The lights are on
Post-Apocalyptic wasteland is a trope that has been used in games for a while now, and
while some can do it ok (RAGE), there
are others that can do it better (Fallout).
The Last of Us is a game that may
work within the trope, but completely redefines the kind of experience that has
been available so far. It is impossible to deny any inspiration from the novel The Road, and by using the apocalyptic
setting to tell a very human-centric story, Naughty Dog created a truly
compelling piece. Very rarely has a game such as this been able to create a
narrative both within and outside of the working cut scene structure,
especially one that had me stop at each locale to stare at the environment as
well as hoping to pick up on a conversation between the two protagonists.
Organic is not generally a word used
to describe a game, visceral perhaps, but not organic. When used it in the
context of the The Last of Us, it mean a variety of
components that are familiar to game design that have been done in such a way
that make the game feel a more natural experience than other AAA titles that
gamers are used too. The story transitions very naturally, cut scenes are not
distracting and going from gameplay to scene and vice versa are not jarring at
all. The story itself, while using a zombie archetype, uses a very natural and
more plausible reason to have "Zombies" and variations than other games and by
doing so, actually makes the plot line all the more horrifying. The music is
minimalist and does not control the players emotions, but rather perfectly sets
the tone for the situation at hand, and by minimalist, a comparison to No Country for Old Men seems applicable.
The gameplay as well is very organic since the ability to detect enemies is not
due to having radar but rather Joel's ability to listen and detect sound, which
beautifully comes with the downfall of not being able to identify still
enemies. Crafting requires the player to be conservative in controversies while
also making an effort to search in order to progress effectively.
In terms of the actual narrative, The Last of Us is a masterpiece, with a
very finely written script both in and out of cut scenes, depicting a lifestyle
that would both be horrifying to live in, but also completely feasible feeling.
Every character that goes beyond the standard enemy is beautifully written,
with life-like and relatable to some degree and without wanting to reveal too
much, they are all fascinating examples of what humanity can become given the
need for survival. The story itself is broken up over the seasons and has a
very definitive beginning middle and end that coincides perfectly with the
evolution of Joel and Ellie's relationship. While the climax of the story could
be taken in two separate paths, the ending itself is daring, ambiguous, but
packaged with a complete experiences that leaves no desire for a sequel.
Last of Us though cannot truly be discussed without mentioning the standout
relationship between Joel and Ellie. Ellie, being someone who was born in the
apocalyptic times, provides all sort of interesting opportunities for Naughty
Dog, and is a truly loved partner. She helps Joel in combat, she addresses
things in the environment, and she is wonderfully voice acted. The little
touches too are phenomenal, such as how she tucks under Joel when in cover or
when she becomes a greater asset in combat (no spoilers). Their relationship
evolves naturally and works within the overall narrative and gameplay
The gameplay is tight and provides
for great variation. Skills are earned throughout the story such as different
weapons, upgrades, and crafting recipes. Each weapon feels significant in its
own way and every upgrade feels like an earned advantage over what came before.
Parts are found to physically improve the weapons such as holsters for quick
switching, or improved scopes or reload speed, whereas survival guides are used
to improve tools such as Medkits or Molotovs. Running is not infinite, and
feels well balanced, and crouching requires slow and methodical thought in
approaching a situation. The use of light and sound are also crucial to
encounters based on the enemy at hand. My only real complaint is during the
non-combat situations, I would have hoped for a faster jogging speed to collect
supplies and continue the story. On the note of traversal however, the
animation for the way Joel runs is a definitive sign for whether or not there
is still an enemy around. When it comes to navigating the maps (which are all
fairly large) cover is a natural transition by simply waking (or crouching) up
against a surface, vaulting is as simple as a button motion and there is the
real capability to be in constant motion and not getting bogged down in the geometry.
The only real detriment to the The Last of Us, is the repetition of
puzzles, which really serves more as a way to navigate the environment to
provide variation, than to bog down the player. Needless to say there is plenty
of palette and ladder moving to be had. The multiplayer also, while decent, is
not going to take time away from the heavy hitters on the market. However, the
multiplayer does take a creative role by making each match become a fight for
helping those in your own personal survival group, with more resources
allocated to feeding your own and brining in new citizens. It is a purely meta
experience, but does create an interesting narrative.
This game is best served cold, try to find out as
little as possible about anything, and enjoy the experience.
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