Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Last Of Us – Finally

Just over a year ago, Uncharted developer Naughty Dog released it’s highly anticipated The Last Of Us. I picked it up not long after and promptly proceeded to not play it, despite the universal praise and acclaim it has gathered. Fast forward to tonight and I’ve finally finished it off, after a drawn out play through over the course of several months. So what do I think? Does it live up to all the glowing reports its received?

I’m finding it hard to put into words just how I feel about it. On one hand it is most certainly a masterpiece of technical brilliance, writing, voice acting and mechanics that make sense. On the other hand I find myself asking, “Did I enjoy it?”

No. But that’s alright, simply because of how the game presents itself. The Last Of Us is a depressingly bleak world to inhabit. Set twenty years after a parasitic fungal outbreak has seemingly annihilated human civilisation, Joel is tasked with taking young Ellie on a cross-country journey of the greatest importance. As part of their journey they have to deal with the infected populations, who have mutated into several differing forms and, perhaps most dangerously of all, other humans who care only about their own interests. The game takes place over approximately a year, split up into seasons, which focus on each part of their journey.

The interplay between Joel and Ellie is easily one of, if not the best example of a relationship in all of videogames. Naughty Dog have crafted two believable, relatable characters that you want to care about and who change and grow over the course of the main game. It’s bar-raising stuff and is rightly being highly praised for it. Voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson put in excellently subtle performances for Joel and Ellie respectively. Johnson won a BAFTA for her work on the game, while both her and Baker won VGX awards.

Technically the PS3 is being pushed to it’s limits and this is one of the best looking games you’ll find on PS3. Everything about the visuals is eye-catching, from the wonderfully subtle particle effects to beams of sunlight bursting through trees and cracks. Frame rate does suffer in one or two cases, but never at critical moments.

So back to why I didn’t enjoy myself.

The Last Of Us is in many ways about surviving, very often by the skin of your teeth. Ammunition and the supplies needed to craft everything from med kits to nail bombs, are very scarce with decisions constantly having to be made. Med kits and Molotov cocktails share the same ingredients of rags and alcohol, but with a limited supply what are you going to prioritise? Joel, while an accomplished survivor, is not a one man army and is not a trained marksman, making each shot you take that much more important. Conservation of these items is vital to progression.

Then there are the infected. Coming in three distinct varieties, each of them are extremely deadly and two of them are capable of instantly killing you if they get too close. There are often far too many to take out with guns, so stealth and sneaking become primary concerns whenever enemies are near. Most infected can be taken out with a stealth kill, but these are always risky, especially with the more deadly types.

But the real bastards of the title, are other survivors. There are quite a few that you’ll encounter throughout the game and with a handful of exceptions they’ll cause trouble and grief.

I’ve said that I didn’t enjoy the game, but it’s more because the things you do in the game are harsh and hard. You are in an unforgiving world, where death is always just around the corner and everyone in it is fighting desperately and brutally to stay alive. The tension in each combat encounter is palpable and leaves me feeling drained and exhausted.

But I still savoured every minute of it. Each tense encounter as an enemy makes their way towards my position when all I have left to defend me is a piece of pipe. Each time I swung the camera around just to take in to scenery. Each time I managed to squeeze another med kit out of my supplies before the next bullet hit me. Each time I saw Joel and Ellie grow that little bit more.

The Last Of Us deserves every plaudit and award it has picked up in the last year. It deserves the be played and discussed, as a genuine step forward for the medium. It especially deserves it for coming from a developer of high-budget blockbuster games, which so often play it safe and try not to do anything which might put off those who by little else than Fifa and Call Of Duty. The Last Of Us is a genuinely moving, and thought provoking game.

You need to play it.

The Last Of Us is available now on PS3.
The Last Of Us: Remastered will be released on PS4 on 29th July 2014.

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