When the art of story-telling is incorporated in the core gameplay of any title, the key element that should always exist is how one feels as the mason of the very tale that has been fabricated in his actions.
Sadly, there aren’t too many games lately that seem to possess that trait; most games nowadays seem to have an overly-eminent defined path for you to follow. It’s not linearity itself that I speak of – it’s how blatant and visible this linearity is.
But one game that seems to deviate from this modern norm is The Last of Us, a title by the highly esteemed Naughty Dog, a developing studio most well-known for its infamous Uncharted games for the PlayStation 3.
We were being teased of an obvious post-apocalyptic title-in-works since last year, and little by little more has been revealed of late. Perhaps the hammer struck the nail most well was in this year’s E3, when a generously detailed demo of The Last of Us was shown to us.
The very first attribute that any casual eye would’ve noticed was the strikingly realistic slow pace of the game. The Last of Us doesn’t seem to entrap itself in the dogma of fast-paced gaming that surrounds nearly every game today, including Naughty Dog’s very own Uncharted.
True that Uncharted seemed to vary its pace from time to time, but the game best described itself as a relatively speedy adventure-shooter, with a bit of influence from the classic Tomb Raider titles.
As previously stated, The Last of Us gives an immediate impression that we’re no longer dwelling in a world that requires timing, pace, agility, and practical legitimacy. Instead, the aura of the-strive-for-survival is immediately felt once a player takes control of the hardened survivor Joel.
Joel’s own body language suggests that he’s not looking for any unnecessary trouble, and neither does he have the lively energy that heroes possess, nor does he have a reason to have it.
He’s slow, his sprinting is dull, and though you’d be otherwise screaming at such a hero in any other game, the situation seems to silently sit in place so well that its acceptability is more spontaneous than forced by the game.
What adds to the survival-driven, energy-saving mobility and thirst for strive is the presence of the innocent yet instinctively-smart young girl called Ellie. Without knowing a word of the story, one seems to immediately understand the complex connection between Ellie and Joel.
The bond between them is like that of father and daughter, yet there is just that sufficient amount of relational distance between the two to suggest that they aren’t exactly connected by blood.
These hints are all very abstract, once again not being blandly narrated in the game, but instead being a subtle part of the atmosphere that surrounds Ellie’s and Joel’s relation, and Joel’s hardened nature that both makes him look tiresome, yet full of survival energy.
The source behind the two characters’ relations, and pretty much everything in the game, is the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a parasitic fungus that destroyed modern civilization.
Joel is an ex-black market dealer, who happens to end up promising a dying friend that he will take care of Ellie and help her escape. From there on, the game starts, and the pair make their way across United States, from Boston to the Western regions of the heavily infected United States.
The E3 demo showed us exactly what quality of work Naughty Dog had put into The Last of Us, and how, for the most part, the game will play out. A supply of limited ammo and an abandoned gun to go with it is more than enough for Joel to activate his instinctive survival mode, and with a bit of assistance from the 14-year old Ellie, the two become capable of dealing with the brutal threats that come in their path.
On screen, The Last of Us looked absolutely mind-blowing, having the qualities and originality to make it seem like a destined success. The fights are intense, with the unwelcoming personalities of enemies evident.
The way Joel and Ellie react to hostiles is also very realistic, being both believable and appreciable; they’re body-language becomes restrictive, they naturally attempt to take cover, and their anxiety is almost entirely evident from their actions.
The fights themselves are very dynamic, non-linear, and can have multiple different results depending on how wisely (or unwisely) you act. Ellie proves to be more than useful, and her wits and the intelligent AI seem to shine best in fights.
She rarely ever compromises your cover – her movements are well-defined: precise, simple, conservative, and almost always correct. Her involvement during difficult situations is also highly appreciable, as she tends to wittily use the environment to her advantage, both to aid Joel when fighting and help him when things look dire.
Though the fluidity of the gameplay is highly commendable, the major issue concerning the hype that surrounds it is how much of it is actually controlled by the player him/herself. How deeply involved is the player in everything that happens?
The mind immediately brings forward the debatable QuickTime event usage that is being incorporated in just about every action-adventure game. Uncharted 3, despite being as great as it was, was mauled by QuickTime events in gorgeous scenes that would’ve been so awesome had they actually been fully controllable.
We come back to where we started from: does The Last of Us make us feel like the very masons crafting the unique fighting sequences and the heavily dynamic situations? Or are we, once again, being deceived by brilliantly executed demos, whose contents actually only consist of pressing a few buttons while an entire scene plays in front of our eyes.
QuickTime events were great when they weren’t common, and when they didn’t become a method of making a videogame look seem like a movie one watched and during which one occasionally pressed a few buttons.
If this is NOT the case, then I must say that The Last of Us is not only a destined success, it may well overtake Uncharted as Naughty Dog’s greatest work, and may also be one of the all-time greatest PlayStation 3 exclusive titles ever to be released.