Compact Gaming: The Last of Us Edition

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“Okay.”

Welcome to COMPACT GAMING!

With the announcement that The Last of Us Part II is coming, I decided it was time for a new Compact Gaming post. I have previously reviewed The Last of Us in the early days of this blog but I don’t feel as though that article does this game justice. I was new to blogging and I hadn’t found my voice, but now I’m back to try and express how incredible this game is.

Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus that is usually seen in insects, has mutated and now targets human hosts. The world has been ravaged by it and the spread of infection is fast, horrifying and relentless. Joel, a struggling but loving father, flees the chaos with his brother, Tommy, and daughter, Sarah. Twenty years later, Joel has become a man ‘with few moral lines to cross’. His new perilous journey, accompanied by fourteen year old Ellie, takes them both across America in search of the Fireflies, a rebel group who oppose the quarantine zone authorities.

 

3. Scavenger Hunt

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If you have a tendency to hoard things in games then that skill is going to be extremely handy. This is one of those games where resource management is important, because not every environment that you find yourself in is forgiving and you can’t ever be too prepared. Items are multi-functional, for example rags and alcohol can be used to craft both health kits and Molotov cocktails. This gives crafting a weighty importance, as what you decide to craft can be the difference between winning or losing a fight.

Crafting is done in real time, and so while you may be in a menu deciding what weapon of destruction to create, enemies are able to attack you while Joel is crouched over his rucksack. This sometimes makes crafting inopportune, depending on your current situation, which gives a greater sense of urgency to the atmosphere as a whole. The crafting UI is fluid enough to allow for fast crafting, the speed of which can be upgraded along with several other physical abilities, such as a bigger health bar and better shiv durability.

There are some points during the game where you will find little to no resources, indicating that the game is quite literally item starving you. If you haven’t been great with collecting crafting gear, then this game can be quite unforgiving before a big fight. However, once you pass these sections, you will be greatly rewarded.

 

2. Endure and Survive

‘This isn’t some decaying corpse on the ground, this is a living thing that’s going to be coming after you’ – programmer, Mark Botta

The brilliant team over at Naughty Dog created a whole biological lifespan of the Infected. Pictured above are the two most terrifying of the selection (Clickers and Bloaters), and they won’t get any less scary. You may eventually begin to dispose of them more efficiently as you progress through the game, but Naughty Dog have done an amazing job of showing rather than telling. If you or a member of your party is killed by the Infected, the cutscenes that follow are horrific, but cuts to black before the real onslaught begins. This sets in the fear of the Infected, and is executed perfectly.

Some fights with the Infected, and human enemies, can be avoided, which is sometimes the best plan of action if you do not have the resources. This does not mean that you’re able to breeze past all of the conflict, and the AI in The Last of Us are intelligent. There are five stages of infection established in the game’s universe, and knowing which of the Infected that you’re dealing with is crucial, because each of them require different strategies to beat them.

Runners – newly infected with small changes in appearance, but their behaviour has been completely altered. They can often be found moaning or making noises resembling crying, and will charge at you with no inhibitions when within their line of sight.

Stalkers – occurs between a week and a month of initially becoming infected. The Cordyceps growths begin to protrude from the body, notably the face, and croaking noises will indicate their presence. Their name has derived from their tendency to hide from humans before emerging to attack.

Clickers – after two to four years of infection, the most notable stage of infection begins. The growths have completely overrun any distinguishing features of the infected, creating a cleft down the centre of the face, disfiguring them and causes blindness. They make a distinctive clicking or screeching sound to navigate and locate prey (echolocation). The Cordyceps growth act as hard armour, making these Infected particularly difficult to dispatch.

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Bloaters – the rarest and most dangerous stage of infection, as it takes around a decade to develop. While they are slower than previous stages, they are extremely aggressive and challenging to defeat. The growths have now taken over the Infected’s body, creating a bloated appearance, and they also rely on echolocation but is less refined than a Clicker’s as the fungus obstructs them.

Death – once the host is ready to die, they will find a place to finally pass (generally in dank, dark places), but the fungus will continue to spread. It grows along the walls and floor of where the host dies and releases spores, which can spread the infection if inhaled.

 

1. All the Feels

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Emotions run high, but like the characters you have to suppress them if you want to survive.

Joel, after having lost Sarah, is lumped together with Ellie, a girl who has never been outside of the quarantine zone and is immune to Cordyceps, and they embark on a quest to find the Fireflies who are attempting to create a vaccine. During this journey, Joel is indifferent towards Ellie but grows to care for her as if she were his daughter. The blossoming of the relationship is believable because of Troy Baker and  Ashley Johnson. Johnson in particular is noted to have made Ellie much more of a feisty individual than she was initially written as, and her childlike wonder of the world is refreshing amidst the decay and madness.

The script in itself is beautifully crafted and the story it tells is incredible, but what really brings it to life is the performances of the cast. The supporting characters like Tess (Annie Wersching), Marlene (Merle Dandridge), Bill (W. Earl Brown) and the whole myriad of others are fantastic. This is the best cast that could ever be dreamed of for a video game, and their performances are spot on. The characters do not fit specific stereotypes, they’re all unique in their own imperfect ways and they feel real. These members of the cast need to be praised for their work portraying their characters just as much as Baker and Johnson.

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Likewise with the death cutscenes, Naughty Dog do a lot of showing but not telling with the characters as well. For example, Tess is introduced early in the game but her relationship with Joel is never explicitly stated. Creative director, Neil Druckmann, is noted to have often responded to actors’ questions about their characters by saying ‘What do you think?’, and this is reflected in the final game. Much of the game relies on the player’s interpretations, the most significant of which is the end.

There are several occasions where this game prods at your ability to feel pain, sadness and anger. You should prepare to feel an attachment to these characters, and to cry or laugh with them when the time comes. It is because of these instances that the small glimpses of joy are so welcome and something to relish in. Ellie’s decisions to randomly tell jokes to lighten the mood, or Joel’s absentminded remarks during rare moments of openness are aspects that make them appear more than just fictional characters.

The level of brilliance that was introduced in this game makes the notion of a sequel exciting. Naughty Dog have a story they want to tell, and we should all be listening intently.

 

Resources and interesting links:

Grounded: The Making of The Last of Us

The Last of Us Cutscenes with Cast Commentary

The Last of Us Changed My Life

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