The Last of Us Remastered
Hopefully not the last of it’s kind
After a lifetime of playing video games, I can finally say, hand on heart, that I’m scared I have been spoiled. I am at a loss as to how any game in the future can surpass what has been achieved with The Last of Us, and frankly, also a little bit worried.
This is the story of a man who has to escort a girl across a hostile and unforgiving landscape. Not an original concept, by any conceivable stretch of the imagination, but the magic here lies in the execution. Every single component here has been balanced and polished to perfection in order to create the last decades most accomplished game by far.
The primary component is, undeniably, the story. The Last of Us eschews the standard three act structure to provide a story with a huge amount of peaks, climaxes and low points. It’s all the better for it too, as the three act structure doesn’t really agree with video games (a discussion for another time) and this kind of story makes for a tale which feels a lot more epic and meaningful. There’s a constant flow of conversation and interaction between protagonists going on at all times which may provide exposition or may simply serve to provide greater insight into who they really are. It may be Joel missing good coffee, Joel and Ellie talking about video game characters punching holes in people’s chests, or Ellie failing to grasp the concept behind University, but every single word, action and situation presented serves to create the best characters ever presented in a video game. To hell with Bioshock Infinite, to hell with ICO, and as much as it hurts to say it, to hell with Final Fantasy VII.
Ellie is undeniably the game’s hero, and stands in stark contrast to Joel’s survival instinct and cynicism. While Joel is gruff, guarded and reserved, Ellie is naive, funny and loveable. This isn’t to say that one of them is a better character than the other. Both are extraordinarily layered and easy to identify with, and you’ll recognise that they’re both just people living in a shitty world who are moulded by their experiences. By the end, you’ll feel like you know them intimately, understanding the motivations behind every single action taken and being genuinely disturbed and shaken by the situations and decisions they find themselves forced to face, which make them simultaneously evolve and devolve as characters.
The ending, simply put, is a masterpiece all on it’s own and writers all around the world should be made to watch it twice before they go to bed every night while maybe also sticking it to the inside of their eyelids. It’s proof that subtlety can be infinitely more impactful than in your face twisty-turny endings (I’m looking at you, Bioshock Infinite) and is quite frankly one of the best endings I’ve witnessed in any medium.
The gameplay, again, is perfect. Every element is flawlessly executed and complements the story in a way which is, in my opinion, unprecedented. Most scenarios start with exploration. You walk around landscapes which are desolate and beautiful in equal measure while scavenging supplies and picking up more details about the world and the characters. Inevitably, you will be thrust into confrontation, which be tackled either through stealth, gunplay, or both. There is no binary divide, and they blend into each other so seamlessly that the experience feels more organic than anything before ever did. When playing games which encourage stealth, I frequently find myself compelled to replay segments that I failed to run through perfectly; If I’m spotted and need to enter into combat, I automatically feel like I’ve failed and reload the last checkpoint to start over again and finish the area correctly. Here, there is no right or wrong way, all there is is survival.
Gunplay is extremely impressive, and enemies react to being shot by different weapons exactly the way you expect they would. Being shot by a handgun stops them in their tracks and may result in them dropping to the floor while scurrying for cover, while being shot in the chest with an arrow will result in them being propelled backwards in an arc trajectory before, inevitably, dying. It doesn’t stop there, as the way every single weapon effects enemies also subtly changes depending on the large number of different upgrades which may or may not have been applied.
Melee combat is just as well executed as the gunplay, and perfectly ties in with the overall feel and theme of the game. Beating an enemy to death with a nail infused 2×4 feels as horrific as it should, as does cutting someone down with an axe. The fact that you feel completely in control every single time you repeatedly smash someone’s skull in with your tire iron makes it all the more affective, but it’s effectiveness in combat is undeniable, and it would be impossible to decide to stop dispatching enemies in this way. Every melee and ranged weapon also has it’s own very distinct advantages and disadvantages which make them all equally useful under different circumstances. You’ll frequently find yourself scrambling to retrieve a weapon or item from your backpack which might save your life in a particular situation before you’re flanked by shotgun wielding enemies.
Speaking about being flanked, the AI here is also the best I’ve ever seen (no surprise there, at this point). The infected are predictably dumb and will rush at you mindlessly upon detection with total disregard for their own safety. Human enemies, on the other hand will adapt to a given situation exactly the way you would expect them to. An injured bandit will retreat back into a house while waiting for his team to finish off the job, while enemies taking cover from your gunshots will do everything in their power to sneak away without you noticing and try to flank you. The way your enemies react to a scenario is so dynamic you’ll find yourself thinking of every single person holding a weapon as a viable threat and approaching every encounter differently. The fact that the AI here, which is supposedly untouched from the ps3 version, literally trumps everything from the new generation either highlights the preternatural talents of Naughty Dog’s development team or shows how lazy most other developers have become. Take your pick.
As a part of the remastered package you’ll also get Left Behind, an expansion which depicts events referenced in the main game and grounded mode, which is basically hardcore mode (or the most immersive mode to play the game, as the developers put it). Left Behind is really more of the same, which basically means that it’s practically flawless and ties in with the main adventure perfectly, while Grounded mode is just another difficulty level; nothing more, nothing less.
I won’t say that The Last of Us is my favourite game of all time, because I’m uncomfortable making such a huge statement. But I really am having trouble thinking of another game which is so extraordinarily accomplished. The pacing is perfect, the situations you’re thrust into are staggering, and there is no padding whatsoever to the ~16 hour run time of the main campaign and Left Behind combined (That’s right, no wave after wave of dumb bullet sponges to make you think it’s a longer game than it actually is. Looking at you again, Bioshock Infinite). I’m gushing so much I think I might have actually grown a vagina. But that’s ok, because games of this quality come along so rarely that they make unexpected vaginas look like an everyday occurrence. If you haven’t played this on ps3, I don’t need to tell you what you should be doing right now. If you have played it on ps3..well, buy it again just the same. It looks prettier, has dlc included and Naughty Dog deserve all the money you can throw at them.