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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Last of Us (PSX)


Time is a precious commodity, and we rarely have enough of it. We’ve been able to wade in the initial excellence of Naughty Dog’s latest adventure, but also come back again and again to further ponder its qualities, poke at its multiplayer, and finally appraise the complete package. The Last of Us hosts a lengthy story glued together by its grounded scenarios, subtle, interfused game systems, and a dazzling world turned real through its inhabitants and the changing seasons.

The Last of Us is a demanding, immediate experience, focusing on the sliver of humanity exposed when people are up against the darkness inherent within. This is a zombie tale which strips away the mystery of infection leaving a smoldering aftermath, with your sense of hope quashed by the severity of survival.

As Joel, a 20 year veteran of the end of the world, you’ll to trek through miles of treacherous terrain from Boston to the beyond with the young Ellie in tow, your story mixed up with a rotating cast of friends, freaks and castaways. The characters, whether they’re with you or against you, are rounded with well-defined. Ellie and Joel’s relationship fits the curve of the familial. The young hothead walking the treacherous line between smart-ass and precocious without falling into the snare of snark, while Joel never sinks completely into bottomless gruffness.

The easy and enjoyable Spielberg-esque style of dialog previously employed by Naughty Dog has turned grittier, but it’s not without the occasional light touch. The balance between tension and blessed reprieve delicately sways until an affecting plot sucker-punch sets off a convincing, slow burning Armageddon. Even rutting through detritus and reflecting on the remnants of the past will color the story, and the world, with the scattered collectibles giving substance to an overall cohesiveness. Locations serve as more than scenery and places to take cover, with a surprising amount of variation and consideration through the not-so-abandoned buildings you’ll tiptoe through.
Enduring the journey takes nerves and a steady approach. Resources are few, though you’ll find fortune is on your side in the most dangerous situations. A gunshot can end a confrontation, but is just as likely to alert others to your presence. Your sense of sound can help set up an ambush, but stealth can fail in even during the most meticulously planned strike from the shadows. Readymade weapons, like bottles and brick, are quickly drafted to your cause. A quick distraction or a brutal smash shows the elegant versatility of this hinged system, hovering between acting sly and acting out.

The infected overwhelm you, maybe even killing you in a single lunge. Still-human dirtbags are just as malevolent, firing bullets from behind cover or swinging baseball bats from the periphery. No matter the situation you’re in, the sense of danger never eases up. There’s a constant tug of war between vigilance and recklessness, with no single strategy offering true salvation as both your options and opponents evolve. Joel’s ability to hunker down and listen for his assailants, or perhaps victims, gives the player an edge, tracing outlines of attackers through the walls, putting an emphasis on approaching situations with a deft hand, and lining the upcoming action with a tactical impulse.

Stalking through the hollow shell of burnt-out civilization necessitates exploration and tactical choices. There are no time outs, forcing you to craft items or heal yourself in the thick of battle, leaving you vulnerable while adding to the immediacy and conjunction of setting and systems. Overpowering your aggressors with Molotov’s, nail bombs, and shivs driven into jugulars reveal Joel’s inner-Batman. Going all out could leave your inventory depleted for the next encounter. The game’s ecosystem is a constant, narrow vibrato between empowerment and disadvantage -- as familiar dangers are woven into new arrangements, your choices in improving your equipment and skill let Joel maintain a slight but ever-increasing edge. Joel’s uncertain, queasy aim will steady, but only after a deep-rooted appreciation over making each bullet count.

Multiplayer has you picking a side as you play out a metagame over 12 simulated weeks. Your main goal is to gather resources to build and maintain your population of survivors, with sub-objectives that can raise or decimate your population. The 4-on-4 bouts give your team either a pool of shared lives or allow every team member one life per round, and foster an emphasis on teamwork within the familiar framework of standard deathmatch. Aesthetic and gameplay unlocks allow for customization and some sense of personal progress, but you’ll always need to proceed with caution.



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