Before I write my full review on The Last of Us, I feel I should write this to focus on a specific aspect of this incredible game: the idea that you are playing a character, not being one, simply controlling someone in this story. At multiple points throughout my journey in the post-apocalyptic, nature reclaimed America I noticed that I wasn't moving a guy with a gun, someone who only has character in cutscenes, but in gameplay is restricted to a mobile weapon. This is a problem that has plagued many games, BioShock Infinite to some extent and more famously in the Uncharted series (ironically being made by the same developers). However, I can excuse Uncharted; that is an Indiana Jones-style, action, adventure game, therefore the dissonance can be forgiven in favour of a fun and engaging time.
These problems are not present in The Last of Us, the game constantly reminds you that you are playing a living, breathing, character in the form of Joel. Whether it be his comments after fighting, 'that was too damn close', a phrase I found myself returning to time and time again after intense battles, that (on hard mode) left me running low on supplies. Or after picking up and reading a note, in many games you forget that there is someone holding out this note in front of them, reading it just as you do. Naughty Dog reminds you every now and then with Joel giving his opinion on the ideals of the person behind the note, letter etc. Small details like this separate The Last of Us from other 'triple A' titles.
Furthermore, they keep you immersed and grounded in the environment, whilst giving you hints at what the Joel's persona truly is, what his beliefs are and most importantly, what his decisions will be throughout the game. There aren't any choices as to where the narrative of The Last of Us goes, but there doesn't need to be. This is the story of Joel and Ellie, their characters are presented to you and you can't change how they are, the writing is some of the best I've ever seen, spoken with some of the best voice acting I've ever heard. The fact that Joel does some things you may not agree with, or like doesn't make the game bad, it means that you aren't the protagonist, you are pushing him forward, but that does not give you the right to dictate his personality. As 'anti-gamer' as that may sound...
Without spoiling anything, at multiple points during my time with The Last of Us I was surprised with how the story continued, many were, and many of us were looking for another option of where to take the story, yet the developers give you none. After being shocked by this, I came to the realisation that these are who the characters are and I shouldn't want to change that; to do so would ruin the impact of the story and how unique it truly is.
Games can either put you in the role of someone, with you essentially being this person, Gordon Freeman is a wonderful example of this. Or they can allow you to play as a character, one with a personality all their own, Naughty Dog pulls this angle off with flying colours, making sure you remember who you are manipulating. By doing this, they have managed to allow what happens in the gameplay to impact the cutscenes and vice-versa, and half of the story is told through the sections where you are in full command of Joel's actions. With notes and various other pieces off to the side for you to discover, and in doing so, discover more about Joel and Ellie. This is what stood out to me most in The Last of Us, these small touches that can easily be missed, but all come together to form an incredible game that doesn't feel any less of what it could be by what some would call 'restrictions' with the lack of true choice. That is an achievement that should be commended as much as the beauty the graphics or feel of the gameplay...
Written by Ben Lucas (@TheYouthfuls)
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