I didn't intend to make another blog about the subject(My first one here), but as I finish The Last of Us on Grounded Mode(The DLC super-difficulty), I just have to talk about it. Also, as I was looking through the other character clothing options I realized it never acknowledged my Hard completion. So that's annoying. Thankfully beating it on Grounded ticked the trophies for Survivor and Hard. Also spoilers.
The Enemy A.I. really doesn't do that much
The thing I talked about a lot in my previous blog is the "incredible A.I." that will distract you and flank you and try to get behind you or around you any way they could. Well, that's true. It's still more complex than the base difficulties.
One example is an enemy who lays down covering fire for his friend to move up. It was a little surprising to see something so well done, but sure enough an enemy sprayed-and-prayed to keep me behind cover while his friend moved up.
Another example of the newer and "smarter" A.I. would be an enemy that would sit behind cover and shoot train his weapon right on my position. If I were to ever aim my gun or try to move out of cover, he would fire and fire and fire seemingly forever. Like the above point it was great to see new things taken to extremes that, yeah, this guy would totally try to fucking murder me. Fun.
And the other example of one enemy, sneaked his way behind me without any prompt on my part, and killed the shit out of me while I had no idea he was even after me until he was running and grunting right behind me. I was too scared shitless to know what was even going on so I could have countered him, I just couldn't because god damn that was frightening.
The problem: It doesn't happen often enough to make it fun. In the early game, I was seeing all kinds of interesting and brutal shit from the A.I. I had never seen before, but that was about it. After the half way point in the game, give or take some chapters, it was back to "You got caught, the enemies will run to cover and wait for 10 minutes before doing anything". No enemies ever got proactive. No enemies ever decided to come after me. There was nothing new to be found anymore and it's such shit.
In a statement from Naughty Dog:
"The AI is relentless, smart, and brutal, and survival will be near impossible,"
Well... no. Not really. They are brutal, and survival was nearly impossible, but the enemies aren't relentless or smart. In fact, the enemies relented quite a bit.
In a game where life and death are mere seconds apart and checkpoints so far away, the companions block your movement and get in your way at every possible opportunity
How's that for a header?
The most immediate issue playing on Grounded: It made me hate the companions. Ellie, Bill, Sam and Henry. They constantly get in your way and just fucking stand there(!!!). There were, I'll say, hundreds of times where I'd be moving to cover to hide from an enemy, when what do I see but Ellie standing in the doorway and not moving so I have to keep pushing against her very awkwardly until she moves.
Not only do they block your movement, but they constantly get in your way. After discovering the meaning of true hatred during the wave-based-forced-combat-survival sequence near the end of the game with David, I really did think I was done with the difficulty. Enemies killing me? Sure why not. Missing important shots while dangerously low on ammo? Absolutely, it is a game after all! David CONSTANTLY GETTING IN FRONT OF ME AND BLOCKING MY SHOTS EVERY TIME ALWAYS FOREVER FUCK FUCK FUCK.
As I mentioned in my last blog, I have no shame. So I'm not ashamed in admitting that it took me over 30 tries and at least a couple of hours to get through that first sequence of survival with David in that hut while the infected are constantly coming at you. Most of the reasons is, well, it's fucking hard. But the other reason was it seemed liked David would get in my way whenever I aimed the rifle at someone running right at me. I died so many times because David got in the way, blocking a critical shot.
It would not have bothered me one bit if the checkpoints weren't stunted for this difficulty level.
The checkpoints being fewer and farther in between feel more like a punishment than a challenge, especially in the late game
One thing I pointed out in my last blog was the fact that there are less checkpoints in Grounded mode. As I go through the game and the engagements get bigger and longer(Unf) it really does make death feel more like a punishment and less like a challenge.
For example: Through the final level of the game, the hospital segment, there is not a single checkpoint. You have to go through several floors of heavily armed, armored enemies who are packed tightly in a very small area all on one life. If you die, you're right back at the beginning of the level. And boy, is that fucked.
There was no amount of stress in a video game I have ever felt that compared to the constant failures during that last sequence. Worse still was when I managed to get a little further and then suddenly the stress multiplies. "Can I do it this time? No, probably not". But that didn't stop me. Although maybe it should have because I can just feel the years being shaved off of my lifespan after this ordeal.
Honestly though, the true difficulty in this game is the realistic-ish ways you can die on Grounded. For example, a headshot is instant death. But when an enemy melees you, you pretty much die instantly. When you get staggered or stunned or whatever state it is that Joel goes into after being punched, it initiates the instant kill animation and you die. So it's not that being punched is an instant death, it's that being punched leads to your instant death and there's no really anything you can do to stop it because you are stunned.
And there's nothing quite like going 25 minutes without a checkpoint to really solidify how fucking terrible it is to get punched in the face until you see that all too familiar black screen and have to do it all over again. Fuck.
This difficulty is like a magnifying glass that highlights every tiny little flaw until it's massive and unavoidable
When you are constantly dying and having to play through a sequence time after time after time you start to pay attention to the small details. And I mean really pay attention to the small details.
Like how hopping over small ledges/railings/windows or anything that you can hop over will produce sound that the enemies can hear... only sometimes. The most mind-boggling of the small details, definitely. Sometimes I'll hop over a window and an enemy will hear it and come and investigate. Nope, no broken glass. Nope, I didn't bump into anything. They just decided to hear it for some reason. But then I'll hop over the wall right behind an enemy and he'll continue on with his day. It was always a gamble on when to jump when I couldn't truly depend on the mechanics to explain themselves.
Enemies only notice bodies in certain areas. Sometimes you'll kill a guy and his friend will see it and everyone will begin investigating the area. Sometimes they'll walk right over it and not say anything. It's never really explained why this happens but it makes some zones easier and some zones not so easy.
While facing infected: Aiming a weapon and standing up, you produce constant noise after a second or two. That's right. Stand still and aim your gun. You will alert the entire goddamn map to your presence.
While aiming a gun with infected around: Going from a crouched stance to a standing position will also alert the hoard.
While crouch-walking up stairs, your slowest speed is increased and therefore you make a bunch more noise that will alert the enemies. You may say, "Hey, aiming a weapon slows me down considerably! Perhaps I can aim my weapon to carefully climb these stairs!" Nope.Somehow moving with weapons will attract attention.Brownie points for trying, though.
I was having a lot of trouble with the part where you're with Sam in the sewer tunnels and all of those fucking infected. I spent so long trying to find out what I was doing wrong to constantly get killed or spotted by the infected. That's one of the few areas of the game I felt was truly unfair. I eventually got through it by getting super lucky but if there was one truly fucked area of the game, it was that one.
Companions don't know when to shut the fuck up. When you have some other people with you and you try sneaking, it makes it really hard when you get caught because running away does nothing. Henry, Bill, and Tommy both react poorly under stress and don't really understand "stay back and don't shoot at enemies". Of course you can't really say that so I guess it's not their fault. One example is the forced combat section with Tommy right after your horse gets Molotov'd. I kept trying to sneak but suddenly Tommy would start shooting at people and then they would instantly know where I was and I'd be dead. That was another sequence that gave me a lot of trouble that I just barely managed to get through. Also I had very little supplies for this one so that did not help me.
Bonus: If Ellie is immune to spores, how come the Bloater can kill her with spores? Food for thought.
Bonus: While Ellie is a companion, no enemy ever sees or hears her in stealth mode. But when you play as Ellie and you sneak around, enemies can see and hear you. How come she can turn into a phantom only sometimes? What is she hiding...
Forced combat sections are the devil
When I first played The Last of Us, even when I second played The Last of Us, and even third played The Last of Us, I never had an issue with the forced combat sections. Sometimes I died, sometimes I died a lot. It was the ebb and flow of video games. Life goes on. And you have a complete lack of information, like no HUD whatsoever, no listen mode, no health bar(That goes with HUD but I'd like to specify that no, you cannot see your health bar. Not even while healing. Not knowing what your health is like can affect your decision to jump into battle, and when you have no choice in the matter, everything sucks.
Really, I don't have anything intelligent to say here. Forced combat sections made my Grounded playthrough feel like I was dying. It was terrible. You would progress through a level and think oh boy I've done it and then 8 more people run through a door and the fight continues. I say "fight", but it's more like opening a constant fart in a jar; It's not very pleasant but over time you enjoy it, and you hate yourself for you, but that doesn't stop you from opening more jars.
I should point out, just to be clear, because I am a talentless hack writer who can't get my point across without overbearing amounts of italics, I liked, no, loved, the forced combat on Hard and Normal. I'm not giving a commentary on the mechanic as it exists, just the forced combat on Grounded. And also to be clear, I'm not actually complaining or anything. I'm not saying this should be changed or anything. I'm using the metaphorical sense of "this sucks" like, wow, there's 19 guys in this room and they are all gonna take turns playing bullet ping-pong with my asshole. You know. That kind of thing.
Jerry's Final Thought
Once you get past the initial wow of seeing the A.I. work together in new and interesting ways, it begins to get really frustrating on multiple levels.
Really, "crazy A.I." should have been some kind of modifier you choose for any difficulty instead of being locked to Grounded, because while I don't think it's as groundbreaking as I initially thought, it certainly is welcome to see enemies really try hard to kick your shit in. In this case, it's frustrating on the level that I want to see more of these tactics. I wanted to be surprised by enemies popping up out of nowhere. Unless you are in a forced combat section, the enemies will only ever react to you. It's so refreshing to react to enemies acting on their own volition rather than walking back and forth and saying the same dialog over and over again.
It's also frustrating because sometimes you die fucking quick. And so it'd be really refreshing to see A.I. that makes you react while also not having the fear of having to repeat a 25 minute long sequence that could surprise me with surprise forced combat at any second.
I have had a lot of trouble out of the melee as well. It's notoriously unreliable. So reliable that I had actually kept a melee weapon across multiple sections of the game because I was too afraid of trying to use it, missing, and then restarting from the checkpoint a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
I will see an enemy, hit him, and even though I hit him, because he did his "instant kill" dance, I die immediately. It's the worst. It was like this in Uncharted, too. Sometimes enemies just have to hit you first. The only downside here is that it results in instant death.
Several times throughout the game, I'll go ahead and say "hundreds" of times, I'll hit a guy, maybe hit him again, but then suddenly he just hits me out of nowhere and then I'm stunned and then I'm dead. It was particularly frustrating as Ellie in which I actually had a guy in the execution animation(Knife in the stomach, zoom in on the face) only for him to not die and then grab and strangle Ellie. All within fractions of a second.
Really, even though I suffered through some pretty unfortunate situations, I'm glad I played Grounded. I think, personally, the only challenge you will face in that game is the challenge to your patience. I wanted to give up so many times. I just didn't enjoy a lot of the forced combat sections, and when you play Grounded you realize very quickly that there are a lot of forced combat sections. Some of the stealth sections had crazy difficulty spikes and sometimes I just didn't understand why certain things were happening like they were.
I never had these experience on normal or hard, and though I never played survivor, I doubt it was as intense as Grounded. I certainly knew what I was getting into, but man, this was challenging. Half of the time I wanted to give up, and half of the time I was disappointed that there were so many neat things in a difficulty that I didn't get to really see because I was too busy dying all of the time.
But I guess it did deliver on its promise as being idiotically hard. It was pretty hard.
*Alternate ending does not actual exist. See store for details.