14/07/2013

Story-liners: The Last of Us (2013)

Game: The Last of Us
Release: 2013, Retail
System: Sony Playstation 3
Starring: Ashley Johnson, Hana Hayes, Troy Baker
Directed by: Bruce Stanley
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: 20 years after the near-destruction of mankind, the smugglers Joel and Tess are hired to escort a young girl through the now dangerous and overgrown lands of the former U.S.A.

Hans' thoughts:

Already when the trailers for this game came out, it was apparent that this would be a visually stunning experience. However, looks isn't everything when it comes to videogames, so thankfully the gameplay goes right along with it. But this is story-liners! So how about the story?

As little as I'd like to admit it, female characters have never found much dignity in gaming. Video games are, to this day, primarily a male oriented hobby and it shows; Female characters are almost always grounded in the prospect of eye-candy. In a few cases, characters is too fancy a description of some of the female representations in gaming. I tell you this because Ellie, the main female protagonist, may very well be the most dignified, complete female character I've ever encountered. She may not be brave right out of the bag - but she's believably concerned. After all, this is a world infested with zombies - and this bunch is a nasty one. Not only does Ellie not seem perfect at the beginning, she doesn't seem completely broken and useless either. She's grown up in a quarantined area and has a such never had to fend for herself - she learns how to do that and so much more. Ellie is resourceful, witty and nice to be around. The player get's genuinely concerned for her safety, giving the player an incentive to look out for her - beyond the mere aspect of it being the objective of the adventure. Now, this could have been a case of just one really well-written female character with the others being two-dimensional but no, every single female character we actually get to spend time with grows as a character, and shows us a lot of sides of their personalities. You'll find no sultry femme fatales or damsels in distress here. But likewise, the characters aren't just need-no-man tomboys. They're just people who live in a very, very dangerous world and has had to adapt to that fact.

Other than females, this game also handles loss extremely well. As it should, again, this game takes place after the gosh darn fall of human civilization. Our main character Joel has seen some serious stuff and has done less than honorable things to survive for the last 20 years. We see him before and after the fall of humanity and see just how different he's become. Which he should have, people grow all their life and Joel is not exception. Is he a bad person? Well the story seems to let the audience decide that for themselves - not through the popular method of a moral choice system. No, the game is actually pretty linear, they just show Joel as he is and the things he does in order to make it to the next day. That said, he's thankfully not completely cold about murder and he's not ignoring the moral ambiguity of the things he's done. He's just learned to live with it in order to survive - that's what makes him compelling to me. He knows what he does is completely insane, but he doesn't dwell on it. He doesn't joke about it either, he just doesn't talk about it.

As for the actual plot - while some outcomes are sort of obvious in the eyes of the trained viewer, the story actually threw me through a loop more than a few times. This story has some great twists and turns and everytime is as surprising as the next. It doesn't go Shyamalon however, it knows how to balance out the surprises with the heartfelt interaction between characters and the absolute horror of the dangers they face. Let's keep it to just stating that zombies isn't the only threat waiting for the main characters out there. Far from it.

If you want a great send-off to this console generation, as well as just one of the best survival stories out there, you should pick up The Last of Us. While zombies have become fairly frequent these days - most times less successful than others, The Last of Us doesn't actually make this a body-count fest and instead focus on what made the genre good to begin with. The human race and what happens to it when everything goes completely haywire - as told by some of the most well-rounded characters in story-telling.
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