Monday, July 01, 2013

The Last of Us

After all we've been through. Everything that I've done. It can't be for nothing.
Review By SolidFantasy

As an entertainment medium video games have explored countless themes and backdrops. Revenge, superheroes, science fiction, fantasy, and religion are some that immediately jump to mind. Video games have progressed a long way. I had not realized we were ready for a sorrowful tale of loss, hope, and love though. The Last of Us is grim, dark, depressing, and gruesome. Yet the story is one mimicking fatherly love between an aged man with nothing left to lose, and select pivoting moments of his relationship and journey that spans an entire year across an apocalyptic USA with a 14 year old girl. The Last of Us is triumphant in creating a video game story that can be matched by no equal in terms of thematic content. Above all else, it's arguably the greatest game of the entire 7th generation. Naughty Dog essentially calmly and collectively walked up to a stage and dropped the microphone (or in this case The Last of Us) and just exiting the building.

Before I even begin digging into the meat of this game I am stating something very vital up front. This game may be from the makers of Uncharted, but the similarities are immediately and profounndly nonexistent. The Last of Us is not a Hollywood stylized action adventure full of cinematic moments. These instances are present but highly infrequent. This is pure traditional survival horror faithfully applied to the modern advances of gaming. If anything it is the polar opposite of Uncharted. Naughty Dog has built an amazing and new experience from the ground up that deserves to be judged on its own merits.

As previously stated, The Last of Us is a deeply disturbing game depicting a world gone insane. In 2013 a fungal outbreak occurs spreading worldwide. This affects the brain and overtime causes citizens to slowly shift into a zombified state. Further transformations occur, most commonly a fungus like brain emerging through the head (these are referred to as Clickers). Yeah, it is quite grotesque but more importantly something different from traditional zombie styles that in recent times have been done to death and truthfully are being overdone. Even more morphs are possible but that's best saved for discovering yourself. Aforementioned infected are also blind and rely on sound and their haunting clicking noises as compensation for their pillaging instincts. The infected are a welcome spin on zombie mythology that will no doubt instill a harrowing sense of dread and fear. They are also based on real science which is simultaneously frightening and awesome. If you don't believe me, just Google Cordyceps.

In 2033, Joel comes into a smuggling request that has him and his partner Tess sneaking out of a quarantined zone with a foul-mouthed 14 year old girl named Ellie across country into the hands of a notorious rebellious group known as the Fireflies. Even though the corollary reasoning is hinted at early on, the narrative is primarily about a father-daughter like bonding that develops between Joel and Ellie as they tackle absolute depravity. Segments of The Last of Us are graphic whether you are directly controlling Joel or watching a cinematic. It doesn't matter who you are up against; survivors. Militia, or infected. Every battle engulfs you in desperation as you vehemently try to come out victorious. The Last of Us in terms of tone and thematic elements is bar none the most graphic and brutal game I have ever played. Whether you're sneakily choking enemies , shivving them in the throat , engaging in fisticuffs with handcrafted melee weapons , or duking it out in a traditional Naughty Dog 3rd person shootout , every act of violence attempts to shock and succeeds. This isn't gratuitous violence, it is necessary brutality to accurately convey how far gone from mankind we are and emphasize the act of surviving by doing whatever is necessary.

Out of ammo at close range? Than bludgeon a weapon over your enemies head repeatedly. No weapon on hand? Grab them and bash their skull into a wall until it squishes. Have a shotgun. Only aim for the head if your stomach can handle that head severing into bite sized pieces as blood shoots out into the sky. Do you even fight, or retreat to heal yourself in real time? When supplies can craft items for completely different purposes such as bandages or Molotov cocktails which will you choose? Every encounter is maniacally intense placing you under immense pressure. Failure is not an option, but all out desperation is. Even Ellie realizes it as she seamlessly aids you in battle stabbing enemies from behind or tossing bricks at them while you are in a grapple struggle. Combat in The Last of Us is revolutionary and unmatched as it directly compliments the visceral characters and story. 

Contrasting the violence is a plethora of peaceful and serene moments. Joel and Ellie will continuously bond throughout the game as you both explore a world succumbed to nature. As you loot various housings and complexes you will intercept numerous grim images of the deceased. Graffiti is tagged everywhere demonstrating a story for each area. Naughty Dog has not held back one inch either. For some perspective, in my journey I came across a nursery for children with “They didn't suffer” tagged along the walls. This is a game that explores the darkest scenarios and moral conflictions imaginable and it is all designed to intellectually provoke the player. It is arguably some of the most unsettling content I have ever come across in any medium. Whether you are scrounging for the limited ammo or contemplating whatever sadness you come across, the desperation of survival rarely leaves the game. The darkness transcends something as simple and normal as encountering a live giraffe into a heartstring tugging moment while you witness Ellie, a girl who has only known life during the apocalypse interact innocently with aspects of normal life. The Last of Us is masterfully paced and balanced with its violence and serenity.

Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson absolutely kill it with their portrayals of our protagonists whether it's through impacting dialogue or top notch motion capture. The supporting cast you come across deserves recognition as well and plays a large role in the grander scale of the story revolving around morality and desperation for survival. Graphically this game is unmatched on current generation consoles. If you thought Naughty Dog created photorealistic breathtaking environments with their Uncharted franchise then you are in for a real treat. Whether you're riding through a forest on horseback , swimming through murky water, traversing a blizzard , or just taking in the sights of a world uprooted by nature this game is gorgeous. Sound is also wonderfully pieced together with a minimalistic soft musical score by renowned Academy Award winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla. The guitar riffs are often light yet every piece or scene featuring music emotionally enhances the actions occurring in the game. The numerous guns also sound intense as each type sounds differently whizzing past you. Presentation and production values are also unmatched.

The Last of Us blends dynamic combat crafted around your style preference with a story that cannot be missed. Surprisingly for a game in this generation it is also very lengthy taking me upwards to 14 hours. The thrills and tension don't end there though as New Game + is available along with an additional difficulty dubbed Survivor. 

Online modes have also been implemented that respectfully lift core elements from the game such as crafting and real time healing. The Last of Us is possibly this current generations swan song but it's also so much more. It will disturb you provocatively while leaving you speechless as it shreds new territory in the gaming industry. 

SYSTEM: PlayStation 3



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