There’s a lot of parallels that could be drawn when you compare comic books and videogames together. They’re both a relatively young industry viewed as a “childish” hobby before they reached mainstream recognition. For comic books it’s when Hollywood started releasing blockbusters of our favourite heroes and for gaming it’s when every family were playing tennis with each other with their Wii’s. Of course when any form of medium starts to get popular there are cries from people who want them to be taken “seriously”. Watchmen is used to represent comic book writing; using its comic book format it told a deeply mature story that deconstructs the superhero trope and raises question about contemporary anxieties. And for videogames people nominated The Last of Us.
12/10 "It's ok"~IGN
One of the most awarded games of all times, it’s a title that critics and fans alike consider to be the pinnacle of videogame story telling. Jim Sterling himself awarded it 10/10 stating that it “achieved everything it needed to achieve in order to provide me with everything I wanted.”
It’s a sentiment I kept in mind when I played the game but one I couldn’t agree with when the credits had finally rolled. It definitely wasn’t because the story was bad either, I can forgive a games shortcoming if the plot kept me engaged. The story had a lot things to say about mankind and human interactions but every point it raised was betrayed by its own contemporary gameplay.
One of the plots biggest theme was on the deconstruction of mankind, every human achievement has been left desecrated, overrun by vegetation and zombies. Man is no longer the dominant lifeform as it’s fighting a losing battle against nature. Except none of this is reflected in the gameplay.
The first problem is that for a game that labels itself as a zombie survival horror game you mostly fight normal humans. The number of gangs and bandits you encounter in the game is ridiculously out of place in a game that takes place in a POST APOCALYPTIC setting! Now that wouldn’t be a problem if they were used to reflect the withered state of human society. In fact during E3 the developers boasted that their game would have the most realistic human AI.
Except the final product had AI like this.
None of the so called “human” acted rationally, they were still the had the AI of stereotypical videogame enemy. They still charge at you like raging bulls and act as bullet sponges, nothing ruins immersion than realising that the bandits take more than 1 headshot to take down. This problem is exemplified when you encounter a human boss battle who stereotypically follows the “3 hit” rule. You literally had to stab him in the back 3 times before he dies. This problem isn’t isolated to this game of course, many other games like Call of Duty have you kill hundreds of human fodders. But The of Last of Us to me gives up its excuse of being “just” a videogame since it takes itself so goddamn seriously. Nobody forced the developers to include such token videogame tropes like human tanks or even a boss battle in the first place. The game would have benefit without their inclusion.
Joel himself is an extension of this mess, despite being an “everyman” he himself doesn’t reflect this “vulnerable human” aspect. Because he controls exactly like Nathan Drake he is not physically hindered in any way; all the melee, shooting, stealth and parkour feels like it did in the Uncharted series. Joelle even gets impaled by a steel bar one time but still managed to kill 50 guys during his escape the game stops feeling like a horror game. This problem isn’t alleviated by playing the game on a harder difficulty, Silent Hill isn’t revered as the best horror game because it was hard but because it had a crushing oppressive atmosphere that The Last of Us simply lacks. The only moment in the game I felt truly unease was when you were locked inside a dark building. You had to jumpstart a generator surrounded by water in order to unlock the door but doing so creates a lot of noise, you had to run back to the exit with a bunch of zombies on your ass. The game could’ve overcame these problems if they had more moments like these when you truly feel alone.
Or maybe because this reminded me too much about me and Uncle Jerrys's "wrestling sessions"
The biggest shortcoming of the game however is how they approach the character Ellie. The story was essentially a giant escort mission where you had to guide a defenseless girl to a secure location and along the way the two protagonists shared a deep bond realising they needed each other. They did a compelling job in cutscenes showing Joel fatherly instinct as he protected her. So it’s truly ironic that despite being such a big part of the story she has no presence during gameplay itself. She is literally invisible in combat, enemies don’t respond to her even if she walks up all up in their faces but the moment you brush your hair they would be on your ass. Occasionally she would throw a brick but as we’ve had previously established Joel is practically Batman so she is basically useless. The developers claimed they didn’t want Ellie to be annoying, she had to be helpful in battle while not blowing your cover in stealth. A reasonable answer if it wasn’t already been done way better 3 years before the game was released.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was, contrarily, a giant escort mission where you had to guide a defenseless girl to a secure location and along the journey the two protagonists shared a deep bond realising they needed each other. The biggest difference is that your companion actually has a presence in gameplay.
And also because she was legal
Trip had severally uses in the game, she can use holograms to distract enemies, scan the battlefield for mines, hacking terminals and healing you. But she was also vulnerable, she can be taken out by robots but she is never an annoyance, as a last resort she’ll use an EMP blast to temporarily knockout enemies for you to take out. There is even a hilarious moment where the protagonist Monkey literally stuffs her into a dumpster while he scouts the area ahead. This truly reinforces the relationship between the 2, the feelings of guardianship the player feels towards her is exemplified because the plot and the gameplay worked together. And this is what The Last of Us was missing.
All throughout the game we are told that we must care about Ellie and protect her but why? Ellie is clearly invincible, she is in no dangers from the horrors the plot throws at her. One minute she’s being hunted by a pedophile and the next minute she’s moving out of cover and getting stuck inside a table. All this big emotional relationship between Joel and Ellie is ultimately ruined by this mechanic, or more accurately the lack of mechanic.
Well they fucked up, she's still a liability
The Last of Us has the problem of failing to commit to its premise. It wants to have the same cinematic story you’d see in an Oscar bait movie but it also wants to have gameplay from the Uncharted series. Why is it such a big budget title like this fails to have the same emotional ties like the Walking dead game did, which was also another giant escort mission where you had to guide a defenseless girl to a secure location and along the way the two protagonists shared a deep bond realising they needed each other?
Because this game has a cute asian girl?
The reason is that the developers didn’t use videogame format to its full potential. The biggest strength it has is that it’s an interactive medium that provides an experience irreplicable by movies or books. You can’t translate something like Shadow of Colossus to another medium without missing the heart of the experience. Most of the emotional impact of The Last of Us can be experienced by its cutscenes alone, an experience easily translated into a movie.
Naughty Dog is a company capable of delivering strong stories and characters but it needs to re-evaluate its approach to gameplay. They have to take a risk and explore different kinds of gameplay and stop shoehorning the most standard mechanics between cutscenes to justify its existence as a video game.