for DS is that it’s a walking simulator. That the game early on gives Norman a gun and maybe even tutorializes how to use it, but the combat never manages to pop off, just more and more ramping tension, and then the game ends and whoop Kojima spent all that good good Sony cas$$$$h on a walking sim. That’s my theory, thanks for coming to my TED talk.
For what it’s worth, the developers ARE hinting that excessive violence is integral to the story. I DO think they could stick the landing on this one if done right, but even for a studio that I think got the first game close to pitch perfect, it’s going to be a real hard one to pull off. So I remain just a time bit hopeful but mostly pretty skeptical. https://kotaku.com/the-last-of-us-part-ii-s-violence-is-designed-to-be-rep-1826781044