Musings

What I'm Playing: The Last of Us

Quick note: As the summer winds on, I will be making updates as to what video game is in my PS3. My hope is this for to become a regular topic for me this summer. I rarely play sports games so there’s a good chance this will all be action/adventure games. (“AAAAAAHHHHH! TALK MORE SPORTZZZZZ!!!”) If you aren’t interested in this sort of thing, then you can go back to arguing about line arrangements that are going to be shifted after the third preseason game anyways. I’ll try to keep any spoilers to a minimum.

If you’re like 3.4 million other people, you’ve have entered a world unlike any other in “The Last of Us,” a Playstation 3 exclusive that involves a post-apocalyptic journey across what was once the United States of America. Generally when I beat a game that I find engrossing, it takes a couple days for me to decompress back into reality and remember it’s not normal to go around sneaking up on people and snapping necks. Games like Red Dead Redemption, the Batman Arkham series and the Unchartered series come to mind.

It’s been a week since I finished “The Last of Us,” (I say finished instead of beat, because it’s more like playing an interactive movie than it is beating a video game) and I still find myself thinking about the game. Perhaps it’s just the odd time in my own life when I started playing it or maybe it’s the year and a half I waited to play the game since first hearing about it. Either way, I still catch myself daydreaming about various instances within the game or thinking about different strategies I could have employed.

(Disclaimer: Anyone who remembers me from my Fifthfeather days knows I’m a sucker for two genres: zombies and post-apocalyptic survival stories. This game covers both. And you wonder why I was having dreams about playing this game in 2011.)

Chances are you have heard the premise of the game by now but for the sake of fairness, here’s a quick synopsis:

The world has been overtaken by a fungal disease that attaches to the brains of humans, burrows out their eyeballs and turns humans into blind hosts of mushroom rage looking for their next meal to chomp on. So while they’re not technically called zombies, they’re certainly in the family picture and will be referred to as such throughout the rest of this column.

If this were the only thing to worry about, it would be enough. But the world has gone to shit and in it’s place is a group of anarchists, government-guarded shelters and bands of tribes with cannibalism and thievery on their mind.

Your group consists of Joel, a rugged everyman, and Ellie, a 14-year old girl who’s never known a world like we currently live in today. There’s others that join your group as well, but for the most part, these are the only two characters who’s actions you control.

Without giving too much away from the game, here are my observations from the game:

–The scenery. Holy crap. Whether it’s crumbling buildings in downtown Boston or what was once a university in Colorado, the landscapes of this game are things I’ve never seen before. There were several times within the game when I stopped moving forward and simply just took a moment to look around. Even something as simple as looking out of a broken window and out into the streets below were created with such incredible layers   that I could’ve spent hours just picking out different details.

–The story. While it’s generally a rule of thumb to anticipate that the storyline within a video game is going to have holes in it and you have to suspend your belief because, hey you’re playing a video game after all, “The Last of Us” could very easily be transferred to a movie screen or television series with only the smallest of script changes. They already made the characters resemble Alcide from “True Blood” and Ellen Page.

Much of the story is very heavily influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” (one of my top 5 favorite books). There are moments and scenes in the game that seem to be taken right out of the pages of the book. Albeit, with different characters and goals but nevertheless.

–The scare factor. There are countless numbers of intense scenes throughout the game or moments where you will jump out of your chair. For me, however, the scariest/most intense portion of the game is the very beginning. If you play or have played it, you will totally understand. The beginning is so well done; you really have no idea what’s going to happen so you’re sitting on the edge of your seat for a solid 15/20 minutes.

–The gameplay. The first thing that was told to the public about this game after it was announced was that this was not going to be your typical video game. There would be a shortage of ammo, enemies who think differently than each other (just because something worked on one guy doesn’t mean it’s going to work the same on the next) and fights that don’t have to be fought.

For the most part, that is true. You could be in a gun battle with an enemy and after you kill him, he may not have any ammo to scavenge off him. For the large majority of the game, I was never equipped with more than 20-30 rounds of ammunition.

Enemies do think differently and this can definitely get frustrating. There are some zombies you can sneak up on and shank with a shiv without causing a ruckus. Then there are other ones that will spot you immediately, scream and charge at you while letting every other zombie within a two block radius know that there’s fresh meat. Sometimes, you have to die a dozen times before you get the clue to try a different strategy.

Bandits are similar as well. When you’re creeping on them, they don’t follow a set path of footsteps every time. One time, they’ll turn right instead of left. Then another time, they’ll turn around and spot you alerting all their bandit buddies of some creeper lurking on him.

The fights that don’t have to be fought thing, though, was my biggest disappointment with the game. And when I say disappointment, that doesn’t mean something I hated or loathed. After all, I never wanted this game to end.

However, while there are a select few times within the game where you can sneak past zombies or bandits without getting spotted, the large majority of the game requires you to kill others in order to move on. Towards the end of the game, you become a homicidal maniac, killing everything in your way regardless of who it is and what their intentions may be. This bummed me out.

If I want to be a homicidal maniac, I should be given the choice, much like in “Red Dead Redemption” where there are several instances you can choose to kill or spare someone’s life. In “Last of Us,” there is no choice given. It is simply to kill or be killed. And I guess that helps further define the world your characters are living in. There is no morality. It is Darwinism at its finest.

Granted, your characters do take note of the amount of killing they do. Joel or Ellie will make comments about the intensity of the battle they just found themselves in so you know the killing is taking it’s toll on them. But it’s still the principle of the matter that I’d like to choose to smash someone’s skull into a wall rather than be forced to.

–While the zombie genre has grown tired or cliche for some, that will never be the case for me. If you immediately became turned off the moment you heard zombie and “Last of Us,” I would tell you that is a giant mistake. This is more about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world; not a zombie-infested world. The zombies are merely another challenge to contend with. Your fellow humans or simply just navigating through run-down building structures are just as dangerous.

I could not recommend playing this game anymore. Particularly to anyone who even remotely enjoys Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” or to even the most casual of action/adventure gamers. You can thank/hate me later.

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