You would have to have been living in a hut in some forgotten part of the world not to have heard of the game “The last of Us” or encountered someone who had waxed lyrical about the games attributes. So a few months ago I decided to get myself a PlayStation 3 to experience some of the games I had missed on the PlayStation since those far off days when I owned a PS2.
I’m not a particularly good gamer, I enjoy games immensely but I am not driven by achievements or high-scores, for me it’s the experience itself I’m interested in. So the bulk of games I purchased initially for the PS3 were all heavily story or character driven in nature.
Of which one was the afore mentioned “The Last of Us”.
The game begins with a series of long (but not TOO long) full motion video scenes where user interaction is limited to walking between scenes or the occasional quick time event (where it flash’s up “X” on the screen so you hit “X”, etc.), but as the game evolves interactions are added and more control is available naturally through the games story. There are no tutorials to speak of, nor are there any elaborate overview of how anything works, the game just presents things in a logically intuitive manner and allows you to work out things for yourself.
A good example of this is that thru ought the game you collect things to help with health or build items but it didn’t occur to me until very late in the game that I could use the medication I’d collected to upgrade many characteristics of my character. This may have been obvious to many, but I believe I was too caught up with the story to consider it and only explored the option when I needed to in order to complete a scene.
Note I used the word “scene” there and not “level”.
The game is structured exactly like a movie would be with each scene working as game level. You begin in the protected city and are presented with a series of missions to perform before the main story starts, these missions are logical and elaborate on why the character is in the position they are and why later decisions the character makes are made by them.
It is only after the game is completed that a lot of this early work in the game can be fully appreciated. Not only do these early scenes act as a gaming tutorial but it paints an elaborate picture of the character and their day to day lives; and it does this without you noticing it at all.
This is what is so clever about The Last of Us, it game structure is invisible, dissolving behind the story narrative. These early scenes act in a way that allows the game to later “synchronise” player and character by making the control process instinctive, it adds controls carefully, allowing you to be completely comfortable with movement before using health items, then allowing you to understand that before moving on to firearms, and so on.
By the time the story begins proper the user is already fully versed in the control structure and even when items are added afterwards these are added to what you already understand of it.
So when you finally meet Ellie and the game truly begins there is little that stands between you and the story that’s about to unfold.
You play as Joel, who is a complex mixed bag hiding under the veneer of a heel. He isn’t a nice guy, he’s a survivor and this precludes the idea of “nice” to him; but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist deep down inside.
Joel would deny this.
I think Joel probably denies a lot of thing about himself.
Ellie is no different, she is young and this means her own mixed bag of issues hasn’t matured yet, but it will; after all she’s no less of a survivor.
As we’ll eventually see for ourselves.
What begins as a simple mission to transfer this girl called Ellie to a group called The Fireflies (a resistance group against the military who now control everything) falls apart when they reach the camp and find The Fireflies; or what’s left of them. So begins a trek across America on a hunt to find someone who will take this unusual you lady Joel has been saddled with.
What makes Ellie so special you see…
Nah… I shouldn’t say.
As Joel and Ellie wander deeper into the wilderness that was once North America, through cities decimated by the return of the wild, they encounter that which has caused this cataclysm.
The Infected in all their guises.
A viral infection that latches onto the brain, a fungus that eats away at a persons humanity, a mutation that twists the body; this is what Joel and Ellie must evade when they can, and fight when they must.
But these ravenous automatons that were once human are not the only enemy. There are bandits on the road, human monsters that will kill you and eat you if they see you. These monsters are even worse than the infected, they are wily you see, they’ll confront you will masses of weapons and absolutely no remorse for their actions at all.
Through Joel and Ellie must fight the blood on the hands of each of them thicker after each encounter.
This is what makes The Last of Us a masterpiece rather than merely a game. The enemies you face aren’t just faceless things to be eradicated, even though you never know who they are their deaths weigh on you. The blood on your hands feels real and you understand Joel more with each confrontation.
There is a synchronicity between player and character that is hard to define, but as the game proceeds it gets harder and harder to deny it. When the player begins to get close to the end of the game (they believe this, but it isn’t true) Ellie is separated from Joel and he must wade through a host of human adversaries to get to her.
The violence here is merciless and brutal, Joel burns people alive and impales people with shrapnel bombs, the battle is arduous and seemingly endless before he reaches her and this is when I realised something that surprised me.
Everything Joel does I’m complicit in, when I play him it is me, but when he isn’t he is still me, at this point we are one and his feelings are mine and mine his.
I’ve played many character based games and I’ve bonded with many characters, but nothing like that had happened before. Usually there’s something in a game that’ll feel “off”, something will happen that’ll be story or game driven that doesn’t quite fit for the character, often the player will want to approach a scenario differently, or they’ll hate a secondary character; SOMETHING will be “off”.
But with The Last of Us this never happened, there was a perfect synchronicity between Joel and myself and even when the game changed and I found myself playing Ellie this synchronicity didn’t end.
I’ve heard people talk about this game in glowing terms, praising the story and character, the design and the gameplay; but for me this is what makes The Last of Us special…
You become one with it.
There are games where the story is better (The Walking Dead Season 1) or the gameplay is better (Dying Light). There are games where the design is better (Metro 2033) or where the graphics are more impressive (Farcry 4); but so far I have played nothing that comes close to this game in terms of character engagement. In all those games mentioned above I was always playing a character, in The Last of Us I was playing AS a character.
In recent years there have been many games that have surprised me with their immersive stories and their great characters; we are going through an upsurge in great games at the moment.
The Last of Us is definitely one of the best of the best of these and a great indicator to where games are going if we continue down the dame track.
If you haven’t played this game I recommend it, I would go as far to say that a second hand PS3 is worth picking up to play this game alone if you don’t already have a console. When you’ve finished with The Last of Us (you’ll want to play through it a few times, trust me) there are some other you could try as well.
Recently rumours have surfaced that the developers are working on a sequel to The Last of US, as well as there being a movie in the works. My advice would be to go find a copy before all this happens, before the emotional rollercoaster that is The Last of Us is spoiled for you by some Hollywood monstrosity worse than any infected.