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The Last of Us vs. Nintendo in the Quest for My Money.

This is probably my most random blog post ever, so if you don't want to read a rant and personal anecdote of mine, you can safely move along and not miss anything because that's all this blog post is.

So I got The Last of Us a couple of days ago.  I had seen all the same trailers everyone else had; the shocking E3 trailers showing the stealth gameplay and the graphic violence and realism.  I saw all the perfect 10 reviews, and I read through hundreds of comments agreeing with it on multiple sites.  The game definitely looks gorgeous, but I just wasn't sure if I was going to be happy with how it played.

I asked around online.  "Is it really as great as everyone says?"  99% of the people I asked said it was even better.  "I know the production values are impressive, but what about the gameplay?"  One of the best TPS ever made, right up there with Vanquish - is what I was told by some.  

Vanquish?  Clearly this guy was getting pretty carried away since the game looks nothing like Vanquish, but I assumed it was a solid stealth shooter.  I enjoyed Splinter Cell Conviction, and I figured if the game was at least as competent as that in the gameplay department, save for the mark and execute system, than I was sure I would have a pretty good time.

How wrong I was (no story spoilers, but some light gameplay impressions and opinions on the pacing up ahead).

First I saw an update was ready for the game.  This was after the auto save glitch had been fixed that I read about, so I tried to download it.  It froze my system.  So I tried again.  Frozen.  After two hard resets I gave up on the update and started up the game.

The intro was neat, but it might as well have been a cutscene honestly.  I didn't really resent that it wasn't, but you're basically just walked along a pre-set path with scripted events happening all around you, or moved the camera around as you looked outside the car.  

The next 3 hours weren't much better.  Most of it consisted of following a pre-set path, with scripted AI leading the way, with the movement speed limited to walking.  No sprinting allowed, or even a light jog.  Walk and follow.  Again, it might as well have been a movie.  I like movies.  I like zombie movies even.  No reason for Naughty Dog to avoid trying their hand at cinema I say.  They'd probably be pretty good at it.

The graphics impressed, but I was still waiting for the game to start, probably a good 4 hours in.  I shut it off for that night.

The next night, after having my game freeze during gameplay twice in the same section- requiring a hard reset of my system, I encountered my section with several clickers, and this was the breaking point for me.  

Being 100% honest, clickers in The Last of Us are probably some of the worst designed enemies in the entire history of gaming.  Not literally the worst ever, because they're not buggy and they work as intended.  But worst because what the designers intended is just so god damned bad, and promotes such a horribly unsatisfying style of gameplay.

Since resources are limited, you can't go through the game blowing shivs on clicker stealth take downs every time if you want to open up the locked doors scattered throughout the game.  Clickers also give you no kind of reward for killing them, so it becomes pretty clear what the best, most logical course of action is based on the gameplay systems in place.  You avoid all clickers and simply walk past them unless you're forced to dispose of one to access and area.  

So what is it like walking past clickers and not killing them?  It's pretty damn boring.  Stealth doesn't rely on sightlines with clickers, or the use of shadow.  They're blind and can only hear your movements.  So you walk at the slowest setting, and you're virtually 100% safe at all times around clickers.  Try exploring any environment that a clicker is in.  It's like pulling teeth.  You have to walk in slow motion, literally, with zero tension or chance of being discovered.  You're just inconvenienced, basically and forced to listen to their annoying monster sounds, which are not scary.

I could keep going, talking about how counterproductive it is to design an aiming system that promotes stopping and shooting carefully (the target shrinks when you don't move), but then surround the player with enemies that run at you at full speed and one hit kill you, which makes you play in a run and gun style.  I could talk about the "newly infected" zombies that just literally sit there, and can't see or hear you and just wait for you to do stealth kills on them - possibly the most boring enemy of all time.  I could talk about the waste of a level up system that offers you a choice between leveling up ~8 completely useless, and boring skills that barely impact gameplay at all, or the awkward arc for aiming on the bow that is entirely inferior to the new Tomb Raider, or your x-ray vision ability that lets you see enemies through walls more effectively than Adam Jensen  - but my rant would be 10x as long.

I kept waiting for the game to get good, and instead I was just disgusted.  The constant hand holding, and the absence of any kind of compelling gameplay left me feeling hollow inside, and sad - because I know so many people are not just enjoying this game, but genuinely LOVE it, sincerely.

I sold the game that same day; the first time I had sold a game in years.

A couple days passed since then, feeling depressed about the state of modern gaming, and my role in it.  And then out of nowhere, a light bulb lit above my head.

Why not buy a Nintendo 3DS?  I've wanted one for a while, but for some reason I never truly considered putting down the cash to get one.  I went down to my local store and tried out a few of their systems and I was interested, but decided I had to have the 3DS XL instead.  The thing is just gigantic, and I didn't realize how much of an improvement it really is.

So I just took the plunge, out of nowhere.  I got a blue 3DS XL, and I walked out with Fire Emblem, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Professor Layton.

I was beaming.  My faith in gaming had been restored.  I already played through DKCR on Wii, but the thought of playing it again was enough to completely cheer me up.

And Fire Emblem, I love that series.  Why did I wait so long?  The more that I looked over the 3DS library available, the more it hit me how much I've truly been missing these last couple of years, and how much I now had to look forward to.

Super Mario 3D Land
Animal Crossing
Luigi's Mansion
Ocarina of Time
Project X Zone
Mario and Luigi Dream Team
Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Castlevania: Mirror of Fate
New Super Mario Bros 2
Etrian Odyssey IV
Rhythm Thief
Kingdom Hearts 3D

Just to name a few.  All games that look like they prioritize gameplay above cinematic, scripted events.  All games that for the most part, look bright and colorful, and celebrate fun, instead of misery.  Pretty sure that after I catch up on my 3DS fix, I'll probably get a Wii U early next year.

I realize I probably stand alone in most of my opinions regarding gaming, but as far as I'm concerned, The Last of Us is unbelievably overrated.  It stands a real shot at dethroning GTA IV as the most overrated game of all time.  And Nintendo, they are equally underrated and underappreciated.  I lost sight of that somewhere after Skyward Sword, but I found the light again and I couldn't be more excited about the next few months of gaming ahead of me.

The End.
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About Shintaone of us since 1:53 AM on 02.15.2010