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Games that stand the test of time

Of late, despite all the hype over the release of the two new games consoles from Sony and Microsoft, I have found myself going back to older games and re-experiencing titles I’ve already finished.

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LA Noire

It’s pretty common to spend as much time looking back as you do looking forward, especially in entertainment, I’m sure many of you have some books you have reread a number of times or movies you watch over and over. The same is true of video games, we go back to re-experience them for all kinds of reasons, be it for nostalgias sake, reminding our selves of experiences we may have forgotten or simply to have a breath of fresh air from all those ‘terrible modern games’.

Going back to something can mean a number of different things depending on what type of game you’re talking about. It could be because it makes you happy, playing Super Mario World again because it was, and still is, a great game. There is the ‘reminding yourself’ play-though, when you go back to a game when ever you’ve forgotten enough about it to get a new(ish) experience out of it again. Then there is the relapse, in cases like this I’m talking about your MMOs, going back to games like World of Warcraft (or in my case The Old Republic) after finally managing to wrench yourself away from them.

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Yoshi became so iconic that the simple mention of his inclusion in a Mario game is enough to get everyone excited

As gaming has broadened, we’ve seen a more diverse array of ways to game out in the world. One thing that has remained a focus for developers amongst all of these genres is a game’s staying power, the ability to grab us and keep us playing for more than a single afternoon. Games have never been cheap even during the days of the 8-bit era, and as a result one of the biggest points of critique has become what we’re getting for our money. It’s sad that many games are being panned now for a short length, regardless of their quality in nearly every other area. To some people it’s an important attribute, especially if they only buy one game a year for example.

This is why developers will tackle this aspect of game design and are always looking for more ways to provide their customers with more gaming bang for their proverbial buck. In the early days, it seemed the popular choice was to make games that were really difficult or broken to the point they were unbeatable, this way, players would continue to beat their heads over the game in an attempt to finally finish it, whether it was possible for them to do so or not. There are some games from back in the day I could never beat, but it kept me going back to them because maybe, one day, I’d finally get to see that ending. For example, I have never beaten Golden Axe on my old Mega Drive, and even when going back to it recently, I still found myself struggling to make significant progress. The lack of a password, coupled with permanent death made what would now be a frustrating couple of days something you would spend years on. Only if you were as terrible at games as a kid as I was of course.

Today, games are getting more creative in the ways they keep their claws in. Open world games are a hugely popular example, giving players a huge open worlds to play in, with a long checklist of side missions and jobs to do outside of the main game. Sandbox world design is showing itself in a significant number of the year’s biggest titles, GTA, Assassin’s Creed, Watch_Dogs (which was supposed to be out this year), the Arkham series, they all prolong play not only by travel times around the world, but by their wealth of additional optional content. The things is, while we will spend a lot longer playing these games as a result, it isn’t the reason we come back to them. I would return to Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed II for the same reasons I watch Jurassic Park, Back to the Future or Ghostbusters every time I see them on TV, for their stories and their characters.

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golden-axe-1

Older games have a natural ability stay with us because they were all essentially one offs at the time.

Games are far more cinematic now than they have ever been before, and there is a lot of merit in returning to them to experience their story again than at any point in the history. It’s for this exact reason I will constantly return to the likes of Mass Effect, Phoenix Wright and L.A. Noire. In the case of the first two, they’re filled with characters I enjoy and want to see them again, like revisiting old friends. They had stories I enjoyed and were worth experiencing more than once. In the the case of the second two, there is a unique aspect of problem/mystery solving that is a harder style of gameplay to come across compared to your FPS and racing games. There is a particular gaming itch that they scratch very well, and I gain a lot of enjoyment from going back to them and solving those problems again once they’ve faded from my memory.

While there are only so many games I’ll go back to, and a huge list that’ll just fall into the grey obscurity of the past. Some aspects of modern game design seems far less interested in having games that you can come back to, rather they want you to play their game for as long a time as possible after its release, but then just drop it when a new shiner version comes out to replace it. There are a lot of annual releases that the average Joe on the street wouldn’t be able to pick apart if asked, your sport games (Madden and FIFA), your shooters (Call of Duty and Battlefield) and even titles like Assassin’s Creed are coming out so often that once the newer one comes out, why bother going back to the older one? Thus now, rather than standing the test of time, games only need last a year before they can be cast aside.

FIFA 11 Screenshot 2

This is from Fifa 11. Or was it Fifa 12?

I used Assassin’s Creed as an example earlier as a game I would return to, but with the aggressive pace at which more and more of these titles are coming out, am I really likely to return to Assassin’s Creed 6.2 when AC9 is right around the corner? The difference is, we have some games that are intended to be a singular experience, which contains a beginning and an end, the lastability (which I’m insisting is a word damn you spell checker) being the game is designed to be one you want to return to, with the pace at which Assassin’s Creed games come out and the similar style of all of their gameplay it’s only a matter of time before they start to blend together.

Mass Effect (I’m using it as an example again) does this incredibly well, having a single experience that as a huge number of divergences, encouraging you to pick it up again by rewarding you with a number of small changes throughout the entire thing. Other examples that comes to mind are Roguelikes, which we’re seeing more and more of in the indie sphere. Games such as Spelunky, FTL, The Binding of Issac and Rogue Legacy which are intended for an entire game to be played and finished in a single sitting, but provide additional content over a long span of time for people to return to it at their own leisure.

FTL4

Games like FTL are designed to provide a everlasting experience where the game you’re currently playing takes importance over any spanning goal.

While there are some aspects of this seen in Call of Duty’s prestige mode and FIFA’s ultimate teams encouraging players to keep at it and build something over prolonged play, the necessity to restart your progress every year with the new release is somewhat off-putting. Once you get bored of the current Call of Duty, you’re more likely to wait for the next release than come back to the previous one.

In the end, I think making a game you can return to comes with the territory. Some games are made in a way that returning to them is a treat, something you can rediscover or come back to as an annual event, burning the game into your memory and allowing it to stand the test of time. Other are designed to have a limited lifespan, which expires just in time for you to give the developers another £40 to £50 to have a slightly altered and updated version of the experience all over again. I’m not holding that against these annual titles though, at the end of the day they’re companies making a profit, and making one hell of a profit at that, and with so many people happy with the current trend it looks like they’ll continue to do so for a long time to come. But think about it like this, how many people still talk about Knights of the Old Republic here on the internet? Now think about how often you see people fondly looking back on FIFA 2003, you remember that one don’t you, it was the one with Edgar Davids on the cover…

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If flip flopping the line between cynicism and enthusiasm was an illness then I would have a nifty obscure disease named after me, but seeing as how it has yet to be diagnosed, I'll settle with just being inconsistent.

Features

Marvel’s Avengers preview: Definitely not Earth’s mightiest heroes

A loot-focused live service game? Don’t make the fans angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry.

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Marvels Avengers Hulk
Square Enix

A loot-focused live service game? Don’t make the fans angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry.

Ever since Marvel brought Earth’s mightiest heroes to the big screen (and proceeded to monopolise the blockbuster calendar in their wake) it seemed almost inevitable that The Avengers would get their own video game. It was almost more surprising that their various billion-dollar grossing adventures never resulted in a big-budget console tie-in, especially with DC finding huge acclaim with the Batman Arkham series and Marvel’s Spider-Man getting a solid run-out on PS4.

Enter Marvel’s Avengers, the first triple-A take on modern cinema’s most lucrative property from the team over at Square Enix. It’s a game that has a lot to live up to. While Square’s newest release isn’t officially ready to slot into disc trays until September 4, some have been lucky enough to access an early version of the game through its recent beta. I was one of those lucky people.

I must admit, however, I definitely didn’t feel lucky after slogging through around five hours of what my early look at Marvel’s Avengers had to offer. Of all the paths a big-budget video game surrounding Hollywood’s most popular superheroes could’ve taken, Square appears to have rigidly stuck to the most tedious, corporate and frankly boring one possible.

It’s not that what Marvel’s Avengers is offering is particularly bad, per se. Its story focused moments revel in the high-octane comradery that made the films such box office slam dunks, while its stunning visuals and cinematic cutscenes make it a thrillingly watchable spectacle. Yet, it’s away from the game’s flashier, E3-demo-esque moments where it becomes increasingly apparent that it has no idea what the spirit or target audience of the Avengers truly is.

Marvel's Avengers Screen 4

Of course, for many, that’s not what’s first apparent when leaping into Marvel’s Avengers. The beta actually begins fairly promisingly, with an almost Uncharted inspired set piece set on the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ve probably seen the exact moment I’m referencing before, shown at every single event since the game’s E3 2019 unveiling. As a prologue, it’s a fairly solid slice of action, allowing you to get a taste for all of Earth’s mightiest heroes while plodding through a very on-rails sequence.

It also stands as a fun showcase of the abilities and powers wielded by each of its five iconic protagonists. Thor can throw and recall Mjolnir in a suspiciously familiar way to God of War’s Kratos, while Iron Man soars through the sky at speed while using his blasters and Captain America reverberate his shield off his enemies. Each hero has such a limited move set that it’s clear playing as one would grow repetitive quickly, but when switching between all five, it continues to make things interesting.

Following the action-packed prologue, we’re treated to a heavy-handed overview of the game’s plot before being dropped into a second, much longer level. Here Hulk and Kamala Khan (AKA Ms Marvel) are looking for the remnants of Iron Man’s old AI, Jarvis, and break into an advanced research facility filled with soldiers acting on behalf of evil corporate baddies AIM. Playing as only two characters definitely begins to make things feel more repetitive, but the strong dialogue and jokes between the infinitely likeable Kamala and her big, green brute of a partner make it the beta’s best section. It’s even capped off with a boss fight between Hulk and Abomination, which is more than I expected from a teaser for the game’s main campaign.

Marvel's Avengers Screen 7

Don’t get me wrong, none of this is exactly extraordinary. The combat is a bit too clunky and its levels lack the depth needed to maintain an engaging, story-focused campaign. But it’s what a big Avengers game should be, focusing on fun character interactions, beautiful locations and explosive, action-packed encounters.

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However, it’s here Marvel’s Avengers shows its true colours. In truth, this is just another attempt at cultivating the frequently blundering live-service genre which has seen so many games falter. Finishing Hulk and Kamala’s quest unlocks an all too familiar holo-map, offering players “strike missions” in return for tiered loot. You’re also encouraged to scroll through endless tabs of numbers, stats and “power levels,” which, of course, makes for an utterly riveting superhero experience.

The idea of making a co-op Avengers game definitely makes sense and there are moments where that central concept does shine, as your flying through the air as Iron Man while your friend below is eviscerating foes as Ms Marvel. But it’s so bogged down in loot incentives, golden chests and switching around Iron Man’s shoulder pads that it’s really hard to make that concept feel as effortlessly cool as it should.

It also means the missions go from high-octane, focused affairs to generic, button-mashing slogs, offering a handful of dull objectives that amount to defeating X amounts of enemies or defending four bases. They’re filled with spongey foes that take unnecessarily long to defeat considering you’re a literal superhero and provide next to no excitement when compared to the kinds of adventures The Avengers are notorious for.

Marvels Avengers beta title screen

Speaking as somebody who grew up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe; who went to the cinema at 11 years old with my reluctant father to watch the first Iron Man film, this isn’t the game I would’ve wanted to play when I got back from that theatre. This is not a game kids are going to be playing, jaw on the floor, on Christmas morning. They’re not going to be scrolling through how strong Captain America’s boots are with glee or chatting with their mates on the playground about what defence rating they’ve attached to Hulk’s fist.

And if that’s not the goal for an Avengers game, what’s the point? After Insomniac spent so much care capturing the spirit and energy of Spider-Man back in 2018, it’s so disappointing to see Avengers feel like yet another attempt to cash in on the live-service market.

Of course, it’s always worth seeing what the full game offers. Marvel’s Avengers launches in less than a month so it won’t be a long wait to find out, but for now, it seems Square’s completely missed the point with its take on the Earth’s mightiest heroes.

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How lockdown opened up Jackbox Party to a massive new audience

In their GDC Summer talk, Mike Bilder and Brooke Hofer from Jackbox Games speak about the highs and lows of gaining new players during COVID lockdown.

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Jackbox Games - GDC Summer
Jackbox Games

In their GDC Summer talk, Mike Bilder and Brooke Hofer from Jackbox Games speak about the highs and lows of gaining new players during COVID lockdown.

The Jackbox Game Series has quietly become one of the most popular party game franchises on the market. It’s found success through a range of well-designed games – Quiplash, Drawful and Guesspionage are all classics – and a focus on accessibility. No matter which gaming platform you use, players can quickly take part using nothing more than a smartphone web browser. The result is a series of games that are inclusive and immediately fun to play.

Despite the world lurching its way through a global pandemic, the video game market has continued to thrive. Titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Doom Eternal and The Last of Us Part II are massive hits, and, with much of the world entering lockdown, multiplayer-focused games are also popular. The Jackbox Party series is one such beneficiary of these strange times.

Jackbox Party Pack 6

Since 2014, Jackbox Games has released six Jackbox Party Packs, each containing five individual games. The series has grown in popularity year-on-year, so far totalling over 430 million individual game sessions.

Although the franchise is an obvious fit for local multiplayer, the low barrier to entry has also seen it develop a dedicated follow on Twitch, an audience that marketing director Brooke Hofer says was unexpected. Up to 10,000 people can “play along” with selected games, and new features and functions have been added to support this audience.

“We put a lot of attention on really growing those communities of streamers,” says Hofer. “Around launch and the holiday season, we also support this community by sharing pre-release or post-release codes, and we do our best to amplify any marathon or charity streams that are happening and involve our games in some way.”

The nature and behaviours of the traditional family audience have also been surprising.

“Typically, what happens is that the gamer in the family hears about our games, and introduces them to their family members,” Hofer explains. “They are the advocate, and then when the family members that have tried the games want to go and play on their own, they have a lot of questions.”

To help, the studio has developed a series of guides, blog posts, and emails to explain the features of each game and reduce confusion. The content is wide-ranging, even going so far as to explain what Steam is. (Now that is useful.)

“We basically have to break down every step of the process to make sure their consumer journey is a smooth as possible.,” says Hofer.

Making the Jackbox series approachable for Non-US players has also been a challenge. Flaming Hot Cheetos, to use one quiz solution as an example, are not universally known. To help, recent games have included a US-centric content filter and a standalone PC version of Quiplash 2 is now available in French, Italian, Spanish, and German.

Nurturing each of these audiences helped the Jackbox franchise reach an impressive 100 million players last year. And then came COVID 19.

Jackbox Party Pack Screenshot

Like most businesses, the studio had to quickly adopt new working practices. Despite the disruption, development on The Jackbox Party Pack 7 has continued and all employees are now working remotely, communicating via video conferencing in discipline-focused teams.

In “normal times”, progress on the new game could continue as planned. However, along with the global pandemic came a sudden, unexpected influx of new players. In April, there were so many visitors to the Jackbox Games online store that the studio had to change hosting providers to cope with the increase in traffic and customers.

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“We had people hack our store. We ran out of Steam code inventory. We had to rewrite all of our store copy to speak to a new audience,” recalls Hofer. “It was an intense experience, to say the least.”

The knock-on effect of so many new players was a huge increase in controller and server traffic. Daily activity was consistently higher than the peaks usually experienced around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“We can certainly anticipate a few big holiday weekends each year, and we can prepare our infrastructure that increased traffic,” Jackbox CEO Mike Bilder explains, “but what we didn’t anticipate was daily traffic at that level. So, we had a few, big outages.”

Despite these growing pains, Jackbox titles reached over 110 million players between March and June, more than in the entirety of 2019.

Jackbox Party Pack Screenshot

Video conferencing has become a familiar aspect quarantine life, and it has also contributed to the recent success of the Jackbox series. Games are now being played en masse across Zoom, Whatsapp, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts It’s something the team actively supports.

“Since quarantine, we’ve consistently updated and added to our Remote Play blog,” says Hofer. “We’ve also added sections to our website to make it more easy [sic] to funnel to helpful content on our blog. And we’ve created video tutorials for playing games remotely on various video conferencing solutions.”

Interestingly, the fastest-growing audience demographics, post-COVID, are players in the 35-54 age, and those who identify as female.

“It means we have a lot of new people exposed to our games, and for some of these people we are finding that it’s their first exposure to gaming in general,” Hofer says. “So a lesson we had to learn was that if you have thousands of new audience members, you’re also likely going to get thousands of questions from them.”

With over a thousand support tickets raised a day, the studio has expanded its customer service team and rolled out a chatbot to help direct players to the right support information.

Although COVID has been a double-edged sword for the studio, the nature of the game – and its inherent streamability – has also been put to good use. Through the Celebrity Jackbox: Games & Giving Initiative, the studio has pledged over one million dollars to various charities that support frontline COVID work. Well-known participants have included Charlize Theron, Olivia Wilde, and Jack Black.

“Jackbox was fortunate to find some success, obviously, through this time, says Bilder. “It’s a very trying time for most people, and we’re very happy that folks can find some much-needed laughter and social interaction with our games. But, we wanted to give back, and we’re proud of the work we did with Celebrity Jackbox: Games & Giving.”


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Every licensed song and cover on The Last of Us Part II soundtrack

Here’s every real-life song – original, licensed recording or cast-recorded cover – featured on The Last of Us Part II soundtrack.

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licensed songs covers the last of us part ii soundtrack
Naughty Dog

Here’s every real-life song – original, licensed recording or cast-recorded cover – featured on The Last of Us Part II soundtrack.

The Last of Us Part II must’ve been a licensing nightmare. There’s that official Taylor 314ce guitar, for one thing, before we even get to the tunes. And we’ve already seen how rights expiry can disappear games from sale, so when Naughty Dog told Sony’s licensing team they wanted Pearl Jam and a-ha (among others) on the soundtrack? That was probably not a popular decision.

But in addition to Gustavo Santaolalla’s original score, there are a whole bunch of licensed songs that made it onto the Last of Us Part II’s soundtrack. (We only wonder what didn’t make the cut, given some of the massive names that did. Let us know if you didn’t get any songs you pushed for, Neil.)

Some of the licensed songs on The Last of Us Part II soundtrack are the original versions, played as background or incidental music. Others are covers, played in part or in full by characters in the game. What’s really neat is that the voice actors behind Ellie and Joel, Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker respectively, played guitar and sang the vocals in the motion capture studio. There’s no sneaky session musicians or dubbing going on here.

So, here’s the full list of every licensed song and cover on The Last of Us Part II soundtrack.

Spoiler warning: This article will contain general location, character and story spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.

Through the Valley – Shawn James (original recording)

It’s super quiet and difficult to make out, but Ellie listens to this on a Walkman in a flashback scene right before Joel gifts her the guitar.

Bonus: This is also the song that Ellie sings while playing the guitar on the trailer for the game from the PlayStation Experience event in 2016.

Future Days – Pearl Jam (covered by Joel, Ellie)

Here’s an interesting one. You first hear Joel playing Future Days for Ellie as he gifts her that beautiful Taylor guitar, then throughout the game, you’ll hear snippets of it, played by Ellie. It includes the lyrics “if I ever were to lose you, I’d surely lose myself” which is thematically appropriate for The Last of Us Part II. So far, so sensible.

But did you know that Future Days appears on Pearl Jam’s Lightning Bolt album, which was released on October 11, 2013? That’s interesting because “outbreak day” – when the Cordyceps brain infection struck – happens on September 27, 2013. So in the fictional universe of The Last of Us, Pearl Jam never actually got to release Lightning Bolt.

So how does Joel know a song that was never released? Game director Neil Druckmann has the answer:

I mean, sure, it sounds a little like a retcon, but it technically works.

Bonus: There’s a poster for Pearl Jam’s Lighting Bolt in the music store Ellie visits with Dina in Seattle.

Take on Me – a-ha (covered by Ellie)

In a game filled with violence (spoiler warning on that article) and the bleakest parts of the human character, there are a few small moments of light. They’re pretty few and far, and they decrease as the game goes on, but one of the nicest comes just after Ellie and Dina arrive in Seattle.

In the aforementioned guitar shop, Ellie finds an acoustic guitar that’s locked away inside a hard shell flight case. She pops open the case, tunes the guitar, and sings a song for Dina. That song? It’s a beautiful acoustic rendition of 80s pop anthem Take on Me, by Norwegian synth heroes a-ha.

For a game that’s split the discourse so heavily, it probably speaks volumes that this – a hands-off cut scene, of characters having a pleasant singalong – is my favourite bit of the game.

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Hydrogen – M|O|O|N (Hotline Miami soundtrack)

When Ellie is looking for Nora at the hospital, she happens upon a member of the WLF who is playing on her PS Vita. Ellie interrogates the girl at knifepoint and, ultimately, kills her when she fights back. But the game she’s playing? It’s hyper-violent shooter Hotline Miami. (A game that asks, “do you like hurting other people?” which can’t be a coincidence, given The Last of Us Part II’s themes.)

But the song that’s playing is the thing, here, and that tune is Hydrogen by M|O|O|N.

It Was a Good Day – Ice Cube (original recording)

This is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Ice Cube, but you can hear this classic tune playing in the WLF hospital as Ellie listens in on Nora being questioned by other WLF soldiers looking for Abby.

The Winding Sheet – Mark Lanegan (original recording)

The brilliant Mark Lanegan – vocalist for Screaming Trees and latterly with Queens of the Stone Age – released his first solo album, The Winding Sheet, in 1990. The title track from that album appears on the soundtrack for The Last of Us Part II. You’ll hear it on the boombox at Owen’s aquarium.

Christmas Wish – Roberts, Fletcher, Sturrock (original recording)

This modern Christmas tune is playing during one of Abby’s flashbacks at the aquarium with Owen.

Rock Around the Christmas Tree – Fiddy, Burdson (original recording)

Another Christmas tune from the aquarium flashback at Christmas.

Ecstasy – Crooked Still (covered by Ellie)

Ellie plays this one as part of one of the guitar minigames when she’s having trouble sleeping, at the farm with Dina and JJ.

Little Sadie – Crooked Still (original recording?)

This is the song that’s playing at the dance, during the flashback where Ellie and Dina kiss for the first time.

(We’ve put this down as “original recording?” with a big question mark because it’s not clear if the performance in the game is supposed to be just the original record, played over a PA system, or if it’s supposed to be a “live” band at the party.)

Ain’t No Grave – Crooked Still (original recording)

This is the song Ellie puts on with JJ when Dina requests some tunes to wash up to. Or, more specifically, this is the track on the B-side of the LP, where Ellie starts the needle. The album is Crooked Still’s Shaken By a Low Sound from 2006, and Ain’t No Grave is the seventh song on the record.

But what’s interesting is that a bunch of other Crooked Still tunes crop up in the game’s credits, but this appears to be the last time we hear them. So where are they, exactly? If you go and dance with Dina straight away, they’ll move to the backyard to hang out laundry and the music will end. But if you don’t interact with Dina immediately, you’ll also hear…

Ecstasy – Crooked Still (original recording)

The eighth track on Crooked Still’s Shaken By a Low Sound.

Mountain Jumper – Crooked Still (original recording)

Track number nine on Shaken By a Low Sound.

Railroad Bill – Crooked Still (original recording)

Track ten on Shaken By a Low Sound by Crooked Still.

Wind and Rain – Crooked Still (original recording)

The final track on Crooked Still’s Shaken By a Low Sound.

Young Men Dead – The Black Angels (original recording)

You’ll hear this one playing on a stereo as you battle the Rattlers in Santa Barbara.

Helplessly Hoping – Crosby, Stills & Nash (covered by Joel)

This is a tricky one because it’s not in the game’s credits. Presumably, the snippet of fingerpicking is so short and with Joel not singing any of the lyrics, licensing wasn’t a concern. But in the game’s final flashback between Joel and Ellie, Helplessly Hoping is the song you hear him playing on his front porch when Ellie disturbs him.

Unknown – Unknown (covered by Ellie)

The final song that Ellie plays – or, at least, attempts to play – in The Last of Us Part II is pretty unrecognisable. She lost two fingers on her left hand in the final fight with Abby and can no longer form those chords.

It’s a safe bet that it’s probably Future Days by Pearl Jam, given the chord progression Ellie’s trying to follow and the song’s significance to the story, but it’s hard to say for sure. (And that’s exactly the point, right?)

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Wayfaring Stranger – Johnny Cash (covered by Ellie and Joel)

This is the song that plays for the final few minutes of the credits for The Last of Us Part II. But don’t give up that easy – there’s still a post-credits surprise (of sorts) after the end of the trailer.

Bonus: True Faith – New Order (covered by Ellie)

This is the song that Ellie plays on the TV spot for The Last of Us Part II.

It’s also something that Naughty Dog got into trouble over, because it’s very clearly inspired by (if not directly copied from) Lotte Kestner’s 2011 arrangement of the New Order classic.


Forgotten what happened in the original The Last of Us? You’ll want to read our comprehensive story recap. Found this guide useful? Please consider supporting Thumbsticks or buying us a coffee to say thanks.

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Is Paper Mario: The Origami King worth playing?

Although some fans are ready to tear up Paper Mario: The Origami King, it’s always wise to measure twice and cut once.

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Paper Mario: The Origami King - Nintendo Switch
Nintendo / Thumbsticks

Although some fans are ready to tear up Paper Mario: The Origami King, it’s always wise to measure twice and cut once.

Critics agree that The Origami King is no spiritual sequel to Thousand Year Door — the series’ oft-lauded GameCube RPG. But, they seem to be split on how much that matters.

Here is our pick of the game’s reviews.

Paper Mario: The Origami King review round-up

Eurogamer

“There’s plenty I’d recommend about The Origami King, a journey generous with its humour, its spread of locations, its continual sense of adventure in Mario’s bid to defeat the evil Origami King (a clever conceit which lets Mario befriend regular paper Goombas and Koopas while also letting him battle evil origami Goombas and Koopas). Its final section especially, while brief, is thrilling to watch unfold. But each time the game changed settings, every time it swapped in a new party member, whenever I cleared another boss, I expected it to grow the shoots it had begun to set out and dig in a little deeper. For all of the game’s sense of personality and place, it never grows into anything weightier.”

Not scored – Review by Tom Phillips

IGN

The Origami King is a truly likeable game despite the shallowness of its new spin on gameplay. Its characters are winsome, its visual design is gorgeous, its world is fun to explore, and its storytelling is outside the box and playful. At the same time, however, it could be so much more. Combat is largely unfulfilling, and your journey as a whole lacks meaningful choices. For a series with RPG roots, that’s a real shame.”

7/10 – Review by Cam Shea

GameSpot

“The one area where both the world and combat do suffer is how they leave little room for the ensemble cast to flourish. While you do pick up a few party members along the way, they’re mostly an afterthought in combat, throwing out an extra attack at random. There are a handful of great and surprisingly heartfelt moments here, but most of your party members don’t stick around long enough and don’t have enough great moments for you to form a bond with them. This puts a large emphasis on your journey with Olivia across all of The Origami King‘s worlds, and with Mario being his usual mute self, it feels lonelier than it should.

It’s a concession I’m willing to take, though, since just about every other part of Paper Mario: The Origami King works so well. With a newfound combat system that steals the show and offers a novel take on turn-based combat, its winking, nodding, and adventuring shine all the brighter. Its world and characters might not be the series’ best, but it’s still able to consistently throw left turns, good gags, and smart surprises at you.

Each piece of The Origami King elegantly fits into its whole, taking its irreverent flair to new heights. The Paper Mario series has recently shown that being clever and being smart are two different things, but thankfully, it’s once again managed to be both.”

8/10 – Review by Suriel Vazquez

Ars Technica

“New concepts are introduced and discarded so quickly that there’s little in the way of orderly progression. Origami King‘s best gameplay ideas are gone before they can be missed or developed into something that feels more substantial than a mere tutorial. It’s RPG by way of Mario Party: unable to focus on one type of gameplay for too long.

Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. For children or families looking for an inventive and colorful good time—or a fun and friendly introduction to a whole lot of shallow gaming ideas—you could do worse than Origami King. Players looking for the usual depth and progression of a full-fledged Japanese RPG, though, should look elsewhere.”

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Not scored – Review by Kyle Orland

USgamer

Paper Mario: The Origami King is an action-adventure game, not an RPG, which is sure to disappoint Paper Mario fans waiting for The Thousand Year Door‘s second coming. If you refuse to touch a Paper Mario game that’s not an RPG, The Origami King will leave you dry and irritated, like the hands of a paper-folding master. But if you’re OK with Paper Mario’s turn to action, you’ll find an enjoyable game packed with humor, secrets, and unique boss battles. The Paper Mario team is clearly learning how to make these distinct Mario games more appealing.”

4/5 – Review by Nadia Oxford

Game Informer

“As a series, Paper Mario constantly explores new concepts and mechanics, which is exciting, but that comes with plenty of risks. Origami King’s biggest chances don’t pay off in a satisfying way. I enjoyed Mario’s hijinks and all the misfits he encounters, but the new ring-based action needs refinement. I hope Paper Mario’s next twist on combat can rise to the same level as its humor.”

7.75/10 – Review by Ben Reeves

Polygon

“The game is a delight most of the time, and is often too simple as I spend my time running around, talking to other characters, and giggling at the silly wordplay expected from a Paper Mario release. But the 10% or so of the game made up of combat encounters and boss fights makes me absolutely miserable. I’ve made it about halfway through the entire game at this point, and I dread the next boss fight, both because of the time commitment and the frustration I’m sure to feel, based on everything that’s come before.

I’m sure I’ll muddle through it, confused and frustrated, but still kicking, and get back to the jokes about paper products and pounding crumpled-up Toads flat with my hammer. It’ll be silly and funny again, and I’ll almost forget my frustration. But then another boss battle will make me want to fling my Switch through a window.”

Not scored – Review by Jeffrey Parkin

Other publications

  • Trusted Reviews – 4/5
  • Nintendo Life – 8/10
  • VG247 – 4/5
  • VGC – 3/5
  • Destructoid – 8/10

Title: Paper Mario: The Origami King
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: July 17, 2020
Platform: Nintendo Switch


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Is Ghost of Tsushima worth playing?

Ghost of Tsushima is an ambitious open-world action game from Sucker Punch Productions. But does Sony’s eighth generation console go out on a high note?

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Ghost of Tsushima - Playstation 4
Sucker Punch Productions

Ghost of Tsushima is an ambitious open-world action game from Sucker Punch Productions. That studio’s track record and the game’s release window have positioned it as a swan song for the PS4. But does Sony’s eighth generation console go out on a high note?

Sucker Punch Productions has produced hits for Sony since the early days of the PS2. The studio came on the scene with Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, then as Sony’s teams moved away from the mascot platformer in the PS3 era, Sucker Punch transitioned to the gritty superhero series, Infamous. It has been six years since the studio’s last game, Infamous Second Son, helped launch the PS4 — releasing a few months into the console’s life. But, has the studio put the past half-decade and change to good use?

Here is our pick of the game’s reviews.

Ghost of Tsushima review round-up

GameSpot

“Ghost of Tsushima‘s story hits hard in the game’s third and final act, and ends in spectacular fashion. It left me with the same kinds of strong emotions I felt at the end of all my favourite samurai film epics, and had me eager to watch them all again. The game hits a lot of fantastic cinematic highs, and those ultimately lift it above the trappings of its familiar open-world quest design and all the innate weaknesses that come with it–but those imperfections and dull edges are definitely still there. Ghost of Tsushima is at its best when you’re riding your horse and taking in the beautiful world on your own terms, armed with a sword and a screenshot button, allowing the environmental cues and your own curiosity to guide you. It’s not quite a Criterion classic, but a lot of the time it sure looks like one.

7/10 – Review by Edmond Tran

The Washington Post

Ghost of Tsushima is disappointing if you’re going to compare it to some of the greatest cinematic works ever made. But as fallout from this misguided ambition, Ghost is also a wonderful culmination of the best ideas of open-world adventures of the last two console generations, all wrapped up in very pretty, albeit superficial, samurai clothing. It’s a great Xbox 360 game, and I mean that as a compliment.

Not Scored – Review by Gene Park

Game Informer

“Most great games stand on the shoulders of their predecessors. Ghost of Tsushima unabashedly borrows many of its strongest features from other open-world adventures, and executes on them with skill. The game owes a tremendous debt to the Assassin’s Creed games; in many ways, Ghost of Tsushima feels like an entry in that franchise set in Japan – something that fans have longed for. But it’s unfair to paint Sucker Punch’s immense samurai epic as a copycat. By tapping into Japanese art, history, and culture, as well as the samurai film tradition that followed, Ghost of Tsushima finds a wholly original tone within the gaming landscape. Across an especially vast adventure, players are treated to a tale about the contradictory ideals of honor and revenge, and one in which tense katana duels and quiet moments of reflection claim equal focus.”

9.5/10 – Review by Matt Miller

Polygon

“Ghost of Tsushima has a distinctive aesthetic, after all, but it’s only skin-deep. The core game underneath that alluring exterior is a pastiche of open-world game design standards from five years ago; it lacks a real personality of its own. Ghost of Tsushima offers a lovely world to explore, and there’s value in that, but it should have been so much more than a checklist of activities to accomplish.”

Not scored – Review by Carolyn Petit

The Guardian

“Ghost of Tsushima offers some elegant solutions to the superficial problems with huge, open games like this. Instead of little icons and mini-maps cluttering up the screen and making you feel like you’re playing a satnav, brushing a thumb across the controller’s touch-pad summons a wind that ripples the long grass and guides you to your next destination. Instead of map markers, you can follow golden birds towards interesting places – that is, if they don’t get stuck up against a building or a cliff and disappear.

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Other, deeper problems remain, however: repetition, bloat, and boredom. Ghost of Tsushima follows a dispiritingly familiar trajectory of a frustrating first few hours, where enemies are powerful and everything is difficult; an exciting middle act where the game feels thrillingly conquerable; and a tedious latter half where enemies fall like skittles before you. Later-game character upgrades let you automatically parry sword strikes or stagger enemies in a couple of swipes, with the counterproductive consequence that the longer you play for, the less skill is required to prevail. Before very long, I was thoughtlessly tearing through 10 Mongols at a time instead of thinning them out carefully before confronting the final few in a true samurai stand-off.”

3/5 – Review by Keza MacDonald

Videogamer

“I am pleased to report that there were days, in the last couple of weeks, on which I woke excited at the prospect of playing—at dipping back into the fantasy. If your adventuring eyes are tired, I recommend it as I would a cold towel. You’re never as happy as when you’re lost in the early languor—which blankets the most enticing open worlds like a mist, before burning off under the hissing pressure of a plot. The game may never have been as sweet as it was in the first of the three main areas, but, to its credit, that’s because I was swept along by the story.”

8/10 – Review by Josh Wise

Vice

“It’s a game where so many individual components feel really good, but it’s all dropped into outdated structure.

Fans of photo modes (and HDR) will have a field day with Ghost of Tsushima, but its striking world masks an otherwise derivative take on an open world style we’ve seen a lot. The pieces that work—the tragically underused and very intense duels, a markedly good combat system (especially by open world standards), the wind gusting as a travel guide—provide a glimpse at a different game that might have found a way to weave everything together.”

But it frequently doesn’t, falling into the category of a pretty good one of those whose longterm appeal likely has more to do with your affinity for its setting than anything else, even as it occasionally tosses a smart idea your way that makes you think it’ll turn a corner.

Not scored – Review by Patrick Klepek

Other publications

  • IGN – 9/10
  • Trusted Reviews – 4/5
  • PlayStation LifeStyle – 9/10
  • VGC – 3/5
  • NME – 4/5

Title: Ghost of Tsushima
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: July 17, 2020
Platform: PlayStation 4


Visit our new releases pages for more on this week’s new video games.

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.


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