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The Last of Us - Now it's Sunk In

The Last of Us doesn't spin the best story the medium's ever seen. It isn't the Citizen Kane of gaming. Citizen Kane is an ancient film that everyone's heard of, but nobody's seen, and whoever compared the two is a tit.

The game tells a simple tale, really - and one that's been done before in both books and film. What makes it stand out against the masses, however, is in its pinpoint execution.

It's in the characters - and the delivery of their lines - that the player is embroiled by the experience. There's a natural, understated tone that's consistent throughout; from the way Joel interacts with his daughter in the opening, to the polarising climax (or anti-climax depending on how you view it). It's the swift jab amongst an industry of drunken haymakers.

The developers claim to have taken inspiration from the film No Country For Old Men, which also succeeds in portraying violence in an instant, and non-glorifying light. In TLoU, each encounter feels rewarding, but not in a game-y sense - it's rewarding because you're alive... You survived.

Violence is deadly. That sounds like an obvious statement but it's surprising how many games get it wrong. There's often no threat from enemies - unless they're in numbers - because the main character can kill everyone by looking at them, and heal by crouching like they're taking a dump.

TLoU deals with this in a special way. Firstly: you heal by crafting a first-aid kit. In a masterstroke, the materials for this are exactly the same as those for a molotov cocktail. So, should you find yourself involved in too much pyromancy, you will leave yourself vulnerable in future encounters.

Secondly: the first time you're killed by a Clicker it's shocking. Not many games are brave enough to have its enemies kill you in an instant. And don't even get me started on the Bloaters getting rippy with Joel's jaw.

It's because of this stark reality combined with the believable characterisation that you actually worry for the characters' safety. Joel is a grumpy bastard. He's survived both the death of his daughter, and twenty - presumably hellish - years in this terrifying new world.

We can only guess what has happened in that time, but it's safe to assume that Joel has done some despicable things to survive for so long. There's a torture scene in the game, where it's quite obvious this isn't the first time Joel's tortured people for information.

And then there's Ellie who, throughout the game, we actually learn less about than Joel. She's only a child, but she's grown up in this world - for her, there's nothing to contrast the bleakness of it all. It's all bad. Let's not forget, she has also managed to survive it for her entire life and she's completely alone - no family, no friends.

Joel is afraid of filling the hole left by his dead daughter with Ellie. As an outsider - although they project themselves on Joel - the player can see through the psychological barriers he puts up. You can see that he's warming to Ellie. What's great about Ellie though, is how she's not just used as someone to rescue. Just as often, she rescues Joel.

Joel relies on Ellie more than he thinks. Or, at least, the player does. In the fleeting moments that the duo are separated, I found myself terrified. Not for the safety of my companion, however, but for myself. I had become Joel - selfish and jaded... Also a little bit terrified.

One area where this was magnified was - if you've played it you'll know what I mean - in the basement. Creeping around, trying to restore power to the exit - I have never felt so vulnerable in a game before. I was alone.

This is what makes the game brilliant, in my opinion. It's not perfect, with signposted shootout sections aplenty, but it manages to reach up for perfection and slightly miss - unlike the many games that can't even get on the fucking stool.

kirkules | 9th August, 2013

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