2015 was the year I started watching Let’s Plays with the kind of serious dedication I previously reserved for episodes of Lost (before my heart got broken by the finale – and no, I’m still not over it, thank you very much.)
Because I got burned in March by the Valley of the Yetis DLC for Far Cry 4.
Far Cry 4 itself was a disappointment. It felt so exactly like Far Cry 3, but less inviting. And I’ll tell you why: the map.
Far Cry 3 forced you to discover the secret relic locations for yourself. It took exploration and luck, although if you passed very close by one an icon would be added to your map. After a while I got into the head of the designers, and it became scary (read: awesome) how many I could walk straight to, because I just knew the grassy hill wouldn’t be curved in that exact slope if the designer wasn’t trying to lead me away from that rock over there. I’m not kidding when I say I felt a sense of home and belonging on Rook Island that I haven’t experienced in any other game. I would have killed Citra, freed my friends, waved them goodbye, and stayed behind.
But with Far Cry 4 notable locations and objects appeared on your map as soon as you cleared each radio tower. You could select them and make your way straight there. All that was left to discover was place names. No adventure required.
Ideologically this was a good move. Far Cry 3 is based on the idea you’re the Great White Savior from America who will free the Polynesian natives from the evil forces of consumerism and the drug trade. Those relics you’re taking? They’re from shrines actively in use by the local population. But primitive animist beliefs aren’t a real religion, right? Go ahead. Pillage away.
In contrast, in Far Cry 4, you’re a local boy returning to your homeland, dragged into a turf war between the terrorists, sorry *cough* noble freedom fighters *cough* and the evil – or merely realistic – overlord Pagan Min, he of the sharp suits and sharper tactics. The relics you track down are prayer wheels which you spin but do not loot, and clues to a serial killer. (And yeah, I wasn’t thrilled about the serial killer storyline, but at least he was an equal opportunity serial killer. I’m not ready to talk about playing as Jack the Ripper in the DLC expansion for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate yet. Because rage. But that is a post for another day.) The map for Far Cry 4 reminds you that this is a “real” country with people who exist in their day to day lives in a way that goes beyond the actions of a gullible guy with an automatic weapon and a wingsuit.
So, yeah, ideologically, sound move. In terms of gameplay, not so much.
Okay, so my point here was actually the DLC. Because the Far Cry 4 map of Kyrat only had a few – highly enjoyable, agreed – encounters in the actual Himalayas. But then they released the Valley of the Yetis DLC. VALLEY OF THE YETIS! (please say in an Eddie Izzard voice, circa 1999). I was expecting yetis galore. But what I got was yeti cultists galore. Wave after goddamn wave of them. And, yes, eventually, a couple of yetis. From which I could hide in rocky crevices in caves and on top of rocky outcrops in caves and just in caves in general. But overall I was entirely underwhelmed.
So after I recovered from my acute yeti deficiency I started watching Let’s Plays for everything because I would not be fooled again. Games are pricey. I was already following a bunch of guys like theRadBrad, TetraNinja, and GameRiot, who saved me from wasting my cash on Destiny in 2014. Thanks, boys.
Then in late August, all at once, everyone on my YouTube feed started playing Until Dawn.
I am not a dedicated gamer. I play for fun, and don’t read any trade blogs. I hadn’t even heard of Until Dawn until it hit my feed. But it’s a perfect game for a Let’s Play, because the storyline and outcome is different for every decision you make. As a player, you can achieve a Platinum Award if you complete all the options and all the endings, but let’s face it, I’m not capable of that level of concentration. And in the end I watched so many walkthroughs I never felt the urge to actually download it. It was like watching a movie with thirty-eight director’s cuts.
I’ve still only seen one person get Jess down to her bra. One character’s death was deeply shocking, because in no other walkthough had I seen that happen. Similarly, another character is hard to keep alive. You can tell the designers didn’t expect them to last till the end because they’re left in limbo up on the mountain during the denouement.
But watching players make cautious, careful decisions, when you already know exactly how poorly things are now going to go? Priceless. Watching them work out what’s going on (and missing clues – aarrgghh); so much better than playing the game.
And because of its corny, campy, exploitative teen slasher film vibe it has already become a cultural landmark. There’s Until Dawn ASMR videos. Until Dawn nail art tutorials. There’s wendigo cosplay vidoes. And you should really watch those, because what ellimacs sfx makeup can’t do with polymorph plastic pellets and latex isn’t worth doing. (Caution: videos contain cleavage. Hell, they feature cleavage. I’m pretty sure some people only watch for the cleavage)
So that’s my game of the year. Until Dawn. The game I never played. If you haven’t yet watched a walkthrough of Until Dawn you cannot go past the amazing Hannah and Kim from YOGSCAST. They’re British and dry and deconstruct tropes while screaming. And that’s something we should all do.