Reflection: The Last of Us Episode.042

I don’t believe I have ever had such a change of heart for a game as I did for The Last of Us.  I know, I’m late to the show, for those of you have experienced the game.  For those who haven’t, I suspect the game doesn’t interest you enough or else you would have picked up a copy by then.  However, I just played it for the first time, some 2 years after release, and I am surprised in how different the gameplay was compared to the initial demo video I watched prior to its release.

Although I was impressed in the video of the detail and graphics, the atmosphere and aesthetics, it felt like the game played a bit too much into its cinematic role.  I don’t mind setting the controller down and enjoying a good cut scene, especially after a very stressful part in the game, but it felt like I would move the character 10 feet and another cut scene would be triggered.  I was completely mistaken and learned an old lesson again: don’t judge a book by its cover.

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It’s tough these days to really get an understanding of whether you are going to truly enjoy a game for the entire length of it or if it will be a fun 5-hour game that goes back into your stockpile, never to be launched again.  I have numerous games that fall into that category.  And then there are some games that captivate me from the immediate start of the game and drive me to completion.  One such game was The Last of Us.

I’m not going to bother going into details of the story because that’s really the point of playing the game.  There are quite a lot of cut scenes (so many that the Main Menu has a list of them to view).  It plays out cinematically for sure as a 15-17 hour long movie, broken down into 4 bitable segments.

But inevitably I have definitely eaten my own words from a few years ago when this game was first released and receiving so much publicity and praise.  I tended to look at it as more of a movie that had moments of interaction than a game that had elements of a movie threaded within.  Generally I would rather have no cut scenes and complete interaction.  Instead of breaking off for a short clip that bridges two scenes together, I’d prefer the game to break into the transitional movie in-game as I’m standing there moving around.  Of course, we aren’t quite ready to make video games with cinematic-quality during the entire game.

I don’t recall ever having initial negative feelings about a game and then changing them 180 degrees after I played it.  The character acting was pretty good for a video game.  There weren’t any Academy Award moments, of course, but for what we have come to expect in AAA games these days, it stands up to the rest.  I think some outshined more than others.  Joel, who is one of the main characters in the game and the one you control 99% of the time, has a rough personality with a monotone and deep baritone voice.  Consequently this does not give much room for any dramatic acting though Troy Baker’s role.  His role is quite excellent as the cold-shoulder attitude to the world.  His rough sounding voice definitely makes you feel that he has experienced all kinds of horrific sights in his life.

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The game creates fairly good suspense, although I tend to become highly paranoid in horror games which lead to me doddling about unnecessarily too much.  One thing about that I noticed was when there were non-player controlled characters accompanying you.  You really didn’t know if something was going to be in this room or the next room, but if your companion following you is casually walking around looking at everything and entering the next room, you knew nothing was in the area.  This kind of killed that sense of tension when it could have remained throughout.  You don’t have to crouch and creep around inspecting each room at that point.  You could sprint through the section if you wanted to.  This was another feature when the game featured horses.  When you are on horseback, you were 100% safe.  The game doesn’t offer mounted combat, so they cleverly make it so you have to get off your horse and become separated from it before combat begins.  It also kills the surprise as you begin to realize combat is coming up when the game forces you off your horse.  On the flip side to that thought, you know it’s coming so the tension begins to rise since you are unaware of what is about to be thrown at you.

There were a couple of moments where I enjoyed the initial concept of a specific scene but by the time that chapter was complete, I was tired of stumbling around almost aimlessly to find where I am supposed to go.  These include special environmental scenes where disorientation is meant to be a key feature.  However, for some people it may become more of a hindrance than for others in that disorientation, much like in real life, may lead to unnecessary moments of wasting time.  The immersion of the situation was almost too realistic they did it so well.  There was a moment I definitely caught myself catching my breath having traversed through a particular nasty and difficult portion that had nothing to do with the threat of being attacked.

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Like many horror games that are respectable, audio is a key element, and this game holds its own.  Ambient noises, proper echoing of sounds to make it sound far off but not too far off, and general sound effects of motion all tied in to the atmosphere.  Even subtle sounds of whether an object landed on a solid surface or soft ground was considered.  However, the character you’re controlling also has footstep sounds, and this sometimes causes confusion as to whether you hear someone approaching or not.  Often I would have to stop dead in my tracks, swirl around 180 degrees, and discover it was my own feet making the sound.  With an echo, it can make a fool out of you on thinking it’s caused by something else, which is excellent for deception.

About 60-70% of the way through the game, having logged in about 12 hours, I began to think of movies that are longer than the typical 2-hour timeframe.  The movies that have extended footage that pushes 3 hours or even more generally are thought to have more story involvement.  Whether it is extra footage of scenes that dive into the meaning behind the shot more or just additional content to the storyline, these longer movies tend to be more popular among movie aficionados but not so much with the typical movie goer.  With a “movie game” such as The Last of Us, it begged the question for me to wonder about a movie that went 15 hours long.  We wouldn’t sit through a movie that long in the theaters, but we play games that long (or more).  Specifically games that are focused on the storytelling rather than the actual interaction lead us through to the end where we look back and are blown away by the character development, conflict, and hopefully a resolution.  We don’t beat these generally in one sitting, saving and pausing for another day.  Production in video games are much cheaper than movies, so 15 hour long “movies” can be done, and typically a gamer will sit through that long of a film as long as there is some moderate interaction throughout.  The Last of Us had me sit through a very enjoyable 15 hour long movie that left me wanting to play again to enjoy the story once more.  It was that good.  I would be curious to know, however, how little of interaction would be tolerated before a player would not sit through that lengthy of a game assuming the story line was as good.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

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