“Bill’s Town” puts the brakes on the overarching storyline to give Joel and Ellie’s burgeoning camaraderie some room to breathe.  Its subtle, sweet, and nuanced and its coupled with some phenomenal small town atmosphere.  Unfortunately, the gameplay in this level is not the game at its best (actually there are some really really poor design choices here) and this holds it back a bit in my opinion.

Story/Characters (43/50)

  • Sarah and Tess’s deaths prior to this level pretty much devastated my soul so this level’s approach to storytelling was a much needed reprieve.   Yeah they need to find a car to get to where they are going but this is all about Joel and Ellie becoming more and more comfortable with each other.
  • Ellie was played pretty mature throughout “Outskirts” and “Quarantine Zone”.  Here she is still the same character but her childlike attributes come to the fore.  She tries to teach herself how to whistle, she pines for a chance to play video games and listen to music and is basically a kid.  Best of all are her awesome interactions with Bill (I absolutely love “No, FUCK YOU, you handcuffed me!”).   Exactly how I’d think a hardheaded teenager growing up in that world would sound like.
  • Her teaching herself to whistle makes much less sense when there are clickers outside…

thelastofus-bill

“So you are the one who’s been whistling and attracting all these damn Infected?!”

  • Great touch with Joel acting more and more like a father when he tells her to knock it off when she makes a fat joke about Bill.
  • Playing this game for the first time in four years, I didn’t remember that Joel actually starts warming up to her in this level.  He’s a little less dismissive of her, less gruff, and he even compliments her at the end.  The part that rang a little bit false to me is where Joel won’t let Ellie have a weapon.  That just doesn’t seem logical in this world, despite what’s happened to him in the past.
  • I really like the short time you get to spend with Bill.  He’s obnoxious, an asshole, and basically acts like he wouldn’t mind at all if Joel and Ellie were dead.  He’s  holed himself up in a section of town, isolated from everyone, and tells Joel to his face that living any other way (caring about anyone) will get you killed.   All that said, then you start to wonder why does he tag along with Joel and Ellie to help out their search for a car?  I don’t buy that it was all to return a favor he owed for Joel.
  • That’s all but solidified in my mind when, at the end of the level, he finds his partner’s body.  Clearly, this guy has been missing for a while and Bill would have assumed he was dead, based on the crap-sack world they live in.  So my assumption is that he actually enjoyed tagging along with Joel and Ellie just to get some good ol human connection.
  • Which makes it all the more heartbreaking when you read the note from his lover where he basically rips Bill apart.  Hey, he might be a lonely guy but it doesn’t change that he’s a lonely asshole…

Design/Atmosphere (27/30)

  • Damn, I’m loving how Naughty Dog builds these levels.  It feels almost seamless as you transition from one area to another.  Here we get the woods (too short of a section for my tastes), a stroll through a small town main street, a church and its accompanying graveyard, a neighborhood, and a highschool.   Every one of them feel so meticulously designed and unique.  Not a weak spot at all from a design point of view.
  • So in “Quarantine Zone” we saw how survivors are living in FEDRA occupied cities, surviving on ration tickets and whatnot.  “Outskirts” showed the effects of humanity’s response to the Infected.  “Bill’s Town” shows the impact of a mass evacuation of a small town.  It’s so well realized, with the hastily vacated houses, the evacuation signs posted all over town, the school buses set up to ferry people to various big cities.  It’s already a somber atmosphere but things get really gloomy when you realize that the buses never made it out of town, that the highschool is overrun with infected, and that most of those people who vacated those houses ended up dead.  😦

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Yep this ended well

  • Similar to the collapsed building in “Outskirts”, it’s a nice touch that the water tower acts as a landmark for much of the level.
  • Two minor issues.  I really dislike the sequence early in the level where you hear an Infected pounding on the door.  When you go inside, he/she has run upstairs.  But why can’t Joel’s spider-sense detect this one dude???  Just so we can get one jump-scare.  It completely breaks the design decision that this game has run with up to this point.  Thankfully this is the only point I can recall where they do this.
  • Other issue:  the origins of this particular Bloater.   After the battle in the gym, Joel comments that a Bloater is a person who’s been infected for a very long time.  However, if you go and explore where the Bloater came from, he came from a pretty small, cordyceps infested room.  Sooooo basically, this Infected has been chilling in this room for days, weeks, months, even years….until this very moment when Joel, Bill and Ellie came into the gym.  With all that infection and size comes incredible patience!
  • I love the music that’s playing in the school.  Just a subtle, urgent beat which adds to the intensity of the moment.

Gameplay (10/20)

  • Oooh boy, this is a mixed bag.  Lets start with the good.
  • You get some interesting new weapons to try your hand at.  The bow and arrow, the nail bombs, the shotgun.  All are fun in different ways.  The bow and arrow makes long distance stealth viable.  The nail bomb is a great last resort at times and also is a fun stealth weapon.  And the shotgun…well its useful when the shit hits the fan.
  • The cemetery sequence is a fun test-ground for all these new toys!
  • The sequence where you get strung up by one of Bill’s traps and have to fend off Infected while upside down is so anxiety-inducing and frenetic.  Really well designed moment.
  • The stealth sequence outside of the school (up to the point where the game decides to suddenly throw a rushing mob at you) is fun and challenging, trying to pick out the runners around the school buses.
  • The trio’s travails through the highschool is good as well.  Some more well executed stealth and a decent enough “boss” battle against your first Bloater.
  • And now the bad….
  • I may be in the minority but I really dislike clickers.  I love challenging games, my favorite game is Dark Souls.  But the clickers are frustrating.  I always find it inconsistent when they hear you and then once they are rushing you, the aiming mechanics are so finnicky that it feels like a crap-shoot if you are going to be able to ward off their one-hit kills.  The very first encounter in this level with them is frustrating for this reason.
  • This level is really slow up to arriving at the highschool.  I love atmospheric story telling and it made sense that the first half of town is basically empty because Bill has pseudo-contained the Infected to the other half of town.  But still, it feels like a LOT of meandering at the beginning.
  • The neighborhood sequence is decent but the autosaves are set up in such a way that you can stealth kill one group of Infected, explore a house fully, go to the neighboring house and get killed at the last second…and have to do the whole thing over again.  Normally I don’t mind but I hate having to explore a place again to get all the collectibles.
  • Maybe this is because I’m not playing in a harder difficulty but how do the Runners not hear me strangling another Runner DIRECTLY next to them?

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At no point should anyone think that a viable strategy is to strangle these guys next to each other.

  • And the worst part….FUCK the waves of Infected.  I don’t mind it once.  I don’t mind it twice.  I may not even mind it three times (though that is really pushing it).  But I counted it five times!
    • You are chased by waves of Infected when you first meet Bill.  Not a bad one, a good transition from the earlier part of the level.
    • A bunch of Infected swarm you right after you leave Sammy’s Diner.  This one felt like a “hey this has been a slow level and you have a shotgun so here you go.”  It felt clumsy.
    • You have a brilliant stealth section with the school buses.  You spend nine minutes picking Infected off one at a time.  Then you cross this magical barrier and suddenly A HUGE SWARM OF THEM COME RUNNING AT YOU.  Thankfully, this playthrough, I didn’t die here but it just ruined this moment for me.
    • Then, not two minutes after the last one, ANOTHER GODDAMN swarm chases you into the school.  These chases already feel old in this game…we had one in the prologue, we had one in “Quarantine Zone” and this was the second one in this level.
    • Then we have a swarm of them attacking you with the Bloated and then chasing you out of the school.  This one actually feels like it made sense and was enjoyable because I can buy that they heard all this commotion and are now coming after you.
    • Then the level is basically over.  Bill finds his lover, Joel whispers niceties to Ellie and they get a car.  Level complete, time to move on to….WAIT WHAT?  You have to push a car while three freakin waves of Infected come running at you?!  WHY DID THEY PUT THIS PART IN???  HADN’T WE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS?
  • As you can see from above, the swarms of Infected basically caused me to have a mental breakdown.  But honestly, the story and atmosphere was so well done but it felt like some of the gameplay decisions were amateurish at best.

 

Overall – 80/100

 

5 comments

    1. Oh man I didn’t even think about how his “Joel Sense” didn’t work in that moment! That’s twice it happened in the same level!

      Yeah I have no idea how Bill has survived at all seeing as every which way you turn in that town, there is a huge swarm of Infected.

      Liked by 1 person

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