Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: The Last of Us

So, I've finally joined the ranks of the gamers on the next generation of games. Of all the games I could start with, I picked The Last of Us to get through first.

In the near future, a pandemic hits and spreads across the world. In one of the most original takes on the zombie genre to come along in years, this is caused by a fungal infection, appropriating the brain of its host in order to spread and propagate itself. Many of you might know there is a real-world version of this, although it currently only affects insects. As you might expect, one of the nice things about such a version of zombies is that it inherently creates different enemies based on how long they've been infected. So you're not just seeing the same monsters all the time, but without some side story of mutation. 

Some people have argued this is a drama, not a horror game. Make no mistake, this is a horror game. There may not be a huge number of scares, jump or otherwise, but it contains several common horror elements. There's the zombies, of course, as well as approaches to cannibalism, and even child rape. So there is a lot here that makes this a horror game, although it's main goal isn't just to scare or creep you out.

Technically, this game is almost perfect. The visuals are stunning, with a very high attention to detail. The controls are flawless and the mechanics are well executed. Enemy AI is good and challenging, as well as different between enemies, with tutorials on how they behave and how to take advantage of it. 

Granted, it's not perfect. The fully physical companion can be a pain in the ass at times when she's standing right where you need to go and won't get out of the way, and the lack of any general kind of map feature makes it easy to get lost at times, even though the areas you have to explore are kept pretty tightly confined.

The real treat of this game though, is the story.

The game starts you out playing as Sara. The daughter of Joel, the older man on the package, just prior to the outbreak exploding out of control. While you switch back and forth between Sara and Joel in this introduction while they and Joel's brother Tommy try to drive out of town, there's not much to do other than run and witness what is probably the most intense and heart-breaking opening sequence in any video game. 

Returning to Joel, some twenty years later, we are treated to a grim future where the governments have collapsed and the country is basically under military occupation, complete with curfews, food rationing, and checkpoints between major parts of the cities. Less depressing is the way nature has been reclaiming the world in the meantime, offeringus beautiful views of streets with trees breaking through them. This is where you start, exploring this new world as Joel and his friend Tess go about their business of trying to survive under the heel of the military. 

We're also introduced to a group that goes by the name of Fireflies. Originally petitioning the return of the government, they've been hunted down by the military. It's through the Fireflies that we meet Ellie, a young girl who may be immune to the fungus. Joel and Tess end up being hired to deliver her to other groups of Fireflies (who are always dead by the time you get to them), and eventually, it becomes Joel's mission to transport Ellie across the country to the lab himself so that they can try to make a cure from her. 

The game is full of tense moments and some truly heartbreaking scenes, including the death of several people you get attached to through the game-play. You also pick up letters and notes written by and to other people that really gives you a good idea of what it must've been like during the evacuations and while people are just trying to live out their lives. 

Of course, there are some heart-warming moments too. The ending has also generated it's share of discussion, as far as what it means exactly, with people attributing it to bitterness and revenge as much as one person's healing and love. 

So it's definitely worth checking out if you haven't and you have a Playstation. It didn't win over 200 Game of the Year awards for nothing. 

~ Shaun

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Class 1: The Delivery (Part 6)

Click here to start from Part 1.


Wendy shook off the dizziness as well as she could, pushing off the wall and heading towards the sound of the door. The blow to the head only added to the darkness of the hanger as she struggled to follow the rest of the unit, feeling her way along the wall.

She heard the door shut as Captain Talassy followed the other two members through, aiming her way through the darkness, feeling for any crates or supplies stacked in her way. Her fingers found the cold, round metal of a stack of culvert pipes. They made it easy to feel her way along.

She froze as she rounded the end of the stack and heard a sharp intake of breath, a small voice choking back sobs. Even in her dazed state, Wendy knew the sound. Barclay had hidden the girl in the pipes and then led them on a merry chase as a distraction. Feeling her way around the corner, she heard the scared breathing increase.

More shots rang from outside, and she turned towards them, stumbling through the darkness, the glowing green light of the exit sign finally registering as her hands found the bar on the door and she pushed it open, almost falling onto the blacktop.

Barclay lay curled up on the runway some two-hundred yards away, clutching his left leg. The other two members of the team and the man in black were standing over him. Wendy felt a strong hand grip her upper arm and help her upright as Captain Talassy looked down at her. He was holding his nose with his other hand, trying to stop the flow from Barclay's strike. His nose was turned at an odd angle and Wendy knew it was broken and would probably have to be set.

Once she was steady, he let go and motioned to the right side of her face. Lifting one hand, she felt the skin raw, with a few small, sticky patches. She'd caught a good scrape from the wall when Barclay had struck her, and she could feel her face swelling around the left eye where his punch had connected. Still, she stood up straight and followed her superior over to their downed traitor where the man in black was starting to fume.


The night outside the hanger was bright, even with the sliver moon and only the lights of the craft on the runway as illumination. The man in black continued to swear as one of the small grey beings hovered up to them.

It used its hands in wide gestures, as if trying to explain something, but it never made a sound and its thin slit of a mouth never moved. Still, the man in black seemed to calm down and nodded his head in response. Wendy stayed behind Talassy, and was instantly glad to have him between them with the man turned around again, his rage seemingly abated and a wretched smile on his face. He pointed at Barclay and the Grey seemed to nod slowly. It waved back toward a few others that were standing a few more yards away, and they nodded as well.

One of them held up a small device, pushing buttons. A new beam of light burst into life from the side of the craft, illuminating Barclay as the man in black pushed the rest of the group out of the way. Then the wounded soldier was lifted from the ground and pulled up to the ship.

The man in black held up his clipboard again, drawing a pen from a pocket and making a note. The smile never left his lips. Then the Greys walked back to the ship and disappeared up the ramp.
In a flash, the craft was gone, along with all the people that had been delivered in the semi, and the wounded soldier. The man in black turned to address the group with an exasperated huff.

"Well, I had to make a quick substitution, but they got their full order in time." As he talked, the lights on the runway began to light up again, as well as the lights on the hangers around them. He smirked and looked over at Wendy. "I must admit, when I saw the little girl on the roster, I thought the woman would be the one to crack. I was surprised, Ms. Hallowell. I will recommend we call upon you again."

Wendy felt her skin crawl, the dirty weight that had oppressed her in the office room returning on her shoulders as he felt his eyes roam over her from behind his glasses.

"The girl will be found in the morning, and probably returned to her parents after they can't figure out how she made it onto the base. I'm sure she'll never try to run away again. Anyway, thank you for your service tonight. You are dismissed." He continued to smirk as he turned and strode away into the hanger where the semi was still parked.

Wendy stood at attention until Talassy and the others turned and headed back towards their barracks, and then she followed closely in their footsteps.

She silently prayed they would never call on her for one of these assignments again.


I hope everyone enjoyed that. Feel free to leave comments below or to email me with any thoughts you had, if you liked/hated it, or anything else really. Next week we return you to our regularly scheduled blog posts. Thanks. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Class 1: The Delivery (Part 5)

Hope you're all enjoying this serial so far. If you're looking for previous parts, you can click here to go back to Part 1, or you can click on the Class 1 label over on the right side of the page.


The darkness made it hard to follow, but the group chased after the sounds of the footfalls on the asphalt. Wendy kept her gun down in both hands. She kept the safety on, praying it wouldn't fall on her to pull the trigger if Barclay turned on them.

A metal door closed somewhere in front of them as he carried the girl into another hanger. Talassy swore under his breath as he waved the group on the side of the building, pointing at Wendy and motioning to the door. He gave the hand signs which indicated she would open the door, then he would lead the charge through, covering each other as they went. Wendy appreciated that, it meant she would be the last one in.

Everyone took up their positions, and Wendy held up her fingers for the countdown before turning the handle and yanking the door open.  No gunshots greeted them. The group moved quickly, their training coming through as the slipped into the building.

The darkness inside was complete, the only light coming from the green exit signs above various doors.

"Barclay didn't have time to make it out another exit, so he has the girl in here somewhere," Talassy whispered. "We're going two-by-two, searching  in a standard grid pattern. We need to find him and the girl as fast as possible. Clear? If he resists at all, our orders are to treat him as an enemy combatant and to reply in kind."

They all nodded, but Wendy had to force herself to keep the cold chill that ran through her from showing. Talassy told her to follow him while the other two went off to the other side of the building, another hanger that was mostly storage and supplies for repairs. That meant a lot of large crates, forklifts, and pipes piled up high.

Lots of hiding places.

"Sir, why don't we turn the lights on?"

"This whole operation is supposed to be low-key. All the buildings and lights within three-hundred yards of the pick-up area have been shut down to ensure things are kept in the dark as much as possible."

A shadow darted between two large crates to their right, both of them swinging their guns up towards it. Talassy didn't even hesitate as he loosed two rounds in its direction, both shots filling the silence of the hanger with the reports of bullets shattering wood. Then they were running, darting between the crates, chasing the tail of a shadow  as it ran, ducking behind boxes and around corners, just a hair too slow to lose them, but too quickly for Talassy to get off a clear shot.

The shadow ran into the back of the hanger, melting into the darkness. Wendy and Talassy charged around the corner they had last watched the dark blob disappear around and paused. The only sound was the footfalls of the other two members of their team, as they made their way over to meet them.
Nothing moved in the darkness. Talassy felt his way along the crate next to him, scanning the shadows with an intensity that made it seem like he had night vision.

Then there was the thick smack of flesh on flesh and Captain Talassy went down from the blow to the face. Then the darkness was on Wendy before she could flick the safety off her gun. The blow caught her on the right cheek, a strong, solid punch that sent her sprawling against the wall and left her dazed with the taste of blood in her mouth. Then there was the flash of a gun and a report which echoed around her, followed by several more.

They could hear Barclay swear in pain as he was hit, and then he was off into the darkness again.

Talassy leaned on her as he went past, checking her quickly and barking the orders to chase their rogue soldier down again. The other two of their group got there first as the sound of the exit opening and closing resounded again. The chase was back outside. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Class 1: The Delivery (Part 4)


They were led by one of the Greys, waving its arms and directing them toward the runway and the ramp up into the ship. The man in black stood off to one side, watching Wendy's reaction as they slowly walked out in single file, most of them with their heads down as they followed directions.

The first was an older man, in a ragged brown coat. His hair was thin, bald in places and he had a long, unkempt beard. His shirt and jeans were dirty and old as well, with several makeshift patches that had been badly sown into place. The smell that drifted off of him was one of urine and alcohol. Wendy guessed he had been homeless for quite some time. Until someone had offered him a place to go, likely without details on where or under who's care that would be.

The 'medical equipment' being delivered and picked up was human beings. The idea sent shivers through her, and it took a huge amount of control to not let it show as they filed past. They had orders to shoot any that made a run for it. These people, most of them every bit as disheveled as the first, had agreed to something without any idea what they were in for, probably figuring they couldn't do worse than the lives they were already living.

Then a bed rolled out of the hanger, white, with bars on the sides to ensure the occupant didn't fall out. A metal bar rose up above it, holding a bag of liquid, connected to the body underneath by a plastic tube. One of the Greys walked along behind it, holding up one hand and pushing it along without actually touching it.

The occupant looked like an old woman at a distance, but as they approached and passed, Wendy could see she was actually much younger, maybe in her 40's. She had the thin hair and gaunt appearance of a woman twice her age, though. Eyes sunken, devoid of life or hope. The victim of some horrible wasting illness or other.

These were the terminally ill and unwanted, being bartered to an alien intelligence for experiments in exchange for God only knew what. Wendy couldn't hold back the next shiver that ran through her body , and it had not escaped the notice of the man in black. She could feel his eyes boring into her even through his dark glasses.

She risked a glance over at him and he just smirked and nodded back towards the hanger.

Stepping out of the shadows in line with the rest was a little girl, no older than eight years old. Blonde hair falling behind her as she walked, wearing a nightdress and still carrying a teddy bear in the crook of her arm. She could have been just grabbed out of her bedroom.  Her head turned left and right as she followed the older man in front of her, eyes wide with fear, squeezing her bear so tight it wouldn't have been surprising if its head had popped off.

For the life of her, Wendy couldn't imagine why they were handing over such a little girl. She couldn't see anything at all wrong with her. Just the fear and confusion behind wide blue eyes. She was even barefoot.

Wendy felt her chest tighten up and she had to fight the instinct to grab the girl and run for it herself. To even make a move though would probably get herself shot as well as the girl.

Then the girl was gone to the sound of running feet hitting the blacktop. The man in black scowled at Wendy and took off across the runway, pulling out a handgun from under his coat. It had been Barclay that had broken, sweeping the girl into his arms and charging off into the darkness. Wendy heard the gunshots, both the man in black and Captain Talassy had squared up and were taking shots into the darkness.

"Go on! Get after him. BRING THEM BACK!" The man in black barked at the rest of the soldiers standing there as he reloaded his gun. Captain Talassy waved, and the line moved as a unit, drawing weapons and running off into the darkness, Wendy among them, as ordered, despite the knot in her stomach.