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Very minor spoilers for the heist-y bit of Uncharted 4 (spoiler: there’s a heist-y bit in Uncharted 4!)

Butch:

Ok, Sam just grabbed the cross and I’m back outside.

Everything about that level made me smile. That was just shameless make you smile gaming. Wonderfully done, smile gaming. I got nothing on deep themes, and I don’t care. That was tense, fun, and made the player feel supercool.

As for tense, it’s pretty amazing that, after playing 3+ of these in a row, it still doesn’t get through my irrational head that shit isn’t timed. I know full well that (with a couple exceptions) that I’m going to have time to find the thing I’ll need to smash open the door. And yet, as I hear the bidding, and Sully going “C’mon, kid” I FEEL like I need to go go go. And I KNOW I don’t!

Can we agree Sully is pretty much totally awesome?

Feminina:

It was a good “I am so cool” level. A fun change from the shooty action. Games should have more fancy dress balls and more clever heists.

There’s a heist in the Witcher 3 Hearts of Stone expansion! Just FYI. Also a fancy dress auction that’s basically a ball. Also gwent.

I often feel the need to hurry even when I don’t really need to hurry, too. A sign of engagement with the story, in which some sense of urgency is certainly warranted.

I like to internally argue that even when I don’t hurry in a situation where urgency is warranted (say, an auction is about to start), it’s because I’m really hurrying all the time. I mean, it takes me 30 seconds to dash down that side tunnel and look for treasure. I am FAST. Even when I’m not in a hurry I’m running (unless I’m playing some nameless game with no possible option to sprint or move faster in any way or with any button…hey, did you ever finish Grim Fandango?), so that allows me to save up some time which I can then spend on exploring even if the clock is ticking. It’s almost like logic, this argument.

Butch:

Man, they so should have more heists. What is it about heists that are inherently cool? We should not think they are inherently cool. We are moral people, we are. Good people. Parents who are teaching our children well. Heists are, by definition, stealing, something we do not condone.

But they’re SO COOL. I’ve always been a sucker for a good heist.

As for the Witcher 3 expansions: Sold. I want to do those very much. Need to play. MUST. PLAY.

The unwarranted sense of urgency is a good sign of engagement. But it’s interesting that ND doesn’t see the need to put an actual gameplay element in there. I don’t think you could fail. I wonder what would have happened if we just sat there a while. Would we have failed? I doubt it. The only two times I think there was a fail point on time, that I’ve seen, was sliding down the bridge trying to shoot the yeti off Chloe, and shooting Talbot when he was trying to kill Sully (cuz I failed at each once). But things like breaking out of prison? I don’t think so. Other games, Assassin’s Creed comes to mind, you would have failed if you waited too long. Started over. The rush was from actual gameplay. I like ND’s way better. But you have to trust your own storytelling.

So you’re sprinting in games with no sprint button, but never finished Grim Fandango.

Your input is kaput.

I’ve given up on treasures. And there seem to be things called “journal entries” (cuz there’s a trophy for them) and I have not a one.

Feminina:

Hey, heists are (at least potentially, depending on how it all shakes out) more moral than all the casual murdering we do in video games. We’re trying to be BETTER people, by taking our criminal activities down a notch.

I think heists are cool because they are (at least in movies/games/books) clever and complicated, and we like to watch clever, complicated plans unfold. Perhaps that’s why they’re less common in games than the pure action of casual murder…I imagine it’s tough to

a) write a clever complicated heist in the first place, and

b) render it in game terms so that it engages the player.

Tougher, at any rate, than it is to write another shoot-fest in a cool environment. (Not dissing a shoot-fest in a cool environment. I dig those too.)

A lot of the action of a heist story is the kind of trying-not-to-be-noticed stuff–sneaking around, looking at plans, stealing preliminary pieces, talking out the details with colleagues, hacking safes, whatever–that can be a lot of fun, but doesn’t have the immediate “I’m IN this action” hook of a combat sequence. I personally love that change of pace, but I can see it being a lot of work, and in some games it probably seems like too much effort for a somewhat iffy return (what if people hate the sneaking?).

Also, and perhaps more to the point, I think there’s a way that the player can feel responsible for the action in combat–I just shot that dude!–that we can’t feel responsible for the planning involved in a heist. There’s all this intellectual work that goes into a heist that has to be basically exposition, and as you were just saying recently, good exposition is hard. The game can’t ask the player to actually come up with a whole clever heist plan on their own: that would require way too much information about all the variables in the environment, and honestly a lot of people would find it frustrating and give up. Most critically, it would no longer be an action game, it would be a heist-planning puzzle game (which could be fun, but would not be Uncharted).

So the game has to give us the plan already formed (and thus something we don’t automatically care about since we weren’t involved in it even though our character was), and then somehow engage us in carrying it out, even when the steps involved in carrying it out are less immediately involving than they would be if we had a simpler “go place, fight dudes” mission. Writing a clever heist that has enough meaningful things for the player to do that the player feels involved in the heist story is probably tough.

Therefore, very fun when you do see it.

And hey, DID you get around to finishing Grim Fandango? Because you should totally have written a thoughtful exploration of it for the blog. You’re falling down on the job.

Butch:

Fair point re: heists and morality.

But remember, I started out earlier in gaming, when things were not quite as criminal. I mean, Frogger was basically jaywalking and Pac Man was, at best, gluttony, which is just a sin, not a crime.

I’m coming full circle.

As for making an all-heist game, it wouldn’t be Uncharted, no, but it can be done. Witcher contracts were something similar. It wasn’t just Geralt going “Hmm….now I’ll say out loud that I should use strong attacks and moon dust, and now I’ll let whoever is controlling me do it.” The player had to do some stuff. Not really elaborate stuff, but we gotta start somewhere.

It is fun when you see it, and it works. And it ALWAYS helps when you’re doing it with supercool dudes. All heist dudes are supercool. I was thinking of “The Sting,” with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and realized you don’t have to squint all that much to see Paul Newman in Sully. And he was cool. Made great salad dressing, too.

It’s funny we’re talking on this and players giving up because I did hear that Naughty Dog took some shit on the webs from fans who were complaining that it didn’t get “gamey” fast enough. I mentioned back in 3 that we went a whole 9% before getting a gun and shooting all sorts of shit and that was a long time in game land. Here, I don’t know exactly, but it’s more than 9% (no percentage clock, boo) and STILL no prolonged shooty shooty. Some people didn’t dig that. ND’s reaction was to shrug, point at the reviews and sales numbers, and move on.

Though it is interesting, the placement. I mean, narrative is narrative, and this fits, so hooray. But usually the ball/party/heist/thing that isn’t combat isn’t so soon. It’s in the second or third act. Usually second. DAI? TW3? We had killed all SORTS of shit before we went to the ball. Indeed, those balls were similar to the “You’re weak now” moments we’ve talked about in games, that come in the second or third act. Pretty unique to see it in the first act. And unique, as always, pisses off some people.

But screw ’em, they’re wrong, we’re right.

Of COURSE I finished Grim Fandango. Quickly, as I sprinted the whole time. And I’m NOT going to explain it, because someday you WILL play it.

Feminina:

It’s true, Sully IS Paul Newman! I don’t know how I never noticed it before. I guess I just haven’t seen any Paul Newman vehicles in a while (although I do drink his green tea), so he’s not at the front of my mind.

This whole game felt a bit less shooty than the others. Fine by me since I like all the other stuff they did instead, but I can see it being a bit disconcerting for people expecting more straight up murdering action. I really enjoyed the sneaking and pocket picking and so on, though, so I barely missed the firefights (of which there are still plenty).

Dude, I don’t need you to explain Grim Fandango to ME. That ship has sailed. I’ve moved on. Sprinted, even. You just should have given our faithful readers a few pithy thoughts on its narrative or sprinting power or whatever. They were counting on you, after my abject failure.

Butch:

Sully = Newman. I mean, once you see it, you see it.

This game WAS probably tough for those wanting more straight up murdering, and fewer cutscenes. I mean, ND does love it some cutscenes. Some people don’t like them. I like them. But there are long phases of this where you can pretty much put the controller down.

One thing about them, they’ve done an amazing job of transitioning out of the cutscenes. Amazing editing. There’s none of that flicker of black screen and a jump cut we’re so used to. It’s nice.

For Grim Fandango…The moment is lost. Most of them have probably already played it. It was before your time. They understand.

I’ll just say: It ended with a kiss. How is that possible? They don’t have lips.

There’s your pithy.

Feminina:

Lipless kissing. Pithy, thought-provoking, faintly disturbing…see, that’s all we needed!

They did do a good job with the transitions. There were moments when I wasn’t sure if I needed to start doing something or not, so Drake would just stand there pondering for a bit until I caught on.

Although he does tend to fall into his little slightly crouched action stance once you have the controller, which is a helpful hint.

Oh, speaking of this, you mentioned the occasional dialogue choices a bit ago and then we lost that thread…I like them OK, although I suspect that they’re a bit of a “give the player something to do in this long cutscene” tactic. They do give you a little bit of a choice to find out more about the characters or just move on, but they clearly don’t have any impact on the course or outcome of the game. I’m basically neutral–they were fine. Not necessary, not a bad addition.

Butch:

You asked for the pithy, dude. I can’t be responsible for the disturbing.

If I remember correctly, The Last of Us had some if those “hey wake up! People worked hard on this cutscene” moments. Which is sort of ok, but, in the end, unnecessary.

Though important. For some reason, this game doesn’t, in the main menu, give you the chance to replay cutscenes. I had that in the first three and it was handy.

How else am I going to get good pics of Chloe?

Feminina:

This is probably why there’s no Chloe in this one. They couldn’t break your heart.

I also kind of wanted a “replay chapter” button so I could go back and look for treasures I missed, but oh well.

Butch:

Nah. There’s no Chloe cuz they know I’d abandon the story and spend hours picking her pocket.

If you know what I mean.

Feminina:

Cue Marge Simpson: I don’t, but I loved hearing it!

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