The Last of Us (Review)

The Last of Us is, to put it simply, a work of art. From the meticulously designed chaos of the post-apocalyptic cities to the engaging, emotional story told through gorgeous cutscenes and movie-quality voice acting, this game encourages and deserves time and attention. Naughty Dog have managed to blend gameplay and story so seamlessly that it feels like an interactive movie at times, whilst thankfully retaining a crucial amount of gameplay, so it’s difficult to point out a sole aspect of The Last of Us that makes it so appealing.

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Without giving away much of the storyline, The Last of Us follows the story of Joel, a man who has lived through an apocalypse that left most of the human population wiped out, leaving only small groups and factions to fight over supplies and territories. Somewhere along the way Joel meets Ellie, a young girl who soon becomes his companion. From there, Joel and Ellie make their way through the ruined cities and wild wastelands as they continue their journey…

I could go into more detail with the story and describe the twists and turns that surprised me and made me unable to stop playing, but that would ruin a big aspect of what The Last of Us is all about: experiencing Joel and Ellie’s adventure firsthand. Naughty Dog have done a superb job of creating realistic characters that you become emotionally engaged with, and characters that change and evolve as the narrative progresses. This is partly down the stunning graphics that Naughty Dog have pulled off with incredible attention to detail and impressive lighting, reflection, particle effects, and so on. But it’s also the animations and the quality of the voice acting that draws players into the story. It’s like a more serious, darker Uncharted game in terms of narrative; The Last of Us has that cinema-quality driving the adventure yet handles it with slower pacing and more atmosphere.

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In terms of gameplay, much of the game is spent wandering through the ruins of buildings and wastelands, exploring the often expansive locations. Naughty Dog have designed the game so that areas never feel the same and even rooms coated in litter and dirt still manage to look amazing. I often found myself taking my time simply walking through areas as I admired the small details here and there. It feels organic, from the surroundings to the subtle movements of characters. When Joel crouches next to Ellie behind cover, he places his arm over her protectively. There’s no snap-to cover system either which helps with immersion. When characters move into different rooms, their voice changes, sounding slightly fainter and echoes naturally. When the torchlight begins to flicker and fade, you have to tilt the sixaxis slightly to flick it back on. It’s little touches that draw you in.

I had initial doubts over a survival horror game that pits you with an AI companion, but Ellie is actually pretty decent for an AI companion. Even with a constant follower,  the atmosphere remains and Ellie manages to be helpful, too.  She occasionally gives you ammo or supplies, though not often enough to make it seem unnatural or too easy. She’s able to save Joel too, throwing a brick or bottle at an enemy or even shooting them. Ellie manages to seem both capable and vulnerable, both during gameplay and in the overall story. If I had to name any flaws, however, it would be that on some occasions enemies would clearly see Ellie as she headed to my cover spot, yet they wouldn’t react – luckily this didn’t happen often and didn’t actually bother me or break immersion too much. As for the enemy encounters themselves, there is usually multiple ways to proceed through areas and stealth plays a bit part as foes get very tough on higher difficulties, and Joel often finds himself outnumbered and outgunned – mostly because ammo is pretty scarce in this game. The amount of times I found myself in crouching in a dark corner, avoiding patrolling hunters, with only a round or two in my pistols and a molotov cocktail for comfort… This makes it feel like a proper survival horror game, leading to intense moments of stealth and combat. Joel can pick up scraps, like rags and scissors, and craft them on-the-fly, making makeshift weapons and shivs that can open locked doors or quickly take down an enemy if stabbed into their jugular…

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Despite the varied enemy encounters, weapons and the frantic-yet-fluid combat when spotted, it might not be as action-packed as some people like. There are sections where minutes at a time are spent simply exploring and travelling. To counter this the game manages to retain an air of atmosphere even when nothing is particularly happening. Those looking for a third person shooter may be put off by this aspect, but The Last of Us never pretends to be anything else than it is, and makes it easy to enjoy the slower pace and building atmosphere. In fact, The Last of Us rewards those who take it slower to explore each corner, and intrepid explorers who put the effort in are rewarded with collectables and items hidden away, like parts and tools that Joel can use to upgrade his weapons at workbenches, and manuals that upgrade skills such as the explosion radius of molotov cocktails, for instance. With a new game plus mode carrying on weapons and upgrades, optional conversations to discover, a harder ‘survivor’ mode to unlock, and more, there is tons of replayability to be had.

As well as the single player story, The Last of Us also contains a multiplayer mode where players join factions and fight for survival in team deathmatch modes. It plays a lot like the single player gameplay, with players able to collect parts and craft makeshift weapons to take down enemies, and lends itself well to stealthy players. There’s also perks and weapons to unlock to use, as well as headgear for your character. It would have been nice to have some more customisation over the character, and possibly some more game modes, but these may come with later DLC and aren’t a major issue. It’s refreshing to play a team-based deathmatch that favours tactics and teamwork, with non-regenerating health and every player having a motion-sensor ‘radar’ mode. It’s not as fast or fluid as, say, Uncharted’s multiplayer, but fits in with the overall ethos of the game.

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Ultimately, Naughty Dog have outdone themselves with The Last of Us, from cutting-edge graphics and engaging gameplay, and the compelling storyline that often bloody and brutal, and yet other times heartwarming and intriguing. It’s a game that’s incredibly hard to put down, and pushes the boundaries for storytelling and video games.

Rating: 10/10 

Elemental Monster Online Card Game Review (PS3)

I recently bought Elemental Monster Online Card Game. It was one of those random purchases where I had some money left in my Playstation Store wallet and came across it, deciding to try it out. There was no demo or anything but it was only £0.95 so I decided to give it a go anyway, and actually surprised by how much fun it was, so I thought I would review it.

Elemental Monster Online Card Game is a PS3 game that features a rather convoluted title but don’t let that put you off – the gameplay is fairly simplistic and easy to get into. Yet despite this, it also features depth and custom deck collecting/building that will appeal to both gamers looking for a fun, strategic game and those looking for a card game in the vein of Yu Gi Oh, Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering.

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Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Demo Impressions (PS3)

The Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance demo is now available to download and play before the February release of the game!

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is the latest game in the Metal Gear saga. Keen to stand on its own feet in the Metal Gear universe, Rising has shed the previous tagline of ‘Tactical Espionage Action’ that adorned previous Metal Gear titles, indicative of the distinct gameplay shift. This isn’t the Raiden seen from Metal Gear Solid 2, however, but the cybernetic killing machine seen in MGS4: Guns of the Patriots. Fans of MGS4 Raiden will be excited to see this new game centred around his bad-ass killing style seen in the cutscenes of that game. But what about fans of the old MGS series? Rising is clearly a very fast-paced game, with elements of score keeping and an almost hack-and-slash element that distances itself from its Metal Gear Solid brothers. Despite looking amazing, it marks a clear shift away from previous games in the series which could leave any hardcore fan ill at ease. What if they get it wrong? What if it isn’t Metal Gear anymore? Well, following Rising’s development for a long time I was both intrigued by the game and what it promised, and also concerned. As a long term Metal Gear fan, I hoped the publishers could live up to what they promised without distancing itself from the Metal Gear universe too much. With the game being released next month, a free demo has now become available to download so that you can try out the gameplay for yourself. I decided to give it an intial review based on the demo and my initial impressions.

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An insight into the delusional ideology of the Tory Party

(Or: Why we can’t afford to let them win the next election)

The Tory Party has recently released its very own ‘vision for the future’. Although it makes for disturbing reading, it does offer an insight into the inner ideologies of the Tory Party, an organisation so keen to re-brand itself and gain some distance from its unofficial title of ‘The Nasty Party’. Entitled 2020 Vision: An Agenda For Transformation, the document is available to read here.

I won’t go into the whole document, although it does give interesting insights into the Tory’s agenda. So much of Cameron and Co.’s rhetoric is steeped in doublespeak so it’s interesting to see the veil lifted and see their, albeit terrifying and destructive, agenda that lays behind the lies. The whole document gives insight into their own vision of a Tory-led UK in 2020, but I wanted to quickly examine the small section found under the heading “The Innovation Economy”. It is here that an actual fictional narrative has been created describing the horrifying implications that could happen if the Tories remain in power:

It is the morning of the 7th May 2020. Over breakfast, Mr and Mrs Jones, happily married for 50 years with three children, are reflecting on the past and their hopes for the future. Reflecting on the difficult years of 2010-2015, they now know Britain is on the right track. Britain is topping the world economic tables for competitiveness and unemployment is low. The most striking development is that it seems the whole world wants to invest in the UK.

Mr and Mrs Jones have a large proportion of their savings in bonds. Not Government bonds—which are no longer issued—but in interest-bearing bonds from mutuals, cooperatives, social enterprises and private businesses. Their oldest child, John, is a successful ‘Life Science’ entrepreneur. He is hiring 20 top class science graduates and another 20 apprentices from the local technical college. He happily invests his profits in research and development. His business benefits enormously now that the Government only accepts electronic invoices. The UK online services industry has cornered the market for electronic invoicing standards. Electronic invoicing alone has added about 0.5 percent to GDP. Their daughter, Mary, is a successful maths teacher on the road to promotion. Her husband is an orderly at the local hospital trust. Nobody can remember if it is private or public; it is just a good hospital and they both hold a stake in its future. Their youngest, David, is a perpetual student and hightech entrepreneur. Like so many others, he is also registering his own IP with the Online Intellectual Property Office.

Mr and Mrs Jones seldom see politicians on TV. The only political stories appear to be about tax reductions, high-tech exports and the massive trade surplus. Britain is confident, dynamic and at ease with itself. The only criticism Mrs Jones has is that “the Conservative Government failed to raise the tax-free threshold to £25,000. It’s such a disincentive for lower earners.” However, Mr Jones reminds her of the days of “those awful tax credits, national insurance contributions and year-end tax returns.” Mrs Jones reflects on this, adding, “at least we know where we stand with a 20 percent flat tax.” “But,” Mr Jones says, “never trust a politician, I very much doubt they will get the flat rate down to 15 percent by 2025 as they promised.” “True,” adds Mrs Jones, “but we can’t expect too much, now that Parliament only sits 16 weeks a year.”

Fantasy? Not necessarily.

Whilst making for a rather unsettling read, it describes what the Tories aim to achieve. It also describes their ideal future for the UK. There is a really good breakdown of this part here, but I will give a quick explanation of the parts I found unsettling (in no particular order).

  1. Britain is topping the world economic tables for competitiveness and unemployment is low.

    Under the current Tory government unemployment is a key concern, despite the government assuring us that unemployment is falling. The reality is that the statistics that make up unemployment are convoluted, with many on workfare schemes, and still claiming JSA, being counted as “employed”. Government workfare schemes are actually taking paid job vacancies away from workers. High street names like HMV are going bust, leading to mass redundancies. Widespread public sector cuts mean even more unemployment. With all this in mind it is really hard to see how the Tories envision a future with Britain topping the economic tables and low unemployment figures under their leadership. Unless in 2020 they are still manipulating the unemployment statistics, of course… The skwalker1969 article describes it nicely:

    Silly, silly people who opposed the Tory wage-slashing, benefit-cutting, state-shrinking ways! Don’t we realise that we’re on the path to a Shining Future? 2.5 million unemployed people, an impending triple-dip recession, Foodbanks opening at the rate of 3 a week and rising rates of suicide – nothing more than a few eggs that needed to be broken to complete the Conservatives’ ‘omelette’.

  2. Government bonds are no longer offered

    I won’t profess to say I understand the whole government bonds aspect, but the blog I mentioned earlier, skwalker1969, has given a decent description of what it all means:

    “The idea that government bonds – which is how governments finance their spending – ‘are no longer issued’ is far more revealing than you might think at first reading.

    That the report thinks such bonds will no longer be necessary betrays the extent to which the Tories, in their secret ‘heart of hearts’, want to slash the state on which many people inevitably have to rely.

    Only in a country where virtually everything is provided by private companies, and paid for by direct charges on each individual ‘customer’, could a government even conceivably do away with government bonds. Either that, or we discover that we’re sitting on oil reserves that make those of Saudi Arabia look like a duck-pond.

    Without that unlikely event, a country that does not fund its spending through bonds is going to be one that has no place for the vulnerable, for those who through disability or circumstance are unable to pay their own way. Such people are too expensive, and too unprofitable for private providers if the government is not footing the bill.

    That this is how the Tories see the future speaks volumes about their plans and ethos – far more than their coded, public statements will ever admit to. Life sciences and electronic invoices Here we see what the Tories are pinning their hopes on.

    The economy is circling the drain because of policies that are either misguided or, more likely, deliberate; full-time jobs are disappearing while poorly-paid part-time jobs replace them if we’re lucky; decision after decision sucks cash – and therefore demand – out of the UK economy. And demand is everything, for economic recovery.”

  3. Nobody can remember if hospitals are private or public

    Perhaps one of the more relevant and eye-opening aspects of this Tory vision is this statement, though it might seem unsurprising to many. It is clear that the Tories want to sell off the NHS to private corporations, privatising the National Health Service that even Thatcher left alone. However, in their ideal future, the public can’t remember, and don’t seem to care, if hospitals are private or public; they’re just seen as “good hospitals”. The NHS will be privatised and sold off bit by bit, and in the Tory Party’s ideal (and delusional) vision of the future, nobody will care. Well, maybe they will care when the private corporations cut corners and place profit before quality, efficiency before patient care, inflated management bonuses before…

  4. Mr and Mrs Jones’ youngest son is a “perpetual student”.

    One of the more delusional aspects of their vision is the notion that the average couple, Mr and Mrs Jones, have a grandson who is a ‘perpetual student’. This is laughable considering this government tripled tuition fees. Enough said, really.

  5. Politicians are seldom seen on TV anymore

    This bit is rather scary, though I suppose the whole ‘vision’ itself is one big nightmare trip. So, in the crazy world of Tory-led 2020, politicians are “seldom seen on TV anymore”, and the only political stories that do appear are all about “tax reductions, high-tech exports and the massive trade surplus”. So in their vision of the future, politicians rarely feature in the news. Clearly an uninformed and ignorant public is a Tory wet dream. With a government rarely featuring in the news, it would be free to get away with… well, anything it wanted. Such as privatising public services, for instance. Although maybe it’s not as sinister as all that. Maybe the Tories aren’t on TV much because they don’t actually do much in the future. In fact, it’s probably explained by the fact that:

  6. Parliament only sits 16 weeks a year

    I guess in the Tory world of 2020, corporations and business run everything, and Parliament is just there to occasionally  lower taxes for the wealthy elite. Maybe by 2020 Parliament is more like the Royals, where they’re just there as a tourist attraction and a hark back to the “old” days where elected governments actually ran the country. Maybe, despite the attacks on the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, the public services, the council cuts (etc, etc.) – maybe despite all of that, Cameron’s “Big Society” was actually implemented and a lot of public organisations and local services are run by volunteers in the community, and everything else is controlled by multinational corporations that pay 0.5% corporation tax, or something. Ah, those crazy Tories…

    The funny thing is, even the Tories (in their crazy scenario) admit that they won’t be able to do much with only 16 weeks out of the year. Mr Jones is moaning that the flat tax rate of 20% (more on that in a second) isn’t the 15% that they promised (at least the Tories still envisage them breaking promises in 2020), to which Mrs Jones replies:

    True,” adds Mrs Jones, “but we can’t expect too much, now that Parliament only sits 16 weeks a year.”


  7. There is a 20% flat tax. For everyone.

    Another scary aspect of this ‘vision’ is the fact that taxes are lowered to the extent that there is a “flat tax” of 20% for everyone. That means that even the millionaires and billionaires pay the same rate of tax as the working classes. Actually it will probably be much like today, where they pay even less due to tax evasion/avoidance, etc. However, in the future, and even with a 20% flat tax rate for everyone, the Tories aren’t happy. This future government of 2020 wants a lower flat tax rate of 15% for everyone. It’s hard to see how further tax reductions will help support the government and the country, but then again by 2020 (under a Tory leadership) everything will be run by the private sector so there probably won’t be any sort of welfare system or “public” services to speak of by this point anyway. Maybe we won’t even need a welfare state, because by that point all the poor and disabled will have died out (so they hope?). Even schools will be fully privatised, run for-profit, by the time the Tories are done. The flat tax gained will just go towards paying the MPs salaries, I suppose.

There’s much more to dissect from that scenario, and the 2020 document as a whole, but I only wanted to do a quick run-down of the impressions I got from it. It’s clear that the authors behind the document are delusional, and potentially dangerous (!!). If this is representative of the Tory ideology and real vision for the future (and I cannot see anything to counter this), then it is clearly very worrying. If anything puts you off voting for them in the next election, let it be this. Unless you want a future government who only sits for 16 weeks a year, and lowers taxes for higher earners to the point where a welfare system and public service sector becomes impossible to maintain; a future where big business runs everything and the government doesn’t even feature on the news… It’s not that I love seeing politicians and government policies talked about on TV all the time, but surely they need to be in the public eye to be held accountable? Surely the public should be kept informed?

Damian Hinds, the Conservative MP who is one of the authors of the report, said that the ideas aimed to encourage social mobility, supporting those from disadvantaged backgrounds who wanted to get on in life.

“The electorate gave our party half a chance in 2010,” said Mr Hinds. “This work is about showing what we could offer the country if voters give us a full opportunity to govern on our own in 2015.

See what I mean? Anyway, let me know what you think below.

University tuition fee rises may end up taxpayers more than scheme it replaced

The Coalition’s £9,000-a-year tuition fee hike could cost taxpayers more than the scheme it replaced, a think-tank has warned. A £1bn-a-year “black hole” in university funding shows that the rushed tuition fee reforms are coming back to haunt both the Lib Dems and the Tories, despite all their claims that the reforms would save the country money.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) says that the government “seriously understated” the cost of its higher education reforms and will either have to implement drastic cuts to student numbers or ask graduates to make higher repayments – a result that will deeply embarrass the Lib Dems.

So as well as having an impact on social mobility, lumping a lifetime of debt on future graduates and deterring future students from attending higher education, the drastic cuts to higher education will actually end up costing taxpayers more in the long run. However, this was clear from the start, and it has often been said that you do not cut public spending in a recession. This government’s policies may reduce debt in the short run, but in the longer-term the “austerity” programs may lead to irreparable damage to the public sector, to education, and to the UK as a whole.

None of this is new, however. A report published in 2010 stated that with state funding for University teaching being cut by a monumental 80% by 2014-15, the government will have to borrow more to fund the higher loans and pick up a bigger bill for those debts “written off” after 30 years; The report argued this will leave taxpayers worse off.

This is what happens when austerity reforms are pushed through as legislation before MP’s have had a chance to properly review and debate the proposals. The student protests of 2010 fell on deaf ears. It’s clear that either the Coalition MP’s who passed this legislation were either so short-sighted, they could not see the implications of their reforms, or the reforms themselves were ideologically-driven. But the Tories are anything but ideologically-driven, right?

Powerful paedophile network may have connections to Downing Street

Tom Watson, deputy chairman of the Labour Party, announced yesterday that a powerful paedophile network may have operated in Britain and been protected by connections to Parliament and Downing Street, the Independent reports.

English: 10 Downing Street door

English: 10 Downing Street door (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Referring to a case in 1992 of Peter Righton, Watson called on the Metropolitan Police to re-open the closed criminal enquiry into paedophilia. Righton, who was a former consultant to the National Children’s Bureau and lecturer at the National Institute for Social Work in London, was convicted of importing and possessing illegal homosexual pornographic material. He admitted the charges and was fined £900. At Prime Minister Question’s, Watson said of the evidence file to convict Righton: “If it still exists, [it] contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring.”

 

He added: “One of its members boasts of a link to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if they exist, I want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police secure the evidence, re-examine it, and investigate.”