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The Last of Us Spoiler Space

the last of us shot 3

If you listened to Episode 180 of Jumping the Shark, or if you have finished The Last of Us, you know that it’s close to impossible to discuss the game fully without giving away a significant amount of the game’s story. With that, and the desire of some community members to keep the discussion going in mind, consider this a full-on, spoiler filled discussion of The Last of Us. If you read this post, things will get spoiled. If you read the comments, things will get spoiled. You have been warned.

It took a couple of days for me to be able to stop thinking about The Last of Us. Some time around the side trip with Tommy the game changed for me. The combat got, I don’t know, better. Maybe I just had more resources or maybe I finally got a grip on it, but it felt like I could approach every encounter like a puzzle and figure out the best combination of tactics. That probably has as much to do with me realizing that it didn’t have to be just sneaking or just killing as it did the encounters themselves, but something changed.

That trip with Tommy also marked a change for me in that it showed me that the game wasn’t going to rely on the “typical” story beats. I’ll admit that the beginning couple of hours were incredibly predictable. Ellie is the key to the cure, Tess gets bit and dies, none of this was particularly new or surprising. Before setting out with Tommy, Tommy’s wife gives Joel the “don’t make me a widow” speech and I thought , “Oh here we go.” Of course, Tommy was going to die. Of course Joel would tell Ellie that he will bring her to the Fireflies because Tommy’s death has to MEAN SOMETHING.

Then, the game pulled a fast one on me. Ellie realized what Joel was doing and she split. Tommy and Joel went after her and not only did Tommy not die, but Joel quietly and without a big speech about responsibility and family and whatnot asked Ellie to get up on his horse and they left. That’s it. Nothing trite or cliche, just a character who, up until this point had been very selfish, doing a selfless thing.

The best part of that exchange isn’t that it didn’t fall into cliche, it was that it didn’t mark a Turning Point for Joel. Most games these days seem to think that bad people can continue to be bad as long as they’re on the receiving end of your bullets, but bad people that you play have to end up getting redeemed. I know I’m not Joel. I don’t need Joel to end up as a saint because of some inability to relate to people who aren’t perfect. Hell, I’m not perfect. I like my characters with a little dirt on them.

And make no mistake, there is no redemption for Joel in this game, which is in part why the ending stuck with me. Joel’s “selfless” act in the end was completely selfish. He went from being a guy who selfishly pushed away a scared child just so that he wouldn’t have to deal with the 20 year old death of his daughter to a man who selfishly rescued that same child from death simply because he didn’t want to lose that same daughter again. Now, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same thing, but the thing about the ending that twists that knife is how he handles it after the fact.

Ellie was pretty clear with Joel that they had to get to the Fireflies because after the events with David, she had to know that the journey wasn’t for nothing. Ellie was in no position to tell Joel what she would have wanted as she was unconscious and being prepped for surgery but after the fact, Joel owed it to her to tell her the truth. Maybe she would have agreed with him, maybe she would have hated him, but whatever the case, after everything they had been through together, Joel should have treated her like an adult and told her what he had done but he didn’t. In the end, the selfish Joel who never wanted to shepherd this kid across the country lied to her, not because he wanted to protect her, but because he didn’t want to lose her. You could make the case that Joel was just protecting her, but Ellie had earned the right to decide for herself how she felt about the whole thing.

If I had to describe this game, I’d say that it’s better than the sum of its parts. The zombies were inconsequential, the AI was frequently dodgy the combat and stealth encounters early in the game made for some encounters as rote as the early story beats but by the end, I wanted to do nothing but play this game because I wanted to see what happened to these people. I wanted to see where this journey led Joel and Ellie and where it led me was disappointment, not in the game, but in the main character, a disappointment that hit hard and stung deep.

The Last of Us may not be the best game I’ve played this year or the best game on the PS3, that would be Fire Emblem: Awakening and Uncharted 2 respectively, but it’s a game that stuck with me a long time after the disc stopped spinning.

E3 and the Longest Game

ps4 announcement

Sony has now shown its hand for the PlayStation 4 at E3, and it looks to be aiming squarely at the hardcore gaming market. In what is certainly not a co-incidence their latest press release was at pains to point out that the PS4 will be doing exactly the opposite of all the things that have so annoyed hobby gamers about the Xbox One so far. It won’t need to connect to the internet once per day. It will run used games. It might not be backwards compatible but you will be able to play PS3 titles streamed online through Gaikai. It’ll be cheaper, and have a bigger library of indie games. The message from Sony couldn’t be clearer: we’re the hardware for serious gamers, and we’re listening to what you want.

Personally I’m pretty much sold. I buy a lot of used games and the fact that one console will allow me to continue doing that and the other won’t is a deal breaker. The chance to play some great PS3 titles that I missed in this generation, like Journey, The Last of Us and Demon’s Souls is a huge attraction, as is the price. Being fairly tech savvy I can surely use my PC to mimic a lot of the added functionality of the Xbone anyway. Upgrading is a long way away for me: my 360 pile of shame is easily big enough to last me into the first year of the next generation. But unless things change drastically over the coming 24 months (and they might yet), it looks like I’m a Sony man.

But that doesn’t mean I think Microsoft have screwed up. As has been repeated tirelessly over the last few weeks, Microsoft wasn’t aiming to launch its new console at us. It’s an attempt to reach out squarely to the casual market, the two or three games a year market, the market that have been relentlessly gobbled up by smartphone gaming over the last few years. Whatever we might think of it, it’s a bold move and puts clear water between Microsoft and its competitors in the console environment.

It seems to me that in going after the hardcore crowd, Sony have chosen to play it safe. It’s a smaller market, but a solid one which will guarantee them sales. They’re effectively admitting that the days of the console as a unified gaming platform are over, and are seeking to corner the people who are sure to continue to support it.

Microsoft on the other hand are taking a massive gamble. The audience they’re going after might not want to come back to console gaming from their mobile devices. They might not want to drop hundreds of dollars on a gaming system that offers some fairly minimal usability advantages for regular media consumption over the disparate use of PVRs, PCs and tablets that we see at the moment.

This doesn’t surprise me. Microsoft have basically done exactly the same thing with Windows 8: abandoned their core market in favour of trying to recapture a segment of the mobile market. It’s clear that the bosses at Microsoft have decided that beyond the obvious conclusion of mobile being a big part of the future, mobile is almost the entirety of the future. And if there’s a company that can not only afford to gamble, but probably needs to gamble on the way the future is going to map out, it’s Microsoft.

The future remains, of course, utterly inscrutable on the matter. It could be that Kinect 2 turns out to be the transformative technology that Kinect 1 promised to be but clearly wasn’t. That would be a game changer. But I’m willing to bet that the next generation belongs to Sony. However, I’m also willing to bet that the next generation will be the last that sticks to the traditional models of production and consumption. And after the world has moved on, it’s possible that Sony will find it has cornered a market that no longer exists, and its Microsoft who’ll reap the rewards for playing the long game.