It’s probably not a good sign when you’re nervous about the game before the controls are even given over to you from the opening cut scene. Or maybe I should correct that – it’s probably a very good sign for a zombie fan when you’re nervous about the game before you assume control.
Why am I so nervous? Well, I’m not exactly a big fan of zombie stuff outside of Bricks of the Dead, to be perfectly honest. The closest to zombie gaming for me was the final quarter of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune when the ominous background threat got foregrounded in a hurry. Repeatedly. Luckily, there’s lots of ammo kicking around in the old Nazi U-Boat base in that game, and the rest of the game – and the Uncharted series – continued to offer strong character-based fun with some surprising levels of violence on top of some thrilling level designs. If you’ve played the last of that trilogy, Drake’s Deception, I hope you played through to the pirates-on-an-ocean-liner level – the decay and threat of ordinary opulence there made for the best part of the game. I wanted to play an entire game set in the midst of such chaos.
Naughty Dog, the studio responsible for the Uncharted series, either has done a great job of pre-anticipating my hopes or of seeding future tastes into my gamer psyche, as their latest, The Last of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic United States twenty years after a sort of zombie infestation. (They did a lousy job of anticipating and respecting my nerves, though. Seriously, I never played Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Plants Vs. Zombies, FarmVille – not one of the usual games that scream out “survival horror” or “existential horror” to me.)
And yeah, I knew the score coming into the game. I read a lot of media. If you’re looking for complete reviews of the game, there are professionals out there who’ve had press copies and have already turned in their reports. I’ve read a few, too, as two of my favorite sites had highly favorable, even laudatory, reviews earlier this week. (The Gameological Society had http://gameological.com/2013/06/review-the-last-of-us/ and Grantland offered http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9366466/tom-bissell-naughty-dog-latest-game-last-us, if you’re looking for something more direct than what I can offer.)
Me, I can’t push through the game that fast – I work, I have toddlers, and I have a LEGO® addiction. I don’t have the time. I do have lots of entry points to the game, though, and the opening scene is grabber enough to get the ball rolling.
(Before touching on that: I will be avoiding spoilers as much as possible for the game review process until I’m done. I’d imagine that most here will be either waiting for the game to drop in price or for the PS3 to drop in price in the fall before they get ahold of the game. But accidents happen; I pre-apologise.)
In this day and age, it’s awfully tricky to buy a game without knowing something about it. There’s no way that you’d be buying this game without knowing the core concept unless you picked the game at random without even looking at the back of the case. (Even the cover art is gritty enough to suggest something post-apocalyptic.)
But the game doesn’t open in the future; it opens in the present… with the opening of a present. The double-whammy of the main character’s birthday and the gift from his daughter, all on the cusp of Father’s Day in the real world… is likely a happy coincidence. Having the release date on the birth date of my brother, two cousins, and my best friend, is a preposterous coincidence – but it sure dialed in attention to a heightened degree.
I’m glad that the game catches the gamer’s attention, though – the art design for the game is excellent and deserving of praise. (The Grantland reviewer gets into this extensively.) The details and textures of the suburban house in the opening are stunning, and the character design is exceptionally good – much, much better than what Drake was given in Uncharted. The voices are good, the lights are good, even the baying of the dog is good.
Until the dog stops barking. And that’s a minute after your character wakes to a cryptic phone call, a television news report which is ended by an explosion all the way downtown which you can see through your suburban window, and a newspaper with headlines about outbreaks and terror.
I won’t say too much more about the opening right now, since even it has moments powerful enough that I don’t want to spoil. One note that nears spoiler country, though: the main character is given a pretty compelling reason to mistrust and fear the authorities in the opening sequence. A lot of basic exposition is covered quickly and well here: baffling malady begetting zombies, capable self-employed loner character, rebelliousness with justification, underground group defying the suppressive government (which we learn about from the credit sequence), and evocative soundscapes (soundtrack music and special effects – this’ll be a later review topic, too).
I’m sure that Dave has covered all of the tropes I’ll be encountering here before, but the moments felt legitimately novel and compelling to me. I probably know more background about the game and its inspiration than the characters did in that scene – knowing that you’ll be playing things twenty years later will do that for you, as does reading about fungal spores that take over ants being the inspiration for the zombie effect in this game. Even knowing all that, even remembering reading lots of TV Tropes pages, even being that guy who usually expects most things can and will become Chekhov’s Gun – it’s still something when a game can pack punch enough to scare you and pull you in further.
Oh – and even knowing that ammunition will be scarce in this game. I’m going to wish that I could find some of Drake’s caches of ammunition before too long, I just know it. Bricks will only go so far. Hell, even the ammo for Chekhov’s decorative weapon would be a plus.
God does this look incredible. Might be a Christmas request from Mrs. of the Dead.
I’ve got this game and played well over 5 hours of it. The storyline is gripping, intense, takes you to places you might know, love, and maybe live in. It takes from you right off the bat and it also gives something in return. It makes you want to hug your loved ones and maybe cry in the first five minutes of the game. In reality, I have no words for this one. I’ll go on and say, maybe even better than TWD Game.
As a person who has been watching this on Youtube? This game.. THIS GAME.. Is pretty much the best movie I’ve ever watched.
As a reader of TV Tropes myself, that line about Chekhov’s decorative weapon made me laugh. As far as the game goes, it looks absolutely amazing. I’ll need to look into some more.