In 1982, PBS aired a documentary about Imagic, one of the earliest independent publishers in the then-fledgling videogame industry. One scene shows its team of designers sitting at a picnic table discussing ideas for new games.
“Not another space shooter,” says one.
“Ryan,” another replies, with no way of knowing that this brief interaction is about to summarize the next 25 years of the industry they are pioneering, “they sell.
”The Last of Us, a PlayStation 3 game to be released by Sony on June 14, is for better or worse the culmination of the last seven years of game development for the high-definition consoles. The graphics are unbelievably gorgeous and the action is smooth and ultra-polished, but the game design is safe and risk-free, emphasizing ultra-violent shooting sequences over any other type of gameplay that could have been used to tell its story. It’s an example of how we, to an increasing degree, Can’t Have Nice Things with big-budget, triple-A multi-million-dollar videogames anymore, not unless we want one very narrow, specific flavor of Nice Thing.
In the world of The Last of Us, society has collapsed, and most humans are dead thanks to a fungal infection a whole lot worse than your garden variety athlete’s foot. Eking out an existence in the remnants of what used to be America are grizzled old smuggler Joel and foul-mouthed 14-year old Ellie. The two soon find themselves unwillingly embarking upon a journey together. If you read this and immediately think that what will happen next is that Joel will initially not want some damn kid hanging around and getting in his way, and that Ellie will attempt to prove that she is a valuable partner, and that they’ll have a falling out, and that Joel will eventually realize that he has come to feel like something of a dad to Ellie, and that Ellie will eventually be put in a situation where she saves Joel, then you are a cynical jaded bastard and, also, completely right.
Created by one of Sony’s star teams, the Uncharted developers at Naughty Dog, The Last of Us‘ visuals are enough to make one wonder who needs a PlayStation 4, anyway. The level of detail in the environments is astonishing, whether you’re looking at a panoramic vista of an overgrown crumbling city or peering with your flashlight into a corner of a room in a dilapidated office building. It’s a slavish recreation of real life, and I wouldn’t call that visually interesting from an architectural or design standpoint. But it’s the pinnacle of technological detail (
and as the game’s credits suggest, required dozens and dozens of artists at multiple visual studios to achieve).
The Last of Us is pitched as a stealth/action hybrid, and it is at its strongest when stealth is in play. In some combat situations, you never need to engage the enemy. You can crouch low behind the ubiquitous conveniently-placed waist-high pieces of set dressing, then sneak quietly behind the guards. If you need to eliminate a few to clear a path, you can creep up behind them and choke them out silently.