The Last of Us is Naughty Dog's first survival game. As such, it's an attempt for the Santa Monica studio to create a new series, one that departs from the sweeping, treasure hunting adventures in the fantastic Uncharted games. As a fan of the survival genre, I've been looking forward to playing The Last of Us since the brutal extended gameplay video at last year's E3.
I'll have my hands on a review copy this week, and it'll be the first time I get to sit down with the game. I've avoided watching the hands-on demos, wanting an experience that's as fresh as possible. But I have been keeping up with the developer demos, interviews and trailers, so as to have an idea of what the creators are trying to achieve. Here's what we know so far.
Set in a post-apocalyptic United States, The Last of Us takes place twenty years after a fungal infection overruns the country with a devastating pandemic. Of the current survivors, some were born before the world went to shit, and were some born after. Joel, the protagonist and player character, was born before, and has seen humanity change drastically. Ellie, his young companion, was born after, and the stories of a world before the pandemic are nothing more than legend.
Joel sneaks Ellie away from a dangerous quarantine camp, and the two travel across the country to an as-yet undisclosed destination. Along the way, playing as Joel, with Ellie as a relatively capable companion, you encounter fellow survivors and those who are infected. The survivors, called hunters, are perversions of humanity -- brutal and merciless humans who will fight to the death to protect what little territory they have, not taking any risks with strangers the likes of you. The infected, called Clickers, are perversions of nature. They are monstrous, mushroom-human hybrids, tracking you with eco-location, capable of infecting you with a single bite.
I'm excited to see how The Last of Us fits in with the zombie apocalypse formula, but what I really want to see is deep, fairly dark character interactions and development. I love the tension that ebbs and flows throughout a solid narrative, especially when humanity is on the brink of extinction. In building tension with the game's narrative, I want to see two things play out.
First, I want the father-daughter-type relationship between Joel and Ellie pushed to the edge. Joel is a man born in a world like ours, experiencing this pandemic as an immigrant of sorts. Ellie, on the other hand, is a child born into this new and hostile world where humanity no longer thrives.
BioShock: Infinite tackled this sharp divide in character experiences with Booker and Elizabeth. Booker is from another world, traveling to Columbia on a mission, and Elizabeth had never been outside her father's creepy tower prison. As with Joel and Ellie, they were from different worlds, and Elizabeth hadn't ever seen another. They had to look out for each other, but their relationship was never tested in a way that made my jaw drop. I want to see this father-daughter-type relationship pushed to a gritty breaking point.
Second, I want Ellie to develop as a character like a young, brutal Michonne, weathered to the bone and tough as nails before she's even a teenager. So far we've seen Ellie throw a rock at a hunter, calling him an asshole and affording Joel the moment he needs to take the enemy down. We've also seen her carry two weapons, a rifle and a bow and arrow. She's obviously a tough kid, but at the end of the day, she's still just a kid.
It would appear she's been written to play on both the "look at that badass kid be badass" sensibility, one I usually cheer for, as well as the "holy crap she's only twelve and she's having to endure what?" feeling. I want Naughty Dog to pull out all the stops with their storytelling prowess, but I especially want to see Ellie's character tread into dark territory.
The Hunger Games pits kids together, fighting it out for sport. The Lord of the Flies sees school boys go from zero to sixty in terms savagery in order to identify a true alpha. The Children of the Corn movies pit demonic children against unsuspecting adults in small town America. Because kids as savages has been done, I want The Last of Us to push the bar.
I want to see the writers do with humanity what Robert Kirkman has done with The Walking Dead comics. Talk about going there. Ellie is an excellent character the writers can use to play on our vulnerabilities. Her character is capable of breaking our heart. As a young girl who can hold her own, she's quite likeable, but her growing up in this new world is tragic. There's room there to shock us. There's room there to make a sharp statement about morality. I don't want her to be a villain, but I do want her to have a defining moment, one that makes her very different from us. One that doesn’t qualify her as the last of us.
If you're as excited for The Last of Us as I am, in what ways do you want the game to deliver? Are you looking forward to exploring the open linear environment, scavenging for weapon modifications and explosives? Do you plan to go at it guns blazing, or are you the type who prefers to ninja through a level unnoticed? Or perhaps you are in it for the story, curious to see just what happens to these survivors in a world gone to hell?
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