The Cinematic Joys of The Last of Us
Sony's The Last of Us presentation wasn't the action-packed explosion frenzy expected, but boy was it good.
As a journalist, it's easy to become disillusioned with the very subject that you're exposed to, day in and day out. Don't get me wrong: this is a wondrous profession to be in, particularly when you're fortunate enough to be writing about something close to your heart. But the mad, sweaty dash though the cavernous halls of Gamescom is not to be taken lightly. Sessions and games that raised excitement in the planning stages are reduced to poorly run, 10-minute diversions that soon blur into one big, mushy, explosive mess of pixels.
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But sometimes something comes along that reminds you why you're in this game in the first place. And today that came from the most unexpected of places, the most ubiquitous of all video game genres: the action game. Naughty Dog's presentation for The Last of Us was unlike anything I'd seen before. There was no drawn-out introduction. There weren't booth babes, or bands, or garish flashing lights, or overblown sounds to distract.
There wasn't even any gameplay to be seen, at least not in the shooting guns and fleeing zombies kind of sense. Instead, we were shown a scene: three characters, protagonists Ellie and Joel and a gruff, bearded man name Bill, and the tensest of atmospheres. We came into the scene entirely unaware of what had come before, and yet even without that context, it was still incredibly gripping.
More surprising was that the presentation wasn't given by the developers, but instead by Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker, the voices actors of Ellie and Joel. If it had been any other game, that would have been a strange move. But there, as I watched the characters argue, plead, and toy with one another, Bill handcuffing Ellie to a post and Joel retaliating with a vicious punch, it all made sense.
The Last of Us isn't really about the action, or even its beautiful visuals. What it is, is a game that truly feels like a cinematic experience. In those five short minutes of the scene, I forgot I was watching a video game--I cared for the characters and got sucked into their world. It was helped, no doubt, by some masterful voice acting and smooth motion-captured animation.
Whether or not the gameplay reaches such lofty heights remains to be seen. But for now, this was one of the most impressive showings of a video game I've seen--certainly at Gamescom. It was left to stand tall on the merits of its characters alone, Naughty Dog showing that it's unafraid to break gaming conventions and rile up its audience in an entirely different way. And the best part? There's so much more to come.
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