The Last of Us
The Last of the year gaming wise was The Last of Us and I am so conflicted about this game that this blog may just read like the ramblings of one of the infected that you hide from during most of the game.
Why am I conflicted you ask? Well it’s because this is a great game, a game that will win many game of the year awards and deservedly so. However every decision that NaughtyDog made when producing this game made the game better and fills out the game world perfectly, yet it leaves me hollow and I can’t bring myself to say that I actually like it.
I am going to spoil the hell out of this game so if you haven’t played this eight month old game and are for some reason waiting to play it then turn away and come back afterwards. Play it you should as it’s an excellent example of this generation of gaming and how far it’s come in story structure and world creation. I really don’t know why you’ve waited this long though. I can say that now as I’ve finally played it so I’m free to go and watch and listen to all of the spoilercasts dedicated to the finer parts of the story.
Anyone who knows me in real life or has spoken to me for longer than three and a half minutes knows how much I love fiction based on zombies/infections and how their proliferation in popular culture probably speaks or either a yearning for a simpler time where technology doesn’t evade our lives as much OR a way to fix the current world that we live in, which has become so drowned in corruption and lies that an apocalyptic reset is more likely than our world leaders sorting things out on their own. So I should be drawn to TLOU like a politician is drawn to any lobbyist with the deepest pockets despite my feelings towards the Uncharted series which just bored me.
I was delayed in playing through TLOU because of life, other games, consoles and a little bit of hype fatigue. This Christmas however I had put a couple of days aside to finally finish this GOTY award collecting machine. It opens with a short prologue in which you play Joel and his actual Daughter during the first hours of the infection. She is tragically killed and the first likable character you’ve met is taken from the player. It’s very well done and sets a dark tone which only gets darker as you progress. You then start the game and are given some easy tasks to get you accustomed to the mechanics while you are lead up to meeting Ellie for the first time. You are tasked with escorting Ellie to a rendezvous which you know won’t happen, with another character that you know won’t make it as you’ve got a lot more game to fill out and this other character isn’t featured in any of the adverts for the game.
From the start I didn’t like Joel. He’s just moody and grouchy as one would imagine someone would be in this world with no hope, no family and no friends. To me though he was just so bad tempered that you couldn’t work out why anyone would care to make friends with him at all which could be the reason of his grouchiness. Ellie on the other hand is written perfectly and is charming from beginning to end. Two of the three biggest games of the year have featured female companions and both are excellently played.
Small bits of dialogue which are completely inconsequential at first add credibility to Ellie that Joel doesn’t have. You find that Ellie carries an infection but has been born with immunity to the virus which could mean a treatment and even a cure in the right hands. You travel across the country through the seasons in the hope of finding someone with the expertise to make the most of this world changing event.
The story of TLOU is done very, very well. So well in fact that a few times I actually just wanted to watch the cut scenes unfold without the interruption of sneaking or shooting stuff. The cut scenes and animation draw you in and the acting makes every character believable.
The game play does not let the story down. While in GTA your character can act all remorseful about killing in the story and then burn dozens to death a minute later as soon as the player has the chance to. TLOU’s world is a hard one and it would be difficult to act worse than how Joel is portrayed in the story when you get to control him. He is ruthless and lives by a “Them or Me” set of morals which you have to replicate in the game.
The ability to create your weapons from found items makes sense works well. I don’t know why there are so many bits of scissors hiding all over the place in this world but I’ll let that go. The encounters with both human and infected enemies are not easy and I only really felt confident during the last part of the game in my abilities to dominate the enemies at hand which shows some very good pacing following a steep difficulty curve right at the beginning.
I don’t gel with third person games anywhere near as much as first person and this could be why I found the arena sections such a drag. None of it seemed cheap or broken, I just didn’t enjoy it.
Then there is the issue about the ending. This is the first game I’ve played in which the hero that you’ve been playing as for the last 12 hours or so makes a decision so against the code normally set in games that it feels terrible to do so. After your trek to find the people who could possibly create a vaccine and potentially return the world to normality, Joel is faced with the idea that in order for the world to be healed, Ellie must die as her immunity comes from a growth deep within her brain. Any operation to retrieve it would kill her. His response to this news is to stop the operation by killing dozens of guards on the way to the operating room, capped off by killing the main surgeon before you kidnap an unconscious Ellie and flee.
This ending does not go against Joel’s character. He was selfish the whole way through the game and his actions are completely selfish at the end. It did however go against my character. During the scene in the operating room it took me a couple minutes of problem solving any other solution rather than killing this highly skilled and presumably rare surgeon. The game gave me none and I understand why, it just made me feel bad knowing the effect that I was having on this game world.
It struck me that the only reaction I’ve had close to this was during Spec Ops: The line in which the main character you play commits atrocious things in order to survive. The only difference is that Captain Walker hurts people by mistake during Spec ops. By the end he has been driven mad by the events that preceded it so he was never conscious of his actions. During TLOU Joel acts intentionally in the terrible things that he does and in the end chooses his own happiness over the misery of those people left alive following the infection. He is without remorse and even lies to the one person he cares most about during the final seconds of the story. He is, if anything, consistent.
I was left feeling empty after playing TLOU and it made me realise that it doesn’t matter how well something is made, unless there is a spark somewhere within a game that makes you just want more, it wont connect with you. Picking up food from toilets for health in Bioshock didn’t phase me as I was already in love with the game. Police cars not caring about you driving past them at 200 mph, yet freaking out when you punch someone in GTA raises a smile more than anything. The last of Us is basically perfect as a video game and deserves all the praise it will get. I just hope that this is not the start of video games losing some of the heart that make them so special.
So what did you think? Am I completely off base? Am I the only person who doesn’t love this game?
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