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Sorry if this is beating a dead horse, but I am seriously ambivalent towards Naughty Dog

Gamingtodaynews1e - Sorry if this is beating a dead horse, but I am seriously ambivalent towards Naughty Dog
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I’m almost done with my first playthrough of The Last of Us and something finally occurred to me: While I can honestly admit that it is one of the most polished, gorgeous, well-written, amazingly voice-acted games I’ve ever played, I’m still worried that by the time I finish it I won’t ever want to play through it again because…

…it’s just not very fun; and it’s because, to me, Naughty Dog doesn’t know how to do combat.

Before TLOU I’ve played and completed Uncharted 4 and Uncharted: Lost Legacy, so between all 3 I feel like I’ve gotten to know the best that ND has to offer. The stories are always compelling, the graphics are always literally marvelous, but for crying out loud it seems so much fun is sacrificed to make the combat “realistic.” For TLOU specifically you can say the inventory system and mechanics are clunky and inconvenient because it’s technically supposed to be Survival Horror, and lord knows I’ve played and loved my fair share of Resident Evil games where such attributes are just as bad if not worse. But RE games compensated for these limitations by empowering the player in other ways – namely by letting them pause (gasp!) and incrementally giving them more and bigger guns to use against more and bigger monsters. And that thinking led me to another realization.

If it weren’t for TLOU’s, Uncharted 4’s, and LL’s stories, I wouldn’t feel much compulsion to finish them. ND’s games rely completely on making you invested in their characters rather than invested in the actual gameplay. Sure, you find a couple new guns along the way, but the only weapons you ever actually use are the ones for which you find the most ammo, which is only 2 or 3. And still there’s no real progression with how the player uses them, as all the upgrades are pretty much negligible. And in the Uncharted games, where you’re supposed to have more fun with gunplay, you simply use what enemies drop. There’s no upgrading at all! Even RE4 had gun upgrades, people! And using the same guns against the same baddies over and over gets repetitive and boring.

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And then there’s the exploration. ND goes through God knows what levels of pain and strife to create impossibly detailed worlds that are worth exploring if only just to admire their beauty. But if you’re someone who just wants to keep the momentum going to stem the boredom (even though the games are so aggressively linear) you’re SOL – at least in TLOU – because progression is tied to exploring every room for the same. damn. handful. of. items. Playing that way is the only smart way to play the game so you’re railroaded into the slog of boring item collection everywhere you go.

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There’s some world-building with notes and letters to breakup the monotony, but if ND put half the effort into placing more of them around more regularly as they do in figuring out how to cleverly fill the next battle area with chest-high “walls” then the world itself would be more of a distinct, living character instead of just a collection of pretty post-apocalyptic set pieces. (No spoilers, but the stretch through the sewers was my favorite specifically because it was the one exception to this so far.)

Last but not least is melee combat. WTF! Having weapons degrade after a certain number of uses in TLOU is fine because otherwise they’d make the guns pretty much useless. But holy crap is melee my prime example of ND sacrificing fun mechanics for “realism.” Nothing about ND’s stories would feel less dramatic if Nathan Drake, Joel, or Chloe could punch (or God forbid kick) with more speed and smoothness than a drunk frat boy after last call. And for as much as the games try to emphasize stealth, why the hell not give the player more weapons to use toward that end?!

Choking out a guard or looter for the 107th time gets boring, and is frankly way too easy. Give the player traps – or better yet, the ability to get creative with nearby items or scenery! You can’t say ND are worried about keeping things PG-13 based on how they show what a shotgun can do to someone’s torso at close range. All too often you’re given nothing but long-range weapons yet forced into close-range combat, and if you’re playing TLOU that means your weapon will help you kill 1 or 2 enemies TOPS before it’s nothing but slow, awkward punching. Yay.

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TL;DR – Naughty Dog is great at writing stories for video games and beautifully realizing the worlds for their characters, but when it comes to actual gameplay mechanics – you know, the selling point of pretty much all other games – they still have a lot to learn.

And as soon as I’m finished with TLOU I don’t think I’ll play another ND game until you the gaming community swear on your most precious of personal gaming artifacts that this problem is addressed. I’m happy that ND has helped gaming’s reputation as a medium for quality storytelling, but I’m truly sick of pretending like their mediocre gameplay is worth the 15+ hours each time.

P.S. All their puzzles suck too.

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