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The Last of Us review

The Last of Us is a great gameplay experience, but is it as revolutionary as some might have you believe?

I really enjoyed the Last of Us. From the very start the graphics and environmental design was breath-taking – more so because of the art direction rather than the sheer technical details of it (although those were also very good). Lighting in particular helps highlight a lot of the best locations.


The animation as well is used to great effect – not just the facial digital acting (which, apparently, was all key-framed), but the body movements and actions. Joel (the player character) feels older and a bit more sluggish than your average nimble footed hero, albeit he is still a rugged and powerful figure. It complements his character well.

So it’s the characters that people have raved about in The Last of Us. It has to be said – they’re very well written. The cut-scenes are well done and the incidental dialogue that’s triggered as you move through the world (where the occasional important point is highlighted in the environmental) all help to build well-fleshed out characters with complex backgrounds and motives. I genuinely enjoyed the story between Joel and Ellie – especially as it went from being a straight-forward ‘quest’ of ‘deliver the girl’ and then went on to become the story of a developing father-child kind of relationship. The other major beats – meeting Joel’s brother where he must confront his past, Ellie being captured and escaping by a cannibal group of survivors, were good as well.


There was SO much to like about it actually. The stealth mechanics worked well – the visualisation of Joel’s listening was nice and stealth kills were satisfying when they went well. Pacing was good in the main, although there were some very frustrating difficulty spikes that made me almost stop playing at a few points. The sound is wonderful and the soundtrack is outstanding. The scarcity of resources worked well – it engineered that natural desire to scavenge in order to survive in a way that Bioshock never quite did – especially Bioshock Infinite.

But, at the end of the day, I was playing a stealth game against zombies and feral humans. Although it is so much more than that, that’s what the initial premise of the game was, and in a strange way it’s disappointing that they got so much right, but in a fairly pedestrian and boring setting. In fact, although the desperation of mankind in a zombie apocalypse was a necessary pre-condition for many of the events, I sometimes (though not always) felt as though the combat and stealth got in the way of what was best about the game.

I’m not convinced that the Last of Us is particularly revolutionary, but it’s very polished and what’s apparent in this game over many others is the attention paid to the details in the relationship between Joel and Ellie and, in particular, the world in which that relationship develops. I had several moments of shock, horror, or revulsion from the environmental storytelling –  more so than the main story narrative. A message left very neatly in someone’s own blood asking forgiveness for what they’ve done, a tombstone of the ‘wrong size’.

So it’s not quite a revolution, but it does everything that others have tried to do a whole lot better than before. And yeah, it’s about zombies, but the beauty is in the details. The Last of Us reminded me of one of the things that games do really well which no other media/art form can do, which is to leave those details for you to find and leave it to you to piece together events and to come to your own realisation of what’s happened.

All that remains now is for the games industry to have its own realisation about what this medium really can do.

DMC: Devil May Cry review


If you’re going to reboot a well-loved long-running franchise that’s never been developed outside of its home country, then make damn sure you get it right.

I think Cambridge-based Ninja Theory did actually.

The game has a strong opening with a boss battle that erupts across a pier and hell within the first 10 minutes with tons of destructible scenery and kick-ass, debonair attitude from Dante – the main player character.


This excellent character design extends to the rest of the production. Ninja have done a good job on Dante – his character itself is one of the cornerstones of the franchise and whilst they’ve made some changes to him psychologically and physically (most pertinently, where’s his white hair?!) he still exude the cocky swagger and blasé attitude that we’ve come to know and love. The visual design and variety of the demons (another cornerstone of what makes Devil May Cry what it is) that Dante has to fight is of excellent quality, although this is something you can come to count on Ninja Theory for. You can always depend on solid animation, art and digital acting in cutscenes, and this does nothing to buck the trend.


The action is the final pillar of the franchise, and I’m impressed with that they’ve done here. The combat and in particular the combo system is one of the main pleasures of the franchise and they’ve retained the core elements of sword and gunplay but then provided extra potential for variety and lengthening combos in the form of the demon/angel weapons systems. Here you use the L2/R2 or trigger buttons to hot-switch to a different weapon mid-combo, meaning that you can wield 4 weapons at once – one angel, one demon, one gun and your trusty mainstay sword Rebellion. The number of combos is mind-boggling and, crucially, fun to play with.

There’s never much exploration to be had as such in DMC, but your navigation around the environment feels tight and there’s the occasional environmental puzzle to solve as you work out how to use your new air dash (available from the outset rather than an un-lockable) and whip grapple manoeuvres. The level design however has some great moments where it deviates from the standard (and slightly samey at points) setting in limbo (a hellish tinged version of our world). For me, the sudden change to a neon-electro nightclub and a virtual reality inspired theme from within a TV station left a strong impression.

DMC: Devil May Cry keeps the core features of DMC and iterates on them well. The debonair Dante, complex combat and over the top action are present and correct and better. Considering that this is first time the series has been developed outside of Japan it’s a fantastic achievement that they captured so much about that Japanese original that made it special, and is a very entertaining experience.

The Cave


Recently I have been playing The Cave on PS3. I still have a large number of unplayed PS Plus titles (who doesn’t?) and decided to try and knock one off my list.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing how this played. It’s developed by Double Fine but with Ron Gilbert (of Monkey Island fame, amongst others) at the helm. Seeing as Ron Gilbert is seen as one of the best adventure games designers/writers ever, this would be interesting. To begin with, the Cave is not a point and click adventure like you might have expected from Gilbert. Neither is there any opportunity for dialogue. Instead it is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer which frames a dark, often humorous and well-written narrative.

You begin with a selection of 7 characters from which you will chose 3 to enter into the eponymous Cave. The Cave (itself a character that is capable of speech) introduces the varied cast of characters (Hillbilly, Twins, Scientist, Knight, Monk, Adventurer, Time Traveller). Once inside the cave the player is invited to guide the 3 characters through the Cave in search of their deepest desire. The game then serves up a number of sections – some of which correlate to which characters you chose.

Telling a story

The back stories for each character reveal their motivations for why they are there and why they seek what they do, and they make often disturbing reading against the cartoony visuals (which are wonderfully animated) and humorous interjections by the voice of The Cave. These portions of back story are revealed via collectible images on the walls of the Cave and, whilst they do encourage exploration in some places, I’m not totally convinced that forcing the player to hunt down these images works well in this kind of game. They’re implemented like collectibles, and yet the story feels integral to the experience of the game – especially given the clash between their darkness and the games otherwise humorous and light-hearted style.

It’s all about the puzzles

Ultimately, the core of this game is the puzzles – which often involve the usage of all 3 characters to solve. These are hit and miss. Some are incredibly easy – which is absolutely fine for this kind of game and many others seem to tread the fine line of ‘challenging, but not too-hard’ well enough. However, there are a few too many puzzles where it’s really unclear what the solution is, and one in particular (I won’t spoil it, but it’s to do with hats in the Time Traveller’s section) was thoroughly impossible to work out. Even once I’d found the solution online, I didn’t think I could have ever got it – and this sticks out more these days than it might have done 15 years or so ago. It’s not that I have access to the internet in order to bypass thinking about it so much (although that doesn’t help), because I can still choose to not give in and work it out by myself. It’s the fact that impossible puzzles have already been called out and admitted as a design flaw of even the best adventure games of past, and something to not be repeated. Signposting, hinting within the game (either through dialogue with characters or environmental cues) to suggest possible ideas should have kept me, the player, thinking and trying out new strategies.

However, due to the deliberately paired down nature of the mechanics (jump, pick up, use item and pull/push block), there aren’t many options to pursue and you often find yourself wandering around aimlessly hoping that some random inspiration will strike. There were several points in the game where I magically solved a puzzle happening to be in the right place at the right time and pressing the right button unintentionally.

Too much structure

Finally, my biggest criticism of the game is the structure of the whole experience. From beginning to end there are 6 sections to play through – 3 of which are determined by which characters you chose, and 3 which are the same each time. Since there are 7 characters but you can only take 3 with you, this automatically suggests that might want to make a repeat play through with other characters in order to uncover their stories. In this context it then seems madness that you would expect players to want to play through the 3 compulsory sections (which are quite long) yet again just to access the characters’ stories you’ve yet to experience. In a game like this, once you’ve played it once and solved all the puzzles and experienced all the dialogue, there is very little incentive to play it through a second time.

Additionally, why 7 characters? Are we meant to play through a second time where half of the content is the same and then a third time where 5/6s is the same, just to reach that last story? I began a second playthrough and quit when I’d completed the third character’s story. I couldn’t be bothered to play through the final 2 sections, and I certainly couldn’t be bothered to restart for the sake of one more character (whose story I might experience early on, or near the end of the playthrough). It also seemed strange to put in a seventh character. Surely 3 playthroughs of 3 characters each made more sense? A character should have been axed for the sake of  2 worthwhile playthroughs.

What they should have done is offer you the option, after completing one play through, of skipping straight to the section corresponding to whatever character you wanted. This would have:

  1. Allowed you to experience the story for the remaining characters without having to wade through the compulsory sections yet again.
  2. Not left you with the option of having to entirely replay the game to get to the last character’s story.



The Cave is a very entertaining product, especially on the first time round. But the format makes it difficult to justify subsequent playthroughs due the repeated sections. This is a real shame, since it has some nice puzzles and the graphics, animation, sound and writing all mesh together very well to give a cohesive darkly-comic feel. The stories also touch upon some very interesting and human themes and it would be great if others learn from what they did here with regards to the human condition. A rather short game – it’s certainly worth a first playthrough, but mileage will vary thereafter.