Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Last of Us (Playstation 3, 2013)

Today I'm going in the opposite direction from retro and looking at one of the biggest games of 2013. For a while, I didn't even consider playing this game. It looked depressing and boring, I was sick of seeing Ellen Page in modern games, and survival-horror simply isn't my genre. I didn't even like Resident Evil 4 all that much and that's probably the best survival-horror game of all time. However, after I played Bioshock Infinite, my need to continue with 2013's GOTY contenders drove me to get ahold of the game. Here are my thoughts on it, or at least the first couple hours. Spoilers will abound for said intro.


The "title screen" sums up the game pretty well. You see the image of a quiet, lonely room in a state of disrepair. Melancholy music plays. And yet, there's one colorful thing in this shot. One sign of life... the plants. Huh. There's a reason for this.

This game threw me for a loop by having the first character you play as be Sarah, a girl I'd never heard of leading up to the game. That's her on the right. On the left is our main protagonist, Joel. He's her father.

Also... I use the term protagonist loosely, because this guy is the Walter White of well-developed video game protagonists. He is, at times, quite an antihero.

The beginning of this game reminds me of Earthbound a bit. A kid wakes up as there's a commotion outside, and you take control as they go to investigate.

This house is insanely detailed. The game makes a really solid impression right out of the gate. I just wish you could interact more with the environment.

An unidentified city can be seen in the distance with quite a bit of smoke rising from it. Not sure what city this is supposed to be. Somewhere in Texas.

No sign of Joel, and the house is looking very creepy. The TV is out, but for a moment it had the news on and it's clear that something bad is happening right now.

I'm old, so it's weird to see a modern smartphone in a game. This is actually Joel's phone, and right now there's no service. Whenever there's any kind of catastrophe, cell phone service seems to go out very quickly. Here in Boston, there was little to no cell reception for several hours after the Marathon bombing. I don't know if this is due to the surge of calls being made or because the cell companies shut down their towers to everyone except emergency personnel.

Sarah finds Joel and his brother, and they make their escape via car.

It was a good call to put you in the shoes of the helpless youngster during this section. You're sitting in the backseat of a car with no control over anything as the world ends, and it's powerful stuff.

One car crash later, and our heroes are on foot in the middle of an urban area. This is where things get scary.

It's CHAOS IN THE STREETS~! as people run to and fro, trying to escape from... what, exactly? Godzilla? King Kong?

No, it's worse. Infected people who have inhaled some sort of virulent new fungus. Don't call them zombies, because the game never does, but they're very zombie-esque. This also explains why the one living/colorful thing in the title screen is the overgrown vegetation. The plants are taking over the world, one infected not-zombie at a time.

How did this outbreak start? We don't know. Like real life, once the chaos starts it's hard to find out any information. You're just running around wondering what the hell happened. This whole mid-apocalypse scenario is extremely well-done, and I wish the game had spent more time with this and the immediate aftermath.

After getting out of the urban area, Joel and Sarah stumble through the wilderness. It's quieter out here, but it isn't any safer.

They're abruptly stopped by a heavily-armed riot cop. Apparently no one is allowed to leave the city. Now there's a chilling concept.

The cop proceeds to open fire. Holy shit!

This looks like the end for Joel, but his brother saves him just in time.

Unfortunately, Sarah caught a bullet, and that's the end of Joel's daughter. Wow, this game wrenches at your soul in the first fifteen minutes.

Fast forward several decades, and Joel is now older and grayer, hanging out in a post-apocalyptic Boston North End. He never quite recovered from losing his daughter, not that you'd expect him to.

He's also basically living with this total babe. Homina.

Walking around 2033 North End is pretty depressing. It looks like 2013 Detroit.

Much like Walking Dead, this game quickly throws you well into the post-apocalypse with no explanation as to where the outbreak originated or what disaster immediately followed. Like I said before, I was hoping it'd stick to the modern era.

No future dystopia would be complete without mysterious graffiti. Seek the fire? What fire?


"Fire is here, Mr. Burton."

What? That's lightning, Egg Shen! Different element!

The Boston skyline in this game is... not correct. At all. There are far fewer skyscrapers than the actual downtown region of Boston, and most of the skyscrapers we do see in the game don't actually exist. Baffling considering how much material they could have made use of to be authentic. If this is the view from the North End,  where's the iconic Custom House Clock Tower? The two tallest buildings seem to be the ones on the right, and I have no idea what they are. In the game they're called the "Goldstone Towers" I believe. They don't exist in reality, but they do look a lot like the two Archstone towers. They're just in the wrong location, and there's no way in hell that the Archstone towers are Boston's tallest structures. More like 20th tallest or something like that.

Forget about seeing anything like the Prudential or John Hancock towers. In any case, it isn't that big of a deal, but it does bother me. I was looking forward to seeing Boston rendered in the game, and what I got was a 5th grader's diorama of what they think Boston looks like from looking at a couple pictures a week beforehand. Actually, the 5th grader's diorama would probably be more authentic. Kids tend to know their stuff.

One particular accuracy the game has? One Financial Center is included. Height-wise it's the #5 or #6 building in Boston, and it's a massive, monolithic structure.

It's also one of Boston's ugliest buildings. If you look at it in the right lighting (like this shot) it isn't bad, but for the most part it's just a big gray slab.

Also weird: some of the highway signs in this area have Pittsburgh on them. Given that Pittsburgh is hundreds of miles away and not that significant, I can safely say that it isn't on any of Boston's highway signs. New York City is on a bunch of them, but it's fairly close and highly significant.

At least they got the route numbers right. Routes 90 and 93 make appearances in this area.

As for why the city lay mostly in ruins... it appears that the military bombed several major cities in the early stages of the outbreak in an effort to stop it. This didn't accomplish much besides turning said cities into massive junkyards. The North End is set up as a quarantine zone, and is one of the few safe places left. So, of course, Joel and company leave it, and it's time to battle not-zombies.

Fast forward a bit. The game takes you through all kinds of abandoned locales; through the lens of this game, even a toy store can take on a melancholy tone.

This game plays a lot like Uncharted, though there's a fair amount of survival-horror gameplay here too. You spend a LOT of time in seemingly-endless shootouts with waves of foes, and I can't say I enjoyed it very much. When you're fighting Infected, things get a bit more interesting. The fungal people come in several varieties, and each type requires a unique approach.

There is also a wide variety of weapons. I personally liked the bow, seen here. For a while I didn't use it; arrows travel in a downward arc, which makes it hard to aim. However, once I figured out how to more accurately fire it, it became a go-to weapon for many situations. Arrows fire silently, which makes many battles easier. Silent means you aren't alerting other foes to your presence.

However, the shotgun was my favorite weapon, as with all survival-horror games that I play. Much like Joe Biden, I'm a shotgun-thusiast, and it fells zombies (or not-zombies) like no other.

Fast forward some more. Most of the last quarter of the game takes place in the winter, and it's quite majestic. Definitely my favorite part of the game, and the part that redeemed it for me in a lot of ways. You play as Ellie for a bit here, which is a fun change of pace.

Oh, I haven't mentioned Ellie at all, have I? She's a smart-alecky 13 year old that Joel finds in Boston. Soon into the game, she becomes Joel's sidekick of sorts. She's immune to the fungus that has doomed humanity, and as a result Joel is trying to get her to some scientists who can synthesize a vaccine from her blood. So more than a simple survival mission, this is a game about bringing humanity back from the brink. Along the way, Joel gets a sort of second chance; he thinks that he failed to save his daughter, but now he has a chance to protect someone else.

The endgame features a magical wonderland of giraffes... and they're awesome. This game is without a doubt at its strongest when it puts you into surreal landscapes where you feel the weight of lost time gone by.

It also finds plenty of chances to tug at your heartstrings.

The finale takes place in a very Bioshock-like dystopian hospital. I won't say more than that, but much like the rest of the last quarter, it's quite impressive. That last quarter is the strongest part of the game beside the intro. It's unfortunate that everything in-between is drawn-out, colorless, and full of extended gunfights. The gameplay is well-done, so the battles are intense and fun; the problem is just that there are so many of them and it gets tiring to constantly interrupt the narrative for extended fights.

Really solid game, but not really my bag. Had a tough time getting through it, but I'm glad I did. Resident Evil 4 finally has some competition in the "best survival/horror game" department.

Various Posts For Happier Games

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for showing me what the game's like. You really did put a lot into this. Sounded like they had some great ideas and added the middle to make the game long enough to satisfy, but still made a great impression overall.

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  2. I think they were pretty close to Austin, it might be there.

    Funny, I was thinking "wow that's an old cell phone" when I saw it.

    Way to take me out of the game there!

    Just got the bow, I'll plan to use that a lot.

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  3. "Don't call them zombies, because the game never does"
    I've actually noticed that media in general tends to avoid that word. There's even a trope of it documented on TVtropes. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NotUsingTheZWord
    I don't really know why...are they afraid they'll be racist to the zombies?

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    1. I think a lot of it has to do with the "cliche stigma" attached to zombies at this point. They're so overplayed that I think people in general are kinda sick of zombies. Buuuut if you call it something else, like rage virus or walkers or clickers or so forth...

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