I know it’s been about a month since The Last of Us was released, but I’m just now coming down from that story with any hint of the ability to coherently put my emotions together after the experience this game put me through. I also played it a second time, which helped with the coping. Don’t you roll your eyes at me! This game is intense!
Introducing our main playable character coming home after a long day of work, the player is actually given control of Joel’s daughter as the world around her hints at the chaos that is about to rip apart civilization as we know it. And what an introduction it is. Let’s just say that after this night Joel will be a completely different man when we come back to him 20 years later, in a world that has grown used to the infection that has decimated the population in this post-apocalyptic future.
The first variation of these zombie-like being we come across are called “runners.” They’re basically what happens to a person early after being bitten (or after breathing in the spores that also keep the pandemic alive). As the name suggests, they’re the faster enemies of the group, but instead of attacking them head on at this moment in the game the suggested approach is to sneak past, learning the controls as we go. Similar to the different types of smart vision that often come into play in games, Joel uses his keen sense of hearing in order to get an idea of the dangers that threaten the path ahead, which definitely becomes a skill to be thankful for down the road when the levels of danger escalate since running and gunning isn’t exactly a way to survive at length in this new world.
Showing that it isn’t only the infected to fear, the first moments of gunplay are actually against humans as the opponent, as people fight to do what they must to live another day by taking advantage of the situation they’ve been dealt. This is when Joel and Tess, one of the many characters that keep in step with Joel throughout his journey, meet Ellie, a 14-year old girl who needs to be taken safely out of the city. Because of her, Joel is given a purpose; whether or not he wants it doesn’t really matter.
No matter how Joel feels about her, Ellie is pretty much the best thing about the game, not to say that everywhere else is littered with shortcomings. She’s just easily my favorite character from this year’s games, adding constant commentary to the fieldtrip no matter how resistant Joel is to her charms. She’s funny (“You’ve got something on your shoe” – an arm!) and full of expletives during fitting situations, adding genuine moments to smile at in an otherwise bleak world. She is so realistic as a young teen as her mood and background actions are informed by the current plot points, and it’s worth it to keep an eye on her as you watch the environment because she is beautifully animated, whether she’s sulking against a wall or mindlessly being a kid by balancing on the edge of a curb while learning to whistle. Heck, I’m not ashamed to admit that on many occasions I found myself talking to her like she was real, whether I was telling her to wait for me to check something out or asking her to keep up after nervously swinging the camera around to make sure she was still on my heels.
Another thing about Ellie that is always good for a laugh is that she has to make due with what’s around her because Joel won’t allow her to defend herself with a gun, so in moments of combat the occasional brick will fly in from off screen to aid in your moment of peril. Even though it would probably be more advisable for her to pick up some of the many melee weapons available within the world, she is nice enough to leave those to us, which definitely comes in handy when the runners see you coming. You can also punch the infected in the face because Joel has such perfect aim that you don’t need to worry about his knuckles grazing a tooth, but it’s way more fun to eventually duct tape some broken scissors to the end of a metal pipe. As for the clickers, stealth and shanking is the way to go since a shotgun round to the face will draw their blind pals to your location.
But if you say screw you to the odds and less frequent ammo drops throughout the maps as bullets do not fall from the enemies to overcompensate for what you put into them, then be sure to salvage as many parts as possible because you’re going to want to upgrade your weapons as your arsenal builds and builds. Good thing you’ve got a backpack to carry it all, but like Dead Space you have to dig within its contents without the safety of paused action, so you’re going to want to craft those additional holsters early to make weapon swapping a smoother process.
The salvaging becomes an important part of the game to give yourself the best odds of survival, which is a great thing because it also forces the player to take in all of the details build into the design of the environments. While searching around to the content of your OCD, you will also come across little collectables, often being a note that further builds on the world, reminding the player that in addition to the few you do come across, there were once a whole lot of others out there who probably weren’t as lucky to make it long after they put those words to paper. These little details add to the bleakness as a constant reminder of what could happen if this story doesn’t end well, which I never assumed wasn’t a possibility because of the amazing storytelling that Naughty Dog adds on top of the gameplay. Seriously, that story. Sheesh… And that ending! It will sink down into your bones and haunt you for a while after you finish playing. And then you will want to play again.
We’ve still got a while left in the year with some big releases upcoming on the calendar, but can we all just agree on this being Game of the Year already? [Looks to left] Game of the Year? [Looks to right] Game of the Year? Game of the Year!
Final grade: 9.5/10 Follow @BewareOfTrees
Note: I haven’t dedicated more than a few minutes to the multiplayer as I am rarely a fan of that part of gaming, but I have heard great things about it from numerous people so recommend giving it a chance if you haven’t yet.