Every once in a while, something beautiful happens in gaming that makes you remember just how young this medium is.
In The Last of Us, it was Ellie’s reaction to Joel’s final closing comment. I’ve never felt so emotional in a game before but it’s finally true, TLoU has heralded the bridge between gaming and movies. I’ve followed their every moment as a child who lovingly reads his first favourite book simply because he wants to find out what happens next.
It’s true. We are zombied out. In fact, this week alone I have been playing at least 4 games with which there were all based on some viral outbreak. Surely I should be in court for some kind of zombie genocide?
But the interesting thing about TLoU isn’t the zombies but the post-apocalyptic fall out of humanity after such a cataclysmic event and the effects this can have on civilisation. What do we do? What depths can you fall to from fear and desperation? This isn’t a game about zombie death count, but more about the panic invoking experiences you have in life and death situations. From the very beginning of the game you are thrown into a situation of pure fear and panic. Something’s going on in town but we don’t know. Everyone’s making a run for it but it’s chaos everywhere. Cue heart rate – this will continue for 20 hours of gameplay.
Twenty years on and Ellie, the only known human who has survived a zombie bite without turning, is given over to smuggler Joel who is tasked with taking her cross country and city to a rebel survivor base in order to investigate a potential vaccine.
As a 14 year old, Ellie is brave, charming, strong, intelligent and cocksure. She is a delight to watch and play and I was so absorbed with her as a character that I allowed myself to genuinely become emotionally tied to not only Ellie, but also her guardian Joel, a weathered, stocky anti-hero who has his own heap of demons to battle.
The game is big. It’s played out in over four seasons and it takes advantage of this by being experimental and generous with a complete range of weather, giving each main chapter its own look and feel. It is simply beautiful and I can confidently say that I’ve yet to play a game that looks so spectacular. Sun streams through windows in hazy rays, rain falls hard and creates frightening ravines and snow blizzards remove any short range vision placing you in scenes where you swear your eyes are playing tricks on you.
Incredibly realistic backdrops and scenery, the landscape is 20 years post fall-out and the dense vegetation is both curious and bewildering. It’s totally believable and if anybody has seen the beginning scene to I Am Legend then you will see similarities between both worlds. As a 14 year old, we are often reminded that this is the only world Ellie knows. Born into a world of chaos, despite her rugged outward nature, she is still a young teenage girl who is both vulnerable and sensitive with her curiosity sometimes piqued on topics such as skinny girls, make up and clothes as she reads old magazines and gets glimpses of a world unknown.
The PS3 is still an incredible machine as these backdrops are rendered without even a sweat breaking with no frame rate loss or jerkiness experienced as we go from an underground subway out to the vast expanses of a deserted city, with office buildings collapsed and cars littered across the streets, most with vegetations growing on them. Be under no doubt, this is a believable and very real world deliciously carved by some very talented world designers. Bravo.
As survival horror games go, there’s a slick blend between stealthy manoeuvres and all out combat. Both approaches having their strengths, dying isn’t a frustration, merely a resulting confirmation in your head that “That didn’t work, I’ll try something different”. Even after your 10th death, you find yourself trying different approaches and at no point did I find myself getting frustrated, only more determined.
Combat can be rewarding with a choice between firearms and also melee weapons. Each item can be upgraded with various parts found throughout your adventure to make the weapons stronger, faster and more durable. Special mention goes out to the molotov cocktail which works impressively both as a beacon for zombies, but also in infecting each other with fire. Melee weapons such as pipes, baseball bats and axes provide horrifically violent ends to both human and non alike, each blow resulting in crushed skulls and broken knee caps with each swing rewarded with a sickening crack or thump.
It’s not a perfect game. Sometimes the ‘focus’ listening skill didn’t work well as the enemy can sometimes disappear. Also there’s an occasional sluggishness about the way your character moves sometimes making panicked movements between doorways a little clumsy. It’s also extremely linear with the entire route laid out by way of dead ends and road blocks forcing you down a single path. I long for a day where we can enjoy a truly open city with a million pathing choices. But I’m really picking here. None of it stopped me from my obsessive attempt to complete the game, which I did.
I still can’t get over how incredible this game looks. It is possible that the aesthetic is really the only factor that may contribute towards replay – there’s no alternative endings and, like a movie, once you’ve experienced the highs, it may be difficult to replicate them.
Joel is incredible. As a true father figure, he’s a fighter without limits. At times, the game invokes anger in you as they play scenes of injustice, but it’s only to set you up for some wonderful stress release as Joel takes out his furious vengeance on mobs in a way that is both disturbing and delightfully righteous in equal measure.
It will make you cry, it will make you jump and it will certainly make you curious. Maybe it’s because I am a father of two girls that I felt empathy for our protagonist. Either way, it’s a sublime experience that is often prophetic and grandiose, but never at the expense of the finer details the relationship brings, whilst balancing a voyage of discovery with classical elements of survival horror, violent combat and desperate human endeavour in a way you will cherish for a long, long time after.
Please buy this game.0