My Experience Finishing The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners

It has disappointed me how far behind Giant Bomb has gotten in following and keeping up with VR. I've thought for a long while about posting blogs to help people get more perspectives on the medium and where it stands. I hope to write more fully encompassing pieces to help explain what has changed in VR in the last four years, but this seemed like an acceptable start since I wanted to share this with SOMEONE.

Please forgive if the prose seems sporadic; I effectively immediately removed my headset and came out to write this to convey my thoughts as accurately as possible. Please enjoy.

I cannot say the ending of this game was profound in any special way, but VR has the ability to make any moment more personal. This was no exception. I’d like to share my personal experience as I perceived it in the moment.

The entire campaign has revolved around a totalitarian group called The Tower against a ghoulish and theatrical group that calls themselves The Reclaimed. I found this dynamic supremely rote, as both sides are intended to be distasteful to play into the typical “everyone is garbage or dead” sentiment of the franchise.

By the end of the game, a runaway from The Tower named May Benoit was betrayed by a subset of the people she was trying to protect until they made it out of the city and out of The Tower’s grasp. That subset were afraid to be on their own, so they ratted out May and her young artist daughter, Ambre. The young girl is revealed to have been killed in the crossfire from the one person bleeding to death in a shed when you stumble upon the aftermath. Before leaving her to presumably bleed to death, I tell her she is forgiven. She was already going to die, and leaving her miserable in guilt wasn’t going to achieve anything. As I step out of the shed, one of the corpses is up and moving again, having turned while I was distracted. I briefly consider leaving the walker to find the lone survivor, but decided against it and put the creature down. It was time to push through the warzone. The stars hung over the burning dumpsters and overturned vehicles as both sides marched on each other toward a church they both sought to take.

After multiple infuriating attempts to smartly work my way through the battle, I ultimately pushed my way through the combat with dumb brute force. Everything I’d worked for, a reserve of seemingly unlimited food, medicine and weapons, was waiting for me under that church.I heard zealous proclamations of each group’s supremacy, and eventually the sound of mauling and screaming. People were being eaten.

Eventually, I broke into the church. Everyone I found was dead, most holding someone in their lifeless arms with them. As I slowly surveyed the rooms, I heard church bells ring. At night, this was basically a dinner bell for walkers. Soon the streets would be overrun and everyone still on them would be devoured without discrimination or mercy.

Two people were shouting at each other after the first ring. I ran to the main hall, seeing a traumatized and enraged May Benoit holding the rope to the church bell, threatening to ring it again. Beside her is a slender National Guard soldier named Casey. Up until a minute ago, he’d been trapped in the Reserve everyone was after. We helped each other to free him and let me get inside.

He repeatedly pleaded with May, explaining that the three of us were safe inside, but everyone else would be slaughtered outside, and some of them were innocent in everything that was happening. May had had enough, though. She’d been betrayed by the Tower, and then by those also abandoned by the Tower that would do anything to win their approval back.

“Didn't you hear them out there? Needlessly slaughtering each other when they should be unified. They have always been stupid and cruel, even before the world went to shit. Their fucked up philosophies. Their petty treachery. Even the innocent. Their pathetic desperation. They all twisted my priorities. Blinded me to the truth. I should have been looking after me and mine. All along. I allowed THEM to take her away from ME! They are the reason my daughter is dead.”

At this point, I teared up. The sentiments were not subtle to comment on the current world we are in. I couldn’t stand beside her conclusions. But I could empathize and sympathize for WHY and HOW she got there.

Then what would clearly be the game’s final decision presented itself. Casey, shaking in fear from his previous trauma of being forced to take part in a mass execution, held his gun on May. She promised she would ring the bell again and kill everyone outside. Casey, not wanting to finally know he was a murderer, begged me to kill her. I tried to talk her down, but there was clearly no way to deter her in time.

Choices quickly dropped away. May wouldn’t give up on getting revenge for the death of her daughter on everyone outside the building. Casey wouldn’t let her. So, as I could see, I had three choices. Shoot May, shoot Casey, or do nothing and let things play out. I wouldn’t kill May, and Casey was equally innocent. I didn’t want May to ring the bell, but not enough to murder her.

There was one blast. There was one splatter of blood. May’s body fell limp to the ground.

Casey cursed me for putting him in the position to have to finally definitively kill another human being. But I wasn’t listening. I stared at May’s bloody corpse the entire time, kneeled beside her. In her I saw all of the bullshit reasons we’ve told ourselves to justify our worst impulses. Murder, greed, betrayal, blind faith and unquestioning loyalty. I couldn’t blame her for concluding it was best to burn it all down and let the earth continue on without us tainting its land.

Then I reached out my own hand to the bell’s rope. My fingers wrapped around it.

It was looking at that rope, entwined in my hand, that I realized I had one more option before me…

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An Open Letter About The RDR2 Discussions Happening Here

This isn't to try and convince people to not be bothered by Dan and Jeff's comments about Red Dead 2. I get being bugged when two people you normally respect besmirch something you passionately enjoy. But I hope a couple people might see this and get some perspective they might not inherently have on what the conversation they're having means to someone like me.

Here's a few random points about myself to give some context. I'm high functioning autistic, so I get obsessed about esoteric subjects. The first GTA game I played was the GTA2 on Dreamcast, which then got me to play the original and the England spin-off on PSOne.

I don't like modern Rockstar games. I loved 3, Vice City, and the first act of RDR1. I bounced off of GTA4 for very similar reasons Dan fell off RDR2. I enjoyed it until I didn't anymore. I wanted to see the conclusion of the story, but the game stopped being fun and seemed to actively fight against me trying to complete the game with any sort of expedience. I figured it was an outlier, and was incredibly excited for Red Dead Redemption.

With a love of Westerns, Red Dead Revolver (my copy is literally 12 feet away from me right now), and MOST of Rockstar's open world games, I was stoked for Redemption. And while I loved the first act, the second hit me like a ton of bricks. I started asking, "What am I hoping to achieve here in Mexico? How will the story progress here?" and as I continued, the answers the game gave me were not promising. It made me start questioning the Rockstar formula of the time, which I boiled down to, "Hello Protagonist. I might have something that will lead you closer to the goal established in the first five minutes. But you have to do something for me first. You did it! But now I have another thing. Now I have another thing. Thanks for doing all that for me. I can't really help but maybe this unconnected person can." Now repeat that 14 times and you have most Rockstar games of that time. I know they've gotten better about avoiding this narrative trap more recently. My fundamental issue was pacing. The game stops dead because it needs to be longer. It never makes the game better, only longer.

I don't agree with Jeff on plenty of things, but there's one thing him and I tend to see similarly on: pacing. He doesn't use the term very often, but it's something that seems to irk him in a similar way it does me. There's nothing wrong with slow, tedious sections of a game if they serve a purpose. Nier Automata is a great example for this. It might turn many players off, but the parts you repeat add to your experience more often than they don't so it works on a critical level. Enjoying it is another discussion that's irrelevant for this point. Rockstar is TERRIBLE at pacing. I equate it to Peter Jackson. Lord of the Rings is a unique beast that exists, for many, more as a visual telling of a book than a movie. So people are more willing to put up with a laborious 4 hour cut. That's not so much the case with King Kong or his many of his other post-LOTR movies. Nobody wants to edit him down, but he desperately needs it!

For me, I think there are great games within Rockstar's output, but there's so much chuff piled on that it's more work than enjoyable. But that's me. I find my criticisms of Rockstar to be valid, but that doesn't mean people can't or shouldn't enjoy them. I get I'm in a minority with how I feel. I've tried many times over the years to express these opinions to others, and have always been met with petty counterarguments like, "sounds to me like you don't have the attention span for these games." That one always stuck with me because that's like telling someone with anorexia they eat too much. Regardless, I was met with ridicule and hostility enough that I grew to dread Rockstar games. I desperately wanted to enjoy the lead-up hype, but I knew it wouldn't be for me. I wanted to discuss my grievances, but knew there would be no real conversations to be had around them. And eventually, it feels like no matter how much you contemplate and formulate an understanding of story structure, pacing, and editing, I'm simply wrong because everyone disagrees. Objectivity be damned, nobody wants it to be true so it isn't true.

...And then Dan started saying things that sounded very familiar to me.

His aggravation resonated with me in a big way. After almost a decade, I heard someone on a sizable stage express feelings similar to my own. It was never the same with Jeff, as his problems with RDR come from general peeves outside of the Rockstar style (not liking old guns, hating deliberate controls a la Witcher 3). With Dan, you could replace "carriage" with "bank heist" and he could have been reading my GTA4 diary.

For once, after a decade, a games journalist I followed felt at least similarly to me about a Rockstar game. Amidst everyone else at Giant Bomb (besides Jeff) as well as every outlet I've seen mention anything about RDR2, for once I felt like there wasn't something wrong with me. For once, on this topic, it felt like it wasn't just me seeing something that wasn't there. It didn't prove me right, but at least gave me a moment to feel like my view had some validity.

Like I said, I didn't write this to convince people to not be upset about what Dan is saying. But I do think people can lose focus on how UNIVERSALLY praised these games are when they release. Sure, criticisms start bubbling up after several years (I call it the 'Rockstar Cycle' and it pains me with every turn), but right now, this game is talked about lovingly by virtually everyone in the industry. The fact that ONE (technically two) guy didn't like it doesn't change that. Enjoy your game! I legitimately wish I could and didn't see their work the way I do. But at least after sitting in silence for all these years, I have ONE GUY that I can listen to and know he had an experience similar to my own.

Believe me, you're getting the better deal out of this. You get a massive game that you can dig into for hundreds of hours for years to come. I get a 30-something dude grumbling for several minutes every week or two for a couple months.

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