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‘The Last of Us 2’— A Bittersweet Symphony of Raw Violence and Retribution

The Last of Us 2 offers a satisfying, if scattershot, conclusion to the open ending of the first game.



The Last of Us 2 Review

The Last of Us Part II Review

Developer: Naughty Dog | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Genre: Action-adventure/survival horror | Platforms: PlayStation 4 | Reviewed On: PlayStation 4

Note: This review does not contain outright spoilers for The Last of Us 2. Though there may be small allusions to events that occur in the game, they’ve been kept as vague as possible. 


Following up one of the most critically acclaimed games of the previous generation is no mean feat and, in this regard, The Last of Us 2 has always had its work cut out for it. Its predecessor is lauded as one of the greatest stories ever told in the medium, with a perfect beginning and ending, even if its middle does sag a bit. By comparison, The Last of Us 2 feels a bit more disjointed, with many highs along the way but an overall experience that doesn’t quite measure up to the original.

That is, of course, in terms of the storytelling most specifically. While The Last of Us had a pretty straightforward, if morally murky, plot, the sequel feels more like a series of vignettes at times, different ideas for a sequel to the original game that have been jammed together and jury-rigged into a whole. If there are two or three good choices for Ellie’s companion character, why not use them all interchangeably?

The Last of Us 2 Review

The obvious answer here is that the bond between Ellie and Joel is part of what made the first game feel so special, and made the journeys of the characters so monumental. Having so many new characters introduced, and giving them so little time to justify their existence, really cheapens the overall experience, and it definitely highlights the biggest faults of The Last of Us 2.

At the risk of sounding far too pessimistic about the game right out of the gate though, let me hold off to say that The Last of Us 2 is a very good game, it just has the unfortunate luck of being compared to one of the highest watermarks in the whole medium. Naturally, this leads to some hard-line comparisons, and also to some criticisms, that not everyone is going to share or agree with. One would think that TwitterMetacritic, and in general, the overall online discourse surrounding the game makes that abundantly clear, but it bears repeating just in case.

Game director Neil Druckmann’s announcement that the theme of the game would be “hate” wrangled some folks the wrong way from the start. While thematically it makes sense, as the original game is essentially about the opposite, it does make The Last of Us 2 harder to cotton to. Ellie’s campaign is basically just one long journey of increasingly disturbing and disquieting revenge and this is, obviously, much harder to relate to than Joel and Ellie’s surrogate family dynamic from the first game.

The Last of Us 2 Review

Though the plot does have some fantastic twists, with a truly unexpected blow coming early on in the game, it still seems to lack the overall cohesion and tonal consistency of The Last of Us. Still, the mind-blowing midway turn of this sequel alone is to be painstakingly admired for the sheer audacity of it all, and the way the game plays with our expectations with regard to the ending is a bit of storytelling bravado that can’t go unnoted.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out how unlikable Ellie slowly becomes over the course of the game. While Joel certainly takes a heel turn at the end of The Last of Us, Ellie becomes downright villainous in her determination by the time the credits roll around.

Of course, as becomes abundantly clear throughout, The Last of Us 2 is really about the cycle of violence and retaliation, and how they destroy us as peoples, groups, and communities. The IRA attacks, and counterattacks, in Ireland, are a great example of this and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be even more adept in relation to the game. Still, succinct as these inspirations, and the execution upon them, might be, it does make for a tough 20-30 hours of game to endure.

The Last of Us 2 Review

Plot caveats aside, however, the overall experience of playing The Last of Us 2 is much stronger as a whole. The combat has been tightened up exponentially. Hand to hand combat introduces a dodge mechanic that changes the way the game plays to an exceptional degree, while the aiming has improved upon the already excellent feel of the balance (between careful aim and anxiety) of the original.

Players also have far more options to avoid combat altogether, with stealth being a Metal Gear Solid-like opportunity to really challenge the AI and best them. The only problem with this option is that in a game so built around seeking out resources and collectibles, it really makes for an identity crisis, particularly for trophy hunters and completionists.

In this regard, players may often find themselves split between seeing where the story goes and making sure they’ve thoroughly picked through the vast landscapes and environments in the game. Granted this really depends on one’s gameplay style to begin with but it does bear mentioning.

The Last of Us 2 Review

Another vast improvement on the original is the level of gun nerd realism that is applied to upgrading weapons. The workbenches in The Last of Us 2 are downright shocking in their attention to detail. Ellie will clean her weapon with each dismantling and the way she systematically attaches and improves upon the components will wow even pacifists.

Conversely, other elements of realism have more mixed results. Enemy combatants screaming the names of their fallen comrades can be disheartening, to be sure, as they are intended to be. However, the 50th or 100th time a maimed enemy screams in agony and writhes on the ground, players will be so desensitized to it that it becomes a mere annoyance. But then maybe this gradual nonchalance about the gruesome violence we’re committing is part of the point as well.

Traversal is also much better this time around. Players will waste little time seeking out, moving and rearranging pallets or ramps here, and it makes The Last of Us 2 much more rewarding to navigate than its predecessor. Looking for the right window to smash or the right building to scale is much more satisfying than painstakingly yanking pallets around or shuffling ladders from place to place.

There are even a few impressive physics-based puzzles, and a new rope-tossing mechanic that changes the way you’ll look at traversing the game altogether. A sparsely used guitar playing mechanic, in which the player must find the key and strum with the touchpad, is strangely soothing as well when it crops up, rarely as that is. Players can opt to imitate Gustavo Santaolalla’s gorgeously haunting guitar tunes with this feature or try to create something all their own.

Truly, despite the quibbles and criticisms of the plot and feel of The Last of Us 2 the game does play quite well. It’s also not just a visual showcase but a technical one as well in terms of its appearance and style. The motion capture is completely unrivaled by anything else on the market, with the facial expressions and character movements being almost absurd in their level of precision.

The voice acting is also at the absolute top of the heap, with exceptional performances from mainstays Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, along with newcomers like Laura Bailey. Still, even less important characters are given nuance and care in their depictions by the very talented cast.

Impressive as it all is, though, one can’t help but wonder if the game might’ve benefited from being shortened and clipped here and there. Coming in closer to the 15-20 hour mark could have easily diminished the shortcomings of The Last of Us 2 while highlighting the various technical achievements and gameplay improvements.

Even so, with the sales and Metacritic both boasting wildly impressive numbers, the fact of the matter is that this game will be seen as an unbridled success for both Naughty Dog and Sony, regardless of how the online discourse surrounding the game continues to unfold.

The Last of Us 2 Review

Whichever camp you find yourself in, it’s hard to imagine many gamers coming away with a wholly negative experience with The Last of Us 2. While some may either jibe or struggle with different plot elements and tonal issues, it’s hard not to be impressed by the time and effort that Naughty Dog has put into making a worthwhile successor to perhaps their most acclaimed game to date, even if their success is set to varying degrees.

At the end of the day, The Last of Us 2 is a game most of us will be very glad to have existing in the world. Whether it lives up to the overall hype and personal expectations of its predecessor will be hotly debated for years to come but whether the game is worth playing will almost certainly not.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.



AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.



Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.



Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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