I’m posting this here instead of on Twitter so I can limit any potential spoiler fallout that might happen from what I’m about to say below. If you’re reading past this paragraph, then you know what you’re getting into. That being said, I’m going to try – *try*, mind you – to avoid any sort of spoilers.
First thing to be spoken of is the opening. At this point in time, the pre-credit introduction to the game is possibly the highest artistic and emotional achievement in video game history. I cried before it was over. Out of disbelief, out of anger, out of pain, out of fear at what the rest of the game was going to do to me. It was maybe 10 to 15 minutes long, and I was already completely invested before it was over. From there, we take a bit of a jump and the story starts in earnest, with each scene revealing a new aspect of this decaying world and its complex characters.
The game plays like the Uncharted series. Everything is third person, and you know when you’re about to enter a fight because there are lots of waist-high crates and barricades strewn around the area. You crouch, you shoot, you punch, you climb up things. But, everything is more brutal. Much more brutal. Bullets aren’t shrugged off – direct hits stagger you and obscure your vision, and the bad guys take advantage of this and shoot you more. If you aren’t careful, you’ll get swarmed in melee combat and dropped to the ground as the beating continues mercilessly. Then there are the “zombies”. They aren’t slow. They aren’t easily killed. They are the things of nightmares and they will kill you in a heartbeat if you get sloppy around them. I’ll freely admit that I had to turn the game down from Normal to Easy because I was dying with more regularity than I wanted.
Visually, the game is absolutely gorgeous and does a great job of showcasing just what the Playstation 3 is capable of, even now in the twilight of its life cycle. The near photorealistic characters bypass the Uncanny Valley in the same way that Red Dead Redemption’s characters did: via the deft hand of an artist. The characters look real but feel like they’ve been hand drawn and animated. Which is something to be thankful for, since the voice actors and writers do an amazing job of bringing those characters to life. These are real people with real problems, problems they are oftentimes unwilling or unable to discuss.
A key departure from the Uncharted series is the focus on exploration and upgrading your gear. Scavenged goods can be applied to your weapons, rubbing alcohol and loose cloth can be made into medical packs, scissors and duck tape into a shiv, and so on. The raw materials are hidden in side rooms and buildings, opening up the world in a way that Naughty Dog hasn’t done before. These changes make The Last of Us feel more like a Fallout experience than an Uncharted experience. Which is both good and bad. Good because it matches the setting and genre, bad because it slows down the story – possibly too much.
After seven hours, I can’t be sure that I would be one of those perfect score critics. Partially because both my wife and I agree that we’d rather die than live in the game’s rotting, empty, violent world. And partially because the story isn’t being driven forward in that masterful Uncharted way Naughty Dog is known for. The Last of Us is slow and aggravating in places, confusing and obtuse in others. It lurches spasmodically forward out of nowhere, the ambles around aimlessly after.
Maybe that just means The Last of Us is doing exactly what it set out to do.
Maybe that just means that I wasn’t ready for what it was going to do to me.
Maybe that just means I still need to see where the second half of the game takes me.
Maybe then I’ll know for sure.