Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Last of Us experience

Ok, so this isn't the video game writing I normally do, but I felt like I needed to write something about my experience around this game.  I'm still working on another beer article, but motivation is scarce.  This has been on my mind a lot lately and I wanted to get it out there quickly, so this is a barely editing accounting of my experience buying and playing The Last of Us.  I'll admit to not being very far in the game, but there's a reason for that.

So The Last of Us is a Playstation 3 exclusive game developed by Naughty Dog, and it was released in the US on June 14th.  I ordered the game on June 15th via some odd configuration of eBay and newegg which I saw posted on  I'm generally a patient gamer but the hype around the game and the fact I could get it for an entirely reasonable price made me go for it.  I got the game on the 18th with plans to play it the evening of the 19th.

Knowing the game was going to need to be updating immediately, I put the disc in and told it to download and install the patch.  My 6 months of PS3 ownership have taught me that the PS3 is now going to be absolutely useless until it's done which could be upwards of an hour from now.  So later that night I went to check on the status and it was done.  It was too late to play, so I turned off the console.

The next day, I went to play the game after work only to discover that my PS3 controller had run down its battery.  I'm told that keeping a USB hub near your sofa to charge your PS3 controllers is all the rage nowadays, but I've apparently not kept up with the times and the closest place for me to charge my controller is the PS3 itself using the 3 foot cable that ships with the console.  My hopes dashed, I plugged the controller in to charge and played some Mass Effect on Xbox.

The next day I went again to play using my freshly charged controller.  Starting the game yields a loading screen for a few minutes before bringing up the menu which was peaceful, yet sparse and showing signs of decay.  Selecting new game yields another loading screen.  This one is all black apart from some sparkles that look like they could turn into the PS3 main menu at any point.  After a minute or two some "Loading..." text appears in the bottom right corner with a percentage that slowly climbs.  When the percentage finally reaches 100%, the loading screen starts it again.  A few more 0-100 runs of the "Loading..." text and the opening cinematic finally begins.

So I play the game, and it's pretty well done.  A little heavy on the cutscenes, but still not bad.  Then I start to get into the main part of the gameplay and realize I'm really bad at this.  But I'm not bad at this because I don't understand what to do, I'm bad at this because the control scheme is fucking me up.  I feel like the game really demands I know the controls pretty immediately.  I find whenever I try to be really stealthy I'll be trying to sneak up on a guy and then football victory-check a brick directly into the ground or lunge at the empty space next to someone.  It's pretty frustrating.  And if there's more than 2-3 bad guys I'm generally better off just starting a huge fight and beating everyone to death with a board instead of taking them out one at a time.  I tried to take out that fucking Clicker in the beginning of the MBTA station level right before the Goldstone building like 4 times and failing at it before I just shot it in the head a few times then Molotov'd the mob that ran in.  That pissed me off because that is not how I want to play this game.

Rewinding a bit, a few hours before that point I decided I want to save, in case I was about to do something totally boneheaded and I didn't want to restart the entire section.  Now I stare at a message saying "Autosaving still in progress" for a minute, then an unresponsive options menu for a bit with several messages about Autosaving before finally being allowed to select a savegame file.  It's around this point that my girlfriend casually quips, "This got 10 out of 10?"

I want to bring this up in relation to a 9 out of 10 game that I played on the Xbox 360:  Batman Arkham City.

I bought Arkham City several months after release date from a gamestop and brought the disc home.  I put it into the Xbox and turned on the controller.  I don't think the controller had been dead, but if it had I have plenty of rechargeable batteries around because I use them in: My wireless mouse, other Xbox controllers, digital cameras, digital scale, TV remote control, my brewing thermometer, and a few other things I'm sure I've forgotten.

I intend to play the game tonight, but am greeted by an update screen.  Which is no big deal to me, I know that historically the Xbox will finish updating in under a minute.  My experience has not led me astray and the game is ready to play and at the menu before I can think about how uncomfortable my couch is.  I start a new game and with less than 30 seconds of loading, the opening cinematic starts.  I then proceed to play the fuck out Arkham City and continually revisit the game.

This experience also applies to every Xbox 360 game I have played: Mass Effect, Left 4 Dead, Alan Wake, Assassin's Creed(s), etc, while a similar "Oh Gods I hope it doesn't need to update" scenario unfolds every time I try to play something on the PS3.

Now the point:
I firmly believe that the strength of a console lies in its games.  Graphics and capabilities are generally equal and have been for a generation or two, so the exclusives and online services are where the difference is made.  I am not a Xbox fanboy or part of the PC master race.  But, I find the PS3 and incredibly inconvenient console to use.  It seems like there is no such thing as deciding to play a game and then playing it on the PS3.  The console feels replete with loading screens and saving progress bars.  If there is an update, you might as well cancel your plans.  And the lack of replaceable batteries in the controllers will never fail to aggravate me.  It's a wireless freaking controller, it feels like it's missed the point if I have to plug it in to use it.

I firmly believe the experience of The Last of Us is being hindered by its console exclusivity.  I think the PS3 is holding me back from really enjoying the game and that sucks.  I'm not going to say I'd be able to control it better if I were on a PC or Xbox 360, that's unfair.  But the time and waiting I had to put into playing the game at all, and the time I need to spend waiting for the game to be ready for me to play it every single time I want to really saps the enjoyment.  This is compounded by the fact that the platform seems to continually pull me out of the game whenever I save.

I'm hoping they eventually port this because I'd like to see how it fairs without the PS3 getting in the way because it really feels like it does.