The Last of Us EP31: This is a Lot of Zombies

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Dec 17, 2014

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 64 comments

Link (YouTube)

I need to draw a line between my various nitpicks. On one side we’ve got my usual bellyaching about logic and too much shooting. This section where we fight zombies with David is like that. It doesn’t make sense for there to be this many zombies, it doesn’t make sense that they haven’t frozen solid, they shouldn’t stage a coordinated assault like this, and the whole section drags on about twice a long as it needs to. Meh. That kinda sucks, but it doesn’t ruin the game. Even if you’re sick of the combat at this point, the damage is contained locally and when the fight is over you can go back to enjoying whatever it is you like.

In contrast, the raider fights are a disaster. This is the place where the oil-and-water approach to game design is most evident and most damaging to the whole. As I’ve said before, I watched this game as a movie on YouTube, and I thought this scene with David was fantastic. It was tense, nerve-wracking, and even a little scary.

But now I’ve watched the chapter as part of the game, and it’s a completely different experience.

David is no longer a desperate man, doing what needs to be done to survive. He’s the leader of a vast army of videogame mooks who have no will, reason, or survival instinct. In the movie The Last of Us, you fight three or four guys in a chance encounter. In the game The Last of Us, you kill endless waves of them everywhere you go. In the movie David is the leader of a small group, possibly just a couple of families. In the game there must hundreds of these idiots.

In the movie, David’s efforts to support the group through (spoiler) cannibalism sort of makes sense, because hunting is hard and bullets are few. In the game they have an army of guys and millions of bullets, which should make it easier to hunt for game and impossible to get enough human meat to feed everyone. Moreover, after Ellie blows away twenty of them, they should have all the meat they need to get through winter. (Don’t tell me these guys are willing to kill dangerous children for food but get squeamish eating one of their own easily-available fallen. If their hunger let them get over killing kids and cannibalism, then it will do the same for eating their comrades.)

This isn’t just oil and water. This is orange juice and toothpaste. These parts do not fit together and the need for long shooting encounters actively undermines the emotional heft of this story. Even more tragic is seeing a story this stellar hurt by combat this rote.

The trick here is that the zombies can be hand-waved a little easier than the raiders. We’re not talking to the zombies. The game isn’t trying to show us that the zombies are people too, and they’re just doing what they need to do to survive. The zombies can be dumb, ineffectual, and two-dimensional because they’re zombies. But the game is asking us to accept David’s group as both a community of human beings and as a collection of filler mooks, and that can’t work. We can’t hand-wave these guys because the game is constantly drawing attention to them and their “society” and asking us to think about the world from their point of view.

This is going to be a rough week. I agree with Chris that this is the low point of the game. Buckle up.


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64 thoughts on “The Last of Us EP31: This is a Lot of Zombies

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Dont feel bad Chris.I laughed at your two furs joke.

    1. Tizzy says:

      I still don’t get it…

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Far cry 4.For some reason,shooting an animal in the head with a single bullet gives you 1 skin from it,but pincushioning it with a dozen arrows counts as a clean kill,so you get 2 skins from it.

  2. James says:

    Personally, I think the real reason we get so many clickers or raiders fighting isn’t because it’s the easy thing to do (even though it is) – it’s because it’s cheap.

    Producing those tender, heartfelt moments between characters is expensive, and they last maybe, two minutes or so? While if you throw ~50 raiders/clickers at the player, in recycled cut+paste, chest-high environments, that’ll last you a good 20 minutes.

    Maybe they were scared of asking players to spend $60 on a game with a third of the runtime, but much better pacing. You saw how the internet reacted to Gone Home’s price tag compared to it’s length, and that was for a small indie title. Do you think The Last of Us could have been as successful if people knew it was only 6-10 hours long, instead of the 16-20 it is currently?

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      I find people’s price tags on entertainment interesting. My friend put everything in terms of movies. He’d pay $15 for a two-hour movie (that’s how much a new feature cost in a Canadian multiplex at the time), so a $60 game had to provide at least 8 hours of entertainment. If he found a game in the bargain bin for $30, then if he got 4 hours of amusement from it, it was worth it.

      On the other hand, I’ll rarely pay much more than $10-15 for a novel, and that’ll take me at least 6 hours to read.

      1. Tulgey Logger says:

        Just yesterday I got the game Gunpoint through the Humble Bundle thing for about five dollars, and then spent five hours playing through it. It’s a good game, but it almost feels like a bad value for my money, as one of my favorite games, Red Rogue, is completely free, and I probably spent twenty hours playing that game overall. On the other hand I spent about thirty dollars backing Rimworld a year ago and have been playing it ever since, so my hours-per-dollars ratio is probably approaching penny levels right now. In contrast, I know of a theater where I can pay about four dollars for a 2-3 hour movie, but the valuation is different because it’s an ensemble experience (of technology and atmosphere) that I would have to spend hundreds of dollars to approach, so four dollars feels dirt cheap to me.

      2. Tizzy says:

        I fins this funny because I value my time at least as much as my dollars. Too much filler in a game and I won’t buy. There is already a bigger volume of interesting entertainments than what I can consume.

        1. Felblood says:

          There was a time when this attitude made you into what they called a “Premium gamer”. That is, a gamer who will pay more for less hours of content if he can get all of his content compressed into a few short hours. Then Free 2 Plod Games came along and ruined the term forever.

          I would argue that respecting the users time is one of the things that allowed the mobile market to grow so large, that it now feels like it can disrespect consumers in all sorts of ways.

    2. Humanoid says:

      Is it really only a 16-20 hour title? I know nothing about the game other than what’s been covered in Spoiler Warning, and it’s getting to the part where I’m thinking it’s going to be the longest season yet.

      Folks who’ve played the game: reckon there’s any chance this might break the 55-episode mark set by New Vegas? Because when the season started I wouldn’t even have imagined that it’d come anywhere close, I was expecting something Tomb Raider or AC2 length.

      1. Double H says:

        It’s about 15 hours long and the Left Behind DLC is about 2 and a half.

        I’m gonna guess that this season is going to be 47 episodes.

      2. Feriority says:

        There’s four seasons – summer, fall, winter, and spring – and summer is the longest by a fair bit, so just by starting winter we’re a pretty good way past the halfway mark. Consider that we just had a bunch of DLC episodes, too – I’d expect another 20 episodes on the outside.

    3. Patrick says:

      I will preface this by saying that I have never played the last of us so have no idea how the game feels and also am not quoting any specific statement by the developers. That being said I it was Chris I believe who pointed out that the game felt fun to play.I don’t think the constant barrage of clickers and raiders is because they decided that would be cheaper.They did so because they thought that more shooty bits would be more fun. Naughty dog was designing a game first and a story second. Therefore they made a third person stealth/shooter game and then they made a story around it. I’m not saying that they didn’t think about the story beforehand. I’m saying that most likely to Naughty Dog (like most big developers) the story was of secondary importance to the game play.

      1. Tizzy says:

        “Naughty dog was designing a game first and a story second. ”

        Not convinced. It’s a pretty intricate story, I find it hard to imagine it came in tacked on at the end…

        1. Sorites says:

          I’m pretty convinced. If they’d written the story first and then tacked on some gameplay, they wouldn’t have tacked on gameplay that crippled the story.

          1. Tizzy says:

            There is in your comment the implication that there is one or two people making all the decision for the game. Or one team where everyone is exactly on the same page.

            In the ral world, that’s not how it goes.

          2. Thomas says:

            As a counter-point to that idea, the gameplay has been design to convey the tone of the story.

            Every weapon hit and every gunshot has been designed to feel brutal, the systems encourage messy encounters with lots of improvisation on struggling for every life and death moment.

            Everything degrades, there’s not a thing you can do in a fight that won’t cost resources which in turn sends you to scavenge more.

            There’s a lot of mechanics designed to make you run away and hide. If you runaway and duck under cover the enemy lose sight of you and begin searching. If you run straight towards an enemy they shoot you and knock you off your feat.

            It’s not designed to be empowering and it feels like a real struggle to survive and also highlights Joel’s vicious ‘my survival warrants any method’ approach.

            All in all, it’s impossible to believe they didn’t design the gameplay with the story in mind. The only thing that doesn’t work is the level design of that gameplay and the frequency, decisions made at the end of development

          3. Matt Downie says:

            With LA Noire they started out making a game about realistic crime investigation, and then tacked on some scenes with hundreds of bad guys for you to shoot, because the publishers thought that would be more popular.

            But it doesn’t need publisher intervention. Typically, in game development, you have level designers who are responsible for deciding how many bad guys you have to fight, and story-writers who work separately. The final game is a compromise between different visions. The level designers are probably saying to themselves, “Stupid writers – why can’t they come up with a story to properly explain why you have to shoot dozens of people?”

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its a really crappy way to gauge entertainment.I mean,imagine this thought process:
      “You can watch the wrath of khan in just two hours,but it will take you days to get through star trek enterprise.Therefore,enterprise is a superior project.Every star trek work from now on has to have lengthy decontamination erotic scenes,because those are clearly what make the project work the best.”

      1. I think the comparison assumes a generally positive experience while the media is providing entertainment. A DVD of Wrath of Khan and Insurrection might cost the same amount of money and have comparable run times, but I’d only use one of those as measuring time spent being actually entertained.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Sure,but less of a really enjoying time is better than plethora of somewhat enjoying time.Id rather watch 2 hours of matrix 1 that Ive enjoyed from start to finish than 4 hours of matrix 2 and 3 that Ive enjoyed maybe a fifth of.

          Then theres also the contrast.Contrast between good bits and average or bad bits can drag the whole experience down if its especially jarring.The contrast between the story and combat in this game is huge.Compare that to something like tom braider where the characters,while above average overall,were not nearly as good as here,which makes the contrast between combat and story in that game lesser.

          1. Tizzy says:

            Given that I have played Tom Braider and not played Last of Us, it’s very difficult to imagine which of the two overstayed their welcome, as in, how much past the initial goodwill built by the game do you have to play to reach the end.
            But oh bot, neither of those look good in that department.

            And bear in mind that I really enjoyed the game I did play and I really wish (still!) that I could have played the other one…

  3. Joe Informatico says:

    ~6:40: There’s that movie trope where you can hold a nocked arrow on someone like it’s a loaded gun. It takes a lot of strength just to pull the string back–holding it tires you out really fast. There’s no way she could hold a bow with enough draw weight to take down a deer for 2 minutes like that. Maybe if she had some kind of modern setup with pulleys Ellie could do it, but not with the bow she has.

    1. ehlijen says:

      I wouldn’t say no way, but once you throw in the checklist of
      -small teen girl
      -freezing winter
      -moving around on uneven ground while trying to be silent
      it does indeed become laughably implausible.

      But then again, as far as games go pulling back the string is the equivalent of looking through the scope, and you can do that all day while walking through the woods, right?

    2. Feriority says:

      The game actually plays with this – drawing an arrow causes the controller to start vibrating, and the vibration gets worse as you hold the arrow. Obviously you can’t feel the actual strain and tension, but it does evoke a similar shakiness you would normally get because of that tension.

      Naturally, though, once we’re in cutscene land everything goes out the window.

      1. You’re saying cutscenes are the Defenestrator?

  4. silver Harloe says:

    ‘oil-and-watch’? Is that a joke I’m not getting, or an advanced typo for oil-and-water? Later you use ‘oil and water’. Which raises the additional question, “should it have hyphens or not?”

    1. Shamus says:

      Fixed. I have no idea about the hyphens. I usually use them if the sentence is confusing without them. Like:

      “This game suffers from fridge logic and oil and water design.”

      What? It suffers from fridge logic and oil? Oh, I see.

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        I secretly believe that nobody, not even the people who codified the rules of modern English, understand when one is supposed to use hyphens and one is not.

        1. Dasick says:

          The oxford comma would come in great here. This sort of confusion makes sense because they were codifying an already existent, largely inconsistent system that borrows heavily from a number of other languages.

          1. Dasick says:

            Crap wrong email address

        2. Purple Library Guy says:

          Well, it’s like the pirates’ code really. A lot of them aren’t so much rules as . . . guidelines. There’s a lot of things where you can do it more than one way and it will be right, just stylistically different.

          1. Felblood says:

            Whut chu talkin’ ’bout?

        3. Dan Efran says:

          Actually it’s simple. When you use a phrase as a cooked-up adjective, usually directly preceding what it describes, you hyphenate: “oil-and-water design”; “cooked-up adjective”. Anywhere else, you leave it alone: “The story and gameplay are oil and water.”; “I cooked up an adjective.” (But notice “The design is oil-and-water.” because it’s there an adjective again, referring to “design” even though it follows it…a bit more confusing, but still the same rule.)

      2. Chris Robertson says:

        On the subject of typos…

        they shouldn't stage a coordinated like this

        I think you a word here. Unless it’s possible to coordinate a “like this”. Maybe that’s how the zombies avoid freezing.

  5. tmtvl says:

    Is it just me, or has embedding youtube video’s not been working properly for a while now?

    1. silver Harloe says:

      It’s probably not just you, but I’m guessing you’re in a smallish subset of people? That’s pure conjecture based on the astounding single data point of “it works for me.”

    2. Evilmrhenry says:

      Do you have flashblock and Firefox 34+? If so, that *still* doesn’t work right.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Yep, that did it, now to try to get Shumway to behave.

  6. Ithilanor says:

    Worse than Pittsburgh, even? Yeah, this is going to be rough. At least we’ve got Mumbles to help us out!

  7. Phrozenflame500 says:

    *nasally voice* Well TECHNICALLY Josh he’s actually an ephebophile and not a pedophile because she’s an adolescent and not a child and that makes it grah blarg blah

    But yeah, the idea that there’s an organized band of raiders that the two consistently and conveniently run into multiple times is definitely one of the the most tenuously believable parts of this game. It’s just such an incredibly contrived conflict.

    1. ephebophile? Possible as it may be difficult to judge by looks only if it’s ephebophile or hebephilia (and who the hell comes up with these weird terms).

      Anyway, ephebophile (aka jailbait I guess? depending on the country, even today.) or having reached puberty was in the olden days a sign of maturity and it was time to get that daughter/song married away to someone (preferably someone that had a lot of sheep or cattle or a lot of land).

      There is still the custom of arranged marriage as soon as 15 years in some countries. Hmm I seem to recall a game Rutskarn was a writer on touched on that subject.

      Also note that while society has evolved the human body has not so much. We live longer for various reason (diet, health care, environment, clothes, no danger from animals etc.)
      If the body kept up with society then puberty would start at 20 and end at 30 as today many do not settle down until their late 20s. And it’s not unheard of that a 50 year old has a teenage kid, while in the olden days that would be the equivalent of a 90 year old having a teenage kid today, which is rare.

      Also remember that this is the zombie apocalypse so all sense of social norms or even socially indoctrinated morale standards are suddenly thrown out the window.

      Then again as Shamus’ tirade written in the post show, logic itself is thrown out the window and people ave no idea how to live/survive properly at all.
      But then the though hit me that… who knows…maybe people would act stupid in such an apocalyptic world.

      “Traveler 1: Hey, why are there no raiders in the towns along this coast?”
      “Traveler 2: Well, I heard a story that a brutish man and a sneaky girl traveled through the cities and killed all the raiders, it’s like a local horror story parents tell their kids so they’ll behave, so who knows if there’s any truth to that at all.”

      Maybe Last of US would have benefited by a Fallout’ish narrated epilog thing.
      And damnit, now I want to play Fallout 34 and New Vegas again *sigh.*

  8. SpiritBearr says:

    Wait so the guy that the game makes you hold yourself out on is voiced by Nolan North and that guy is a cannibal and rapist? They managed to make Nolan North have a more horrible character than the Nazi he plays in Nazi Zombies and still have him doing the same thing.

  9. Some_Jackass says:

    “It’s over 9000!” Fit better with the lips when they dubbed Vegeta’s line…at least that’s the official explanation…

  10. newdarkcloud says:

    I don’t the game ever outright states whether or not those raiders at the university belong to David’s group or not. Personally, I don’t think they are. As you note, it doesn’t make sense for them to be.

    It is a shame how it can be hard to tell, since every raider looks, acts, and feels the exact same. (And how most of them could be, and probably should have been, replaced by zombies.) The raiders in Pittsburg, in Colorado, and at the University might as well have all been the same group for the way they act. We only really know David’s group well because the game’s story allows us to.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Wait a second. They *know* about the existence of Joel (not yet in this episode, but the next one) and that he is wounded. They have to be the same raiders.

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        I always assumed, in my head, that these people were guys that Ellie pissed off at some point between Joel getting injured at University, and this point in the game.

        In hindsight, that doesn’t make any sense.

        1. Thomas says:

          I’m 90% certain they’re the same. If no-one literally says “I was at the university and saw you” they say everything but that (and I’m not surprised at all if they mention the actual university. I feel like they might)

    2. Grudgeal says:

      Oh, so they all look the same to you eh? That’s raidsist.

    3. Feriority says:

      Pretty sure one of them says outright that you killed a bunch of them in the university while they were scouting for supplies. They don’t mention the mall, but those guys were clearly tracking you from the university.

  11. Daniel England says:

    I watched last episode and thought “Wow, this game is incredible. Four people are blathering over this scene and it is still making me cry! I really need to pick it up and play through it myself.”
    Then I watched this episode and I remembered why I never bought this game.

  12. Tizzy says:

    Given Josh’s record with the bow so far, persistence hunting us the way to go for Ellie…

    1. newdarkcloud says:

      It’s funny because I recall having a much easier time hunting the deer. I’d just sneak to a fair distance an pop one into it’s ass.

  13. AJax says:

    Welcome to the worst part of the entire game!

    I praised this game’s combat and encounter design before but I really have to hand to this level for being just pure tedium. TLOU’s combat is at its best when engaging in cat & mouse style back and forth combat with the enemy AI. E.g Headshot two guys then immediately hide confusing the enemy of your tracks.

    This wave-based crap doesn’t gel at all because the areas you are in are so cramped and small, it’s really hard to predict where they’re coming from and effectively hide from them.

    Eh, we still have a lot of Winter left but it’ll get better after that.

  14. Ivan says:

    While that was a ridiculous amount of zombies, I found it much easier to accept than the raiders of last episode. I mean, if you’re going to set your game 20 years after the outbreak then you pretty much have to ignore entropy, and after you do that, the hordes are much more believable.

    Bandits on the other-hand are much more complicated, needing motivation and the fact that banditry won’t support such large numbers in such a sparely populated area.

    In both cases though I think the game would benefit greatly from a less is more approach. Make the encounters much higher stakes and probably have a much greater emphasis on stealth and avoiding your foe. Drawing out the encounter to make it long enough to fit the pre-determined length is also more doable with stealth focused encounters.

    Ah well, mainly I just wish that I wasn’t starting to like this game, cause it’s getting to the point where I almost want to play it but all the shooting just looks like it ruins so much. Maybe it’s more tolerable if I were playing it though and I wouldn’t notice how many people I was killing.

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Because I will never ever ever get a twitter account:
    “While Hollywood is rebooting everything, they should do a mulligan of Last Action hero. That shoulda been the “Galaxy Quest” of 80’s action.”

    21 jump street and 22 jump street make this unnecessary.They are basically all the tropes of modern action movies and comedies presented in a laugh out loud manner(vietnamese jesus ef tee double vee).

  16. Grudgeal says:

    Quite amazing, really, how those zombie attacks always seem to save the big lonely boss zombies for last. Wonder how long they trained to get that level of coordination.

    1. newdarkcloud says:

      Video Game Zombie Rule #253: All zombies are bound to the Rule of Dramatic Effect. This is, they will only act in a way that best drives a given combat scenario forward.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        Oh I don’t know, they’ve certainly ruined a lot of the story’s dramatic effect with this pointless interlude…

  17. guy says:

    On the names thing, I gathered from the poster that “Bloater” is in fact the official military reporting name for that form. However, these raiders obviously aren’t living in a military quarantine zone, and everything probably fell apart entirely before the first Bloaters showed up, so they wouldn’t have heard that name. Meanwhile, they do use Clicker, probably because the military started calling them Clickers back when these guys still got news.

  18. djshire says:

    Zombies? I love zombies!

  19. Mr Compassionate says:

    Yay Mumbles!

    So yeah it’s hard to believe that these zombies have survived out here in the wilderness for what, like, 20 years? Even if it’s multiple generations I find it hard to believe these things can survive in both the sweltering heat of summer and the freezing cold of winter while finding enough human hosts to keep the species alive. Cordyceps can’t breach the species barrier so they can’t be making do with wildlife and since it’s a parasite they can’t be growing like regular fungus in damp or below trees. It’s nitpicky though because the game sure would be dull without them, just a drudge of a thousand bandits.

    Having said that I quite like the bandit leader you meet here. You kinda know he is going to be a bad guy but he does a good job of hiding it at first. Slowly it reveals that they are bandits, then it reveals he is kind of a pedophile, then it reveals he is totally a cannibal. By the time you get your revenge you realize he is a Cannibal Pedophile Bandit Tyrant and you’re more than happy to kill him. He’s probably the most evil person in the whole story.

  20. SlothfulCobra says:

    Resorting to cannibalism for survival is a lot like drinking your own urine. It might work a little, as a last-ditch effort, but it stops making sense very quickly if you ret to rely on it for a length of time. A larger group of humans are more productive at foraging for food, and if you want to hunt and kill other humans for sustenance, they will at the minimum be half as good at fighting back as you are at killing them. People are hard to kill without risking yourself.

    Then there’s the caloric calculations, which are hard to nail down, but it stands to reason that it would take a considerable amount of exertion to systematically murder scores of people, which would make humans a very inefficient food. And of course, wherever you find people to use as food, there has to be actual food supplies to sustain those people. There have been cannibalistic societies in the real world, but their cannibalism is done more out of ritualistic reasons than necessity (although I have heard a theory about Aztecs doing as some kind of weird nutritional supplement). It’d take a hell of a lot more than just low food supplies to make Americans turn to prolonged systematic cannibalism.

    It’s disappointing, because bands of raiders are a real thing that happen in reality, but they don’t hunt other humans or set elaborate traps for any passersby; they prowl around other societies to steal their stuff. Raiders also would probably nomadic, but I suppose it makes sense that they’d hunker down for the winter.

  21. RCN says:

    Hey, Shamus, I believe David said they call the Bloaters “Lord”?

    I might be wrong, but I read that in the subtitles and later you said it would be nice if they actually stated their own terminology.

    1. DGM says:

      I think David meant “Ah, Lord” as an expletive, like a religious version of “Oh, Crap.” He just happened to say it right after Ellie told him it was called a Bloater.

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