Lindsay Rants: The Last of Us

Posted: August 17, 2013 by theelindsayclarke in Games
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Let’s talk The Last of Us.

     I could review this game, but let’s face it, everyone will have donated their 2 cents at this point. Instead I’d like make note of some thoughts I had about it. Namely three points: Last if Us‘s similarities to Children of Men, comparing it to Bioshock Infinite and Naughty Dog’s ability to constantly bump the lamp. “Hump the what?” you say? Ew… no. Here. Let me explain.

     Bumping the lamp is a term coined by the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. It’s in reference to a scene in which the director decided last-moment to add shadows effects every time Roger bumped a lamp with his head. Doing this was unnecessary and hardly even noticeable, but it helped provide extra realism to the fact that animated characters exist in our universe. So the term basically represents any “A for effort” moment. Teeny details that take a piece of art from good to great. Now, I find Naughty Dog does this a lot in their games. For example, you can climb nooks and crannies in environments in Jak 2 and Jak 3 instead of just falling off. That’s one I love.Image

     The Last of Us is a very different game from the Jak and Daxter games, and even Uncharted. And yes, I could go on about how I want Naughty Dog to go back to making cartoony fantasy games, especially if it means a legit new Jak game. But I can’t deny how insanely much care went into this game. Naughty Dog bumped the hell out of this lamp, I gotta say.

     For starters, there’s exploring. There’s so damn much to go through. Every building has places to check for extra equipment, if you’re willing and able to browse, and they hold random people’s stories as well: the story of a kid who had to leave his dog behind, the tale of a hermit who came to run a whole community. None of this is essential to the plot, but my goodness does it make this game more interesting.

     Another notable detail they added is playing as Ellie and Sarah. Why does this matter? Well, because ultimately the reason it happens is so that we can really feel the change when Joel starts to think of Ellie as his daughter. It could be implied solely through his words and actions during the conclusion. But we get to experience it for ourselves by playing as Sarah at the beginning of the game and Ellie during the end. And let’s face it: video games are the only media that’s truly a first-hand experience, with the player getting to feel like they killed the bad guy, fought the alien, shot the terrorist (which is terrible, but true). The player fully experiences the change of Joel’s heart as Ellie fully replaces Sarah because the developers went the extra mile.Image

     There are also shit-tons of little things, so I’ll just keep this general. There’s immense detail in the backgrounds — bottles in labs, broken bricks, blood on tables. Tiny details in immense towns the game makers squeezed in just to make Joel’s world seem more legit. I love an artist that finds ways to squish in all the details they can. And so for that, Naughty Dog, I say thank you. Hopefully more companies will follow in your footsteps.
     Now this next point I want to make is something I noticed while playing The Last of Us for the first time. I haven’t heard anyone else mention this, so maybe I’m crazy to think it, but I found The Last of Us reminded me of Children of Men. Spoilers for both ahead.

     Here’s what I mean: Children of Men is about a guy, Theo, who rather unwillingly must look after a girl, Kee. But she’s not just any girl. She’s the first person who’s been able to have a child — and who is, in fact, pregnant — in 20ish years. She may just be humanity’s last hope. But he must battle the military and an assortment of vagabonds to get her to the place where she’s be safe and useful.

     Meanwhile, Last of Us is about a guy, Joel who unwillingly must look after a girl, Ellie. And she’s not just any girl. She’s immune to the bites of the zombie-like human mutations that have roamed the earth for 20ish years. She may be humanity’s last hope. But he must battle the military and an assortment of vagabonds to get her to the place where she’s be safe and useful.

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     They sound pretty similar, right? I mean, even their titles are similar: Last of Us, Children of Men.
     Then you get more specific, and they’re still pretty damn similar-sounding. Though you’ll have to bare with me a little here. Much as I loved Children of Men, it’s very difficult to watch. I often end up turning it off when they introduce to Jasper and his wife. I just… can’t. Luckily, the movie’s memorable, and Wikipedia exists, so I should be good.

     Let’s start with Julian and Tess. Both protagonists both have semi-love interests who are killed off rather suddenly. Now, Julian’s death is more like, “HOLY SHIT WHAT?” and Tess is a little more dead on arrival. At least, I knew from the get-go she would die. Maybe I could just se it in her eyes. Nonetheless, both ladies are some form of unconventional love interest who gets killed off damn suddenly.

     The worlds of The Last of Us and Children of Men are also crazy-similar. Grim green, grey and brown pallets. Broken buildings and thick woods. I feel like I could make a machinima of Children of Men out of The Last of Us.

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     The people met along the way are also extremely alike. Jasper and Bill are the loners met (Jasper’s wife is catatonic so I don’t count her as a companion really). Jasper was Theo’s dealer pre-plot; Bill gave Joel and Tess goods. Jasper gave Theo valuable time and information. Bill gave Joel… um… well, we get those nifty shrapnel bombs from him, I think.

     After time spent with the loner, the protagonists meet their respective groups. Joel finds his brother’s little group of survivors and stays with them for a while. He… well, Ellie, then meets a group of survivors that seem nice enough… until they try to eat her. Theo meets up with a group I’m pretty sure his cousin knows who end up wanting to use his fertile friend for an uprising, and the two ultimately must flee.

     Now that I’ve explained a good portion of the game and film, is this all a coincidence? Is this just how you write a good dystopian plot? Well, no. One of many films, documentaries and books The Last of Us credits as inspiration is Children of Men. The similarities compared to their other sources of inspiration, such as 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead, are much more blatant though. It almost seems like Naughty Dog was looking to homage Children of Men, rather than be inspired by it. I was actually positive Joel would get Ellie to safety and then die somehow. I’m honestly worried about Kee’s fate after Theo collapses on the boat, considering what nearly happens to Ellie. Guess we’ll just have to wait til the year 2027 to find out.

     And now the big, long part of this post. I think it’s a pretty hot debate. If Infinite came out a year ago, Last of Us would be dead set for game of the year, and vice versa. I’ve heard a lot of people saying they like Infinite more, and I’ve heard a lot of people saying they like Last of Us more. Me? I loved Last of Us, but Infinite was way superior in my mind. Why? Well let me explain… with tons of spoilers for both games, so beware.

     There are some really easy comparisons to be made: both games have themes of parenthood, both protagonists are fathers, and father figures. Last of Us is beautiful and tragic: the rebuilding of a broken man’s heart, him learning to love again. Infinite has a man learning he’s a dad, making sacrifices for Elizabeth. The point goes to Bioshock in my mind: it’s got such a huge reveal, and the outcome of your actions throughout the game is mind-blowing. It’s pure epicness. Last of Us is less epic — its plot is beautiful, which is almost unique for a mainstream game — but there’s much less impact. We know Joel’s falling for Ellie… as a daughter figure. We see it unfold, but it’s also kind of predictable. He has to look after a girl who is roughly his daughter’s age when she was killed, pretty close to her in build, she’s even a little like her in that she’s plucky but warm-hearted. We can really assume what Joel is going to have to learn and overcome throughout his character arc (although I found he hardly had much of a character arc). Is it a bad plot? Fuck no, it’s very touching. Is it as incredible as Infinite? No, there’s simply not as much to it.

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     There’s also the protagonists and their daughters, or “daughters” to compare. Booker from Infinite is mysterious. He’s some criminal on some boat going to some city in the sky. He and the gamer have much to learn and you must learn it alongside him. Meanwhile, Joel from The Last of Us has been kicked in the balls constantly by life. We feel for him. Shit’s just not fair for Joel. And it’s awesome to feel for a character, but learning about a character and his environment as he learns himself, and using an FPS to really bring you into the character is much cooler. The point goes to Booker.

     And then there’s Ellie vs. Elizabeth. Literally no competition. Ellie  reminds me of Juno MacGuff. You’d think I’d love her. But honestly, she comes across as mostly a scapegoat and she’s obnoxious to the point that it’s unbearable. She’s wise beyond her years, and yet not mature. And in gameplay, she constantly got in my way. In combat, her head would randomly pop up in my crosshairs; walking around, Ellie would just jump right in my way, and when I tried to get around her, she’d step in my fucking way again. She helped shoot, which was nice. But when I played as her, she was weak and inept compared to Joel. I mean, it makes sense, she’s a preteen girl. But it gives Liz an advantage. Liz who has a back-story, a character arc, stays neatly out of my way, finds useful things for me, and is, in fact, my daughter. Not to mention Liz’s first kill leads to huge changes for her: her innocence is shattered, her game face is on, her looks change to show her maturing, that growth, that new understanding of the world. Ellie’s already a fighter. She’s a plucky little fucker from day one. Her  first kill is like, “Damn. I killed someone… Who wants lunch? It’s on me.” Come to think of it, Joel and Ellie are fairly typical of Naughty Dog: feisty, annoying sidekick, surly hero. And even though I love Naughty Dog, the point still must go to Liz.Image

     I was going to compare the two different kinds of gameplay, but I scrapped everything I wrote when I realised these games are so different, and whichever kind of  gameplay one prefers is solely personal preference; no arguments can really be made for one or the other. I will say that game mechanics was a win for Infinite also, though. Gameplay flowed better into cut scenes, there was a lot less glitching out… I mean I laughed my ass off when Joel tried to open drawers and danced instead, but I was laughing at the game, not with it.

     My final comparison is between the game worlds. The settings. They both definitely work with their games — Infinite has this beautiful, mind-blowing city in the sky, with dark portions and horrifying happenings that the gamer finds as they venture into the dark side of the miracle city. The Last of Us is dark and murky — our world destroyed. It’s realistic, kinda horrifyingly so. Maybe it’s not as pretty to look at, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s properly harsh. I gotta say, they both work pretty damn well. My preference is Infinite, because I’m a fantasy geek, and because Last of Us’s realism just makes me crave another cartoony game from Naughty Dog. Ultimately, a flying world and steam punk are my jam. But I honestly think the worlds in both game are pretty much perfect. This match is tied.

     And so, thought I loved both of these games, the way I see it, Infinite is superior in almost every way. But hey, those are just my thoughts; I would love to hear yours.

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