The things I know about this game before I begin:
-It's supposed to be the best game of the PS3/XBOX360 generation, and it's PS3 exclusive, so Microsoft shot itself in the foot even before the XBONE release (yeah, yeah, that joke is about as clever as a Magicarp falling for the Old Rod, but my sense of humor is easily satisfied).
-NaughtyDog made it, and they made Uncharted, which I adore.
-There's a main character named Joel.
I was supposed to have watched a segment of an LP of it with my girlfriend on her cell phone while in bed, but I fell asleep. What she doesn't know will probably hurt me.
The positive thing here is that I somehow managed to escape knowing exactly what is supposed to make this game so fantastic, so I get to decide for myself instead of letting IGN's 10/10 tell me.
Okay, so that's a sixth thing I know about this game, but it's inconsequential, and something of a subset of point one.
Before we start, here's the reason why I'm apprehensive about this game. It's tapping into something I find sensitive.
Lately, zombies and post apocalyptic settings are romantic. Everyone wants to write about them because the world is going into catastrophic debt and unrest is brewing. Yet no one really wants to write about how civilization as we know it will actually collapse: apathy and ignorance will lead to starvation and a slow decay of tax base, leading to a pathetic revolt consisting of a handful of people strong enough to not just die in the streets.
Instead, we're hoping for some other post-apocalyptic scenario. A strong person will take over the government and turn us into more obvious slaves by giving us numbers, or bring about an operation that will take away our ability to feel anything. An outbreak of zombie-ism will occur. Chemical/nuclear warfare will kill 90% of the population and get rid of the impending food shortage. All these scenarios are romantic because 1) they're unrealistic, and 2) they make human agency seem easier, more clear cut, or do away with it entirely. Solutions are more obvious. You can survive by stealing a gun or running or letting the government handle it. In reality, we're all just going to suffer from doing absolutely nothing.
Well, with that optimistic nugget, let's see how romantic The Last of Us turns out. Does it give me the futility I crave, or is there triumph and roses galore?
I had to play this part of the game twice because it turns out my PS3 is defective and hates HDMI, so it overheats and shuts off, but Ryanne's doesn't. Again, it's one of those little things that differentiate us as gamers. Or so I tell myself when she kicks my ass.
As soon as the game opens, I'm confronted by the lifelike nature of the little girl's face. This seems to dwarf the graphical achievements of the Uncharted series, despite the fact that this game comes from the same developer. (Also, how much do I love Uncharted? Aside from Heavy Rain, which isn't actually a game in the traditional sense, it's probably the last game I played I couldn't put down or be bothered to LP.) As I already knew, this game is going to be gorgeous.
It's late. Her dad comes home, tired, after a long day. I'm guessing this guy's Joel, but I've been wrong before. He tries to swat aside his daughter's pesky attempts to be a rascally little girl, when really all she wants to do is give him his birthday present. It's a watch. We've now seen a clock overhead, been told what the date is, learned that Sarah's father's watch hasn't been working properly, and been introduced to a new watch. The game further hammers how important time and, perhaps this watch in particular, will be going forward by having the father make a small joke about the watch being stuck. Sarah does a double-take before she learns it's a farce. Joel--I'm going to call him this because I know it is, in fact, Joel--expects childishness, is given a practical gift, and ends up being the immature one. Is this a commentary on the modern family? Well, at least, that was how my family functioned. My parents still behave like teenagers.
He asks her where she got the watch, and she says she sells "hardcore drugs," which is the response a goody-two-shoes teenager would give when trying to be funny. This gives us a little more incite into this dynamic. As soon as I saw Joel enter the house, I expected her to die. Since the game has set her up as fairly mature, it makes even more sense. In many scenarios, the parent will give up his life for his child, and the child must learn how to cope without him. In this case, it seems like Sarah is pretty self-sufficient, and she's what keeps dear old dad afloat. He isn't going to take this well.
She falls asleep watching tv, and Joel takes her upstairs (awwww). In the middle of the night, she's awoken by the phone. Because I guess people still have landlines somewhere. She picks it up, and it's Uncle Tommy. He frantically demands she put her father on before the line cuts out. Sarah gets up, and I make her pick up the phone. The line is still dead. Mysterious.
She goes to look for dad. He isn't in the bathroom, or his room, but when one heads into his room, the news reporter talks about the outbreak of a disease. Sarah remarks that it isn't that far away before an explosion occurs both onscreen and outside Joel's window. Already the game is making the player realize that this problem is immediate, which is something a lot of people don't realize about the current decline.
Sarah heads downstairs. So many games open with descent. At the beginning, a game will make you walk down stairs into a dark place to let you know shit is about to get real. You're about to enter metaphorical Hell. It's kind of like how I have to go downstairs every day before I go to work.
Alternatively, she's descending from the lofty form world down to the Piraeus to impart knowledge upon the masses.
In the kitchen, Tommy has been texting Joel, and Sarah reads the messages. She still can't find dad, and apparently Tommy can't either. On the refrigerator, you can see a sticky note telling Sarah dad will be home late and to order food. Just in case you missed the stable, self-sufficient teenager with a hard working dad part.
Finally, Sarah heads across the hall and into the office. There are some people and shadows moving outside when her dad runs in with a gun, tells Sarah not to move from where she is, and refuses to elaborate. Soon, we see our first zombie. He intrudes upon the family home and is immediately shot. Sarah says "You shot him," and he grabs her and whisks her out the front door where Uncle Tommy is waiting.
Joel doesn't hesitate to kill this guy, even though he's probably a neighbor, because he's protecting his daughter. Take note.
Sarah is deposited into the backseat while Tommy drives. You can move around and look out the windows. You pass a burning building and a family with children. Tommy wants to pick them up, but Joel tells him to keep going. "They have a kid," Tommy says. "So do we." Sarah makes Joel's decisions easy. She gives him direction.
Eventually, they roll into town, but everyone has had the same idea to get the Hell out of Dodge. No kidding? Tommy tries to head down an alley, but people are running away from wherever we're headed. Yep, best idea. Go toward the danger.
Another car slams into Tommy's, and Sarah's legs are damaged, so we're now in control of Joel, who must carry her, following Tommy with the gun. Joel is still not really in a position of dominance, even with Sarah out of commission, as Tommy leads the way, and he thinks of Sarah to make his decisions. His hands are literally weighed down by her. You have to keep close behind Tommy, or you're attacked and killed by zombies, as you cannot defend yourself or Sarah. You're powerless.
Tommy ushers Joel and Sarah into a house. We have to slam the door on some zombies and run through the house--which looks more like a bar. Kind of like a nod to Uncharted, which generally begins in bars. Joel runs out, quieting Sarah when she tells him that they can't leave Tommy behind.
A zombie chases them, but it's gunned down by a man in what appears to be a swat uniform. Joel insist repeatedly that they aren't sick, but the swat guy doesn't lower his gun. Yeah, okay. Joel tries to run when he figures out that the man over swat guy's walkie talkie wants them dead, but the bullet gets Sarah in the stomach, and we're forced to watch her die as Tommy catches up, apparently unscathed. For now.
Joel wakes up grey 20 years later. His daughter has been killed by the state and not the disease, so we know that's a conflict. Something's wrong with the world, and the government makes it worse. We're somehow surprised.
That's a good stopping point for now, though I did keep playing. I'm expecting another main character to be young and female and remind Joel of his daughter. Then I'm expecting some sort of McCarthy-with-zombies scenario where Joel eventually gets the chance to die for her, and she ends up okay, the way it should have been twenty years ago.
Or she dies too. In that take, without a younger generation, we have a more futile message, but maybe I should shut up and hope a little instead of instantly craving that scenario in this game. The world isn't going to end yet, and if I'm doing nothing, I don't have a right to talk much, do I?
See you when I finish Chapter One, and we get to see how Joel uses his freedom, now that he cannot base all his decisions on his daughter's safety.