What’s in a Game?

What’s in a Game?

“The Last of Us”

Alright Alright I’ll tell you my issues with The Last of Us! But only so maybe, just maybe, it’ll stop the collective consciousness of the gaming community from continuing with this senseless fawning over it; cooing and caressing it like its the new born second coming of Christ or something (that sort of behavior should be reserved for Half-Life 3 only). I mean seriously, game of the year awards before its even out… WHAT?! Was the time machine invented over the past year and I just missed it during one of my holiday hangover naps? I’ll give Naughty Dog one thing though, they certainly know how to spread the positive marketing like a disease engineered to target and eradicate the criticism cells of game journalists the world over. Or maybe we just don’t like to face the fact that sometimes thing’s don’t quite measure up to expectations. Like that sexy waitress giving you eyes across the bar but in the dim light you don’t notice she has a beard. At least not until the next morning.

Lets get it clarified right away. THIS IS NOT A REVIEW! This is merely a dialog on certain aspects of the game and gaming in general.

So The Last of Us… Is it good? YES. Is it great? MAYBE. A tower of gaming perfection? NO. NO. NO.

The Last of Us has a beautifully constructed story, superb attention to detail, gripping action, gorgeously haunting environments, and is centered around two deeply engaging characters. I would say that the non protagonists function as little more than cardboard cutout set pieces, mechanics to drive the plot, or cannon fodder for the main characters to add to their list of murder victims, although that can be alienating to the audience, but maybe that’s fine. I mean usually a work of fiction contains more than two fully developed characters, but if its engaging, who am I to argue?

All of this taken in to consideration, The Last of Us is possibly the best movie I have seen this year… WAIT A MINUTE!!!

Oh believe me the game functions well enough. It works competently to fit shoes of an “action-adventure” – whatever the hell that means these days. It has mostly sound mechanics and GENERALLY avoids the pitfalls of “video-game logic.” But where The Last of Us falls flat is in engaging the player. “But Laz you just said The Last of Us was engaging, not but a few lines ago!” spouts a nearby peon. Italicized player means that words important guys so follow me on this one. Its not the viewer, not the reader, not the listener (haha vague Skyrim reference in there), but the player. Let that world roll around in your gourd for a minute, I’ll wait…

Players need to be engaged by a games mechanics, particularly in an action game. I understand the this game skirts the line of survival horror among other genres and maybe that’s part of the problem, The Last of Us is trying to have its cake and eat it, as it were. But if the player doesn’t want to play your game for every bit of its duration then it falls short as a GAME. And for me, that’s how it was. I was completely invested in the story, save for the post intro exposition dump, and every tense moment of action and stealth, but I didn’t feel like the game really wanted me at its party and would rather I sat outside in the bushes peering in the window while it brutally murdered all of its guests. Maybe it was the non-immersive menu system used for crafting and upgrades, maybe it was lulls in actual gaminess and player activity, or maybe it was the way that my allies could walk up and tongue a zombie’s – sorry I mean an “infected’s” – undercarriage without reprisal, but if I so much as winced incorrectly I’d be punished with a swift gnaw on the old windpipe and kicked back to the start of the encounter. “Fuck you, try again!” Maybe the NPCs and the infected have a romance I could never understand.

Laz: “Hey Naughty Dog, maybe a little more balance of risk and reward would have helped.”

Naughty Dog: “NO! SURVIVAL!”

Laz: “Well I’m just saying, if the player is feeling frustrated by parts of the game and not getting anything out of it in game, maybe that’s an issue”

Naughty Dog: “SORRY! COULDN’T HERE YOU OVER THE SOUNDS OF SURVIVAL! LIFE AND DEATH MAN! HEAVY SHIT MAN!”

Laz: “Okay, I’m just gonna go over here and play some Animal Crossing now.”

Naughty Dog then proceeds to listen to Slipknot while fashioning shivs from scrap metal and using whiskey to clean out its bullet wounds.

To paraphrase a fellow journalist. The Last of Us is the video-game equivalent of Oscar-bate. But even though Argo was a great film, you can bet that I’d rather watch the Avengers, and in bringing this little chat of ours to a close, I’m guessing you want to know if I think you should play the game. I’d say yes if only for the narrative, in order to see another example of how the medium is moving forward in this respect and to experience a compelling albeit somewhat predictable story. The character analysis in this game is fantastic.  As far as game play goes it’ll do well enough as a conduit between you and the next cut scene and you may even enjoy it. But if you’re like me – you know a glorious pinnacle of manly perfection and video-game knowledge – you might find yourself wishing you could just skip to the good bits, or see the damn film. You might also find yourself fending off hoards of ravenous women and the occasional mountain troll.

-Laz

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