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Spec Ops: The Line and the Future of Shooters

This year’s E3 marked a dramatic shift, albeit one that was not immediately noticeable.



Spec Ops: The Line

As E3’s go, it was not a revolutionary year, no major new hardware announcements were made, nor were there game reveals that left everyone stunned. That is not to say that it was a bad year, for it demonstrated confidence from the industry following the new hardware releases at the end of 2013.

It is still too early to expect anything truly revolutionary from the larger developers, as they are still getting to grips with the new hardware and trying to appease the demands of achieving the coveted 1080p 60fps “gold standard”. This has been reflected with the number of upcoming titles that, on the surface, are playing it fairly safe. EA, Activision, and Ubisoft all have new instalments from their major franchises. Whilst most of these new entries do offer new takes on their respective series’, none are to the extent that they can be deemed truly new to video games.

What became evident from E3 this year was the change in tone and setting found in the industry’s genre staple, the shooter (this includes both First and Third person shooters). Activision’s Call of Duty is no longer taking place in a (relatively) modern setting and has moved to the near future with soldiers that fight for private militaries, use exoskeletons, and are given orders by Kevin Spacey. Activision are also publishing Halo creator Bungie’s new IP Destiny which takes place far into the future on Earth after humanity’s galactic golden era has already been and gone. EA’s Battlefield, whilst still taking place in the present day can no longer be called a military shooter, for it is now effectively a game of cops & robbers.

Kotaku recently pointed out just how many new space themed games are coming out in the coming year or so, and whilst only a couple of those are shooters it is a marked change in setting from the recent console generation which seemed to have a fixation on the modern setting. Space settings can often be symbolic of a desire to explore a more optimistic potential future, but it can also be used to explore the problems of today but through a different lense, either to obscure the link to the present or for the creative freedom it can allow.

Although whilst that can be the case, many of the space themed games mentioned in Kotaku’s list focus more on exploration or combat instead of concentrating on developing fixed narrative (with the exception of Tales from the Borderlands). These titles promote the idea of the player creating their own story based on the experiences they have in the game. That is not to mean that single player narrative based games are in decline (again Tales from the Borderlands counters this), but the move away from a contemporary setting and the current military identity can be seen as a growing tiredness of the modern military shooter.

As mentioned previously, whilst Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (CoD4) was not the first modern military shooter, it was the first to popularise it. Likewise Yager’s Spec Ops: The Line is not the last game to utilise the conventions of a modern military shooter (as there have already been two Call of Duty’s and a Battlefield game since) it can be argued that it symbolised the fall of the genre. Often when game is attributed to a fall of genre it is because it represented the last tired attempt of trying to grasp at the remaining money that can be made from it, or that it was so bad that it put people off from buying more games from that genre and therefore developers from making those games. One such example is the demise of the music rhythm genre which Activision helped to bury after numerous unnecessary Guitar Hero iterations.

Spec Ops is not an example of this. Rather it did such an outstanding job of creating a meaningful modern military shooter that explores the horrors of conflict that can take place in a modern setting (even though it is loosely based on a novella written at the end of the 19th century) whilst also managing to highlight the problems that had plagued the genre. So intrinsic was this aspect that the game essentially played out like a parody of the genre whilst simultaneously becoming increasingly bleak. Throughout Spec Ops presented players with the illusion of choice, yet these choices always provided a desperate result with the possible outcome being either bad or worse; there was no good choice. Ultimately the only real choice that was given to the player was whether or not they wanted to continue. The game was an exercise in pointing out the horrible things that were taking place in games from this genre that were never properly analysed. Spec Ops changed this and instead asked the player if they felt like hero.

In modern military shooters (and shooters in general) the player is tasked with shooting pretty much anything that moves without giving it a moment’s notice. The problem with this approach is that players are willingly led into assuming that everyone who they kill in the game deserved to die, with the only real reason for this being that the “enemy” would do the same to them. During the Death From Above mission in CoD4 the player is tasked with shooting at any humans on screen that are not clearly identified as an ally, but for all they know they could be shooting at civilians. Spec Ops actually takes this notion and makes it a reality.

Spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line from here on

During the infamous White Phosphorus scene, the main protagonist Captain Walker finds his Delta Force between a rock and a hard place and makes the choice that using white phosphorus is the only way to progress forward towards their (his) goal. The way the scene plays out is very reminiscent of Death From Above with the same distorted video screen and the use of heat signatures. However at the end of the scene instead of emerging as victors of a battle, Delta Force are portrayed as the villains, whilst they walk past the scorched remains of the American soldiers that Walker subjected to devastation of white phosphorus. From here the situation only becomes worse, for Walker discovers that the large mass of people by the gates were not a further group of soldiers but instead the very survivors they came here to protect. The intensity of this horror is strengthened by the image of the charred remains of a mother trying to protect her child from the raining death that Walker was unleashing on them.

Towards the end of the game Walker challenges Colonel Konrad, who Walker has fixated upon as being the cause of all of the suffering that has occurred, accusing him of having done all of this. Konrad retorts ‘no, you did’. He then adds that ‘none of this would have happened if you’d just stop’. Konrad may be talking to Walker but he is also addressing the player. If the player had stopped playing the game then the horrors that took place would not have been committed at the hands of the player. They had one real choice, and they chose to continue playing. As Walker is trying to comprehend the situation and his own mental sanity he proclaims to Konrad that he is ‘done playing games’ to which Konrad responds ‘I assure you this is no game’.

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It is hyperbolic to claim that Spec Ops is more than a video game, because in terms of the gameplay experienced Spec Ops presents itself as a competent third person shooter. It is better than average to play, but aside from the occasional use of sand to alter the battlefield, provides little that is new to shooters. Although this is a positive element as it prevents the gameplay from detracting from the wider themes that the game is addressing, but is good enough so as not be a hurdle to the player (the game is still difficult, but fair). This is in contrast to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 which after the success of its predecessor, Infinity Ward decided to start the game with a scene designed purely to shock the player. But they failed to make it meaningful in any way, and the end result became another example of video games problem with violence. The lacking importance of the scene was further highlighted due to the player being warned about the nature of the upcoming scene and then asked if they wanted to skip it. Spec Ops confronts the player with shocking scenes, but they are accompanied by meaning, Modern Warfare 2 offers the player a shooting gallery full of innocent civilians with the only justification being that it is what terrorists do.

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw made an important observation during his “review” in which he compared Spec Ops to a horror game, and due to the deteriorating psychological state of Walker and Delta Force this is rather apt. This is a much more appropriate way to explore war rather than the fun shooting galleries presented in Call of Duty and Battlefield. Even though CoD has abandoned modern military it is still focusing on the role of the military, except this time it looks like it might be taking a page out of Metal Gear Solid’s playbook. Battlefield on the other hand is trying to reinvigorate itself by being more like a modern TV police drama and firmly dropping its prior militaristic gung-ho attitude.

Shooters will always be around, and have been one of the strongest genres since the days of Wolfenstein 3D in the early 1990s. They will continue to evolve and change, but for now people have become tired of the modern military genre (and the real world circumstances that it portrays) like they have done previously with both World War 2 and space settings, both of which are making a form of return, highlighting the cyclical nature of the genre. Yet changing the setting alone is not enough for shooters to develop, for the way that players interact with them need to evolve as well.

One such potential example is Ubisoft’s upcoming Tom Clancy game The Division. David Polfeldt, managing director of Massive Entertainment (the games developer), points out the inherent problem with shooters being the amount of killing that takes place. This might be an oxymoronic statement to make considering that killing is considered the point of shooters, but it need not be. Shooters do not have to be about killing, Portal is technically a shooter as it utilises most of the same conventions, and in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater it is possible to go through an entire playthrough without killing a single person.

Spec Ops may have asked the player why they mindlessly killed hundreds of people, but it still made them in order to drive the question home. In The Division shooting apparently does not always have to be the answer to a situation, allowing for the possibility of more player choice in how they approach a game, rather than the usual of how they can kill someone. Spec Ops was progressive by being self-aware of what makes a shooter and brought attention to the flaws within the genre to produce a memorable experience. The Division could take things further and implement change into its gameplay making it a morally aware shooter.

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Despite studying Politics at Undergrad and then War Studies at Master's level, James managed to write multiple essays relating to technology and more importantly video games.


Is Ghost of Tsushima worth playing?




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


“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


“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.

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

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“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


“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.

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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?



the last of us part II prestige TV
Naughty Dog / Thumbsticks

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.

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.

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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.

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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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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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!)



abby arms the last of us part ii
Naughty Dog / Thumbsticks

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.

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.

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.

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19 last-gen video games we completely forgot existed

Is your mind failing, or are these 19 last-generation video games just completely forgettable? We dig deep and try to remember.



Forgotten video games - Fuse on PS3
Insomniac Games

Is your mind failing, or are these 19 video games just completely forgettable? We dig deep and try to remember.

During the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 console generation, publishers were happy to put time and money behind mid-tier AA video games, giving them a marketing push and a decent physical print run. Some of these games were good, and some were bad. We expect most were scored seven out of ten. Some were also pretty popular, but, for a variety of reasons, they have been forgotten over time.

Here’s an entirely arbitrary list of 19 games from the last console generation that have been deleted from our brains with magic mind erasers.

It’s interesting to note how many of the gameplay concepts and themes in these titles continue to thrive in some of today’s most popular titles. These video games may be forgotten, by us at least, but in some small way, their influence lives on. It also proves that sci-fi shooters never go out of fashion.

This is an entirely subjective list, of course, and you’ll likely have your own choices. Let us know on Facebook and Twitter which video games you still remember that no one else ever seems to mention.

Darwinia (2005)

Darwinia had already made a name for itself on Mac and PC before coming to Xbox Live Arcade as Darwinia+. It’s a real-time strategy game of the highest calibre with a crisp visual design that remains impressive fifteen years on. For a period, the game was the go-to tactical experience on Xbox 360, before gradually fading from consciousness. Someone really needs to port it to Nintendo Switch.

TimeShift (2007)

Saber Interactive’s TimeShift is a forgotten gem. The FPS gameplay is solid, but it’s the ability to stop and rewind time that makes it stand out. Pausing time to avoid incoming projectiles never gets boring, and the mechanic adds a welcome element of puzzling to proceedings. It’s a little simplistic by modern standards – and it’s chockfull of bland sci-fi soldiers – but at least it tried.

Afrika PS3

Afrika (2008)

For a brief moment, following its appearance at E3 2006, Afrika was a flag-bearer for the graphical capabilities of the PlayStation 3. Rhino Studios’ game was considered almost photorealistic, and its non-violent photojournalism gameplay was also appealing. Afrika eventually made it into the wild in 2008, by which time no one cared. A missed opportunity.

Wet (2009)

Wet had a troubled development – and was briefly on Activision’s books – before being released on a wave of hype by Bethesda. The game’s rough edges and Tarantino-esque grindhouse design make it a grubby experience to play. Eliza Dushku throws herself into the role of Rubi with considerable gumption, but it cant save the game.

Wet sold reasonably well, but no one who played it remembers they did until they look back over their Xbox 360 achievement history. Developer Artificial Mind and Movement morphed into Behaviour Interactive and is now best known for Dead by Daylight.

Create (2010)

EA’s puzzle sandbox is part-game, part-game creation tool-kit. It’s an ambitious product, but a myriad of usability issues and a limited toolset rather hobble it. Create does receive props for using the PlayStation Move controller as a game creation interface nearly a decade before Media Molecule released Dreams.

Dante’s Inferno (2010)

Visceral Games – aka EA Redwood Shores – was one of EA’s most productive studios during the 00s, working on acclaimed titles like Dead Space, The Godfather, and, erm, MySims Agents. In 2010 the studio adapted the first canticle of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (as you do) to create a hack-and-slash game designed to compete with God of War. The result was a good looking game with some thrilling moments.

Unfortunately, and like its inspiration, it’s a bit of a slog to get through. The mooted sequel – based on Purgatorio – never arrived. Gutted.

Dark Void video games

Dark Void (2010)

Bear McCreary. What a composer. He came to the attention of geeks like me with his fabulous music for Battlestar Galactica. Since then, he has provided scores for everything from Outlander and The Walking Dead, to Black Sails and the PS4’s God of War. In 2010 he created a majestic soundtrack for Capcom’s jet-pack action game, Dark Void. It’s a wonderful score, but the game is a mess.

The much-hyped ‘vertical cover system’ causes all sorts of bother in combat, and, despite its intriguing premise, the story goes nowhere. Dark Void received lots of buzz at E3 2009, but it stalled on take-off and was another of Capcom’s late-00s failures. That soundtrack though. Swoon.

Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn (2010)

This Ni no Kuni adventure on Nintendo DS is a slightly cheeky inclusion. The game never made it to the West, instead evolving into Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for the PlayStation 3. The fact it never received a Western release is surprising, considering the acclaim it received in Japan and the popularity of the Nintendo DS at the time.

Syndicate (2010)

Syndicate commits the biggest crime of all by reviving a much-loved franchise without paying dues to its history. The classic real-time tactical shooter was reborn as an FPS by Starbreeze Studios. It’s a fundamentally solid game with interesting traversal and fresh take on cooperative multiplayer. It was also well-reviewed, but the game failed to find an audience among newcomers or long-term Syndicate fans.

Brink (2011)

Brink has all the right ingredients. It has a super-cool, futuristic look, and an inventive first-person traversal system called SMART (That’s Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain, acronym fans). Even the narrative backdrop – humanity lives on a weird floating ark – is a cut above most other mid-00s sci-fi games.

Unfortunately, the team-based FPS gameplay never coheres into a consistently enjoyable experience. Add in some rough edges, and you have a game that is literally on the brink of greatness.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (2011)

Despite lots of pre-release buzz, making El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron a mainstream hit was always going to be a difficult task. Notable for being based on apocryphal Book of Enoch, El Shaddai also gained attention for its striking Studio Ghibli-inspired graphics. Visuals of this nature were not common in 2011, and the way the game blends storytelling and combat with the aesthetics is delightful.

Although the game received a sequel of sorts – 2017’s The Lost Child – it’s a shame that El Shaddai isn’t recognised for its achievements.

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Shadows of the Damned (2011)

You could rustle up a list like this purely based on games developed by Grasshopper Manufacture. Another EA published title, this collaboration between Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami is as weird as you would hope.  Ultimately, Shadows of the Damned was just too weird to find an audience. If nothing else, lead protagonist Garcia Hotspur deserves some recognition for his amazing name.

Bodycount (2011)

Bodycount is the perfect example of the era’s mid-tier shooters. Codemasters’ game is a sequel of sorts to 2006’s Black. It’s thoroughly competent, runs at a clip, and is completely forgettable. The game’s big selling point was its destructible environments, but in the event, even that can’t freshen up an uninspired sci-fi FPS.

Binary Domain Screenshot

Binary Domain (2012)

Binary Domain was another game to receive decent reviews but bomb commercially. Directed by Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi, it attempts to blend third-person gunplay with a narrative consequence system. Whether it was the genre, or the sense of antipathy surrounding Japanese games at the time, Binary Domain sunk without a trace. In recent years, its reputation has grown, and it’s now considered to be a something of a minor classic.

Book of Spells (Wonderbook) (2012)

Wonderbook is another of Sony’s overlooked innovations (take a bow, Eye Toy). Using a combination of the PlayStation Move controller, the PlayStation Eye, and the Wonderbook peripheral, this augmented reality game brings the Wizarding World to life. The tech works surprisingly well, but, like many Harry Potter spin-offs, it’s crushingly dull. Three more Wonderbook games followed, including a sequel, Book of Potions, and a game based on Walking With Dinosaurs. Thrilling.

Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)

Here’s Grasshopper Manufacture again with another messy hack-and-slash adventure. Colourful, hedonistic, puerile, stupid, trashy, sexy, and offensive, it’s all a bit much. Nonetheless, the game was successful, comfortably shifting over a million copies.

Despite impressive sales, it feels like Lollipop Chainsaw has disappeared from the gaming hive mind without a trace. No one even wants a Switch port. We’re kinda happy about that.


Fuse (2013)

Not everything Insomniac Games develops turns to gold, as this 2013 third-person shooter proves. The influences of Ratchet & Clank and Resistance are evident in a four-player co-op shooter that has some cool weapons but little else to commend it. It’s a bland game of bland sci-fi blandness complete with bland evil corporations, bland secret government organisations, and band superweapons. The cover art – also bland – is noteworthy for succinctly summing up an entire sub-genre of video games.

Fantasia: Music Evolved (2014)

Well, we had to include at least one Kinect game, didn’t we? Fantasia: Music Evolved is pitched as the official follow up to the Disney film series, which is quite the burden. However, Harmonix rose to the challenge with this beautiful and immersive game. The soundtrack is glorious, and even the Kinect functions work well. Despite the game’s evident quality, the technological barrier to entry means it’s little more than a footnote in Mickey Mouse’s rich history.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (2014)

The much loved Ninja Gaiden series smacks itself in the face with this misguided spin-off. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is best forgotten for its difficult, buggy, and repetitive gameplay. Its leering, crass humour is also distasteful and the game proved to be the final nail in the coffin for developer Spark Unlimited.

We’ll also hand out honourable mentions to The Saboteur, Brutal Legend, Too Human, Puppeteer, and Devil’s Third. Tell us how wrong, or right, we are on Facebook and Twitter.

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An idiot’s guide to Final Fantasy VII, learned entirely through the Remake

I decided it was time I experienced Final Fantasy 7 how it was intended: by playing a 35-hour reimagining of the first 6 hours of the original game



an idiots guide to the final fantasy vii remake
Square Enix / Thumbsticks

I’ve seen Final Fantasy 7 be called several things over the years.

“The greatest JRPG of all time.”

“The most influential role-playing experience ever made.”

“The Citizen Kane of gaming.” [Who said that? Give us their names! They need a stern talking to – Ed.]

Yet, for all this acclaim, I, Callum Williams, have never played Final Fantasy 7. In truth, I’ve never even played a Final Fantasy game before. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the dated art style, the strange battle system; maybe it was the fact that every character looked like assorted shapes of playdough held together by toothpicks. I just never found myself drawn to Final Fantasy 7’s world.

Luckily, however, Square Enix is aware of the lazy souls out there unwilling to look past a 22-year-old game’s geriatric shortcomings, and they gifted us a full, from-the-ground-up remake. So, I put my thorough criticism cap on and decided it was time I experienced Final Fantasy 7 how it was intended: by playing a 35-hour reimagining of the first 6 hours of the original game, except in glorious 4K.

Cloud ‘Where’s My Money’ Strife

Now, for those who are new like me, the first thing worth noting is that Final Fantasy 7’s world is a bizarre melting pot of RPG genres. You’ve got your glowing sci-fi powerplants with mechanical death robots, your fantasy sword and spell combinations, your spiky-haired anime protagonists and, perhaps more jarringly, your eerie horror laboratories full of terrifying monsters.

It in all culminates in what can only be described as an RPG all-you-can-eat buffet, with characters jumping between discussing the ethics of environmental pollution and how dragons are trying to eat their children like it’s the weather and the football.

The story itself takes place in the city of Midgar, which, all things considered, doesn’t seem too bad. Sure, it’s ruled by a corrupt corporation who are slowly but surely destroying the planet by leeching its energy force dry while thousands live in deplorable slums and are drip-fed heavily censored information, but it doesn’t sound too far off current world events, does it? At least they can still go down the pub with a few mates without fear of catching a debilitating illness, so that’s something.

The aforementioned evil empire – or Shinra Corporation, to use its Sunday name – has the genius idea to siphon magical blue glowing liquid out of the ground to power their badass futuristic lighting aesthetic. Shinra also has a strange fetish for murdering thousands of innocent people for no reason. Why? Because they’re evil and that’s what evil people do.

final fantasy vii remake avalanche graffiti

We play as Cloud ‘Where’s My Money’ Strife: a hard-hitting, few-word-speaking, woman-ignoring mercenary who only deals in cold hard cash, rude retorts and poorly placed grunts. Luckily, he’s not afraid of reminding people that he’s a sword for hire, as he hounds every friend that merely wants to spend some quality time with him for the spare change from their pockets. It’s also worth noting he has beautiful eyes, because damn, will you be hearing about them a lot when talking to anyone in this game.

When we catch up with Cloud he’s aiding a renegade plan to blow up Shinra’s “Mako” reactors. (Because surely exploding a powerplant in the middle of a densely-populated city won’t have any negative repercussions.) He’s joined by a ragtag bunch of outlaws – all of which look like members of a 90s cartoon about fun-loving pirates – as well as Barret, who has a literal Gatling gun for an arm but no one seems to think it’s all that weird.

It’s here that we establish a strong precedent going forward for Final Fantasy 7, which is that no matter how friendly and likeable the characters Cloud meets are, he will proceed to crush their love into tiny balls and throw it back in their faces.

Protecting the environment is preferable, but money is even better

Regardless, every character for some reason wants to either date Cloud or have a beer with him, no matter how much he sighs, grunts or literally tells them to shut up. Case in point, Cloud’s bizarre love life, which sees countless kind-natured girls hint that they’re actually into his cold, emotionless heart before he rejects each and every one of their advances.

final fantasy vii remake tifa cloud aerith linking arms

But, I digress. For the most part, Cloud’s early adventures are a straightforward ride. Shinra’s bad, Avalanche is good, protecting the environment is preferable, but money is even better. Gotcha, sorted. That’s what I thought at least, but then Cloud starts having intense migraines and before we know it, he starts seeing plot-heavy flashbacks that, 36 hours later, still make no sense.

Better yet, big bad Sephiroth – who many friends who’ve played the original game told me was barely even in the Midgar section of Final Fantasy 7 – decides he’s going to use this time to pop in for a good chinwag. This man is like your mum’s neighbourhood friend, who turns up three times a week to “borrow” some butter then winds up slowly drinking three coffees and recounting their hatred of Karen from number 16.

For a maniacal, all-powerful soldier Sephiroth seemingly has nothing to do except hang around and talk about cryptic nonsense which, by the end, even Cloud seems to be bored by. Alongside the strange diversion that is Sephiroth, Final Fantasy 7 also introduces a legion of creepy ghosts who love to pop up without any warning and leave without anyone ever stopping to say, “well, that was weird.”

Both these antagonists rear their heads several times throughout the campaign, yet, Final Fantasy 7 just seems to nonchalantly instruct you to forget they were there. It’s not important. just some ghostly spectres and a rambling, omnipresent stalker with a massive samurai sword and the most beautiful hair you’ve ever seen.

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Fighting a house and tandem skydiving with Badger from Breaking Bad

From here, a lot happens. We meet Tifa and Aerith: Cloud’s two biggest admirers and the pair he savagely insults most frequently. We are introduced to several evil people who we can tell are evil because they wear suits (or a red cocktail dress), have thick facial hair (or gravity-defying cleavage), and laugh heartily whenever someone mentions murder. We even take a few brief stints to transform the game into a freelance simulator, with Cloud and a pal teaming up to take the independent contractor scene by storm.

My personal favourite example is when Cloud is “hired” by a little girl to find three stray cats, for which he’s paid nothing, but Tifa gives him the classic “it’s all about building connections” speech. She’s right. Having a lonely eight-year-old who can speak to cats as part of your network is essential after all. Let me add her on LinkedIn right now.

Before long, I’d seen Cloud rack up quite the list of accomplishments for a dude who communicates solely in grunts and vocal invoices. He’d defeated a morbidly obese chicken, become a drag queen that Ru Paul would be proud of, fought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their home turf of the sewers, battled the Hell House – which is, as the name suggests, an evil house from Hell – and even gone tandem skydiving with Badger from Breaking Bad. The world was well and truly his oyster and, despite the fact I am a complete Final Fantasy rookie, I was actually keeping up.

final fantasy vii remake hell house

That was until the game’s later chapters. Now, I understand that Final Fantasy 7 is an eccentric story with a lot going on, but the remake has some of the strangest editorial choices I think I’ve ever witnessed. For example, let me set a scene for you.

Fire and destructions rage in the city below, as Tifa, Cloud and Barret stare in horror at a devastating event unfolding at the hands of the evil Shinra Corporation. Emotionally devastated, the group make a desperate escape, flying towards the ground as fire surrounds them. The screams of the innocent reach their ears and tragic music swells. Looking on from his ivory tower, the maniacal president of Shinra smiles, watching thousands die…

Then, we cut to a child-sized anime cat – with a tiny cape and a crown on his head – running into the shot, falling to his knees and hitting the ground solemnly. Oh, you have questions? Don’t worry – that will never be explained again. We just thought Felix could use a quick cameo.

The world’s most significant crisp packet

Don’t even get me started on the final few chapters. We went from comprehensive, understandable plot to people having sword fights with the gods of fate and discussing the laws of parallel universes very fast and, as Tom can attest, I had a lot of questions. Was that really Sephiroth? Were those flashbacks or premonitions? Who is the palette-swapped Cloud with dark hair? Why are we in space now? Hell, I even had to ask what the significance of a crisp packet is.

But – and trust me, I know what I’m about to say is far from ground-breaking – Final Fantasy 7 is actually arresting and investing and, despite the fact this makes me sound like a cringey Dad, so damn cool. Sure, it’s a tonal nightmare, shifting between a fun summer blockbuster, hammy romcom and on the nose societal critique on a whim, but when you’re facing down a giant robot with an electric-powered sword, it’s hard not get a few goosebumps running down your spine.

final fantasy vii remake cloud aerith flower picking

So, would I recommend jumping into the remake? Sure. It may be like reading the first 50 pages of a book and then re-reading each sentence six times to make sure you fully got it, but the characters don’t look like they’re melted waxworks anymore, so that’s a start.

As for what’s next from the franchise? I guess lazy fans like me will get to know what the full story is actually about when part 8 releases in 2047. Until then, I’m just going to assume that the anime cat is finally the character Cloud pursues a romantic future with.

Enjoyed this long read? Support Thumbsticks on Patreon to enable more of it. (With more freelance budget, we can commission the idiot to write more idiot’s guides!)

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