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The Last of Us Day#3: Telltale Symptoms

This game is really walking the line for me. On the one hand, the narrative is improving a bit. The characters are pretty good and the incident dialogue is great, but the main points of the plot are so obvious that it’s insulting my intelligence. The gameplay on the other hand remains stubbornly not gameplay. It gets a little better when some of the stealth scenes get stronger, but there’s still a tremendous lack of information at the start of every scene that makes me have to replay scenes over and over just to understand them, the reloading points are just awful, and there are just so many times where I’m not allowed to control the action it makes me want to scream. I’m going to stick with this game because of how much everyone talks about it, but it has a long way to go before I feel like it’s living up to what I expected. Spoilers within.

We start of back to this annoying fight. Again, it’s taking forever to load. WTF. Is this going to load this way every single time? I die like five more times very cheaply trying to navigate this room with the clickers and the infected just trying to figure out where to go that I’m not going to be spotted. I finally kill the four sighted ones by trial and error, but once I’m done no idea where to go. I wander around for a while being very stealthy so as to not alert the clicker until I finally find a way up a ramp. I have to pull a cart out of the way to access the door, but it springs back with a loud noise when I let go and that brings the clicker up. This time, I dispatch it quickly with my pipe, but that’s an awful cheap trap. Joel then calls the girls up and then suddenly appear from whatever magical place they have been hiding. I hold the cart as they block it with a desk, and we keep moving through the door. We climb down an overgrown staircase and past a collapsed set of floors. When we reach the bottom, Tess says when they get back, they should rest and that Joel is always telling her to lay low. Joel says he’ll believe Tess wants to rest when he sees it. I keep climbing down and find a dead firefly and get a molotov from the body. I also found a shiv earlier (triangle to grab and then triangle to shiv to kill a clicker). I enter a large room with blocked stairs, but I find a tunnel that leads. I think the game is making a special sound effect whenever I find an exit.

We walk out of the tunnel into a subway terminal area. There are a bunch of infected enemies up ahead and we CS duck behind a table. Tess tells Ellie to stay behind and that we’ll take them out. I get control we sneak our way around and take out the less infected (one eating a body, one standing and shivering), but we just throw bottles and hide from the clickers. This is a pretty cool stealth scene, I have to say, generally clear where I’m heading and what the challenge is. In a drawer in a side room I found the combination to a safe in a bookstore, and about halfway through the floor, we find it. There’s an infected standing near the safe, so I try to stealth walk up to it but for some random reason that doesn’t work, it sees me and screams, and I die in the ensuing clicker madness.  And then, of course, I die like fifty times in a row trying to get back to that point.  I don’t know what is triggering them at all — it’s like all the stealth training I was doing up this point suddenly stopped working — but I keep dying. FUCK. I finally get back to the bookstore with some good bottle throwing and save. This time I take the safe guy out and open it to find a ton of gears. But after that,  again, I have NO FUCKING IDEA WHERE TO GO. FUCK YOU GAME. Of course, I circumnavigate the space twice without finding an exit and I die. But the kicker is, when I reload, I DON’T EVEN LOAD FROM MY LAST POINT OF SAVE.  WTF — WHY DO YOU LET ME SAVE?!? Again I have to retrace my steps, and the autoaim on enemies with thrown objects, when all I want to do is throw a distraction,  keeps getting me killed. After another full navigation of the space, I finally find the ladder and get out.

As we leave, Ellie tells them Joel and Tess that they are pretty good at the mission stuff.  Joel says it’s luck and it will run out.  We come out into a clearing in daytime. We need to get over a wrecked truck to exit this area, and it’s another LADDER HUNT!!!! I wander in a circle for a time and as I do, I find three more infected in an open house that Tess was standing right next to — thanks for noticing them, Tess. I stealth kill them pretty quickly and in the room find something to drag up to the truck. I do it and we climb over the truck into an alley. I see a chain I can pull so of course I go to pull it. As I do, we hear infected coming, and we immediately switch to CS where Joel pulls chain faster. Everyone ducks under the slightly opened gate as the infected rush over the truck.  Joel slips through last as Tess drops the gate on an infected that grabbed him, shutting her and the rest of the horde.  They look around the garage and Ellie says Joel has something on his foot. Oh it’s an arm — haha, this game is so funny. As we look around, Ellie explains that she used to break out of a military academy she was in and explore and that’s how she got caught and bit. Meanwhile, I find a work table that lets me upgrade my weapons. I can also apparently get additional holsters, not that I know what that does, but I opt instead for more clip capacity and rate of fire. I explore the building, and as we wander,  Ellie breaks a vase and apologies. We’re in an old museum. We have to crawl through a ruined room and then I lift a large beam so that Tess and Ellie can get through a blocked doorway. Once they do, the doorway collapses and clickers start sounding. Tess and Ellie run and I have to catch up with them somehow else. I wander into another hallway, and dodge and kill one clicker with a shiv. I go up a  flight of stairs, and see an infected trying to break though a door. I kill it with one shot, in a nice change of pace in my competence. I open the door to see Tess kill an infected. Ellie screams from inside. I run in and shoot an infected off of her and then it’s a big infected fight. I take them mostly with my fists given how close they are, and this is as good a time as any to say that with the fist fights in this game are ok, Batman remains untouchable to me for this right now. The game seems to crash in the middle of the fight but, oh wait, it just froze and I die because of it.  What is the problem with loading times and memory in this game? I restart and win the fight pretty easily.

Something is clearly wrong in Tess’s voice after  the fight,  but when I pointlessly triangle to talk to her, she doesn’t say anything. She’s clearly been bitten, but I can’t push it so I guess I’ll find that out later. We climb to the roof and have to find way across to another building. I accidentally walk past a triangle and hit it to pick up the board I was standing on and then place it across the gap between the buildings. In CS Joel tells Ellie to watch her step, but she scoffs at him and goes across while he’s talking. We all cross. Joel asks Ellie if the capital was everything she was hoping for, and she says it’s too early to know but it’s a nice view. Joel gets distracted in thought and Tess says he needs to stay focused. We suddenly cut to them on another roof much closer. We climb down stairs to another have-to-drag-a-step-to-climb-something puzzle, and we find note in the meantime on a dead firefly about keeping the girl safe. I wiggle the step into place and then climb over.  Joel says we’re in the home stretch as we come to green lake with cars in it — some kind of flooded highway.  Ellie says she can’t swim. Tess says it’s shallow on the right (but then walks on the left – sigh). Ellie says she’s glad we were hired as a way of saying thanks. Tess say yeah thanks in a dead way. We enter a building at the other side of the river and find a soldier dead. Tess freaks out suddenly and searches the body for map to find where Ellie was supposed to go, which I guess tells me that this was the contact that was supposed to meet Ellie. Joel says that this isn’t worth continuing. Tess says they aren’t going back. Tess says they’ve been bad people, implying this is their shot to make good, and Joel says they’ve been survivors. And bum-bum-BUM Tess reveals that she’s infected. She says that Joel should take the girl to Tommy’s. Joel says he’s not going, and Tess says that with what’s between them, Joel owes them both that much. Guards show up outside at exactly the dramatic moment, and Tess tells Joel to go. Joel perfunctorily says no, Tess perfunctorily pushes him, and Joel tells Ellie to run. They leave and Tess turns to fight.

Maybe I’m being too hard on this game at this point, but man am I sick of this stuff being called good story. It’s cheesy as hell. I called every major plot point up to this moment, and it’s not due to some storytelling genius I have. This is just a story that’s been told before. I guess having the infection in the air too is kind of original, but it’s just a zombie story version of Children of Men. At least the game could take a cue from the movie in the way the relationships worked or how deep the protagonist’s guilt ran. I really just wish people would recognize this. Games are not going to tell great stories until they stop leaning on clichéd, obvious, melodramatic plots, and the Last of Us so far is just the same old pull-the-heartstrings crap that passes for story when we only have a handful of decent storytellers in our whole industry.

I get control in the next (big) room. Ellie apologizes about Tess, and Joel tells her to shut up. We start running as we hear gunshots behind us. We find another room and I pick up a hunting rifle. We start working our way down a hallway with lots of cover and hear guards coming. I misjudge which way they are coming from and get killed quickly. When I reload, I kill four guards and clear the hallway in a cover based gunfight. I walk down another hallway and find more guards looking for us. I try to stealth take one of them, but the command to grab never triggers and I enter into a fistfight instead, alerting other guards too early and getting me killed. Again, the second time, once I have actually seen the level one, I kill them all. We stealth past two guys as we exit the building, but out on the street, I miss the staircase I’m supposed to take and end up having to kill them anyway. We go down the steps into a subway as a truck arrives at the top. We run into the subway and sprint into a room with spores in the air. Guards in gas masks are down here too. Joel somewhere put on a mask. but Ellie doesn’t have one and she says again that she wasn’t lying. I quickly kill these two guards (one stealth, one punching) and head down the subway tunnel.

There’s lots of water and I immediately start swimming, and the game tells me how to dive. Ellie stays on a walkway on the side of the tunnel as she can’t swim. It’s one of these dive-and-surface puzzle things that I guess is obligatory in these adventure games now. Do gas masks still function when they are submerged? Anyway, I search around in very dark flooded tunnels. I find a dead end with gear and a note from a smuggler. I enter another flooded tunnel and I’m, surprise surprise, I’m not sure what to do to get out of here. By chance, I find in the pitch dark a floating step. I can’t stand on it but then I figure out Ellie can, so ferry her over on the step and she lowers a ladder for me to climb to the other side of the tunnel. We climb out of the tunnel into the sun. CS Joel takes off his mask and sits. Ellie starts talking again about Tess, and Joel lays down his rules, telling her not to bring up Tess or any of their past, not to talk about her condition with anyone, and to listen to him when he gives an order. Joel says there’s a town not too far where they could get a car, and we cut to CS of them walking past a sign that says Lincoln. Joel sees the town in the distance (but I can’t see it from this angle) and they jump off the road into some light woods to get there.

I get control, and Ellie says she’s never walked through the woods before and thinks it’s cool. It is actually kind of cool — it’s a pretty landscape and there’s a crane in front of us in-game that flies away. Ellie asks about going back to the city when they are done.  Joel thinks Marlene is probably dead, but regardless there’s no way he could get them both back, as much as he would like to. We run through the woods to a metal barbed fence. The gate doesn’t open, so we need to search for a way over the fence, Ellie says to look and the game waits for me to look, although it’s all in my control for once so it’s quite nice. She has fireflies around her and in marveling at them, but then she apologies for losing herself for a second. I find a plank to bridge the gap between two buildings to get us over the fence. When I climb on the roof of the first building, I also find a modded club that has a shiv attached to it. I see smoke (L3) on the horizon, and Joel wonders if that’s Bill and when Ellie presses, he admits he hasn’t been where he’s going before, but he knows Bill will be there. Once over the fence, we enter a building. There’s a hissing noise and when I turn to look, it’s just Ellie, who explains she’s trying to learn how to whistle. We exit the building and stumble upon a clicker. I kill it with my modded club in one blow and then repair that mod. We avoid another clicker with stealth and come to a fence barred with a pipe. Ellie offers to be boosted over to open it. Joel’s reluctant about it, but I do it and we get through. Ellie goes over the plan to get a car in order to find Tony. Joel says that Tony is more important as a firefly than his brother but he’s far away.  That’s why they need the car. I guess this is what happened to Tommy after the prelude. We’re now running through an empty town here. We enter a bunch of stores as I search, and in a record store, Ellie is sad that there’s no one there to listen to the music. Whatever flaws I have with the narrative here, I have to say that the incident dialogue is by far the best stuff in the game.

We find a giant wall in the middle of the street and Joel says it’s Bill’s handiwork. Ellie asks if there’s anyone else there and Joel says it’s probably just Bill. We see a tripwire and a clicker runs across it and blows up. Joel  explains that Bill is paranoid. Ellie sees signs about the evacuation, and Joel explains some places got earlier warnings. We continues to search for a way over or through the wall, but this is a fun place to explore. Ellie marvels at an arcade machine in a diner, for example, or we find stash houses I need to blow a shiv to open to get more gear. Finally, I find a ladder and climb over a part of the wall. Once over it, I carry a plank to cross some roofs, and have to shoot a clicker from rooftop on the way across so we can keep moving from building to building. Joel says he should be the one to talk to Bill — Bill’s a good guy, but doesn’t take kindly to strangers. We pass under a tripwire and see a door that being banged by something on the inside. I open it despite Ellie’s incredulity and  search the building. I find and kill a stalker, and read a note to a girl from a guy who left for quarantine. Ellie wonders and then hopes that they found each other. We wander out, and have to blow up a few tripwires to get past them including one on the ground I should be able to just step over.

We walk into a room, and suddenly I’m CS caught by a snare and hanging upside down. Joel tells Ellie to cut the counterweight (a hanging refrigerator) to get him down. She climbs on the fridge as stalkers arrive, and I have to kill them with my revolver while upside down. I kill all of them until a clicker comes and kills me. I respawn and try to be quicker. I have to survive multiple waves and keeping things from killing Ellie as the refrigerator gets closer to the ground. I pull it off after one more death. I finally hit the ground and get attacked by an infected when Bill shows up and kills it, telling us to run. We run and have to dodge and kill clickers and stalkers as we move through different buildings. One clicker in a laundromat kills me twice until i figure out I should just be quiet and let the invincible NPC handle it — Bill’s important to the story and it has decided to kill him yet, so no reason not to let him just take the heat here. We run through the laundromat and down a corridor to lock a safe door. As soon as we’re in,  CS Bill handcuffs Ellie to a pipe and threatens Joel for bringing a stranger  here. He checks Joel for injuries as Ellie breaks out and hits him with the pipe. Bill is crazy and hostile, and when Joel says he needs a car, Bill says he doesn’t have one. Ellie keeps threatening Bill and saying how Bill owes Joel. Finally, Bill says that he can build a car maybe, but they need to get parts and if Bill does this, then Joel and Bill are even. Joel agrees. We cut to control in some bar with Bill telling us to take any supplies we need, and before I load up, I call it a night.

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