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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Push the Button!
Scenes from Half-Life 2:Episode 2, showing Gordon Freeman being a jerk.