I still remember watching the gameplay demo from E3 2012. A game that looked so immersive in it's storytelling, so startling in its gameplay and such beautiful graphics that I forgot all my arguments about realistic videogames. If you could call programmers car mechanics than this game would be James Bond's freaking Alfa Romeo. A pure understanding of what the audience wanted and becoming a how-to-game-storytell smackdown from Naughty Dog. But with all the critics and players already going on about the story sometimes it is forgotten how fluid and immersive the gameplay itself was. Of course, no such statements can go unexplained, so I will take you through why The Last of Us is my game of the year.
It was strange yesterday writing my Can Watch_Dogs Hack It blog (available here http://psykoticgamer.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/can-watchdogs-hack-it.html) because I came across another draft I had written I had written that I thought Bioshock Infinite had a better story. While it it true that both narratives are suberbly crafted, it is difficult to say which is better, especially because of the similarities. In both games you play as a character voiced by Troy Baker (also featured in this years Batman: Arkham Origins as the Joker) accompanied by a younger NPC female characters both of which in you develop a father-daughter relationship with. But upon returning to both worlds months later, I still found The Last of Us had a story that I still found intriguing the dialougues and set pieces that I had loved before. So while it was difficult to decide which story I prefered (and of course remembering that art is subjective) I'm going to give this one to The Last of Us. I'm still going to say that Bioshock Infinite's beginning is the best I've ever played and that is why I'm naming it my runner-up of 2013. Expect a full blog explaing why tomorrow. I can also thank both games for kickstarted pushing my interest in videogames up to 11 and for having brilliantly beautiful endings. This was another similarity I found between the two. At the end of both, once you've "won" the game, you're left to ponder what exactly it was that you won.
I have often said to anyone who would listen that realism in videogames is a dead end. Before last generation it was a goal to strive for as we moved from 2D games into the third dimension but now that we're here, for some reason we're trying harder than ever. The fact that the Xbox One and PS4 are just high end computers made to give us the most polygons at the highest resolution backs this up. Also, when dealing with realism you come across the Uncanny Valley problem, where the more something acts and looks like a real person, the more offputting it is. That's why games that choose a style, like Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and the Fable series can be more emotionally evocative and still hold up today graphically. But I'm meant to be talking about The Last of Us aren't I? Well, I can say that it's realistic, but beautiful because of it. Naughty Dog seems to understand that something like light travelling through a trees leaves is realistic and gloriously realised this to make it gorgeous. They realise that if you juxtaposed this beauty against the collapse of humanity, you've made something more than just a game. The Last of Us is a tesatment to realism in the same way that The Girl with the Pearl Earring is. Not a goal, but an artform
But Sean? How does it play? Is it fun? Games are fun right? So it should be fun. Well yes and no. Games can be fun, but videogames tend to take it further. Videogames can be fun. They can be epic. They can be downright terrifying. The Last of Us accomplishes all of these things. The main gameplay is made out of encounters with enemies; mushroom zombies split into three catergories (runners, the more difficult clickers and the hardest: Bloaters) as well as human enemies, such as other survivors or soldiers who wear armour. Each encounter is dynamic and different than the last. Throughout the game Joel, the player character aquires more weapons, including firearms and makeshift bombs which have to be crafted. It is up to the player to decide his or her own tactics, remembering that supplies are limited. Some encounters can be avoided by stealthily avoiding enemies and silently taking down a few. Sometimes you may be spotted and enter a fight. Will you use the three bullets you have left or maybe a crowbar to the face will solve your problems. Dealing with human enemies is a blast because of the unique AI system of the game that means enemies will respond if they see you have a weapon, or hear the click of your gun as you run out of ammo. The AI also means that these guys won't be pointlessly walking the same paths in circles. Like I said, everything is dynamic. Plus, going up against the clickers, enemies that are blind and hear with sound, are some of the most tense and exhilarating moments of the entire experience. Play on survivor mode and you can play without the "listen" ability that lets you gage where the baddies are. Top stuff, infinitly replayable.
(THE NEXT ARTICLE MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS)
There is one thing left that I would like to say and that's concerning the relationship between Joel, Ellie and the player. The opening of the game lets you play as Joel as the outbreak begins, carrying his daughter to saftey. When you finally reach the title credits of the game you realise what "the last of us" is meant to mean. My interpretation is that it is the end of humanity and the end to humanity. The beginning of this game puts you into the mindset of just one of thousands of people who lost everything during that time and prepares you to face the world twenty years later. Joel is a smuggler and he is tasked with escorting a fourteen year old named Ellie across the country because she may be the last hope for humanity. Of course Joel is none to eager to do this but circumstances prevent him from backing out. Slowly throughout the game, as you explore the world looking for supplies you are treated to dialougue between the two and you begin to form the aforementioned father-daughter relationship, leading up to the point where Joel decides to finally decides that he will go to the end of the Earth for this girl. And since this is grown beautifully out of the natural dialogue, you the player have formed an attachment for this girl. So when Joel is injured and maybe dead, the player takes control of Ellie and the stakes have never been higher. You now care about your player character emotionally and because it is now you the play directly that is in charge of keeping Ellie safe. Following this is almost certainly one of the most beautiful set pieces I have ever seen, in videogames or otherwise that make seeing giraffes on the walls in the final level (people who've finished the game will understand) make you want to cry.
From Crash Bandicoot to Jak and Daxter to Uncharted Naughty Dog has proven to many that they simply may be incapable of making a bad game. The Last of Us provides a beautiful swansong for the Playstation 3, one that really delivers everything we could have wanted out of the little behemoth. You don't even have to take my word for it. If you have a PS3, you have to play this game. If you have already finished it, play it again. 17 hours long and never a dull moment. 5 stars, 2 thumbs up and a psychotic reccomedation from me.
Though I'm just a gamer with a personality disorder. Do you agree? What was your top game of the year? Were there any games that didn't get the spotlight you think they deserved? Leave a comment!!