Last of Us: A Tale of Humanity

Written by on May 15, 2013 in [, , , , , , , , ]

I got my first real preview of Naughty Dog’s Last of Us at PAX Prime 2012. The developer introduced the game by stating that this PlayStation exclusive is not simply a zombie game. It is first and foremost a game about three things, “Love, Loyalty and Sacrifice.” I found this statement to be both bold and promising. Most gamers who enjoy a good zombie apocalypse could care less about the story behind the chaos. They are blissfully happy to forge onward laying waste to the endless evil hordes of mindless human husks. Choosing the focus on life rather than the hack and slashing death that is the constant companion to the post-apocalyptic world is a new theme in gaming. It is a theme that may attract more “non-traditional” survival horror gamers to this genre.

This is a story about human relationships. Specifically, it is the story of a disillusioned man and a young girl forced to grow up far too fast in a world gone crazy. It is the story of man, Joel, who thought he had lost everything. He finds a reason to live when he must protect a young girl from the extremely dangerous new world filled with zombies and the ruthless folks willing to take advantage of the chaos created by the those zombies.

The young girl, Ellie, was born after a fungal outbreak that has robbed so many of their humanity. She has never known an easy life. Each day is a constant struggle to stay ahead of the plague, those affected by the plague, and those who use the plague to further their own evil agendas. This game focuses on this relationship forged in the midst of this bleak world.

Few new survival horror games have used the genre to take a closer look at the human element of survival, but recently there seems to be a recurring theme of men adopting a paternal role for a young girl. The girl symbolizes new hope, a chance for redemption, and a moral compass for the main male protagonist.

The Walking Dead (2012, TellTale) also used the same basic story elements very successfully last year. The world-wise and cynical guy that is given a second chance to make a difference by taking care of a young innocent girl in an extremely dangerous world. The Last of Us is a bit different in that the girl is a bit older, fourteen, and has grown up entirely in this new dangerous world. Her perspective will add a distinctive counterpoint to the jaded and disillusioned protagonist of the piece.

In The Last of Us players will control Joel as he is forced into escorting Ellie away from a brutally dangerous area controlled by ruthless scavengers, zombies and an unforgiving regime. He has promised to protect and save the girl and must make an epic journey to a new region that may hold the key to salvation for both characters.

Zombies have been present in games for a very long time but this story holds a lot of promise. The story is frightening because all of the elements and characters are very relatable. Even the zombies are the result of a documented fungal plague. Developers got the idea for the plague from the BBC documentary series Planet Earth. The documentary showed an ant infected with the same lethal parasitic fungus. This connection to real emotions has the potential to make the story more terrifying and more intriguing because the player can relate to the elements and emotions.

The more realistic and poignant the story, the greater the potential tragedy. If the story can live up to the promises made by developers this game has the potential to attract a whole new type of gamer to survival horror. This game could attract the gamer looking for a more profound gaming experience. I won’t say that no other survival horror game has had a plot. Many games have had a storyline. What I will say is that it is refreshing to see developers daring to shift the focus away from pure action towards the more human elements of survival.

In the short gameplay demo of the game it showed the basic mechanics of how the two main characters must work together to move through the new world. A running dialog between the two also helps establish the developing comradery. Other gameplay mechanics will also emphasize the realism in the game.

The game’s “dynamic stealth” component allows the player to choose from several options when confronted with enemies. Will the player choose to sneak past the danger, distract and attack, take a hostage or straight out kill the bad guys? Each approach will affect how the enemies reacts to the player. The “Balance of Power” mechanic will make the enemies a bit more fluid in their reactions to the player’s choices. Enemies may run, hide, call in back-up or confront the player.

The graphics of the game also reinforce the fragility of our society reflected in the destruction and decay of the manmade landscape as it quickly becomes reclaimed by nature. Skyscrapers and roads are overgrown with vegetation as a fungus devours the human race.

All the basic ingredients (story, game mechanics and graphics) of The Last of Us combine to create a game that has the potential to cross genre boundaries and attract gamers who would not otherwise play a typical survival horror shooter. The realism of the environment, the relationships and the emotions help create a more profound experience. The result is a game I eagerly await.


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Author: Melisa Snyder View all posts by

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