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Note: Highly spoilery discussion of major plot points in The Last of Us

Butch:

Ok, so I wasn’t going to play much, but I was either on a roll or in a rut or thought that getting through would get me to Nov 18th or something so I played the rest of the David bits. I’m in Utah, it’s spring, Joel is optimistic which can’t be good.

Much themeage to discuss.

So while I percolate on the themes, allow me to get the rant I need to get out of the way out of the way (I did like this section on the whole, but ranting must take place first).

Fighty bits.

So last night, I stumbled as Joel, tortured some dudes, then back to Ellie. For fighty bits. Sneak in the building! Kill! Sneak out of a building! Kill! Sneak back in a building! Kill! Etc. These bits seemed ENDLESS! Now, I get wanting the player to feel the tension that Ellie feels. I get that. I do. But too much of it leads to the player feeling annoyed at the game. There are two ways to say “Oh my God, MORE of this?” One is a tense, scary way, one is exasperated. I was firmly in the second by the end of the night. That breaks immersion something awful. I’m a scared young girl. I get it.

And then, to top it off, my reaper moment: Killing David. Or playing cat and mouse with David, or whatever. That. Simply. Sucked. And not in a good way. It was hard, and it was arbitrary. You start a cat and mouse game with him like ten feet from you? What is that? Total luck. You have to duck and hope he goes the other way. So after finally LANDING a hit, I died, and, guess what? The save point was RIGHT AFTER I LANDED THE HIT so I kept starting five feet from the guy for the SECOND hit when he had the machete out. Infuriating.

As that fire started burning, I had two thoughts, neither of which was the one I think the devs wanted. They wanted that to make me feel a second layer of tension. What I DID think was a) oh, good, that means this is almost over and b) if that roof caves in and I have to start this bullshit again, I’m going to go bananas.

So, I GUESS when I finally did bash David’s brains in with a machete I was feeling the rage Ellie was displaying on screen. But instead of whatever she was thinking I was thinking “Take that you bastard for making me do that damn stealth section all those times you bastard” which broke immersion.

I’m ok now. Now we can theme.

Feminina:

Joel is optimistic. That’s how you know all is lost. Ha.

Hmm…I definitely remember a lot of sneaking and killing, and then a lot of fleeing from/stalking David around and around the burning building, but I don’t remember being that frustrated with it. I guess I felt it saved often enough as I proceeded that I wasn’t having to repeat dozens of kills over and over, and then once I realized that I had to wound David some number of times, but that it saved after each success, the sense of “counting down” was enough to keep me going.

I mean, I won’t say I didn’t swear at that damn David reloading practically right next to me over and over, but I guess I felt I was making measurable progress and that kept me going. I also don’t recall being concerned about dying in the fire and having to do the whole thing over again–I guess I trusted the game to not bump me back too far.

Nevertheless, I take your point about there being a LOT of fighting here. Although also a lot of sneaking. I like the sneaking. Maybe that’s it, maybe I was just more focused on the sneaking!

They probably didn’t want to have people saying “well, Ellie’s just a little weak girl, obviously she couldn’t have handled a part of the game with a lot of fighting.” I agree it would have been nice to be her for some of the less fighty bits just for the character development opportunity (the DLC is good for that!), but I guess they wanted to show more of her being capable and grown-up by the standards of the game? Killing people/things that want to kill you: that’s pretty much what it’s all about.

Butch:

Yup. You want to say “Dude! Do NOT say you’ll teach her guitar! Don’t! Haven’t you been WATCHING?”

I’m sure the fire fear was irrational. I was not feeling rational at that point.

See, I didn’t proceed. It was “You can’t hide for there you are!” BANG. There was no proceeding. If he spotted you, that was pretty much it. Cuz if you were sneaky, he followed you, if you ran, he saw you. No win. So you had to get gone right away or blammo, no dice. And getting gone right away was pure guesswork (which way will he go?)

I sure felt a lot of this sneaking (in the Ellie bits) wasn’t so much sneaking as “hide here until someone is dumb enough to walk by, kill them, repeat. Wait. Juuuuuuust wait. Little longer. Any time now.”

Well, now we can transition to themey bits. I’m still mulling so bear with.

First: I saw a WOMAN! Well, heard one. And she mentioned CHILDREN! No, really! When Ellie tells David she’s infected and runs, she’s hiding and hears David tell someone with a woman’s voice “She’s infected, and she’s loose.” (woman, “Oh God, we’ll get to the shelters”) him “Take the children and seal it. We’ll come for you soon.”

So there ARE women and children!

So is this mirroring Ish? There, we saw Ish as mostly a hero, with serious streaks of a coward/killer. Here, we see David as a monster, but we get this one little glimpse of him with honest to God FEAR in his voice over the prospect of infected getting to “the children.” I give him that. He was scared for this woman and the kids. Different sides same coin?

But also, this whole bit is just extending Ellie’s coming of age. She’s NOT in there with the children. She’s out here in this mess. Adulthood. You wanted college, kid? Here ya go. No shelter for you.

And she does handle the physical bits rather well. It’s the emotional bits. Take the end. SHE kills David all by herself. Joel doesn’t come in guns a blazin’. I had to admit, I was worried there, when Ellie stabs David and it cuts back to Joel that it was time for the big brooding dude to do some saving, and it wasn’t (more on that later). She does it herself. But, she breaks down crying, hugs Joel, let’s him call her “baby girl” again, and then we get that most overused and frustrating narrative device, the “their lips are moving but you can’t hear what they’re saying.”

So here we have a young person who, like so many, are both ready and not for the real world. Equipped with skills, knives, chutzpah, but still, inside, young. Telling, too, that here we have the first real “sex” bit of the game (David tries to rape her), and, well, using that as a metaphor…wow. You grow up, you feel your oats, you kill some rabbits, and then you learn the world is going to try to fuck you and eat you up. Way to be literal, TLOU.

As for the Joel bits: They didn’t mean crap to the overall narrative and that was great. Seriously. Kill some dudes, torture them. Kill more dudes, go “oh, no.” That’s it. Which is great. Cuz those times, I kinda felt like Rambo. Bad assed. Because you’re used to Ellie, so now there’s these bits where you’re the shorty toting bomb chucking death dude, coming to the rescue, FEELING like you’re coming to the rescue….. and you’re not. Not really. It’s that juxtaposition of parents and teenagers: the parent strong, willful, and powerless to do a damn thing and the kid, not quite strong enough yet, still needing a hug, too big for the shelter.

Tough to watch.

I’ll ponder more.

Feminina:

I forgot about the woman! And the children!

This does cast an interesting new light on the situation, i.e., what happens to those women and children once Joel and Ellie have killed all the men and taken off?

Presumably they come out of the shelters at some point and find everyone dead. (Or they stay locked in until they eat each other and the last one starves to death, which I suppose would be the poetic ending.) But assuming they come out, do they carry on David’s cannibal fortress legacy, killing and eating strangers? And if so, do they try to recruit some more men to do the manly work of hunting and butchering strangers, or do they step up and take over themselves? (I assume from the fact that we saw no women out and about that the hunting is men’s work in the little society they’ve set up.)

I’m interested in how that conversation goes. “Hello, strange man! We kind of eat people? But if you act now, you can join us and eat people with us, instead of being eaten yourself! Take advantage of this limited-time offer before we shoot you! Because we’d really rather not shoot you, as we are ladies and prefer to leave the shooting of strangers to menfolk.”

Meh. I suppose David’s cannibal fortress had to have been pieced together originally by recruitment, so maybe they’ve got a script down. Presumably they try to recruit people they think can be useful members of society (like Ellie, initially), and kill and eat those that they think won’t fit in (like Ellie, eventually).

Anyway, I’m glad to see that at least women exist outside the cities.

Good themage re: Ellie’s extended coming of age, and Joel’s rescue that doesn’t really rescue, but does provide some comfort. I did appreciate that Ellie eventually killed David by herself and didn’t actually need rescuing, but still isn’t a hardened killer who just shrugs it off and moves on (which would have seemed unrealistic).

Butch:

You never know. You kill David, blackout, “spring.” At least not yet. I haven’t played to the point of a “Too bad we killed all those kids” dialog point. Not that there’ll be one.

It also makes David FAR more sympathetic.

There’s a sequel/DLC I’d play: The women and children only society. Abandoned by all the leadery crazy violent cannibal men, what do they do? Do they go just as savage? There’d be all sorts of themes there. Get on that, Buttons.

And I certainly think that “I’m here baby girl” being the last thing we hear (BABY GIRL!) is intentional. Is that a form of rescue? For all his bombs and guns, the way he really rescues her is with love and a hug and support? (Glad they didn’t have us press square to hug, or some shit).

Feminina:

Yeah, I would be interested in following up with The Real Housewives of Cannibal Fortress in a future installment. What became of them? How did they survive (if they survived)? Did they ever meet up with Ish and Susan for a crossover episode called “All the loose ends of TLOU”?

And it does make David more sympathetic. I mean, you already couldn’t totally fault him–at least, no more than you could fault anyone in this game. He does what he has to to survive, and that’s what everyone is doing. But if he does what he has to to keep children alive, well, that’s another story, and an interesting piece of the overall game theme of Failing the Children.

Because David WASN’T failing the children: he was keeping them fed and, apparently, safe from infected and other humans as dangerous as himself (unless he occasionally ate some of them…we have no idea what their lives were like). David was taking care of kids! He’s a hero!

Except…he failed them, I guess, by overreaching and messing with the wrong people. If he’d just left Joel and Ellie alone, told his guys “hey, these two are the protagonists, and no good can come of tangling with them: just let them pass through and we’ll go back to preying on whoever wanders by,” everything would have been fine.

Or, as fine as things are when you’re at the point that you’re killing humans for meat to survive. Presumably that’s not SUPER fine, since there’s not that much meat on a human compared to a whole group of other hungry humans, and he was pretty interested in that deer Ellie killed, so game must be scarce.

Probably they were all hovering on the verge of starvation. Joel and Ellie may have done the group as a whole a favor by thinning the ranks and getting rid of so many of those hungry mouths, while simultaneously providing a whole new supply of meat for the larder. The remaining population should be able to survive until spring on the corpses of the fallen, and maybe then they can work on putting in some gardens or something. Assuming the infected don’t get them.

You know what, I have a good feeling about this. I bet the brave women of Cannibal Fortress have a bright future ahead of them. I’m going to go ahead and picture a thriving community on this spot in years to come. Maybe they’ll trade with Tommy’s Dam.

And I like your thought that “baby girl” is a form of rescue. Joel rescues Ellie not by physically saving her, but by telling her that she still has a family, someone whose ‘baby’ she can be, someone who cares about her and wants to be with her and to keep her safe. David’s ‘family’ is a horror story, and David first offered it, then tried to force it on her, and finally just tried to kill her for it: Joel rescues her from that concept of family (perhaps based on utility: what use are you to the group?) with one that is based on the two of them just caring about each other. He rescues her by being human, rather than a monster, and reassuring her that she’s human too.

Even though, as we discuss, Joel was a monster on the way to reaching her, and David was actually human and trying to look out for the humans in his own group.

Butch:

Yup. Ironic, huh? David’s, as far as we know, the only one so far who has been successful at protecting children. Indeed, you are the one who brings failure upon him, that is, if his demise leads to the demise of his children. And the way they did that scene, or couple of lines, was great. He was genuinely afraid. All pretense of monster died away, and you saw what he was to his people. And, to him, you were the “crazy man who was traveling with a little girl.” His words. All relative.

Except YOU find him, really, it’s not him overreaching. You’re passing through his turf, killing his dudes.

And you see their situation in his ledger (his meat ledger). His tallies are decreasing, and, in the next to last entry “We have to do better.” He certainly doesn’t look all that healthy.

I mean, who DOES have it superfine? The world has kinda ended.

On the thriving community of women and children: You are setting new records for justification. Nicely done.

You reassure Ellie when she needs it. That comforting scene happens as she is covered in the blood of a man she has just hacked to death with a machete. Indeed, the game reminds you of that, as the last image you have before cut to black, Spring, isn’t the two of them leaving, it’s the handle of said machete, still shaking some, still, one infers, buried in David.

But we’ll never know what was said because of the lips moving not telling you device! Ah, that device.

David was trying to look out for his group of humans. Indeed, I think the combat in that last part was designed to make you feel rather monstrous. You cross a courtyard, heavily armed, while dudes armed with boards (which at this point in the game isn’t much) rush you, without cover, one by one. I mean, it’s a shooting gallery there. Which made you feel both strong and like a stone killer.

Feminina:

That’s right, I do remember the decreasing tallies from the meat ledger. Presumably they’d killed off everyone in easy hunting distance, and how many people really come wandering through the wilderness in the dead of winter anyway? No wonder they were so eager to attack when they found Joel and Ellie at the college. Not sure why David was so desperate to have Ellie join instead of become food, since you’d think he’d want to limit the number of new mouths to feed, but maybe he just can’t resist a new ‘wife’ or whatever the women are to him.

Which just goes to show that lust is the most deadly sin of all. Cannibalism isn’t even on the list.

And speaking of David being human, he was, until he wasn’t. I mean, at the end when he’s stalking Ellie around the burning building with a feverish look on his face, he’s just a monster. And I wonder if maybe this could also be seen as a cop-out, the way pulling back from the effects of Joel’s torture was.

I mean, David seemed pretty decent at first, and even later you could see where he was coming from (as we’ve just discussed at length), and then in the finale he just devolved into “murderous madman” chasing you around the restaurant. Which, I don’t know, maybe is to say that letting yourself get too emotionally involved in revenge is the wrong move (because what if he’d just walked out of the burning building and left Ellie there? What if he’d called off his men and they’d all gone to hang tight near the shelters until the storm was over?), but also it made it easy to say “well, he’s clearly evil and must die”.

Which he totally is and totally must, as presented, but it would have been more complicated if instead of making him basically a crazed cannibal cult leader, they’d let him stay rational and keep his own sense of “this is just what I have to do for the sake of my family.”

I feel like maybe they made sure he was a monster by the end so that you wouldn’t worry too much about having killed one of the only people you’ve encountered who’s actively trying to take care of kids. And maybe this was the easy way, narratively, but not necessarily the most interesting one.

Butch:

Well, one presumes they have some other food source. There’s also the idea that there are fewer and fewer people cuz of the infection. Not a growth industry, humans. I mean, he does say that he sent the people to the college to look for food.

You know, through the whole bit with sneaky Ellie, they’re ringing a bell. Isn’t that dumb re infected? Right? The noise thing?

Deadly sins: Whoa.

But then, considering that movie Seven, let’s be glad cannibalism isn’t on the list. Eww.

You know, I’d like to have an end of the world game that doesn’t have the obligatory cannibalism metaphor. Too easy. You know you’re going to see it at some point.

Going ranty was out of character for David. But then, you get the sense that he was going to kill Ellie at some point anyway. Certainly Joel. He did not like them very much. But yeah, it was like they thought “ok, chapter ending, must have boss fight.” It was a bit of a cop out. After all, if you’re going to have Ellie, who has some innocence left, do a boss fight, she can’t kill a sympathetic character, cuz that would completely rid her of all innocence. I mean, if she machetes a nice guy who’s trying to feed children and then it’s all “baby girl,” that would be sick.

A chapter must end with a climax. Death of Sam, Joel getting hurt, etc. Certainly, this was the weakest of the three. Where it IS cool the way this is made into chapters, it means they must end, and endings are hard.

You know, the more I think on this, the more I think (and maybe Buttons, you can shed some light on this if you’re alive) that this chapter was edited about a billion times. I can see the arguments around conference tables at Naughty Dog about the torture, the story arc, etc. It seemed a bit at odds with itself, and compromised somehow.

Also, this game is getting long. I mean, it’s already a big game technically (45 damn gigs), and it wouldn’t be out of the question that they got to some point and said “We gotta cut something or this’ll just be too much both narratively and technically,” and this chapter was what got it. The Sewers were too good, Summer and Fall had too much exposition. It just had that feel.

Feminina:

Yeah, true. The group was kind of screwed already. And presumably you don’t want to eat infected bodies, that seems like a straightforward route to immediate infection yourself.

Another way we could look at this, from an overall message standpoint, is that the game is saying that not taking care of kids means horrible failure, and taking care of kids means you have to be a monster. There’s no way to win, and the human race is doomed, because in the end, we cannot protect both our children and our humanity. Something has to give.

And on that cheery note, I’ll sign off.

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