The Editor’s Soap Box: The Last of Us, and some lingering concerns
There are several reasons why The Last of Us strikes me as a great game, not least of all the stunning visuals and character models, but there’s something about a game of this quality that just doesn’t sit right with me.
One of my major gripes of the last ten years or so is that the vast majority of AAA titles have become heavily cinematic, relying more on spectacle than substance. While that might sound like I have an issue with long and interruptive cut-scenes (I believe the Metal Gear Franchise holds that particular accolade in high esteem) but that’s not exactly what I’m getting at.
I’m happy to play a game that’s high octane, explosive and has all the thrills and spills of a modern day cinematic rollercoaster, but I take issue when the game in question feels like I’m watching the action unfold rather than taking part. This is after all, an interactive medium.
DISCLAIMER: Since I wasn’t at e3, nor have I had any hands-on time with the Last of Us, these statements are presumptuous and based only on the gameplay footage I watched online during the press briefing (and subsequently watching it again and again while drooling at the impressive visuals).
The Last of Us is taking a different approach to the whole survival genre. Not only will you have to contend with zombie-like creatures (apparently caused by some sort of virulent flora I believe) but you’ll have to fight through pockets of humans, all trying to survive and doing a damn good job of it since they seemed to be well armed.
It has scenes reminiscent of Ubisoft Shanghai’s disappointingly average, I Am Alive, but it appears to be creating much more interesting set-pieces. There’s where it starts, with that phrase; set-pieces.
I like a good bit of drama and I especially appreciate when a developer can create an intense scenario that pushes everything you’ve learnt about the mechanics of the game to the limit, but the presentation seemed almost a little too ‘on-the-rails.’ There seemed to be only one outcome in the situation, and everything was very neat.
I’m aware that this is only a small portion of the game and Naughty Dog have carved a heady reputation for themselves over the past few years with the astoundingly slick Uncharted series. The problem we have here, is that it is a very different beast altogether. While the canned explosions and perfectly choreographed action scenes worked well for Uncharted 3 (just using the most recent example for the sake of argument), those same tightly scripted moments may miss the mark in a more taught and, dare I say, thoughtful experience.
There some very nice touches, where the companion character, Ellie, would bait herself in order to distract an unfriendly NPC, giving the player those much needed seconds to charge the enemy and brutally inflict as much harm as possible. While this sounds great, there was no clear indication if this was scripted, or it was indeed triggered by the player themselves. Commanding NPCs has become a regular occurrence in modern gaming, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that this is how scenarios like the one on show would go down. However, if these moments are entirely scripted, it does take something away from the interactivity.
These are genuine concerns of mine, as I feel that games are becoming more like movies and not just in terms of visual fidelity either. I want to feel in control of what’s happening around me. Give me the blockbuster scenes of buildings collapsing, monsters tearing through NPCs and the imagery of a Michael Bay after school special, but leave me some control.
Despite criticisms, that I must stress are entirely my own opinion and not that of the entire staff, The Last of Us is shaping up to be a very interesting new IP from one of the most innovative studios in the industry today. From the e3 footage, it has a visual aesthetic that manages to capture an apocalyptic view that the movie adaptation of I Am Legend achieved, and one that many have tired to emulate.
There appears to be a deep and meaningful plot, waiting to be uncovered, an unusual trait in today’s market, with what could be a deep and relationship between the lead protagonists, Joel and Ellie. I have high hopes that the bonds between the main characters will come across as strong and naturally, as it did in Uncharted, and that this is a title truly capable of breaking the survival genre mould.
I’m probably over-analysing this one set-piece and footage, and I really hope I am, because it would be a shame to see a game of this calibur fall into the AAA pitfall of slick presentation with little substance.
The Last of Us is scheduled for release in 2013.