In this post I continue my series of playing games after they are no longer hot, or the “in thing” for the first time – long after all of you have played it. I enjoy being fashionably late! Besides, this gives you the opportunity to relive your own experiences through my eyes. I am also tagging games this year that I complete with (drumroll) ‘Complete 2015’ as it will be fun to go back at the end of the year and see what games I got through, and how I felt about them. Years go by fast and even at work we have a Year Book – and going back through the year is really awesome to reflect at everything that has happened. I think you start realizing this more and more the older you get.
I touched upon playing The Last of Us in a post a few weeks ago and many of my initial criticisms still hold true.
The Last Of Us seems to consist of a not-so-convincing cut scene, followed by get from A to Z movement puzzles (where there is only one (and often tedious) path), followed by a fight sequence where you can try to stealth through it but ultimately end up shooting a gun and the entire level aggros. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. I wish I could say they have done a good job of fleshing out the characters and whatnot but…
The thing is, once you meet Sam the game really changes in two ways – the first is that the cut scenes are longer and more meaningful. The series of what seemed like disjointed, unimportant discussions and video cuts get deeper. You could argue that this is a natural way a relationship grows – from “just a job”, to curiosity, to caring, to openness and honesty and that ends up the result – whether intentional or not.
The second good part is that you have weapons and ammo and upgrades so the fighting and scenes don’t feel so cumbersome. At some points during the first few levels I considered putting it down – the reputation of the game and pieces that I did know (as well as discussions with fellow bloggers) kept me flogging through the un-fun parts and I am very, very glad I did.
My main criticism of the game now that it is done is that the initial pacing, difficulty and the learning curve should have been softer and more deliberate – because once you get through that part the game gets really good, really fast, and the pacing picks up perfectly (aside from a couple scenes). It became hard to stop playing.
There will be some spoilers below, so please stop reading if you haven’t played the game or want to preserve the entire experience.
There were two standout moments for me. The first was the Ellie-only levels when Joel was sick and recovering when she basically slaughters an entire city of survivors who are just trying to get by and protect their families. Oh, they are cannibals too (no doubt put in there to make it “okay” to kill them) and the graphic violence that I did as a 12 (?) year old girl was, at times, uncomfortable. I will take a moment here to admit that when I did the same violent acts as the weathered, old and bitter male protagonist I didn’t have the same level of discomfort and I tried to dig deep to see if I could sort out why. Was it because Ellie was a kid and completely losing any innocence that remains? (when you die as her and have to restart levels, its far harder to watch for me). I have a 9 year old, so I think I played those levels as if it was him. I am mostly certain that it had nothing to do with her being a girl (I have played a lot of killing games as a woman adult character before). Still, I can’t deny there were times when I was stabbing shivs into the necks of fathers while they pleaded to others to usher their kids onto school buses where it just didn’t feel right.
Survival of the fittest, I suppose. By the end of the game I had realized that at the end of the day you kill humans more than infected that felt like at least a rate of three to one – once again showing that creators of the zombie apocalypse genre have little faith in mankind as they are always the biggest threat. Along these same lines, when you are slaughtering what is mostly known for the group countering the big bad government – mankind’s last hope, the Fireflies, it is all sorts of shades of grey. Not 50, but several.
The best part was the ending. When Joel straight up lies to Ellie it does create a happy yet flawed ending, mired in darkness. Yes, Ellie will get to be a kid again – learn to swim (thank god), grow up, have friendships and companions in a town with gold old fashioned electricity. Yes, Joel gets to be a father figure again and finally care for and protect a daughter that he failed at before – and which has tortured him ever since. Sadly the entire scenario is mired in an untruth and that may continue to tear Joel apart, and you can guess how Ellie would react if she ever learned the truth. That will forever be over their heads as they try to live out a meaningful, safe and happy life.
I hope they don’t do a sequel. I can’t see how they can make it any better, or improve upon where they left off.
It was enjoyable to play Joel and Ellie because they were so flawed in so many ways. In games like Dragon Age you get to choose your responses – be nice, be a jerk, romance, etc. In The Last of Us you control the actions of the “heroes” through the on-rails experience but never control their attitude and that was fine by me. I do enjoy the option to shape the main character after me but the entire experience would have been tarnished if you could play nice and caring Joel.
I actually sat through the credits as they rolled, semi-stunned at the ending, trying to make sense of it all – not the game choices itself, but how it made me feel and I have to praise Naughty Dog here for the writing and ending. Praise because I did feel – I felt for the characters, the setting, the game and the outcome. Not many titles do that for me and usually positive feelings are that of accomplishment for doing something great or just winning the game. Not so here, I was sad the experience was over. The shame here is that it is a PlayStation exclusive because I highly recommend this game.
The ending was really brave. Hollywood would have never let a movie end that way and it was proof that sometimes things don’t need to be resolved – the human race doesn’t need to be triumphant, no cure is found, and happily ever after isn’t that clear cut. It is based on lies and settling and a whole helping of “real life” insomuch that real life includes the infected downfall of civilization as we know it.