I NEED TO GET THIS OFF MY CHEST.
The Last of Us to me is something extremely special. Not because it’s a game that is able to blend the lines between gameplay and story. Or has, probably, the best developed and realistic characters in any video game. I mean yeah. All those things make it a triple A game. Game of the Year possible (probably). Sure. But that is not why I am so stuck on this god damn game.
It’s the fact that Naughty Dog took a concept that has been smashed into the ground over the past decade (zombies/humanity are this generation’s monsters of society if you haven’t noticed) and made it so real and fresh and immersive. You’ve seen it all before, but why are you still nervous? Why are you still shocked when you knew something like this was going to occur? Why the hell do you need to stop and recompose yourself for what might come next despite the fact you have a very good guess?
And then there is the fact that the story Naughty Dog tells is the most simplest of stories, once again, done before. Not just once, but like, hundreds of times I’m sure. Yet again, I’ve never been so invested in these two people who’d never even laid eyes on one another before. The bond they form is predictable right from the start, yet the feelings you have are not. Until the end you have suffered with them and god damn you are still suffering because they will never stop hurting even after the screen has gone black and the credits are rolling. These two people and their relationship sits with you, even though you’ve seen dozens of odd relationships like this before. Why the fuck is this one so different? Who the hell are these people to effect you so much?
It all comes down to the narrative. It sounds so…mundane, but what I mean by this, that it’s a literary narrative, rather than a video game narrative or even a movie, tv show narrative, this story, these characters and how they progress and are presented to the player feels like something you’d experience in a novel. There is something extremely intimate and personal going on here. When I try to describe why this story is special, I can’t. I sound…I sound like an idiot repeating myself over and over. Novels work the same way. They’re a rather personal experience mainly because a lot of factors feel subjective. The way things are described, presented, sounded, felt are all based on the person interpreting them.
The Last of Us works the same way. The game is linear (but so is a novel—arguably one of the most linear mediums, lets be honest) but you have the option to explore entire rooms and buildings and streets full of details. There are notes available to pick up and collect and read. And when you find a certain detail in a room or note, your character reacts. Sometimes you’re given the option to have a conversation with another character about it. But the key is that, you don’t have to do any of this stuff. You experience the game in an entire different way than the person next to you. Not because you played a chapter (see chapters! like a book) differently, but because you didn’t find all of Ish’s notes. You didn’t give Bill Frank’s note. You ignored Ellie when she wanted to talk to you privately. These aren’t side missions either. You don’t have to fight off a pack of infected or platform or solve a dozen puzzles for any of this and there is no reward in the game for doing so. The reward is personal. Not just satisfaction of finding shit, but on an emotional level. Those notes change the way you look at the environment you’re in, the enemies you face—it changes the game for you.