Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Last Of Us

I'm holding my breath and crouching behind a desk. There's a Clicker in the room, his legs shuffling awkwardly as he stumbles around looking for me, his head now a bloated and blind fungal mass - years of infection have removed any vestiges of humanity he once possessed. A guttural tick echoes from his mouth as he claws at the air in desperate frustration. I'm about to breathe a sigh of relief when he passes me by but then I hear it - the sound of one of those less infected but as deadly nonetheless who has spotted me - and realise I'm going to run for it. I've only made it two or three steps before the Clicker hears me and screams after me in pursuit.


My vision is fading from the blood loss as I slide down behind cover, hurriedly trying to craft myself a medical kit from the few scavenged remains I've pocketed. Bullets ricochet off a nearby wall as the military advance from behind cover, suspecting I'm out of ammo. Which I am. I could have made a Molotov cocktail with the same kit, but it's too late for that now. I have no time so run towards one of them in desperation, my fist swinging towards his face.


The Last of Us (exclusive to the PS3) is a survival horror game set 20 years after an apocalypse has devastated the Earth. And for once it's not World War III or Zombies (in as much as 28 days sort of isn't a zombie film), but in a world where the insect disease Cordyceps has spread to humanity. The remaining populace have been herded into Military controlled quarantine zones.

The prologue - which introduces you to the character of Joel - is one of the best openings to a video-game I've encountered since Prey and Bioshock. It's very reminiscent of the opening to Zack Snyders 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead in that it introduces something quite horrific into a domestic scene - it's powerful, well written, perfectly paced and - most unusually for a video game - is phenomenally well acted. I haven't been as moved by watching anything that took such a short period of time since Pixar's Up.

In many cases, the survivors are as bad as the infected.
Humanity is all but lost, in every sense of the word.
20 years later sees your character Joel eking out an existence as a smuggler, skilled in the art of survival  and travelling between the quarantine zones. A living, of sorts. And in the introduction - which does the great thing of being a tutorial that doesn't feel like a tutorial - sees you and your partner Tess press-ganged into a most unusual smuggling operation; To escort a young girl named Ellie - with a very important secret - out of the city and to safety.

What follows is a breathtaking journey across a plague ravaged America where the military who seek Ellie are almost as deadly as the disease-ridden infected who wander the wastes. You'll be forced to scavenge for every piece of equipment you can get your hands on - every piece of ammunition is scarce with value beyond compare, and you'll rarely be in a position where you can plough dozens of bullets into an enemy to take him down.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So far, so video game. The survival horror genre has been done to death, so what makes this any different?  Any seasoned gamer must have wandered across hundreds of post apocalyptic landscapes fighting three dozen varieties of mutants/zombies/maniacs, etc.

Well for once the script doesn't feel like it's been cobbled together by a couple of games designers who thought they were up to the task because they watched the Mad Max Box-set at the weekend. With music composed by a decent musician (Gustavo Santaolalla) as opposed to somebody who was roped into the task because they had a Casio SA-46 keyboard in the attic which still had some batteries in. With the roles acted out by a decent cast instead of dragging people in from the street or getting a developer who was in the schools performance of Oliver a decade ago.

The Last Of Us is an immaculately presented package. As what is possibly one of the last big titles for the PS3, it's a perfect swansong - a perfectly worded eulogy for what gaming can be if the ingredients and recipe are right. I'll go out on a limb and say that it's probably one of the best video-games I've played in the last 30 years. Nigh on perfection.

At times the game can be genuinely beautiful. The cities, 20 years victim
to the ravages of nature, are as terrifying as they are fascinating.
The film critic Roger Ebert wrote a brilliant piece back in 2010 describing why he thought that videogames could never be art. It's a piece I don't necessarily agree with, but it's a shame he died - not least of which because I'd love to have known what he thought of The Last Of Us. He probably still wouldn't admit it was art, but I think he'd have loved it as one of the closest links between cinema and gaming I've seen in a long, long time.

It's been an odd week for PS3 and 360 owners in which it seems that Microsoft have been determined to make you all want to buy the next generation of Playstation. The quality of The Last Of Us means you might not want to rush that quickly to invest in a next-gen console - there's life in this old dog yet. 

The Last Of Us is truly brilliant. Beautiful, thought-provoking and - most importantly - a simply great game. 

1 comment:

  1. Good review. Every review I've read so far has been overwhelmingly positive, I can't wait to get my hands on it.


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