Seeing as though I won’t be able to record the podcast for a few weeks I thought I’d pull my weight by writing some stuff to post right here on our website.
This week; Why I Haven’t Finished The Last of Us is Why You Should.
Let me just begin by saying that I have not finished The Last of Us. Not because it’s a bad game – I’ve finished more than my share of bad games. I’ve slogged my way through Underworld: The Eternal War from start to finish, and that was one of the most malicious, carcinogenic beasts ever dredged from the deepest pits of Hell – and in some ways it may have been easier to finish The Last of Us had it been subpar.
However, I think that from the very beginning I was aware that I wouldn’t be able to finish the game – for reasons that I will later get to – so I made my peace with that fact, now having listened to a spoiler podcast (namely the episode by the guys at Playstation Radio UK) I feel I am ready to put forward my thoughts on the parts of the game I have played and how it could be a contender for my Game of the Year even though, and perhaps because I wasn’t able to finish it.
I want to put forward an analogy, actually two analogies, the first being; playing The Last of Us is like waking up to find yourself waist deep in a pit of molasses, the bottom of which you can’t see or feel and the sides of which you can’t reach. Very quickly you are completely encapsulated in a thick, deep world that is at times so permeating that you find it hard to breathe. This is a thing that video games as a medium have strived for, some have achieved some have fallen very far from the mark. The second analogy is thus; The Last of Us is like a roast dinner, no it’s like Christmas Dinner. It is vast and heavy and succulent and you can’t possibly eat it all by yourself without it having an effect on you.
There are layers to it that some players may not even notice, tiny things happening in cutscenes, little notes and piles of debris that were clearly things once, and for me this is what made me unable to finish it; it was too heavy. Not thematically overwhelming or dramatically over the top, but it was too… Actual.
By the time the opening credits sequence has finished you’ve already played through a devastating tradgedy, not only on a human scale; witnessing the outbreak of a terrible parasitic disease, but on a very personal scale as well. The game sets you up for a fall, you may have seen it coming (I did think it sort of inevitable as soon as i started playing not as Joel), but when it happens and the fashion in which it happens is something that sends a sickening jolt through you.
The timescale of the game compounds the weight of everything that happens, you’re not playing through three or four, shitty consecutive days of a man’s (and a young girl’s) life, you’re wading through months at a time, watching as the consequences of their survival take their toll.
And what you’re surviving through is grim. At all times. The military are always on edge and take almost everything as an act of violence aimed at them, other survivors are just as desparate as you are and for the most part won’t tolerate you if they see you.
This alone makes your job hard, having to contend with better equipped individuals or more numerous foes who taunt and take random shots in your general direction is no walk in the park, but those are the good times, the easy times the times you find yourself frustrated but thankful that the enemies you’re fighting right now don’t click.
As unpleasant as your fellow survivors are the infected are much more so and as scary as it may be hiding from a group of men who want to kill you, little can match the tension of being hunted by a fungus covered, human shaped mindless animal, especially when they’re using echolocation and most especially when they can instantly kill you if they get hold of you.
This was what i found most taxing, the unbelievably tense encounters when you are torn indecisively between making a furious dash towards the quickest way out of the situation and staying completely still, you can imagine yourself doing both and you can imagine the horrors that both courses of action will lead to. I often found myself actually holding my breath (in real life) as clickers made a sweep past my current on screen hiding place.
During the parts of the game that aren’t a bloodcurdlingly anxious fight to stay alive you find yourself tentatively scouring through the beautifully rendered environments so vastly packed with minutiae, the microcosms left of what were people’s lives that you stumble into in your frantic search for food or supplies were so richly developed that you can actually find whole back stories – deeply moving back stories – scattered through bedrooms, living rooms and offices.
These are not just things that have been thrown in to give the completionists something to do between fights, they are the stories of people who lived in this world in a time before things turned to shit, notes left by a couple who held out as long as they could for their daughter to get home from college or the journal of a kid who saw what was happening and also saw through the things his parents were telling him so he didn’t get scared. They make it clear just how much effort Naughty Dog went to to make the game world that much more three dimensional.
Joel himself is a walking testament to the effort that went into this game, tiny movements in his eyes during cutscenes, how he reacts to his surroundings and to Ellie, things he says or stops himself from saying.
Sometimes you have to remind yourself it’s a character model you’re watching, polygons rigged and animated, built in a computer.
So having said all this I again remind you I did not finish the game, but I do aim to, at some point, steel myself and make my way through the whole game.
A friend of mine told me that he thought everyone should play The Walking Dead series made by Tell Tale Games “even if they aren’t gamers”. And that’s how I feel about The Last of Us, everyone – gamer or not – should experience it, for as long as they can.
Next up: my thoughts after finally finishing Bioshock Infinite