The Last Of Us And BioShock: Infinite, Two Perfectly-(Over)Rated Games
Has there ever been a point in this year when you’ve looked at review scores for games coming out and thought, “Another one?!” as you gazed at the umpteenth perfect rating for a game that you’ve not yet played but now cannot possibly pass up, for the curiosity is so overwhelming now that you simply must know why it was rated as such or you’ll never sleep again?
This past week, I started and completed The Last of Us.
It isn’t the first perfect-rated game of the year. It might not be the last (of us), either. But I’ve been interested in acquiring and playing it ever since I first heard of the game. Okay that’s not entirely true. At first I was just put off by the amount of Sony fanboys at E3 2012 who were creaming their pants over the game but afterwards, I started to take an interest in it. Around the time of the game’s release, I watched this video of Ellie and from that point onwards, my mind was entirely made up. I would play The Last of Us. And I would be the judge of how perfect it really is.
Again, that’s not entirely true. I wanted to play it for Ellie, and for Joel, and for that sort of unique relationship that actually wasn’t that unique for games this year since BioShock: Infinite pulled a similar sort of ‘protectagonist’ role (I made it up, bite me) only a few months prior. It was interesting enough that I wanted to experience more of it, and the fact that it was rated perfect by so many different websites was just a thing that happened to also be true.
It’s weird. Now that I’ve finished it, I am convinced that the game is not perfect. There were some glaring issues with it, and yet every person that I’ve talked to about my experiences with the game has vehemently denied that I’ve had said experiences with the game. As if I’ve made these up, or imagined them. As if I’ve lied about what I’ve played. As if I cannot possibly be speaking the truth because the truth is obviously that The Last of Us is a perfect game, nay, Game of the Year. I’ve had people trying to convince me that my experiences were not actually my experiences, that they were just misrepresentations.
When did we become so defensive of our opinions that the moment someone else has a conflicting opinion, they’re not only wrong but obviously deluded, so we must correct them and set them on the right track?
Now I understand that this is gamer culture and the moment anyone presents an opinion that is different to your own, they’re obviously wrong and fuck them and their entire family tree. I get that much, I promise. But the response to my opinions surrounding The Last of Us has been overwhelmingly negative. At best, I’m met with mild interest but at worst, I’ve been called “unhealthy” in my criticisms.
I’m sorry, what?
There is another article that I’ve got lined up for some time soon, in which I’d like to talk about the differences between critics, reviewers and gamers. For now, however, just know that I find being critical of a game to be healthy. Admittedly, I am somewhat more critical of a game if I know that it’s been rated highly, and I’m somewhat less inclined to be critical of a game I know to be mediocre. Sometimes there are outliers but for the most part, I like to go against the grain just to see if the grain is really worth its weight in critique. There are times when ratings have been absolutely spot-on. And there are times such as these, when that hasn’t quite been the case.
Very quickly, my issues with The Last of Us are as follows: The AI is buggy, often getting stuck in tight spaces, making it impossible to properly navigate these areas; The AI also has a knack for getting me caught while stealthing through areas, mostly because they push over objects that cause alerts to enemies; There was one situation when a certain AI character walked into a clicker and got attacked by it, causing all infected in the area to run to me since they usually ignore AI characters; There were at least two points in the game when I walked right up to an enemy AI and they did absolutely nothing; The epilogue of the game feels somewhat dissonant, alienating the character of Joel, showing a different side to him that wasn’t present throughout the rest of the game.
Apart from that, I felt that the story, while not unpredictable, was still very well presented; I felt that the visuals were breathtaking, even if the jagged edges were a bit upsetting at times; I felt that the level design was absolutely brilliant throughout; and I genuinely felt a sense of variation and choice with regards to different encounters and ways to go about those encounters. Did it do anything special? Arguable. But for what was essentially Escort Mission: The Game, I felt that it performed superbly. However, and here’s the key factor, was it a ten-out-of-ten game? Son, you’re out of your fucking mind.
There’s another game this year that I felt was overrated. We all know it by now, yes? If not, and I’m sorry that it’s taken this long to get out my article about exactly why (it’s coming, I promise), it’s BioShock: Infinite, a game that I wholly adored and appreciated for treating me like a grown-ass man, but one that I’m convinced is by no means perfect. And it, too, was given perfect ratings by the truckload.
What is up with the gaming industry these days? What is up with gamers, actually?
I’m not saying that these games are not great. By no means am I saying that. In fact, I quite enjoyed both of them, for different reasons. I loved the Luteces in BioShock: Infinite, who dared to introduce quantum mechanics in an intellectually stimulating way. I loved Ellie in The Last of Us, who dared to call people “chicken-shit motherfucker” while stabbing them in the neck with a knife. These, together with GTA V, are currently the biggest contenders for Game of the Year thus far.
And yet, how much of these games can be found in other games? How much has any of them done that differently? How many flaws do each of them possess? I know it might seem nitpicky and to some extent, it is, but when did our standards become so low that we’d just hand out the perfect scores like that? And I know I say this having called Grand Theft Auto V the perfect GTA title in my review, but you know what? I also said that it is by no means a perfect game. In fact, the world has long since outgrown GTA titles. Yes, Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto are still extremely fun games, but they’re not going to win GotY awards… actually GTA V might get a few shouts.
As far as I’m concerned, we could have shot a little higher this year, and produced some even more excellent offerings. When I look back at the year of games, I see DmC: Devil May Cry, which is a painfully underrated, at-times-unnecessarily-hated game, I see Crysis 3 and Dead Space 3, which did some great stuff but were never really about shaking up the system, I see BioShock: Infinite, which was basically a museum-piece of a game that was saved by its foray into physical science, I see Tomb Raider, which tried to present a strong-but-weak female protagonist, I see a few other games which I guess were entertaining enough to be worthy games, and then I see The Last of Us, which was the first real sign of something different… if only it had released a year earlier, when The Walking Dead wasn’t yet a thing.
The big hitters, as you might call them, are just not hitting that hard for me. Maybe I’m reading too much into the fact that they’ve received perfect ratings. After all, a game can be imperfect and still be perfectly rated. We’ve seen as much in the past with games the likes of Skyrim, The Walking Dead and Journey. But no. It’s not that, as far as I’m concerned. Rating systems are broken, anyway. It’s that the flaws are glaring and not just ‘worth noting’ or ‘easily overlooked’. How can buggy AI ever be overlooked? I heard that the developers came right out and said that the AI was coded to be ignored by enemies to make it easier on the player, in The Last of Us. Why couldn’t they just code AI to hang back during stealth sections, or accept orders to wait and go? It’s a lazy excuse that we should not take. And as for Infinite, all of Columbia was a tapestry but it was a look-but-don’t-touch set design rather than a living, breathing world, the way Rapture was. You had no real effect on the world. Stepping through tears meant that someone else already created the effect that you thought was your doing. It’s complex and I’ll get into it another time, but it was a criticism that could not be ignored.
When I look at these games, I see some really great offerings. Don’t for a second assume that I don’t. I just question when gamers stopped caring about progression and innovation and doing different things in unique ways, and started accepting something ‘close enough’ as perfection. Are you really telling me that there is no way that BioShock: Infinite or The Last of Us could be improved? I just mentioned ways for both of them in the previous paragraph, in case you missed it.
We’ll pick this up again in that article I mentioned, about critics, reviewers and gamers. But for now, I hope we can get a discussion going on all of this. I really would like to know how you all feel about it. At the very least, perhaps consider the things I’ve said before you all attack me. I really do still enjoy both these games. I’m just not blinding myself to their flaws and slapping a perfect rating onto them.