Tuesday, September 16, 2014

No Matter What

I had a pretty bad weekend. The sole highlight of it was on a quiet Sunday morning, I finally completed The Last of Us. The short version of this blog entry is this: believe the hype. This is an unbelievable game, perhaps one of the best ever made.

The game didn't grab me, at first. I found the combat awkward and uncomfortable. Then I realized that's kind of the point. See, the protagonist, Joel, he's not some kung-fu spec ops assassin. He's just a normal guy, made bitter by a broken world, and absolutely determined to survive. The combat reflects that. After I got frustrated by the lack of auto-aim making me miss easy shots and the virus-infected "clickers" who could kill you instantly, I started sneaking around my opponents, setting up traps for them, and exploiting the environment to my advantage. You know; stuff that someone in a real post-apocalyptic scenario may do.

But the gameplay is only half the package in The Last of Us. The story is so well-done it easily rivals anything I've seen on the TV or big screen this year. At its core, the story is pretty simple, clearly and repeatedly asking only one question: what are you willing to do, for yourself and the ones you love, to survive? And it keeps asking, and asking, and ramping up the stakes, and ratcheting up the tension. This all leads to an ending that, quite frankly, is one of the best I've ever seen in a videogame. It left me moved, and conflicted, and has stuck with me ever since I saw it unfold in front of me.

Anyways, that's it. This is a short entry because I've begun writing more reviews for Geek Native, so that's taking up some of my writing time, so I thought I'd just touch base.

Edit: 3:48 P.M., 9/16: I've done some more thinking about The Last of Us, and have a couple of more thoughts to share about the game.

One thing that the very best videogames can do is strike an emotional chord. BioShock did it. Dark Souls did it (haven't played 2 yet, but by all accounts it's even better). Mass Effect did it. And now, The Last of Us has done it. What's different about how The Last of Us does it, however, is in how consistently it does it, and how it does it not just through story but through gameplay, as well.

The emotional chord The Last of Us hits is desperation. Everything in this game is a desperate struggle. That is the part that didn't initially click with me with the combat. When a bandit or an infected runner bear down on you, you're not going to just hit him with some combo of moves and walk away unscathed. Chances are, your opponent's going to take a chunk of you down with him. Even when you do walk away unscathed, you've spent scarce resources to do so; ammunition from your various guns, or durability from your melee weapon. Every little aspect of The Last of Us is a calculated risk, and danger always feels just a hair's breath away.

This also flows into the stealth elements of the game. Stealth isn't just an alternative to straight-up fighting in The Last of Us; it's a vital tool for survival. I normally am not a big fan of stealth in videogames. I get downright resentful when games force me to do it. The Last of Us never forces you to do it, but despite my dislike of stealth elements, I eagerly tried to sneak my way through every encounter. Stealth doesn't exist in this game for its own sake, because it's a "stealth game" or this is "the stealth level;" it exists because it is a very tantalizing offer. Be quiet, careful, and patient, and you'll get the ultimate reward; a defeated opponent who didn't cost you a single thing.

The last thing I'll talk about in The Last of Us is how it takes the player on an emotional journey. That sounds a little fruity, but bear with me, here. You know how in Breaking Bad, you see Walter White getting increasing horrible, until he's basically a monster by the end of the series? And that, even though he is undeniably a monster, you still feel for him, because over the course of the series, you've seen those crucial turning points and how he handled them, and can understand where he's coming from? The Last of Us does that, too. Joel is just an average dude at the beginning of the game. But by the end of the game, Joel (and, by disturbing extension, you) have done some truly awful things. And because you were there with him, you'll understand why. You don't have to like it. But you'll get it. I honestly don't know if a game has ever done that to me before.

So you absolutely owe it to yourself, Dear Reader, to pick up The Last of Us, on either the PS3 or PS4. It is a truly stunning game, from beginning to end.

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