In my never-ending journey to the summit of Backlog Game Mountain, I finally reached The Last of Us. It took a long time to get there, but it was worth it. I'd heard great things, and was expecting to find an amazing game. It really is all sorts of amazing. I wasn't however expecting to feel sympathy for the Clickers.
What is intended to be the creepiest creature in The Last of Us ended up earning my pity. They are monsters, but in my mind they are misunderstood monsters. Below, I will explain why I feel this way, and also share my thoughts on other creatures that I believe should not be punished for being bad.
[Minor spoilers to follow]
Let me be clear: I have no sympathy for the people that were turned into the Infected, this games fungus-infused version of Zombies. They probably weren't very nice anyhow. If there's one thing you learn about people in The Last of Us, it's that they are all bad people. No, my sympathy is certainly for the Clickers. For those who haven't yet played, the Clickers are an advanced form of the regular Infected. Their mushroom coated brains are now so ravaged that they are completely blind and navigate the world using a serious of verbal clicks. They are thus referred to as Clickers in that very literal way zombies are labelled.
Now... these creatures aren't easy to get along with. If you pass by quietly they shuffle about their limited business without giving a click about you. Make too much noise and they will...overreact to your presence. Whilst the unwanted affections of regular Infected can be fought off with simple button bashing, the Clickers have a nasty habit of killing you instantly the moment they are within grabbing distance, chewing on your neck with gusto. I realise this summary isn't helping my case.
In truth, I myself didn't realise just how misunderstood these creatures were until the second act of the game. The main characters, Joel and Ellie meet up with a slightly unhinged character by the name of Bill, who reluctantly helps you on your journey. After gathering supplies from his personal armoury you find yourself at the gates of a high-walled cemetery, wherein there are nearly a dozen clickers. By this point in the game I was very wary of these opponents and proceeded to sneak Joel silently pass these fungal foes.
If you've played the game, or heard people comment on it, you probably know that the Non Player Characters are pretty much invisible to your enemies. You hide, you stealth, you bide your time. Your allies on the other hand can be crouching under the feet of an Infected and remain undetected. It's an unfortunate, atmosphere-breaking element of the game, though it's rarely a major issue.
Within the walls of this graveyard, Ellie and Bill decided to really test their luck. As I crawled forward, careful to avoid the Clickers, I looked on with amazement as the duo ran around the graveyard, taunting the Infected. They ran around Clickers; they shoulder-barged into them; at one point Bill appeared to be bullying a Clicker by knocking into it repeatedly, causing it to stumble about pathetically.
Whilst this moment within The Last of Us can be put down to poor design in an otherwise solid game, it was in this very moment that I began to feel sympathy for the Clickers. Whilst my first impressions of them could be summarised quite succinctly – ohmygodwhatisthatuglythingarghitischewingmychinoff – I began to realise that these neck-biting, sonar-using calamities don't really deserve the hate that Joel and Ellie are levelling at them.
For one thing, they aren't very good at sound detection. So long as you move slowly, Clickers don't have a chance of detecting you. They've got no chance of detecting anything smaller or stealthier than a person, which means that their blindness prevents them from catching food and fending for themselves. Unless a clumsy person wanders right by them, these Clickers are going to go hungry. This helps to explain why Clickers are so 'grabby'; you'd launch yourself at a potential food source if you hadn't eaten in a week. Furthermore, the Clickers reaction to presence can be attested to surprise; you were the one that snuck up on them...no wonder they are annoyed.
So the Clickers are blind, hungry and easily startled. They are hardly a creature to feel hatred for and surely one that needs a second chance. In my opinion, it would take very little effort from the human survivors to tame these simple beasts instead of murdering them all. They've shown that they can be easily manipulated, using sound to trick them. Their brains are akin to mushroom soup at this point, but they are still able to recognise sounds, and follow the same route round in circles.
Has anyone in this post-apocalyptic world even tried to train the Clicker? All you would need is a decent sized cage, some animal meat and one of those dog training clicker things, and you could teach these simple beasts some basic commands. They would make excellent watch dogs, listening out other Infected that are nearby. If your torch runs out of batteries, your faithful clicker could navigate the way home through difficult terrain.
I see absolutely no reason why taming Clickers could be considered a bad idea. Nope. Not one reason.
Before I go on to prove the innocence of the Riftworm, consider that name. Riftworm. Rift, worm. Who in their right mind would ever consider a creature with 'worm' in their name to be a threat? Do you think worms are evil creatures? Sure, this one is a little bit bigger than regular Earth Worms...
For those who haven't played Gears of War, the Riftworm is both an opponent and the location for an entire level of the game. These gigantic, subterranean worms are also the reason why the Locust (your main opponents) even exist. Long before the first Gears of War these 8 mile monsters bored their way through the earth creating tunnels and caverns, leaving life-giving worm waste in their wake. The locust perceived the Riftworms as Gods, though they are far from intelligent. When a single Riftworm awakens for the events of Gears of War 2 the Locust leaders are able to lead this monster around like cattle.
Now it must be said that this Riftworm does cause a teensy weensy bit of damage during the game. One or two…entire human cities are reduced to rubble and despair as the worm is led through the earth beneath them. Okay… so it's actually three cities. The Riftworm sinks three entire cities as if they were nothing. Now that sounds bad sure, but the point is: it's not Riftworm's fault.
As mentioned earlier, this monster did not set out to kill people and destroy homes. His evil, Locust 'drivers' steer him towards these locations in order to win the war. Just like the Clickers, the Riftworm navigates using sound. They know not what destruction they cause. Moreover, this ancient creature only wakes from decades of slumber when the humans detonate a giant bomb above its head! By the end of the first game, the war has been raging for fourteen years, and the Riftworm was blissfully unaware. Only when the humans attempt to blow up half the planet does the colossal worm get involved.
Think about your reaction to being woken up for no good reason. Don't even try to convince me you reaction is anything less than angry, annoyed confusion. Can you really blame the Riftworm for wanting to level a few houses?
Markus Fenix and his Delta Force minions fail to see the situation from the Riftworm's giant perspective. When they are accidentally swallowed by the Riftworm as they attempt to escape a falling city, they decide that the Riftworm needs to die. Nevermind that this creature is not responsible for his own actions. So the muscled-laden team knuckle drag their way through the innards of this mighty beast. Once they find each of the three hearts they crush them with bullets. Finally, as this creature spews blood from its half-mile-wide mouth, Delta Force chainsaws it way to freedom. They then celebrate the demise of a worm.
The city was already destroyed by this point. Killing the Riftworm served no purpose, except to fulfil Delta Team's brutish need for vengeance. My main issue here is that the team never considered the fact that the worm deserved a chance at a better life free from Locust control. Not once did they consider that removing one or two of the worm's hearts would slow it down, without resorting to murder. The Riftworm would no longer aid the Locust in their war, and the Riftworm's city-wrecking days would be over.
On the other hand, if the human forces had tried harder to free the Riftworm from the Locust, they would have a powerful ally. What better way to dispatch your tunnel dwelling rivals than atop your very own worm-steed that could chomp its way through their defences like they were made of ice cream. Add to this the understanding that the Riftworm is considered to be a GOD. The Locust would start to rethink their whole military campaign if you attacked them riding their deity.
That big worm did one or two bad things in its time. Sure, I won't deny that. However, I think we can all now realise that this proud creature did not deserve to die. We can all see that…right?
You can hardly blame the predatory species of the Rook Islands to be…well… more predatory than usual. From the beginning of the game, to the inevitable conclusion, the protagonist kills and skins a dozen zoos worth of animals just so he can have more pouches for his guns and grenades. James Brody is the kind of guy who will shoot a goat in the face because he needs a new wallet. I can't blame the tigers, bears and Leopards of Far Cry 3 for being overly aggressive with a guy that appears to be wearing their relatives.
Don't get me wrong; I won't deny that the animals on this island are extremely aggressive. Whilst creatures like the Komodo Dragon and the crocodile are mean beings in reality, all these virtual critters will chase your across the length of the island just to chew your ankle off. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling that with a little understanding, respect and training these animals could become your allies. The predators on this island show their worth each time you attempt to take over one of the islands outposts.
At the start of the game, your enemy has control over the whole island, which you can alleviate by dispatching the occupants of various bases. The method of turning over these outposts is your choice. By the mid-way point in the game, you are carrying enough weaponry to re-enact the Normandy Landings and you can choose to wash away your bewildered enemies in a hailstorm of bullets. Alternatively, you can save your ammo and stealth-kill your way through the pack.
Whatever your choice, there is one action you will no doubt always start with. You'll let the animal out the cage. For some, under-developed reason the outpost defenders choose to keep a caged animal on site. The creature will be different each time, but one fact remains true: when they are let out of the cage they are going for the throat of anyone nearby. And so, before any attack, you'll let the animal out to have fun. You might team up with them in their murder-spree, or sit back and take bets on how many men will be mauled before the animal is brought down.
You might play through the entire game considering the caged predator a simple tool at your disposal. I no longer think that way, and I remember the encounter that changed my mind. A few hours into the game I came upon an outpost defended by 6-8 armed guards. The confined animal of choice was a big, black bear. I had already decided that my approach would be stealthy, using the release of the bear as a distraction. A single, silenced rifle shot was enough to break the seal on the animal's prison. The bear gleefully leapt at the guard standing in front of him. At the same time I silently back-stabbed a guard at my end of the camp.
This bear did well. It had clearly spent its time in captivity plotting how it might take revenge. With his first target dead he ran away from a second guard, causing them to follow. The bear then ran full circle around a nearby hut to launch at the pursuer in a way that would make the Jurassic Park Velociraptors proud. As the bear went in for a third kill, I dealt with the remaining guards with a rapid succession of shotgun blasts.
It was my most successful outpost capture up to that point and I owed my success to that glorious animal. Before I could celebrate my success, I realised what was going to happen next. As the outpost flag switched colours to denote a take-over, allies of mine would be coming to occupy the camp. Sure enough, I could see their jeep approaching. I found myself facing an awful dilemma. When the men arrived they would see the bear and riddle it with bullets… an ignoble end for a noble creature. In the few seconds I had left I made a judgement call: I drew my pistol hoping to make the bear's death quick and painless.
I might be 'over-dramatising' this situation, but the next few seconds really did carry a sense of poignancy. As I aimed at the bear, I was unaware of how close to death it was. I fired once and the bear, who had helped me in such a visually awesome way… slumped to the ground. In a game where your character does some pretty awful things, this was the one time where I felt like I'd done something truly despicable.
If I could relive that incident, I would not have fired. Instead, I would have held my hands out to the soldiers as they climbed out their jeep. As they levelled their firearms at the snarling beast I would have stood in the firing line with cries of "don't shoot! He's on our side!" If only I could have saved that bear, I'm sure I could have trained him to fight alongside me. Jason Brody's quest would have been so radical with a grizzly companion mauling alongside him. I'm adamant that even the most aggressive Far Cry 3 creature could show a friendlier side once they are given a second chance.
Apart from the Cassowaries. Those guys are JERKS.
So this might be the weirdest post I've written... yet there's a genuine argument to be made here. There are so many games that point the player towards an unknown creature, declaring "that thing is evil, kill it with fire!" and we gratefully oblige. Perhaps we should give a second thought to the monsters we are decimating.
What other 'enemies' need a second chance? What other video game creatures are misunderstood? Do you agree that Clickers, Riftworm and Far Cry critters deserve a little more respect? Or do those scary monsters deserve death by bullets?