A Second Thought: The Last of Us

[Originally on GIO]

Hey there folks. How goes it? This here little blog is going to be a followup of sorts to my official review of Naughty Dog’s epic end of the line story, The Last of Us. In order to follow my thoughts and sporadic mutterings here, you’re going to most likely want to have read my review on the subject matter on hand. That having been said, allow me to explain just what I intend to make clear in this blog today. The title may have you thinking that I’ve decided to change my mind about how much I enjoyed The Last of Us, or how epic a game it was- I assure you, that is not so. The title instead stems from the fact that I would like to flesh out what I could not for necessity’s sake in my official review of the game here. Instead, this blog will be my kind of “second cleansing” of the matter, where I will talk more in-depth about some of the key portions of the game that affected me the most, etcetera, etcetera. Now, be warned- there will most likely be a multitude of spoilers, so if you are reading this- you are doing so at your own risk of ruining your gaming experience. I will be very plainly speaking my mind on several aspects of the game today, particularly some of the things (the few) that I did not really enjoy about the game, and how that affected my overall score (barely, as I gave it a 9.75 regardless). I won’t be holding back, and will be writing everything pretty spur of the moment, entering my mind- so anything goes. That’s particularly why I am warning you again of spoilers. I am also going to do something that I don’t normally do in my blogs or in any of my content here, for that matter- break the content up into several pages, by idea and section. Each will be a little shorter for it, but I figured you guys would rather try something new and look at a fresh new page each time than at the same one over and over, having scrolled down through the walls of text already. You can thank me for that later. Anyway, let us begin shall we…?

>Next up: Gritty, Dark, Desperate Action.

Despite many people’s qualms with it, and the somewhat chagrined thoughts of the vast majority of players and perusers of The Last of Us, the game’s approval rating couldn’t be much higher currently. Yes, it is an incredibly dark and brutal game, and yet…we love it. On some primal level, everyone loves it. But, enough with the philosophy here…

I am not one to shy away from the grit, details, and realism of games, movies, and other storytelling mediums. I am not a person who abhors violence, nor am I one who specifically condones it or enjoys partaking of it. Violence is necessary however, if nothing else, to keep the peace. That is a sad fact of life in the world we live in. Therefore, while I do not specifically enjoy seeing violence or the suffering of even digital personas, I relish the fact that we can showcase the gritty, brutal realism in games today, rather than seeing a completely unrealistic reaction to stimuli.

For example- The Last of Us being the fertile dumping ground that it is for brutal murder, carnage, and evisceration, I will use an instance which one might experience during their gameplay and gametime in Joel and Ellie’s world. In one such encounter that you might experience in The Last of Us, Joel and Ellie are pilfering valuable materials from an ‘abandoned’ storefront when a roaming group of nomadic scavengers appears from nowhere. Holding Ellie captive and forcing Joel to empty all of his materials out for them, the scavengers brutally treat both characters- smashing Joel to the ground and forcing him to comply as they still have Ellie, his charge, in their hands. After they’ve gone, Joel tracks them down and follows from a distance, desperate to get back some of his more essential materials. Sneaking into their little base, Joel chokes out one of the guards as he thrashes about and puts up a realistic struggle.

Point A: In the vast majority of games, the struggling guards you are choking out simply go limp after a few seconds. In The Last of Us, that is not entirely so. You must hang on and choke them out for a realistic amount of time before it is safe to let go. Only then can you feel what you have truly done, whether or not you are remorseful about it or not. That is one of the brilliant points of The Last of Us’s gameplay and mechanics dabbling in realism and brutality. And that is one of the least gritty combat moves.

Continuing on after having subdued one of the guards, Joel and Ellie pick their way across the bombed out and overgrown area to two patrolling guards. Giving each other hand signals, they both decide to take the guards down at the same time, so as to avoid raising an alarm. Joel moves in for his kill, wielding a shard of glass as a knife, while Ellie picks up a brick and prepares to bash in the other guards head. Suddenly, Joel’s cover is blown as he accidentally steps on a crinkling, crystalline piece of beer bottle and alerts the guard in front of him to his presence. Ellie quickly swings her brick and bashes in the other guard’s head before he is any wiser.

Point B: When you bash somebody’s head in with any heavy, dull object, there is bound to be a lot of blood, brain, and other questionable materials. That’s just the science of blunt force trauma and the human body. The Last of Us does not shy away in this respect either. Not only will great amounts of blood be shed after such a fatal blow, but whoever inflicted it- Ellie, in this case, will also be doused in buckets of it, realistically. It’s gory and brutal, but its about as close to real life as I’ve seen yet. It doesn’t use excessive gore to make the point of “realism”, but it sure does show a realistic amount that would stem from such a wound, as does it also show tiny bits of bone and other materials mixed in the mess.

Now, Ellie having silently taken out the other patrolling guard behind the one currently holding Joel up, she silently sneaks forward. Joel is holding his hands up and stalling while the man holds his gun on him, daring him to move an inch. Just as the scavenger is about to call for his other friends, half of whom are dead, Ellie scrapes against a counter, knocking a can off and alerting the man- who spins around. Seizing upon the opportunity, Joel lunges out with the shard of glass he had been concealing in his hand all along, and stabs the man repeatedly in the neck. This is just another of the kill shots in The Last of Us.

Point C: When you are stabbed in the neck, particularly if it- which it probably will, gets anywhere near your jugular, you are probably going to die from blood loss unless you can get to a doctor quickly. Seeing as there aren’t going to be many doctors in the apocalyptic setting of The Last of Us, this man would be toast even if he had only been stabbed once and not multiple times. As it is, with all the blood squirting out of his wounds- realistically, might I add- he’s dead before he even slumps to the ground. And it’s all realistically. Or at least as close thereto as we can get with the technology we have today in gaming.

This is only half of the encounter you might have in a combat and stealth situation within The Last of Us, and you’re already feeling not only the weight and gravity of your actions, but the brutal symmetry of them, aren’t you? Now imagine lining up brutally precise and harried headshots and lighting enemies on fire with molotovs and incendiaries. Yeah, it just gets more brutal. And that is what makes The Last of Us such a deeply emotional and feeling game just as much as an action-adventure one. Not only is the story drawn together quite well, but the tense, brutal action is as well. And that is one of the points I couldn’t have enjoyed more about the game.

Again, I don’t condone or abhor violence. It simply is. There has been violence since the dawn of time, and there will be until the end. Violence in life and violence in The Last of Us has many contributing factors- feelings and emotions, necessity of a situation, sacrifices, you name it. If you took away all the possible weapons of the world, people would just beat each other to death to kill one another.

>Next Up: The Few, The Clouded, The Flaws & Apocalypse Now.

Now, this segment is going to be very, very short indeed. Why is that? Because this game, true to the nearly perfect score many people have been giving it, does not have very many flaws to be found within it’s encompassing body. Okay, sure it has the occasional and minor glitch here and there, but then again, no game is truly perfect despite the scores given to them. Aside from these temporarily inconveniencing bugs, the only other complaints that I’ve had with my time on-hand with The Last of Us focus mostly on my own skills as a player and the multiplayer component, slightly.

First of all, I will talk about the multiplayer mode, as it is the only portion of the game I could really find any flaws within- so to speak.

The Last of Us’s multiplayer mode essentially has players killing each other off or forging temporary and distrustful alliances with one another, all the while plotting other players’ downfall and gritty end. The first noticeable and completely unsurprising and virtually unfaulted decision to be made in multiplayer is whether or not to give it its own sort of story. Naughty Dog decided to really forego doing so, which is of no consequence in such a great single player experience as this one, but does ultimately slightly give a blander feeling and quality to the multiplayer at the same time. The only other complaints are just as minimal as this one- the progression system could maybe be fleshed out some more, the experience made more memorable by some unique modes, etc. Otherwise, this is all you could ask for as a slight diversion in an already excellent game. You probably will forget about the multiplayer, and it won’t be a go-to destination, but then again- who needs that in The Last of Us?

My final slight ‘flaw’ and complaint is one that has been virtually unavoidable in every game utilizing stealth up unto this point in gaming history. Trial and error is often times one of the only ways to get through a situation when you are stuck or cornered, but it is also very annoying with smart AI and brutal difficulty such as a game like The Last of Us possesses. For that reason, and my often lacking skills in skirmishes, it would be nice for us unluckier players to have a little leeway and maybe the option to skip over certain, more difficult sections more easily. However, that is a simple design tact that not all designers offer, and only a personal thought- not so much a flaw or complaint.

My final, and equally semi-short segment of this blog, talks about apocalyptic choices…of sorts. As (Saint, I believe) somebody brought up in a post earlier in the week, or maybe even a longer while ago, it would be very interesting to play through a game taking place during the goings-on of an apocalypse. Sure, we’ve kind of experienced that, as in the beginning of The Last of Us, and in a few other games as well, but it could have been pulled off quite a lot more interestingly here of all places.

With a narrative already so driving, and such a rich backdrop as the one omnipresent in The Last of Us, we could have easily had about five hours or more to put into play in the development of the story- all set during the apocalypse’s beginnings. How epic would that have been? Imagine having to adjust to life as it has become as Joel or even another character, then switching to years later (as it does often in the game, or even months) and showing the hardened individual they’ve since become.

Not only could and would this make for an interesting plot development I believe, but it would also be an interesting sojourn and look at a part of gaming that we have never really seen in-depth before. That’s just my thought though, and there are a multitude of ways you could go about this as well, ranging from creating a DLC pack for a prequel story of the outbreak to a little arcade game like Far Cry 3’s Blood Dragon, to any number of things. Hopefully Naughty Dog takes player consideration into mind though, and if enough people agree that this would be neat, they do something to appease them.

I think that’s about it for today, so as usual, I’ll bid everyone goodbye and good luck- in blogging, in life, and in any other things you might be partaking of later, or at least until the next time we meet, talk, or commune. Adios folks.

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