This week, make a donation to fight for racial justice and get hundreds of dollars of books and games in return, diving into the history of Neil Young, the Playstation 5 has been revealed, PS5 games to look forward to, and a review of The Last of Us Part II. But first, using an iPhone Shortcut to document interactions with police.
Using the Shortcuts app on your iPhone in the event you are interacting with the police
Plenty of attention being paid to police activities and methods, particularly use of force. I acknowledge lots of privilege as a white, cis-gendered male, and I’ve never felt threatened by police, but I sure appreciate there are people who do.
Documenting your interactions with them could be important, and the Pulled over by police shortcut was created for this purpose.
With this shortcut enable, you can say, “Siri, I’m being pulled over,” and your iPhone will pause music, go into “do not disturb” mode, dim the display, and start recording using the front-facing camera. After you’ve stopped the recording, the video is automatically sent to someone you’ve set as a contact.
For this to work, you need to have an iPhone (or iPad) running iOS 12 and with the Shortcuts app installed on your device.
Visit the link to Pulled over by police with your iPhone and it will install as an action in your Shortcuts app.
Another tip if you’re in an interaction with authorities and you don’t want them to use your fingerprint or face to automatically open your device: You can disable Face ID and Touch ID in seconds by holding the sleep/wake button and either volume button at the same time.
You can also use that button combination to make an emergency call to 911. Depending on what’s going on, though, that might not be the best idea.
“Fight for Racial Justice” Humble Bundle filled with games and books
For only Cdn$43 you can get more than 50 video games, including indie favourites like Darkest Dungeon (made in Vancouver by Red Hook Studios) and Baba is You, as well as Company of Heroes 2 (from Vancouver’s Relic Entertainment) and Bioshock Remastered, and the remakes of System Shock and System Shock 2.
The bundle is only available through this weekend, so don’t wait.
Neil Young Archives an online home for everything about the Canadian rocker
Neil Young’s dropping a new album on Friday. While Homegrown was recorded in 1974 and 1975, it went unreleased (Young reportedly released Tonight’s the Night instead).
But you can listen to the songs on the new/old album right now at the Neil Young Archives.
The website is the home to all things Neil Young, including streaming music, clips from concert films like Rust Never Sleeps, lyrics, photos and posters, and a link to the merch store.
There’s also a blog that curates articles from elsewhere on the internet about topics of interest to Young. It’s also a place where Young is writing about things like police reform and Black Lives Matter.
One of the things that distinguishes the Neil Young Archives is the technology that’s being used to deliver the music. You’re not getting MP3s, but a different format the site calls “Xstream”. This is how the Archive can stream master-quality audio.
Whether you can hear master-quality sound depends on your computer and speakers, the speed of your ISP connection and your in-home network, and the other processing demands on your computer at the time.
Built into the website dashboard is a meter that shows you your streaming rate and resulting sound quality.
One of the cleverest ways to navigate the Neil Young Archives is through a timeline, which starts in 1960 (Young was born in 1945 but formed his first band, the Jades, in January of 1961) and includes significant world events like when the cassette tape became part of the music industry (August 1963) and when John F. Kennedy was assassinated (November 22, 1963).
Now we know what the Playstation 5 looks like
At the Future of Gaming event broadcast online, Sony revealed the design of the Playstation 5, the new video game console expected to be released in the 2020 holiday season.
It’s a white, curved box with black accents and blue LED highlights, and given the size of the USB ports on the device, the PS5 is larger than a bread box. While it is designed to work on its side or vertically, most of the images Sony has released have the console on end.
There will be two models, one with a 4K ultra HD Blu-ray disc drive, and a Digital Edition without.
Also revealed last week were accessories for the PS5, including the “Pulse 3D” wireless headphones, an HD camera, a charging station for the DualSense controllers, and a remote control for media.
The accessories all share the white with black colours of the console.
Sony did not share pricing or release dates for any of the hardware, games, or accessories.
PS5 games to look forward to
In the event last week, Sony showed a number of games that you’ll be playing on the PS5 in the next couple of years. Here are some that caught my attention.
Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (Insomniac Games) comes straight out of the amazing 2018 game that featured Peter Parker’s Spider-Man working to stop Mister Negative.
Insomniac also has a new game in the Ratchet & Clank series of action platformers. In Rift Apart, the Lombax, Ratchet, and his sidekick robot, Clank, will be moving between worlds and dimensions.
Two games making use of the repeating day trope. Returnal, from Finnish studio Housemarque, in which the world changes in some way every time your character dies and is reborn.
And Deathloop, from Arkane and Bethesda, in which your character has to keep looping back to the beginning until you successfully complete your mission. The catch is that there’s another assassin out there trying to take you out.
Bethesda also has Ghostwire: Tokyo coming next year.
The game I’m most excited about, though, is Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn, which is still my favourite game from this last generation of consoles.
The Last of Us Part II is storytelling at its best
The Last of Us Part II is for people who like stories. It’s for people who appreciate characters struggling to survive, struggling to understand what humanity is, and who occupy the grey zones of morality when making decisions. Decisions – and consequences – are, of course, fundamental to story.
This is a story about the apocalypse. It’s about how the human race is nearly annihilated by a fungal plague that turns people into gibbering horrors that attack the uninfected. It’s also about the decisions survivors make in the act of survival, and it’s about the consequences of those decisions.
And this sequel, which takes place in the years after the first game, shows us a world that remains brutal, even while there are moments of breathtaking beauty.
In 2013, The Last of Us introduced us to Ellie, who is immune to the fungus. At that time we played as Joel, who was hired to escort Ellie out of a quarantine zone in Boston. He ends up alongside her all the way down the east coast and then west to Colorado and then Salt Lake City. The majesty of the first game was in how the two characters changed and grew close. Ellie became the daughter Joel lost in the early days of the plague; Joel the parent Ellie seems never to have had.
That game ended with Joel making a moral decision that placed his needs above those of the human race.
As in all good stories, there must be a reckoning.
In Part II we play as Ellie, who is no longer a young adult. She’s fully her own person, now, making her own decisions. She decides she must travel to Seattle, where much of the game takes place. I’m not going to detail any more of the plot, because there’s too much that intertwines and it’s a story that needs to be experienced.
What I will say is that in telling this story there are flashbacks to earlier times, new characters are introduced, and more of the larger world is revealed to us.
The mechanics of movement, combat, and crafting are serviceable; satisfactory without being satisfying. But you’re not playing The Last of Us Part II for the mechanics. You’re here for the story.
You don’t have to be a gamer to appreciate what director Neil Druckmann and the developers at Naughty Dog have crafted in here. These characters transcend the medium in part because they’ve been scripted well, but also because the performances are superior. Ian Alexander (Lev), Laura Bailey (Abby), Troy Baker (Joel), Stephen Chang (Jesse), Jeffrey Pierce (Tommy), Shannon Woodward (Dina), and all the other supporting cast are note-perfect.
And your heart will break for Ashley Johnson’s Ellie, who is fierce and tough and a vulnerable wreck. She is a product of violence and trauma and consequence, and she confronts her life as a survivor. In so doing she battles against infected antagonists as well as human ones using melee weapons and firearms, crafting what she needs for supplies scrounged from the detritus of 20th century civilization.
To be sure, this is a violent game. While the systems exist to use stealth to avoid interactions with enemies, it’s often not easy or practical to do so. Ellie and the others characters in this game are killers.
The savagery is staccato, interspersed with stretches of quiet, and I took it slow, savouring those moments of wonder, like in the first game when Ellie and Joel come across a giraffe that had escaped captivity and was wandering the countryside. This is where the story shines, because this is when the characters have real conversations filled with meaning and subtext and emotion.
The problem is that when these moments to happen, The Last of Us Part II stops being a game and becomes a movie. The number and length of cut scenes will keep some people from ever giving this game a chance, because ultimately we have no agency over the story or the characters. We’re simply embodying them for a little while.
This is characteristic of Naughty Dog games, so it’s not a surprise that they decided to use that approach here. I’m glad that Druckmann’s getting a chance to bring these characters to television, and I’m curious to know if we’ll still care about them so much when we’re not becoming them.
There are other decisions that he’s made about how to tell this story as a video game that I’m desperate to explore but I can’t talk about here for fear of spoiling the experience. In the same way stories are about characters making decisions, telling stories requires that choices be made. And while I’m not sure that all of the choices made by Druckmann and the developers at Naughty Dog are the best, I’m sure glad to have had the chance to become these characters again. As with The Last of Us, playing this game is permanently affecting.
If you like stories and don’t mind playing a game where sometimes you need to sit back and watch, The Last of Us Part II is storytelling at its best.