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How long is your game and is it worth it?

As I get older, it is becoming apparent that the games I enjoy the most are the ones that I can reach the end of.

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Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes

As I get older, it is becoming apparent that the games I enjoy the most are the ones that I can reach the end of.

Obtaining a certain amount of closure is increasingly important to me. I die a little inside when another incomplete game is added to the pile, knowing that I will probably never return to it. I can happily call a game complete when I have reached the end of a game’s main narrative thrust. Beaten the final boss. Got the girl. Saved the planet. I do get sucked in by the completion percentages, I’m only human, but not achieving 100% doesn’t irk me anywhere near as much as being unable (or unwilling) to make it to the credits, especially if I’ve already put in multiple hours.

I think it all started to spiral out of control when my first PS3 died a death. Before we were able to upload our saves to the PSN cloud, I lost my hard-earned progress on a number of incomplete games. Final Fantasy XIII. Yakuza 4. Dead Space 2. LA Noire. I was right near the end of Final Fantasy too. I have since played it to completion, but it was an unwelcome slog. It’s really not a very good game. The other three (and more besides) remain in the pile, and this makes me sad. Is it odd that the only one of those games that I did manage to finish was arguably the one that would have taken me the most time? Do I only have myself to blame, for taking on too many projects at once? Quite possibly.

Surely completing a game in a single weekend is the holy grail that developers should be striving for, the streamlined experience that all gamers can enjoy. Replayability, collectibles and longevity ideas like New Game Plus (an underutilised mechanism in my opinion) can then come into play for those that want or need them. I think the apparent play time of The Order: 1886 (between 7 and 8 hours) sounds about perfect for a solid weekend of beautiful, alt-Victorian, shooty action. It’s just a pity they want £50 for it. I’ll buy it when it’s £40 or less. Sorry Ready At Dawn.

I paid £25 for MGS: Ground Zeroes, and probably finished the main story mission in less than 3 hours, but I had a whale of a time, it got me super-hyped for the Phantom Pain, and I got a ton more play time from the game. Money well spent in my opinion. A game’s price and length are clearly both tied to its perceived value, but there are many other factors to take into account, and we’re all different. You could be a fan of a series, or a particular developer. Genre. Graphics. Multiplayer. Reputation. Review score? All these things can play a part in a gamer’s assessment of a game’s value. And more often than not, this assessment takes place before they have even had a chance to play it. Whatever happened to demos? Ground Zeroes anyone?

What I’m trying to get at is that a short game is not necessarily a bad game, it just may not be valued as highly as a longer game, of similar (or maybe worse) quality. Concern about a game’s length, before it has even been played, can only result in publishers demanding longer games and developers resorting to padding their games out with uninteresting side quests and dull collectibles to stretch the average play time. Ubisoft, I’m looking at you.

There is room in this wonderful, varied pastime we call home for both the 100-hour, sprawling, open-world epics and the 8-10 hour, tightly scripted, set piece heavy, action adventures. We are a diverse bunch. We should just be careful what we wish for.

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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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Eoin has been gaming for twenty-five years, worries he might be getting a little too old for it all, but hopes that he isn't. In the midst of an effort to find a future doing something he loves, he has taken to writing about his one enduring passion - Videogames.

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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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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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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
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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


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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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The Last of Us Part II, violence, and the problem with pursuing prestige TV

Are AAA video games – like The Last of Us Part II – right to model themselves on prestige TV, or will they be forever chasing maturity and legitimacy?

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Are AAA video games – like The Last of Us Part II – right to model themselves on prestige TV, or will they be forever chasing maturity and legitimacy?

Warning! The following article contains serious spoilers for the following video games and TV shows:

  • The Last of Us Part II
  • Red Dead Redemption II
  • Game of Thrones
  • Breaking Bad
  • The Walking Dead
  • Westworld

First, a very extended metaphor

Imagine, for a moment, a wedding. You’ve almost certainly attended at least one in your life. Perhaps you’ve even planned one? If you have, then you understand the sort of cerebral gymnastics required to make a table plan work.

You have to figure out how to get dozens, possibly hundreds of people into a room together. Some of those people are alone, others have partners, some have children. For some arbitrary reason, you have to alternate seating by gender. (No, we don’t know why. It’s a whole thing, though.)

To do this you need to fill round tables of around 10 people per table. Sometimes more, sometimes less. You are responsible for making sure that everyone has a good time based on who they’re sitting with but – more importantly – that they get along. You can’t sit those two on the same table because they used to date and it’ll be awkward. Those two families don’t get along so, not only can they not be on the same table, they need to be at opposite ends of the room. Grandpa can’t sit with, well, anyone remotely different because he’s racist and homophobic.

The Last of Us Part II sales

It’s like that fox-chicken-bag-of-grain brainteaser, but you have a hundred variables to juggle and, unfortunately, everybody has to stay in the boat. The only universal variable is that nobody wants to sit with children. They certainly don’t want to sit with anyone else’s and, often, they don’t want to sit with their own. Going to a wedding is a chance to dress nicely and drink and dance and just not be a parent for a few hours.

So the solution is obvious: You have a kiddies table. Aside from the “top table” rules, it’s one of the only universal things about wedding seating plans. But then you end up with a new problem: What about the “older” kids, the teenagers and such? It’s unfair to sit them with the toddlers, but the grown-ups don’t want them at their table, either.

Now imagine that the entertainment industries are planning a wedding. Maybe TV and Cinema can sit together, but they won’t want to sit with Netflix. They hate each other. The Music Industry has the same beef with Spotify, so we’ll put the streaming services together on one table. We’ll sit the Authors and Poets and Artists together because they have lots in common, while the other entertainment industries might find them a bit boring and pretentious. Musical Theatre gets along with everyone but they’re really loud, so keep them away from the top table.

That all seems to be going fairly well until we get to Video Games. All the other entertainment industries would like to sit Video Games on the kiddies table, with Cartoons and Comic Books and Wrestling and Tik Tok. But in this (very laboured, thank you for sticking with it so far) analogy, Video Games is a teenager. While the other, older, more-established industries still see it as a child and they don’t want to sit with it, Video Games earns a lot of money, is more mature than its detractors give it credit for, and believes it should get to sit with the adults.

As a result, Video Games starts being demonstrative. It goes to great pains to prove how mature it is to everyone else. Sometimes it acts out and has tantrums when it feels it isn’t getting the respect it deserves. It is a mature medium and it wants to be treated like one.

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It tries to demonstrate it is as mature as its older siblings, Cinema and Television. And that’s where the problems come in.

Cinema sins

For years, the video game industry has been copying cinema. Rockstar simulates Scorsese. Kojima cribs Cameron and Carpenter. Remedy lifts Lynch. We used to have a weekly column about it, that only ended because the writer took another job elsewhere. Even now, two years on, we’d be finding new examples every single week were he still with us. (You should read it, it’s really good.)

But as games have grown in scope, so too has their graphical fidelity. Take The Oregon Trail and Red Dead Redemption 2 as a for-instance. Both games feature a group of settlers in the Old West, looking for a safe place to call home. Both games have a strong narrative core with a morality-versus-necessity theme and a decision-making component. Both games involve struggles with food, money, health, death and, yes, violence.

But where The Oregon Trail was a text-only adventure when it was first developed in 1971 – the graphics were added to the Apple II port of 1985 – Red Dead Redemption 2 is a cinematic monster, a sprawling spaghetti western that rides on the coattails of John Ford, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. Particularly Peckinpah, whose stories eschew the black and white hats of old for a distinctly greyer roster of antiheroes and sympathetic villains. They tug at the thin line of conflict between values and ideals, something Arthur Morgan struggles with in the wake of Dutch’s drive for “freedom”, leading to an ever-escalating cycle of violence, loss and, ultimately, futility. They called Peckinpah “Bloody Sam” after his – for the time – extreme violence; it’s no surprise a Rockstar western follows his fierce and fearsome formula.

red dead redemption 2 sam peckinpah

But Red Dead Redemption 2’s metronomic violence, interspersed with treacle-slow travel through painterly landscapes, is as much a sign of the creative times as of the classic films it clearly idolises and lovingly imitates. Far removed from the impish Bully or the vaseline-smeared stylisation of Vice City and San Andreas, this is a game that was born of Grand Theft Auto V, of Trevor’s nihilism and brutality, and that torture sequence. It was around the same time that prestige television changed tack, too, from the likes of Six Feet Under, The West Wing and Mad Men to Breaking Bad, Westworld, The Walking Dead and, of course, Game of Thrones. These shows still allow themselves to burn slow like their forebears, ponderous even, but when the moment comes? Holy shit, it comes.

Which brings us neatly onto the current discourse, the video game that is trying so hard to prove its maturity, and the one that everyone is tearing strips off one another over on social media: The Last of Us Part II.

Kill your darlings

I’m not going to lie: I didn’t sleep well after I played the opening few hours of The Last of Us Part II. Like Ellie throughout the course of the game, I was haunted by the sights and sounds of Joel’s horrific, violent death. The abrupt shotgun kneecapping. The repeated torture with the golf club. His screams from down the hall, Ellie howling at him to get up. The gruesome final blow.

It’s a sequence straight out of Benioff and Weiss’ playbook, a blueprint for Game of Thrones moulded into something new and interactive, yet painfully familiar. Meanwhile, the precise manner of his death – with sporting equipment as a weapon and his face bloodied, contorted and crushed – is almost a carbon copy of Glenn Rhee’s baseball bat brutalisation in The Walking Dead.

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Picture the hollow, numbing inevitability of Ned Stark’s beheading. Mix in the raw, unkempt violence of Oberyn Martell’s death at the hands of The Mountain. The guttural, bone-chilling shock of the Red Wedding, the brutality of the attack on Talisa Stark’s unborn baby and the callousness of what followed. The senseless death of Shireen Baratheon on the funeral pyre, which served no one and changed nothing, the poster child for the futility of violence.

All of these things, like the death of Joel, were shocking and violent in the extreme. They also all kept me awake at night, unable to shake them from my consciousness, unable to escape them as I slept. You might argue that the fact I couldn’t sleep meant the scene did its job, to shock, to horrify. I would counter that I need all the sleep I can get, thanks.

I won’t argue that the death of Joel was uncalled for, that the story played out in The Last of Us Part II somehow disrespected a beloved character. It’s not my place to second-guess another writer. It is certainly not the place of fandom, no matter how fervent their belief that they somehow own or control these characters, these stories. Down that road, madness lies; just ask Mass Effect or, more recently, Star Wars. (Though I might caution writers in general that the answer to the question, “why do you keep fridging female characters?” is not simply to fridge male characters in their stead.)

But the manner in which Joel was killed? The viciousness, the specificity, the graphicness of it? Given that it’s giving me nightmares, that might just have been overkill.

What else could they do?

The primary argument in favour of the violence in The Last of Us Part II – because let’s remember, it’s not just the violence against Joel; that’s merely the start of it – is that it serves as motivation for the player. That they need the initial shock as impetus, then repeat exposure to violent stimulus to keep the momentum going, to keep driving you forward on your search for reprisal. You can almost set your watch by it. After a certain amount of slow-burn time passes you’ll either run into something horrific done by someone else, or be forced to do something horrific yourself to progress the story.

(And don’t even get me started on the ludonarrative dissonance of it all. In spite of all its efforts to motivate the player through and into violence, Naughty Dog is well aware that players might have bailed out at various opportunities for the safety and sanity of Ellie and her loved ones, and takes that option off the table entirely at every turn. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

The Last of Us Part II - Ellie

This conveyor belt of violence and reprisal is another trick utilised in Game of Thrones, where Arya Stark’s arc follows a remarkably similar path to Ellie’s in The Last of Us Part II. After the brutal death of her father, she travels halfway across the continent several times, with a list of people to exact her vengeance upon and a small sword with which to do it. Or in Ellie’s case: After the brutal death of her father figure, she travels halfway across the continent several times, with a list of people to exact her vengeance upon and a small flick knife with which to do it. The Last of Us Part II even features an awkward, somewhat aggressive sex scene; another Game of Thrones staple that’s carried over in video game form.

But you don’t have to be as explicitly violent (or violently explicit) as Game of Thrones to get your point across, to shock your audience and motivate both them and your characters for retribution.

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Breaking Bad was filled with many brutal deaths, including the decapitation of Tortuga, the explosive mutilation of Gus Fring, and the box-cutter and bathtub incidents, but it was the sudden murder of Jesse’s girlfriend Andrea Cantillo and the long-foreshadowed (but still shocking that it actually happened) killing of brother-in-law DEA agent Hank Schrader – both at the hands of the neo-nazi gang that takes over the blue meth operation – that serve as the biggest motivators for Jesse Pinkman and Walter White respectively. Neither is gory or explicit, like the majority of the “motivational” deaths in Game of Thrones or The Last of Us Part II. Both are just excruciatingly sad. But both hurt just that little bit more than all the others and are upsetting enough to serve as a driver for the narrative, the characters, and the audience.

The same is true of The Walking Dead, which is filled with too many gruesome and explicit deaths to recount, but it is the quiet ones – the loss of Sophia, of Lizzie and Mika, of Dale Horvath, of Merle Dixon, of Beth, of Siddiq – that hurt the most. In Westworld, where beloved characters can be violently raped and murdered over and over for the entertainment of its patrons, the sudden execution of Dr Robert Ford or the desperately sad (5748th) death of Teddy at the hand of Dolores or the cold obsoletion of Maeve carry more weight than the others combined. Even Bernard Lowe finding out his true origin was more devastating than the countless violent deaths in the park.

You can cry “motivation” all much as you like, then, but the mature themes in The Last of Us Part II  – and video games in general – are as much about pursuing prestige TV, about legitimising that claim that video games are a “mature” form of entertainment by brimming them with “mature” content. Even now, with an enormous audience and countless revenue, video games are still determined to prove that they no longer deserve a seat at the kiddies table of the entertainment world.

But there’s a danger in aggressively pursuing that agenda, in protesting too much your legitimacy, your maturity. The teenager at the wedding, angry and hurt by not being seated with the grown-ups lashes out, looking more childish than ever. And when you draw attention to it, with top-of-your-voice arguments trying to counter accusations of immaturity, you just end up proving them right. It’s a zero-sum game,  the Streisand Effect at work and, quite frankly, it is very effective at making you look foolish in this specific scenario.

The actions of a mature medium

So where do we go from here, then? The way I see it, there are two options:

The most mature course of action would be for the video game industry to stop focusing on what cinema and TV are doing, trying to legitimise itself by their standards, and focus on what it does best – innovation and interactivity. After all, as a wise friend and former colleague once told me, “the medium is not the message”.

The other option? If we must mimic movies or parrot prestige TV, if there is genuinely no other way to legitimise ourselves amongst the “grown-up” mediums and get off the kiddies table, can I suggest, for the love of everything we hold dear, can we start watching some different shows?

the last of us part ii riders in the snow

Imagine how much more “grown-up” video games would seem if they stopped being preoccupied with being “mature”; if instead of Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead they put The Leftovers or Chernobyl or Russian Doll on a pedestal? There’s still plenty of room for murder (Killing Eve) or violent uprising (The Man in the High Castle) or oppression (The Handmaid’s Tale) or adult themes (Sex Education) or misery (Fortitude) or mystery (Dark) or all of the above (in HBO’s Watchmen). But the point is, there are options. There are other ways this can go. Exercise a little choice and agency and discretion, for once, instead of just banging on about it as a sales technique.

As for me? Ellie may have finally exorcised her demons in The Last of Us Part II – by the end, at great personal cost – and she can remember Joel in life again, rather than being tormented by him, twisted in death. I only wish I could say the same.


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14 reasons Abby’s arms are realistic, actually, in The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II: 14 reasons why Abby’s arms are realistic, actually. (Numbers 11 to 1 will astound you!)

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abby arms the last of us part ii
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Warning: this article contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part II. (And will hopefully also spoil things for men who are weirdly threatened by Abby’s arms.)

When angry little boys on the internet get upset it’s usually over something they perceive as a threat to what they consider a male pursuit.

What they say aloud is often very different from what they actually feel, however. Misogynistic gatekeeping (and homophobia and racism, but we’re just on the sexism bit today) get boiled down to so many straw man arguments, to try and legitimise the fact they don’t want girls playing in their treehouse.

Battlefield V featuring a female soldier in World War II is historically inaccurate!” They cry, when there was actually lots of evidence of female soldiers.

“But Vikings were all big beardy men, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is feminist propaganda!” They yell, but guess what? Female Vikings, or Shieldmaidens – we might’ve gone for Viqueens, but whatever – were also totally a thing.

“It’s about ethics in games journalism!” They wail, diapers brimming, and we all know that’s not true.

The latest source of ire for the toys-out-the-pram brigade is The Last of Us Part II. Well, several bits of it, actually. But the source of their ire appears to boil down to three things:

  • Gay female protagonist
  • Trans supporting character
  • Another female protagonist

And like all of the other instances above, they then look for debate-me-in-the-marketplace-of-ideas explanations, supposedly empirical proof for why the thing they don’t like is “wrong”. It sits more easily than just admitting you’re being a misogynistic baby, presumably.

For The Last of Us Part II? They settled on the other female protagonist, Abby – and, more specifically, the size of her arms – as something they could fixate on. Something they could debate you over. Something they could “prove” was “wrong”.

Yep. Her arms. Weird, right? (When really we know that they’re either threatened by strong women, or upset that she doesn’t look like Lara Croft, or both. It’s probably both.)

Anyway, without drawing any further attention to the specifics of their complaint, imagined or otherwise, let’s run down a list of reasons why Abby’s arms are realistic, actually, in The Last of Us Part II.

14. She’s literally a post-apocalyptic soldier

the last of us part ii abby hammer

Think about it for a moment. It’s the end of the world in The Last of Us Part II, and the end of the world happens to be filled with fast zombies you frequently have fistfights with. Often the best way to kill them is to either brain them with a bit of pipe or a wrench (or something of that ilk), or smash their head into something solid, like a wall or a table. If you can’t do that – and you don’t have any bullets or blades available – you literally have to punch them to death.

Now consider that Abby is a solider in these end times. Not only is she spending significant amounts of time punching these fast zombies to death, she’s also doing it while carrying around large amounts of military equipment. It stands to reason that she would be jacked, and that’s even before you consider how her grief and revenge motivation might have caused her to hit the gym.

13. She practically lives in a gym

the last of us part ii abby gym

When we visit Abby’s home in what we presume is the CenturyLink stadium – the real-world home of the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders – we see that her apartment, that she shares with Manny, is literally right next door to an incredibly well-stocked gym. If you move into the former home of two professional sports teams it makes sense that there’ll be free weights and cardiovascular equipment left behind and, if you want to keep your militia in top shape? You’ll make sure they use it.

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It just happens that Abby is a bit keener on the gym than some of her colleagues and friends, that’s all. There’s nothing wrong with that.

12. She eats like a horse

the last of us part ii abby manny burritos

There’s no way Abby can maintain a physique like that, and under constant exertion, without taking in three, four, maybe even five-thousand calories a day. You can tell she chows down like a competitive eater by the way she annihilates a burrito on the move.

But perhaps more telling is how much muscle mass Abby loses after two-to-three months in the company of the Rattlers, forced to work on their plantation on minimal rations. She looks like a different person by the end of the game, a shadow of her former self, because she needs those calories to maintain that physique.

That’s just like performance athletes in real life. Speaking of which.

11. Just look at Tia-Clair Toomey

tia-clair toomey

Source: @tiaclair1 on Instagram

This is Tia-Clair Toomey. She is a real-life woman, not a CGI construct. She’s also the reigning CrossFit Games champion and in 2019’s event, cleaned 120 kg / 265 lb on the competition floor. Her deadlift PB is 188 kg / 415 lb. She has defended her title for three years in a row. In the two years before that, she placed second, even in her rookie year in 2015.

She is frequently referred to as the fittest woman in the world. She is not just strong; she is athletic and agile with enormous stamina, in addition to being immensely powerful. Oh, and did we forget to mention she’s also an Olympian, and won Gold in the 58 kg women’s weightlifting at the 2018 Commonwealth games?

Look at her arms. Then look at Abby’s. In fact, compare their physiques in general. Pretty similar, no?

10. And Katrin Davíðsdóttir

katrin davidsdottir

Source: @katrintanja on Instagram

Katrin Tanja Davíðsdóttir, a CrossFit athlete from Iceland where they build them big, has won the CrossFit Games twice, in 2015 and 2016. In both those years, she finished ahead of Toomey, which is no mean feat. Her arms also look like Abby’s arms in The Last of Us Part II.

9. And Laura Horvath

laura horvath

Source: @laurahorvaht on Instagram

Horvath finished second to Toomey in her debut CrossFit Games in 2018. Another Abby lookalike. Can you see where this is going yet?

8. And Kara Saunders

kara saunders

Source: @karasaundo on Instagram

Saunders has placed 2nd, 4th, 5th and 7th at the CrossFit Games between 2014 and 2018. She too has shoulders like Abby from The Last of Us Part II.

7. This is Annie Thorisdottir

annie thorisdottir

Source: @anniethorisdottir on Instagram

Another Icelander, Thorisdottir won the CrossFit Games in 2012, and in the years since, has achieved 2nd, 3rd and 5th-place finishes. Another woman who has a build like Abby.

6. And Kristin Holte

kristin holte

Source: @holtekristin on Instagram

Holte, from Norway – they do like their CrossFit in Viking country – placed second behind Toomey at the CrossFit Games in 2019. She’s one of the older athletes on the circuit now, but has been improving year on year. She also looks quite a lot like Abby.

5. And Ragnheiður Sara Sigmundsdottir

sara sigmundsdottir

Source: @sarasigmunds on Instagram

Ragnheiður Sara Sigmundsdottir – or simply “Sara” to the American commentators who trip over her first name – boasts two 3rd and a 4th-place finish at the CrossFit Games. She’s another Icelandic athlete who looks rather like Abby.

4. Here’s Jamie Simmonds (née Greene)

jamie simmonds

Source: @jgreenewod on Instagram

Simmonds has placed third at the CrossFit games, both in the individual and team events. Though not in the same year; that would be ridiculous. Another Abby body double, mind you.

3. And Samantha Briggs

samantha briggs

Source: @bicepslikebriggs on Instagram

Samantha Briggs won the CrossFit Games back in 2013 and, in spite of being one of the older competitors in the field, is still able to compete at the highest level. That’s presumably because she’s built like Abby from The Last of Us Part II.

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2. And Amanda Barnhart

amanda barnhart

Source: @amandajbarnhart on instagram

Barnhart’s best-placed finish in the CrossFit games is 7th so far – she has only entered twice since switching to the sport – but has the notable distinction of a deadlift PB only 10 kg / 22 lb behind Tia-Clair Toomey, which is terrifying. And she looks like Abby too, doesn’t she?

1. And finally, meet Colleen Fotsch

colleen fotsch abby the last of us part II

Source: @colleenfotsch on Instagram

Colleen Fotsch might not be as highly-ranked on the CrossFit circuit as some of the other athletes mentioned above – she suffered a shoulder injury in 2017 that required major surgery and derailed her career somewhat – but she is the athlete on this list that looks the most like Abby in The Last of Us Part II.

Why? Because Abby’s powerful physique is literally modelled on Fotsch.

All those people saying that real women can’t be as muscular as Abby – assuming that it was some error in CG measurements, some over-zealous 3D modeller who’s not seen a woman before – don’t realise that Abby was modelled after the physique of a real-life athlete. The process involved voice actor Laura Bailey performing in the old ping-pong-ball suit in the motion capture studio, then 3D models of Fotsch’s impressive physique were layered onto Bailey’s animated skeleton.

So I’m sorry to break it to you, but Abby’s arms are realistic because they’re actually a real person’s arms. This is literally what a woman looks like when she dedicates her life to strength and physical fitness, and if that scares you, or makes you feel uncomfortable, or inadequate? That’s your problem, not hers.


Forgotten what happened in the original The Last of Us? You’ll want to read our comprehensive story recap.

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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