Let’s take a small break from programming topics so I can get something off my chest: I did not like “The Last of Us.”
And actually, considering how adored this game is my feelings trend toward hate. And being hateful all by my lonesome makes me even more hateful. It’s like a shame-spiral of hate.
I’d heard a lot about this game. Many claim it’s so good it’s worth buying a system for by itself. I don’t have a PS3 so I borrowed one and “The Last of Us” to give it a play-through. I didn’t know too much about the game except it was supposed to be a cinematic, post-apocalyptic zombie game with a deep, emotional, and sophisticated story-line. And I had not heard one negative thing about it.
OK, fine. I grab a beer and pop the game in. It starts off with 20 minutes of back and forth between cut-scene and controlling a 12 year old girl and her father. The character animation I can only describe as “creepy” in that uncanny valley way.
Point #1: the more you pile on the polygons and textures of your human characters, the more necessary it becomes to absolutely nail the realism otherwise it will just be off-putting.
The Last of Us doesn’t get it quite right and the results are emotionally jarring.
Point #2: the character controls are among the worst I’ve experienced. They feel mushy and the third-person over-the-shourlder camera feels really wonky.
Maybe it’s the decades of playing AAA platformers that has me spoiled for spot-on character controls, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing with a ball of mud.
So then we have the end of the intro where the character I’ve been playing gets killed. It’s supposed to be this emotionally compelling and affective moment but I thought it was repulsive for a couple of reasons. 1) the aforementioned creepy character animations were not helping at all. 2) The character I was playing is the one that gets killed. The game has me asking now what and why the fuck would a game start that way? 3) 20 minutes is not long enough for me to get emotionally invested in a player character no matter how good everything else is. 4) The “child getting killed” plot point is, at least for those of us with kids, a very powerful one and should not be used lightly. I feel like this game was being emotionally abusive and manipulative from the get-go.
Once the game actually starts, you’re in a post-apocalyptic future world 20 years after your character’s death only you’re now playing your character’s father. The first “freedom of choice” thing I try out is when one of the cops tells me to move along, I disobey and return. I eventually get hit by the cop so hard it kills me. The game restarts me 50 feet from the scene of my death.
Point #3: I can’t wrap my head around how this game treats death. It starts out with treating death with affective reverence (e.g.; the death of Sarah at the start of the game) immediately followed by treating it as basically inconsequential. Also, this game ostensibly provides the player with the ability to make moral choices but establishing early on that choices are inconsequential (e.g.; the choice to “kill myself” by egging on the cop) means the moral choice mechanic is basically meaningless.
Next, I’m controlling Joel and adventuring with Tess and it’s mostly just amazingly boring. BOOST UP HERE. MOVE PLANK HERE. I feel like I’m a machine that’s just there to press X and move from cutscene to cutscene.
When it’s not amazingly boring it’s disgustingly violent. The shooting and head snapping and punching is really gross and something I absolutely don’t want to get used to.
Point #4: THE CUTSCENES OMG THE CUTSCENES. As boring and mushy as the gameplay is the cutscenes are just painful to wade through.
So you’re supposed to smuggle a young girl across the country and that’s basically the game and in between you kill zombies or sneak past them or whatever, I can’t even tell you the details because at this point I’ve given up. I watch some play through videos on Youtube to see the parts I might have missed and realize I haven’t missed anything really and actually might have dodged a bullet or two. #1) I borrowed a PS3 and The Last of Us to play this when the internet was telling me to buy one. #2) I could have ended up wasting 20+ hours on this game when I only wasted a few.
No, this game is NOT deep or emotionally sophisticated. In fact, all the people talking about the story and the characters with such reverence make me wonder what kind of standards they are using to judge it. It’s a zombie story that does its best to be emotionally manipulative but for the most part is banal and brings nothing new to the table.
Point #6: Telling compelling stories in an interactive way is a monumentally difficult and complicated task.
I can’t think of anyone who has succeeded in this aside from The Stanley Parable. But The Stanley Parable kind of cheats because nonlinear/odd structure is built into the way the story is told.
So, yeah. The people loving on this game I do not understand at all. If it were more under the radar I would consider it just a “it’s boring/I didn’t like it” game and move on. Since there are essentially ZERO bad reviews on the internet my indifference has turned to hate. And hate has turned into this blog post.
Actually, there are not zero bad reviews, I should take that back. There are a few articles that kind of helped me think about this game. The first is this review from Quarter to Three. The author is critical of the gameplay aspects in an articulate way although he thinks the story is inspired and human which I obviously disagree with. Another review is this one from No High Scores. The author does a *really* good job of explaining why the game doesn’t live up to the hype.
My favorite article has to be this one by Terence Lee and while it doesn’t mention The Last of Us, it does mention the mechanics of interactive storytelling by comparing that with the mediums of books and film. It’s a very smart and inspired piece and I highly recommend it. I can’t help but think he was talking about The Last of Us without naming during the writing of his article. And I think a lot of why I think The Last of Us fails is explained by Terence’s piece on interactive storytelling.
So, to sum up: The Last of US is a mushy, emotionally manipulative, creepily animated, zombie stealth game that gives you heaps of meaningless choices and non interactive cutscenes. Oh, the non-character scenery and set pieces are GORGEOUS and the graphics are technically amazing. Too bad those are almost the last thing I look for in video games.