Unfortunately for me, there are these things called "clickers," which are admittedly difficult to brute force. Most attempts result in immediate game overs. More on that later.
Luckily, zombies are increasingly less terrifying when I play the level five times, apparently, and that's when my girlfriend takes the controller and castrates me, effectively. In any case, let's get into it.
First, I'm going to back track to the cinematics I glossed over. First, when Joel is holding Sarah as she dies, he begs her and god "please don't do this to me." It's straightforward. Still, Joel sets himself up as the victim instead of Sarah, and I'm hoping this is significant. Additionally, God is invoked, whether intentionally or not, so that's something to potentially consider, especially since this is an apocalyptic scenario.
I'll refrain from turning this into a deconstruction of Revelation.
Next, we're bombarded with a lot of information to accompany the credits and some nice music. The visuals are also interesting, so I'll start with them. The colors are black and white. Liquid spreads across the screen in webbing that looks like it could be blood or the vaccine referenced in the monologue. As the introduction progresses, the white looks more like concrete, and it takes a few shots to realize that the spreading liquid is now black. The colors have swapped. Then solid plants or spore grow up from the liquid, and the black and white between the back drop and the plants changes every few seconds. At the end, the soundbite played by the news team says "You can still rise with us. Remember, when you're lost in the darkness, look for the light. Believe in the fireflies." The black spores explode, and the entire screen goes black.
Invoking the ideas of dark and light is interesting. Also here, if you're paying attention, you know already that the disease is spread by spore plants, and that's the reason for the imagery. The use of white and black interchangeably seems to suggest either the circumspect trustworthiness of the fireflies when you're told to "look for the light," or that the disease is part good. We'll see how the fireflies pan out.
As for the information we're given, the news clips first mention the outbreak of the disease and any attempts to find a vaccine are unsuccessful. So part of the story is a search for a cure. 28 Weeks Later, anyone? In search of scrappy children with bloodshot eyes. The next stretch of information talks about rioting and rations, which indicates that the state is now under martial law. Oh goody. I'm sure Joel is pleased. Then, finally, violence and uprising against the military is brought about by a group called "The Fireflies," and that's when the sound clip is played.
Again, this is a lot of information, meant to cover a span of twenty years, and it's given to you in short snippets, but it sets up the world we now live in. Martial law. Food shortage. Disease. Rebel groups. Most of these things are in any dystopic forecast made these days. We're missing the overpopulation element, but food shortage is still key. In a way, the infected are a metaphor for overpopulation. They're ignorant masses overrunning us and resorting to cannibalism. Fine. Next.
"20 YEARS LATER"
The season is significant. Perhaps this story will have a four part arc? Unclear. Joel is awoken by some knocking. He gets out of bed and answers the door. We meet Tess, who will be our AI partner for quite some time. She's kind of beaten up, and immediately goes for the whiskey on the table. She offers Joel a glass, but he declines. She also announces that it's morning. It seems somewhat strange to me that whiskey is not also rationed. Well, maybe it is, and Joel just doesn't drink, so that gives us some insight into his character.
Tess does, though, and in the morning. I already like her.
She reveals she undertook a drop on her own because Joel wanted to be left alone. He expects her to have fucked up and let the client make off with their pills--they're either drug-dealers or smugglers--but she essentially tells him to fuck off because the deal went just fine. I can't blame him for being skeptical, since she is kind of banged up. But apparently the client had nothing to do with it, and she procured enough ration cards to last them a couple months. Good, food isn't going to be a problem for a while--just ammo and everything else. But some guy named Robert sent some guys after Tess, and they're responsible for her condition.
It looks like Robert used to be relatively trusted, and Joel considers Tess as an extension of himself, his partner, hence "our."
She's not going to last long.
Well, Tess says she knows where Robert's hiding, and they decide to go pay him a visit right away. We aren't sure why they're at odds, but I'm sure we'll find out.
As we leave the building, I'm immediately struck by how little I want to get close to anyone. In about fifteen minutes, I'm already suspicious of all characters. I don't want to talk to the bums. I really don't want near the military. Tess informs us the checkpoint is open, and there's only a few hours before curfew. More details about this new world.
Tess has also been selected for "outside work duty," which is usually soldier work. So our heroes are on the grid, or at least Tess is. Tess makes a crack about how Joel wouldn't get summoned. The distribution center isn't open, so Tess says the rations are low. People in line are complaining about the distribution of rations, and how uniforms won't get half rations. INCOME DISPARITY.
Some military people are beating the shit out of a civilian, apparently for kicks. Well, it turns out people have chips in their necks, and soldiers can read them to test for infection. Two of them are clean, but the third one gets gunned down. "That's what happens when you hide out in a condemned building."
It sounds to me like the poor are faced with a pretty bleak choice: go without shelter, or risk infection. Thanks, Fascists, you're swell.
A couple guys talk about the incident. One of them gives Joel lip, and the other says "We don't want any trouble," followed by, "What the Hell is wrong with you man? Don't you know who that is?" So apparently Joel has made a name for himself. He isn't on any of the Wanted posters though.
Tess has made them new papers, so it's possible Joel is wanted, or off the grid, as speculated, though we know she isn't. She might not have clearance for the checkpoint though.
Some military people talk about Fireflies stirring up the masses and causing riots in other areas.
So just by milling around, we get a lot of good details, nothing really surprising or original, but the execution is much better than making us read a lot of text or being forcefed information. So far, the game handles exposition really well.
Just before we're allowed through the checkpoint, there's an explosion, and The Fireflies attack. Joel turns around quickly and follows Tess into an abandoned building. We already know that means potential infected. She gives us a first aid kit, since we were damaged by the explosion.
Apparently Robert really pissed them off, as they are willing to risk the outside to get to him. I guess that's more of Joel's rep; you don't cross him. According to someone in the tunnels, The Fireflies, or more specifically, a woman named Marlene, want Robert as well. I'm guessing it's something personal, and not necessarily Firefly business. We'll see.
Joel and Tess pull aside a TV and drop through a hole in the ground to find their stashes of equipment. There's some blood and flickering camping lights. It looks a little like an abandoned bomb shelter. Joel remarks there isn't a lot of ammo, and Tess subtlety tells us this is a resource-based game with "Make your shots count." I may be screwed.
We boost Tess over the ledge and climb up after her into a classic-looking diner. We go outside, where it's green and still rundown, but much nicer than the slums. We find a ladder and lean it against a wall marked by a yellow scarf. Up the ladder, you can open the drawer for some weapon upgrade parts. Another room has a Firefly dog tag. Not sure what this is good for.
More descent imagery. Then we see spores dotting the air and put on some gas masks. There's a body in one of the corners, and that's where the spores come from. So, apparently, when an infected person dies, they give off spores. Must be really hard to dispose of them, damn. There's a guy trapped under a filing cabinet, and he essentially begs you to kill him, so I oblige. A bullet is worth it to be humane.
In another area, you can sneak up and strangle an infected guy. The others are chomping on a body, so you can sneak past them easily. They seem pretty happy. Uhhh...
Off to the side, there's some ammo lying around. Upstairs, there's a letter written by an infected person wanting to sneak into the zone. You can go across, follow Tess into another building. Someone named Bill is mentioned. Either an associate or Tess' significant other. Navigating some simple puzzles, more light vs dark, more blue and yellow scarves. Grab a health bar before going down the stairs.
Tess continues to look out for both soldiers and Robert's men. Eventually Tess and Joel discuss how Robert must be expecting them. Tess is a bamf, apparently, because she doesn't care.
In the next area, the NPCs eat rats, and people will only trade for ration cards. I guess everyone else in this world wants food. A lot of people know Tess, including a guy who won't let Joel by until he sees she's with him. There's a drafting notice with "FUCK THIS!!" written on it, which gives us more details about civilian service Tess mentioned.
Tess trades some cards for information on Robert. He's at the wharf.
Some of Robert's men force us to play the Uncharted cover and shoot game. Tess proves to be a capable AI. Afterward, she calls Joel Texas. More little details.
Some climbing into a danger zone. Can't say they didn't warn us.
Pretty much the entire world is against us, as we run into more of Robert's guys. There are only two, and they split up, so it's easy to sneak up on them and strangle them. One has a warehouse key. Eventually, you hear two guys outside. You can grab a bottle and throw it into an adjacent room to pull one to sneak up on. Then just punch the shit out of the other one, since he's the only one left.
Head up the stairs. Sneak around throwing bottles and isolating thugs until they're all dead. Or just shoot and punch them from the high ground. Eh. Open the garage downstairs to the wharf after sweeping the area for supplies.
I got tired of sneaking around (read: I got caught), so in the next area, you can pretty much just hide behind an abandoned rail car off by the dock and shoot them. As long as you do quick turns whenever Tess shouts "look out" and beat up the guy behind you.
Really, I don't recommend it. I almost died. Before you move on, get the stick!
Sneak into Robert's office. He shoots at us and tries to run away, but he's fat, I guess, so he doesn't get far. If you lose Tess, the game leaves smart clues like plastic strips hanging over doorways that rustle after she goes through them.
It turns out Robert sold our guns to The Fireflies because he "owed them." Tess would have been more understanding if he "hadn't tried to fucking kill" her. Robert has the bright idea to go kill all the remaining Fireflies and get the guns back. It gets him shot.
Tess wants to get the guns back by dealing with The Fireflies, and Marlene, their leader, pops out of the shadows. Because that happens in reality.
Marlene wanted Robert alive, so she's displeased. She's still willing to give us our guns back if we do a smuggling job for her. Okay. Fine. But first we have to get her out of there, and she looks like someone drove a machete through her kidney. Obviously, that didn't happen, because she's still walking and shit.
But we have to get past some soldiers. "We can sneak by them, even though I know that's not your style." Bitch, what have I been doing for the past hour? Real. More sneaking and throwing bottles and strangling in connected rooms. Why is it that only one guy repeatedly comes to check on things? You'd think they'd figure out they need to at least send two.
I haven't remarked yet on the hearing function. It's an interesting mechanic, but I don't think he can really just hear how many guys are milling around. I think it's kind of interesting because the clickers also operate by sound. It reflects, again, that these zombies are still human.
Eventually, we end up in a room with a little girl. Hurrah, Sarah's stand-in. Welcome to McCarthy Land. She tries to kill Tess for helping Marlene. Skills. This will be fun. Her name is Ellie, and she's the goods we're smuggling to the Capitol building, which we're told is far away. Tess wants to see the weapons before she agrees to the deal, so Joel gets to babysit Ellie for a while.
Tommy comes up again. Apparently, he was a Firefly for a while, but he left. He also left Joel. I wonder if he died or if we'll see him again.
Joel is much more opposed to this operation than Tess, again probably because of Sarah. We take her around. Another Firefly dog tag can be picked up. We head into the tunnels. The lady over the comm tells us that harboring and aiding wanted criminals is punishable by death. Super fantastic.
I move a trash dump over to a ledge and climb up. I guess Ellie can leap structures twice her height because she has no problem following me. So she might not be as useless as initially expected.
A little more exposition. Ellie is fourteen, her parents are dead, and Marlene has been looking after her because she was friends with her mom. Joel pretends he doesn't care why they're smuggling her and takes her to his little--home, where he decides to kill time with a nap. Ellie whines that she doesn't have anything to do. Real, Kid? This is the apocalypse. Or maybe that's why she's lost. This is a foreign concept.
Ellie notes Joel's watch is broken, which is the first reference to Sarah we've gotten since the prologue. Subtle, Game.
When Joel wakes up, Ellie tells us she hasn't been this close to the outside. And "It can't be worse than this, can it?" Yeah, okay. You're about to find out, Kid.
Joel finally blows his disinterested cover that no one was falling for and asks what the Fireflies want with Ellie. Then Tess shows up. She tells us that the weapons are legit, and that Marlene picked them to smuggle Ellie because literally everyone else is dead. She probably was going to Robert to ask him if he would, but we killed him. Yeah, cause I'd trust that guy to do any job. I met him for two seconds and wrote him off as useless. How did he even have a business in this world?
You can pick up a map of patrol routes, but this game has been pretty linear so far, so I doubt they're that helpful. Outside, we immediately run into a patrol. We sneak around for a while undetected before someone whacks Joel upside the head. The soldiers decide to scan us. Tess and Joel are clean, but when they scan Ellie, she stabs the guy, and Tess and Joel take out the others.
Tess picks up the scanner, and it turns out Ellie is infected.
Really, game? I was hoping you wouldn't do this to me as soon as we saw her (DON'T DO THIS TO ME). The thing about scrappy kids was a joke.
While Tess and Joel ruminate on whether or not Marlene fucked them, Ellie tries to explain that she was attacked three weeks ago, and the infection usually takes only two days to incubate. Before they can make further headway, backup appears--well, the bitch did say she would call it in, so I'm surprised they even stuck around. They all run off together.
Joel leads the way through a bunch of soldiers. Stay out of the search lights in the watery areas, and you're fine. Eventually, you hit a more urban-looking area, and you have to act fast to knock one guy out because he moves in on you. Then you bolt and hope dumb and dumber come with you. Really, I have no idea how they didn't hear the giant garage you had to open to even get into the area.
More spelunking through sewer tunnels. And more fucking soldiers. How many of these guys are on the government's payroll? Did The Fireflies really think they had a chance? Just sneak by into a storage room with some supplies. You can make some shivs, which you'll want because they're pretty much the only cheap way to kill clickers. Yep. Can't kill them with less than six bullets. Have to knife them. What?
Sneak through the sewer tunnels and take a break for more information. There's a quarantine zone, and they're looking for a cure. She might be the key. Snore.
BUT JOEL WHAT IF IT'S TRUE.
Tess, I was starting to like you.
Tess apparently knows about Sarah because when Joel reminds her "what's out there," she says "I get it," and gives Ellie a pointed look. They decide to truck forward, not that they have much of a choice, at this point.
The intro music plays, signifying a new chapter, I assume. I haven't really checked which chapter I'm in. You can check out some skyscrapers. Tess lets Ellie know that the soldiers bombed the shit out of the quarantined zones to try to wipe out the infected.
THANKS, MISTER P.
Sneak into yet another abandoned building. There's a pendant hanging from the tree outside. You can shoot for it. Some soldiers have been recently ripped apart, which suggests that there are infected nearby. JOY. I was expecting this to be uneventful.
There's a field log. I guess contact deteriorated while they waited for backup, and they were summarily destroyed.
There's a clicker body literally sealing the door shut. Tess tells Ellie that they get that way after being infected for years. They can't see from the fungus covering their faces, but they make clicking noises and can hear like bats.
Your first live clicker is outside the new room. He doesn't instantly kill you, which is false advertising. You can fend him off by mashing the square button, and Tess shoots him with two shots. MORE FALSE ADVERTISING.
You finally find some alcohol to make a first aid kit because the game event literally half healthed you. Goddamnit. More supplies littering store rooms.
When you progress, the yellow "CAUTION" tape signifies where you need to boost Tess. She then helps up Ellie and Joel. Bitch has got some guns on her. I personally think it would be easier for Tess to do the boosting and Joel to do the pulling, but what do I know?
The next clicker is easy enough to get past. Throw a bottle to distract him and run by.
Or you can kill him for like six bullets and get some alcohol in the bathroom. WORTH. What?
Clamber over some rickety window cleaner lifts to get to the next area.
If you really want to. I didn't want to, but I did anyway.
There's a revolver and five zombies or so in the next area. You can beat the crap out of the runners, but isolating and shiving the clicker is key. You can strangle the one of to the side by sneaking up on him easily enough. Eventually the clicker will walk into the hall alone. Just hide on the right side and wait for him to walk down. Throw a bottle or something to get his attention. Then shiv him. If you can strangle a couple more runners this way, power to you. Eventually I just start beating them with my metal pipe. You don't insta-die with the clicker out of the way, and there's enough health just lying around to heal without even using a first aid kit after.
Climb up, move the filing cabinet, Tess will move another, climb over it, and get through the door. More supplies to make first aid kits and shivs. Or Molotovs. You find your first one of those in the next area. You're also told that these share supplies with health kits. Fun fun fun.
There's a dead body of a guy who was coming to meet the girl. Yep. EVERYONE is dead.
Upstairs, there's an area with four clickers and three runners. The first clicker is right ahead of you with his back to you, so you can easily take him out. I threw bottles through the central room window until two clickers ran in, then set loose my Molotov. The fourth I beat with a stick after I snuck up on the runners and strangled them. I consider this approach pretty resource efficient.
There's one more clicker by the exit. You can shiv him or shoot him with all the others dead.
There are a bunch of supplies in the area, as well. When you want to leave, go to the exit and head back outside.
Ellie says Tess and Joel are "pretty good at this stuff," and Joel replies, "It's called luck, and it's gonna' run out."
He's kind of a pessimist for someone who has lived for twenty years. But it might also reflect how many people he has known who have died. He's only lucky. That's the difference between him and them.
There are three runners in the building to the left. I brute-forced it. Then pushed the cart outside to use it to climb over the freight car. Inside the freight car is a medical description of the infection. Everything in there we already know, except that the spores only used to infect insects and other arthropods. This is a newly developed strain that infects humans.
We have to double time to slip through the garage and into a work room where we can finally upgrade weapons on a work bench.
It sounds like Ellie is a bit of problem child. She used to sneak out of military school to climb around off limits zones. She got bit by a runner in the mall, and Marlene decided she was immune.
The next zone feels a little like an homage to Naughty Dog's Uncharted. It's a museum with model ships and artillery. And no, I will not shut up about that franchise. THAT'S A GOOD GAME.
Eventually, Joel gets split from Ellie and Tess, and they're trapped with a bunch of zombies. Joel is also trapped with zombies. He gets clickers. You can sneak up behind them and shiv them one at a time. For some reason, the fight in the next area waits for you to be clever.
You have to strangle a runner trying to get into the room containing Tess and Ellie. You save Tess, but there are at least four zombies attacking Ellie. There's really no way to finesse this. Either shoot them or punch them. Then heal up afterward with a health kit.
That's pretty much it for the museum.
After that, I saved. My girlfriend did the last section sneaking past the soldiers before Tess reveals why we're smuggling her and the big zombie room with the lone clicker and a bunch of runners because she couldn't deal with me. I died a couple times in the last room, mostly because I was low health going in from not having healed for a while.
Thoughts? Joel is jaded, and I do have a feeling a lot of people have died, and he feels guilty for that. Tess is likely going to die. Ryanne thinks she'll betray Joel, but I think her dying fits the theme more. Something will happen at the Capitol building, and Joel and Ellie will be two against the world. Or whatever. So far, I don't understand the hype with the story. Everything has been fairly predictable or done by the 28 Days Later franchise already. The execution is quite nice, however. The game is good at relaying information without making you feel like you're being told. The mechanics are easy to pick up. The stages of zombies have been interesting, and there's a forth stage of infection they've hinted at.
Boy am I excited!