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 

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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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Dead Poets – Stop, Drop and Roll

Dead Poets are set to release their first ever single entitled ‘Stop, Drop and Roll‘, available tomorrow (May 2nd). If you weren’t able to make it last night, you missed an incredible set from Plymouth’s local legends. Dead Poets headlined at the White Rabbit, Plymouth to commemorate the launch of their new single which, as stated, is available for download tomorrow.

Dead Poets were joined by As We Sink, The Deering, and Damerels who all put on energetic performances and hyped the crowd up for the headline act. By the time Dead Poets came onto the stage, opening with Fi Is All About The Violence, the White Rabbit was filled with an estimated 200 people who were raring to go, and the Poets did not disappoint. The only downer of it all is having to wait another day to download their latest track, but you can check it out below on Youtube. Make sure you get it when it’s available, not only because it’s an awesome tune but also to support up-and-coming local talent. I don’t care if you’re not local to Plymouth, it’s the principle of the matter! The Poets have worked really hard to get where they are and deserve every bit of support they get. The large turnout at the Rabbit last night, for a lineup comprising simply of local bands, was inspiring. It is a testament to both the Poets’ talent and to the local music scene as a whole.

‘Stop, Drop and Roll’ will be available for download from May 2nd. Available from iTunes, HMV, Spotify, Tesco as well as loads more places, worldwide – so you won’t have trouble finding it.

Stop, Drop and Roll (single) – Dead Poets. Buy now on iTunes (only £0.79) – ℗ 2011 PMC Recordings

Glastonbury Festival Timeline

Glastonbury Festival has always held a special place in my heart. Formally entitled “The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts”, though dubbed simply “Glasto” by many, the festival is the world’s largest green-field music and performing arts festival in the world, and has been going since the 70’s. I first went to Glastonbury in 1998, when I was just a kid, and I remember being enthralled by the experience, with the festival leaving a lasting impression on me – as I am sure it does to anyone who experiences their first Glastonbury.

Myself at Glastonbury Festival 2005, overlooking the Pyramid Stage in the distance.

“It’s like going to another country, a hip and thrilling Brigadoon that appears every year or so”, states the Glastonbury Festival website under the tab “what is Glastonbury?”. This is a fairly accurate description of the festival for those that have not yet experienced Glastonbury. For you do not visit Glastonbury, instead, you experience it. Unlike many other festivals such as Reading/Leeds festival, Glastonbury’s charm is hinted at in its title: “The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts”.

I cannot and will not attempt to list the countless unforgettable aspects and areas of Glastonbury Festival. Besides, this post is to give an overview of the timeline of Glastonbury, rather than an in-depth discussion of its aspects. However, it is important to note that it is not just another music festival. Glastonbury Festival is huge, and caters for everybody. As its website proclaims: “The Festival has distinct socio-geographic regions”, which range from Dance fields to Acoustic areas, from Jazzworld to Circus and Theatre fields, from the main Pyramid and Other stages to more chilled out areas. A huge part of the Glastonbury experience is simply exploring the enormous Festival, which stretches over a mile and a half across, with a perimeter of eight and a half miles. The Field of Avalon, the Tipi Field, the Green Field, the Field of Lost Vagueness (which I believe may have been re-named since I last visited) and the Stone Circle are just a few chilled out, interesting and perhaps spiritual areas that Glasto-goers can stumble across as they roam the vast landscape. And all throughout the festival itself are art pieces, sculptures, performers, surreal landscapes, impromptu theatre acts… and then there’s the music itself, which actually can often take a back-seat in the festival experience as there is simply so much to explore. Nevertheless Glastonbury always has a diverse line-up of acts from the unknown right up to the superstars. Acts such as The Cure, Massive Attack, Pulp, Blur, Hawkwind, The Smiths and David Bowie (to name but a few) have all performed at the legendary festival over the years.

Glastonbury has been going since the early seventies, and with tickets still selling out in record times, it looks as if the festival is showing no signs of slowing. With a brief introduction out of the way, here is the timeline itself: Continue reading

Dub to Step: Culture Cuts Review

I’ve been listening to mixes from Culture Cuts Collective lately and thought I’d do a couple of reviews and help spread the word a bit. First up is Culture Cuts mix “Dubs to Subs”.

Culture Cuts Collective

Dub to Step – Culture Cuts Collective

Dub Roots Reggae/Dubstep/Deep Dub/Dub/Future Dub

Described as “a deep blend of dubby steps and rootical flows”, Dub to Step is one of the latest cuts from Culture Cuts, a “collective [that] is a community of broadminded, unbranded, musical, comical and cultural characters… [aiming] to connect quality cuts of crafted culture, creating original entertainment verities”

Released on October 13th 2010, Dub to Step is a chilled out mix which nicely blends reggae, dubstep and dub beats into a nice mellow package. Those expecting heavy brain-jarring dubstep will be disappointed as this collection is more about proper dub and chilled dubstep beats with a reggae influence. That’s not to say the odd wobbly-bass line doesn’t make an appearance, but it’s not in-your-face and compliments the vocal samples. Personally I would have preferred a couple of heavier dub-sections but no real complaints as I also think it works perfectly as it is – the boys at Culture Cuts seem to prefer the “dubber” side of dubstep, serving a chilled out auditory experience that will leave you wanting more. There is a nice dubstep drop towards the end though, just to finish off the mix which works really well. All in all a sweet mix that is perfect to listen to whilst travelling or simply relaxing, coming in as it does at a cool 21 minutes.

The mix can currently be found on the Culture Cuts playlist in the sidebar to the right alongside some other cuts –>

[You can play the cuts in a pop-out menu while you browse the net] – Or, just listen to the mix itself below. The full archive of cuts can be found at Culturecuts.co.uk

Enjoy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

You can find the link to Culture Cuts in the footer at the bottom of every page, as well as some other interesting links which I hope to be expanding in time. The Culture Cuts RSS feed can also be found in the sidebar to the right bringing you the latest updates in releases. Check out the Guardian’s RSS feed and We Concur’s alongside while you’re there.

 

Captain SKA – Liar Liar

Brilliant song and video focusing on the coalition government’s damning cuts – a protest song with a beat and a real message. Check it out and buy the single! There is a movement to get this song to Xmas no.1 – let’s do it!

Released 12th December for XMAS no 1.
Available from:
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/liar…

Proceeds to: Crisis, Disability Alliance, FalseEconomy and Women’s Health Matters. Launch gig for “Liar Liar” and FalseEconomy website 13th December, Vibe Bar Featuring Captain SKA, comedian Josie Long, Hackney Colliery band and DJ Jamie Renton (Chilli Fried)

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Captain…
http://www.wegottickets.com/event/100780
http://www.falseeconomy.org.uk