Video games have always been a medium where gamers such as you and I would completely drown ourselves in the world of a game. Especially when the narrative is so robust and well written. But lets face it there have been games where no matter how good they are, certain aspects of that world and its narrative were silly. But still we overlooked it because we just wanted to play the game. That's why we could never emotionally invest in the medium of video games unlike the movies. But once in a while there comes a game which manages to get you right in the heart. Its like a sudden punch in your gut which leaves you breathless. Yeah I know I may be exaggerating. But this game is exactly that.
Set in 2033 in the city of Pittsburgh, The Last Of Us portrays a post apocalyptic world sinking into a permanent state of despair and misery. In this world of hopelessness, we follow the story of Joel and Ellie. Everything around them wants to either kill them or take advantage of them and then kill them. This is a result of a parasitic fungus called "Cordyceps". These fungi turn everyone into Mindless hordes of flesh eating creatures. Whatever is left of humanity turns into a competition of survival of the fittest due to the scarcity of resources and being cornered into a place of fear and despair. The society rapidly deteriorates and what's left is a husk of once great civilization. But even in this world humans as always prove to be more dangerous than anything else. The emotional tone of the game is mostly gloomy with a sprinkle of happiness every now and then. The hours i spent in this world actually made me feel better about the real world and that's a good thing for a game coming from the genre of Survival/Horror.
The characters Joel and Ellie are so well written and fully flushed out that you can't help but fall in love. Other characters apart from the main attraction are brilliant too. So well acted and portrayed in every way. The character development is so well written. Every one of these characters change through out the game.This adds to the game's immersion and makes it a believable place.
Is it Fun Though?
The game plays out like your typical survival/horror game. So if your thinking you will just waltz into a room of enemies, guns blazing. The game will punish you. But that doesn't mean you don't have the choice to deal with a situation in your own way. The level is so well designed that you have several options to tackle a certain scenario. The game also has a mini crafting tool where you stick some sharp things to a hard blunt object and tape it together to turn into a lethal weapon. There is nothing more satisfying in this game then bashing somebody's face in with a baseball bat taped together with shivs. The game has some rewarding stealth sequences which tense enough to keep you on your toes. The AI in normal difficulty is still punishing so don't think you can approach that guy and take him down so easily. It all works seamlessly and there is never a dull moment. Even when you die its fun to watch. Yes, They have death Cutscenes. But at the end of it all the story is so rewarding and there are moments which will end up making you say "no i am not crying because this scene seems so touching, something just fell into my eyes". Anyone? no? Just me then.
How Does It Play?
You play as Joel. A guy who broods a lot and has a serious case of old man strength. The game is a right blend of stealth and action sequences. The resources are scarce. So you have to use them carefully. There is a robust inventory system and mini crafting system which you use to make usable weapons. You find different objects in the world and you just put them together make a suite of DIY weapons. They all make sense though, to a certain extent that is. The inventory system can be upgraded which lets you carry more weapons on your back rather than switching them through inventory. This comes in handy. The aiming feels a bit shakey and inaccurate. But its supported by Joel being your everyday guy and not a trained Rambo. I can live with that. Humans and the infected need to be dealt differently. Joel also posses the ability of Enhanced hearing. This feature is pretty similar to every other super hearing or seeing mechanic that has been used in other stealth games. Basically you can see through walls. You also have the ability throw bricks and bottles(sounds like a cool beer bar) to distract enemies. nothing new there. But don't get me wrong the stealth sequences are incredibly rewarding and challenging. The only thing i had problem with is how come the enemies in certain situations aggressively hunt you down while leaving Ellie in plain sight. The Controls feel great but at times they feel a bit stiff but that comes with the territory of survival/horror There wasn't a single moment where I felt they could have done this better or left that alone. When a lot of this also translates to multiplayer it works pretty well. But its nothing to gush about. You got your modes which seem the same at first but they play out very differently. There are three modes and let me tell you one of them gives you the satisfaction of torturing and interrogating your opponent. Fair warning though, this not your typical run and gun kind of multiplayer. Here a slow strategic and methodical gameplay is encouraged and rewarded.
From a Technical standpoint, The gameplay mechanics and systems work well together or on their own and I did not have any matchmaking issues in multiplayer either. The animations are fluid, The AI is not the most smart one around but its right there at the top with all the other great games. So as far as i can tell everything just works so cohesively and is robust.
Looking Good Eh?
The art in this game is exemplary. I've always asked myself why does it always have to be so brown and grey, so bleak when it comes to post apocalyptic. Finally a game which breaks that stereotype and makes a game which looks beautiful and picturesque. There moments which looks like a painstakingly painted art. The environments include desolate cities and a forest sequence which is just sublime. These sprawling cityscapes due to being abandoned are being slowly reclaimed by nature. You see this everywhere. From small pockets of vegetation growing on the walls to giant trees growing inside a building. This adds a lots of vibrant greens and yellows to the general bleak browns and different shades of grey. That's right I am looking at you "Mr Christian grey i am so hot and rich." You are boring and lame. Back to the matter at hand even the characters are so well made. Naughty dog has put its heart and soul into every little part of the game. There were times where i would just stop in my tracks and stare.
Now technically the art is impressive and because of the exceptionally talented team of artists they are pushing the PS3 to its limits. The lighting of every scene is bright and heavy on hues. When it comes to lighting the more dynamic lights you have the more shadows you have and even you don't have the technical prowess of a developer if you've ever player a pc game where you've turned up the shadow quality settings, the dip in the framerate is so dramatic. What amazed me is the number of dynamic lights they could use per scene and still maintain the framerate of 30 fps at 720p. They also use a method of motion capture called "Performance Capture". It is a process where the voice actors act out the scene with the help of some props in front of motion capture set up. They record the sound at the same time. What is more interesting is fact that they bring in a director and they shoot it like a movie. This is what adds the authenticity to its cinematics and makes all the characters look real. So hats of to the voice actors and the whole team for what they've achieved.
Coming In Loud and Clear
The sound does not disappoint in this game. Let me divide this into two parts SFX i.e. Sound effects and Soundtrack. SFX of a game especially when its a survival horror where there are subtle sounds in the background of things falling around or during a stealth sequence where you have to navigate through a corridor of death and there things lurking the dark breathing and grunting. It needs to be good. There is a part where you are sepearted from Ellie and alone you have to navigate through this basement. The sound works so well with the gameplay that it will keep you on the edge of your seat wishing for it to over soon and that's a good thing when it comes to a Survival/horror. My personal favourite one is the clicker sound in an empty basement just echoing through.
The Soundtrack in games heavy narration when done right can be an experience that stays with you and this game nails it. Produced by Gustavo Santaolalla, it is heavy on clean and acoustic instruments. The theme here is an emotional journey of survival and the struggle of love and i personally think he captured it so beautifully. It complements the moments of game so perfectly that even when your done if you decide to listen to it on YouTube those emotions would come flooding back.
The Last of us is at the pinnacle of emotional storytelling in video games. A lot of games have done emotional storytelling before but none had a recipe as good as this. a dash of gameplay, a splash of story and a pinch of the right music made the perfect game that had all reviewers falling head over heels for this game. One thing I particularly enjoyed is Ellie and her big mouth. She swears like a truck driver throughout the game. is it worth picking up? well let me tell you something every generation there comes a work of art, in this case a game which resonates with whole generation and this is one of those games. So you dare not miss out on this one.