After about 4 days of off-and-on playing, I've finally come to the conclusion of The Last Of Us (PS3 Exclusive by Naughty Dog). While I have already given a review of this game, I'd like to follow up with a more specific analysis of the story rather than the game as a whole. One of the reasons I love video games are because of the stories associated with them. Dumb story = dumb game (at least in my little world). So if you haven't reached the conclusion of the game, I'll warn you again to read elsewhere.
Here. Click on this link.
The Last Of Us opens on Joel and his teenage daughter, Sara. Early on, we learn a little about the two through Sara's point-of-view. She's being raised by her father, alone, but clearly she cares deeply for him in her own way. Joel loves her just the same. Brought awake early by an urgent phone call from her uncle, Sara wanders the house in search of her father, only to be attacked by a "sick" neighbor. Joel shoots the man dead, and the two escape the house with Joel's brother, Tommy. The situation only grows worse from there. While the details early on are pretty sketchy, it's evident the city is under some kind of attack. Crazies are attacking people in the street, and with the appearance of the military, it really appears that the city of Austin is quickly going to shit. After reaching the outskirts of town, Joel and Sara are stopped, not by one of the "crazies", but instead by a soldier who opens fire on them after a brutal command. Sara is shot, but the soldier is quickly subdued by Tommy. Though I've only known Sara a short time, the hurt in Joel's face and voice is palpable. When she dies, I have a clear understanding of Joel's pain.
Twenty years go by. The "crazies" in Austin were infected by a fungus similar to cordyceps which takes over the host's brain, eventually mutating them. Only a few major cities remain in the form of Quarantine Zones run by the military. No government exists, though a group calling themselves the Fireflies is fighting both for a cure and return to sanity. Joel seems colder now, a grizzled veteran of this new world. He and his partner, Tess, are smugglers, and what begins as a mission to retrieve stolen goods, ends up in as a quest to unite a 14-year-old girl, Ellie, with the Fireflies. Ellie is immune to the infection, and her survival could mean the restoration of all of humanity. Together, Joel takes Ellie across the country, fighting off hunters, cannibals, infected, and eventually, even the Fireflies.
The Human Condition
On the surface of things, the world is a simple place. You live and try to survive. You kill anyone who stands in your way. The only thing that matters is you and your group. It seems that everyone in this future-world lives by these same rules. Joel and Tess are smugglers, so when someone steals their guns and effectively inhibits their survival, the thief is killed brutally. The interesting thing about this new world is that the meaning of life no longer seems to matter all that much because the meaning is what it is...life. Despite all odds, humanity continues to crawl forward.
Death is everywhere, and life, while precious to some, is not so precious to others. Hunters kill innocents to ensure the lives of their fellows. Cannibals eat those they kill to ensure the survival of their group. And Ellie and Joel...well they kill anyone who might stand between them and their goal (I'll get to that in a minute). What's even funnier is that I haven't even mentioned the infected! The infected are EVERYWHERE, and yet, they seem like the lesser threat because they aren't exactly unpredictable. But because the infected are the cause of the mess the world is in, they seem like they might be the villain. The real villains are the remnants of humanity, who rather than working against a common enemy, fight primarily against one another. One might argue this is exactly how things operate today.
Another interesting aspect of the story involves Joel and Ellie's journey. Their goal seems simple. Joel was hired to take Ellie to the Fireflies so they could find the cure to the infection. After Tess is infected and then killed, it seems Joel is fully onboard with taking Ellie to the Fireflies. After all, it's what Tess wanted. And Ellie, well she wants everybody cured, too. She wants to know that all the death she's witnessed and caused has meant something more than just death. She needs to know that some good can come from it all. With those two thoughts in mind, it seems Joel and Ellie have a common goal.
While Ellie's goal remains unchanged throughout the story (as evidenced by her final lines), Joel's goal changes dramatically. The obvious parallel between Joel and Ellie is her similarity to Sara, but because Joel is so closed off emotionally, so focused on moving forward, we don't see Joel acknowledge it until very late in the story. Joel begins to realize that he's taking Ellie to the Fireflies because it's what Ellie wants and what Tess wanted. All the death that had been visited upon the world could finally mean something, including the death of his own daughter. But when he learns the Fireflies will kill Ellie in order to find their cure, he sacrifices the cure for Ellie.
Why? Joel never stopped moving forward. Even when he acknowledges that Ellie is so much like his lost daughter, Joel realizes that this is the world they live in now. Finding a cure, taking everyone back to the way things were, it doesn't ever justify the death. It will never undo the brutality and destruction. The best thing to do is to simply move forward. To live as well as you can. To find love and to survive. The true meaning of life perhaps.
Spoiler-Free Review of The Last Of Us (PS3)
Most of us are familiar with the zombie apocalypse genre. A virus breaks out and rapidly spreads among the human population. The infected feed on the flesh of the living and spread the virus by biting the healthy. Survivors wall themselves up in camps or the military gets involved or both. Human beings find the worst in themselves in their struggle to survive. They lie, betray, steal, and murder. The honest people either die or become murderers themselves, and humanity sinks into an abyss from which it might never escape.
And fade to black and roll credits. The End. …To Be Continued.
I’m a big fan of the newer zombie genre. Sure, the original Night of the Living Dead was a scary flick to be sure, but the zombies in 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead were much more violent and predatory. Of course, The Walking Dead comics have proven the shear numbers of infected can be daunting no matter how slow they move. But the one thing I never hear much of in any of the zombie stories, comics, or movies I’ve seen or read is the what happens in the long run. What happens five, ten, or twenty years down the road?
The Last of Us, a survival horror video game for the PS3, brings some answers to that question by taking us 20 years after the initial outbreak, providing interesting gameplay while doing so.
A Compelling Story
Right from the beginning, the story behind The Last of Us swept me up and carried me along. Like any great movie, the voice acting and visuals took no more than they needed to, letting the characters react to the events around them. Playing as Joel, the protagonist so-to-speak, I felt myself caught up in the same events, lost and disoriented at times, struggling to find weapons or an escape. I felt anxious and trapped, just as I imagine I would feel if this life were my own.
This feeling didn’t just flow from cutscene to cutscene, leaving me to figure out the story as I fought through hordes of infected or while searching the landscape. The story progresses even during the gunfights and hand-to-hand combat, giving further glimpses into each of the characters’ development. When there are no infected to battle, the characters often talk to one another, sometimes battering, sometimes consoling, sometimes teaching. The people Joel meets as he travels aren’t always friendly, but they’re still people, and I’ve learned to love them each differently as we travel together.
The “new world” is another huge part of the story. As I stated earlier, the outbreak occurred twenty years prior to the main story, so quite a lot has happened to the world. Quarantine zones run like labor camps while entire cities outside the QZ walls have become overgrown by wilderness. Smaller cities have been abandoned, overrun, or walled off completely. Because so much time has passed, a lot of work has gone into the fortified structures to keep them intact and free of infected. Speaking of which, the infected themselves are subject to the dictates of time, for the longer one is infected, the stronger and more mutated they become. I’ll just leave that right there.
There are a lot of skills to learn and know in this game. Weapons and inventory items are selected through the directional keypad and used simply enough. So far, there are a bunch of little weapons and gadgets to find, upgrade, and use. Upgrades on weapons can only be performed at workbenches and cost “parts” which can be fun to look for as you explore the landscape. Upgrades on Joel’s skills (like extending his “listening” range or health bar) can be done by finding supplements, which again, can be found through your exploratory travels. There’s no “experience points” to earn in this game, so Joel’s skills and strengths can only be increased by the things that he finds. Unfortunately, I can see how this might become a little monotonous after awhile.
The gameplay itself is fluid and reactions from enemies and nonplayable characters are immediate, adding to the realism of the game. The enemy AI is unrelenting in its efficiency. There is no room for error while trying to sneak past infected or while fighting a group of bandits. Ammo and health are limited, so one must choose wisely on their methods of attack or stealth.
Character Development = 5/5
Story Development = 5/5
Dialogue = 5/5
Game Mechanics = 4/5
Over all, The Last of Us is providing an entertaining experience. Characters are fresh and they sound natural. The story is compelling and keeps the player’s attention even between cutscenes. While the gameplay and mechanics are a little lacking in originality, the realism in the game more than makes up for it.
The Geek’s Rating = 23/25
I’ve been a gamer pretty much my entire life. I grew up on consoles like the Commodore 64, the NES, and its predecessor, the SNES. When I was in high school, I was impressed enough with the appearance of one of my favorite franchise games, Final Fantasy VII, which opened me up to the new PlayStation console. Consequently, the PlayStation has been my console of choice of the last decade, with an exception being the Nintendo GameCube and the Wii…you know…for fun.
What does it mean for me to be a gamer? I’ve never really thought about it until lately. A gamer, after all, is just a label. I’ve always been the person I am, and I love playing video games. I love the immersive worlds, the challenge of mind, hand, and eye coordination, and I like the stories in the same way people like getting sucked into good books. I suppose by some small definition of the word “gamer” that makes me one. I also have other hobbies like biking, reading, woodworking, and of course, writing. Does that make me any less of a gamer? I don’t know. But what I do know is…
I’m definitely buying a PlayStation 4.
Of course, there was never much doubt in my mind that I would eventually be buying a PS4. I’ve never really touched an Xbox, and most of the titles I’m interested in are either unavailable for Microsoft or they’re cross-platform. Of course, with the announcement of the PS4 and then the new Xbox console just last month, there was a small possibility that I would branch out. When the PS3 was first released with it’s monstrous $600 price tag, a lot of PlayStation die-hards like myself were suddenly considering siding with Microsoft instead. It seems the opposite has happened this year with the announcement of the Xbox One.
Amongst privacy concerns, used game restrictions, and “always on” technology, I have to wonder why anyone would buy an Xbox One over a PS4…period. One of the only positive reviews I’ve read for the Xbox One was from GIZMODO (http://gizmodo.com/why-im-getting-the-xbox-one-not-the-ps4-ugh-512840127) who really only wanted it as a TV/movie catalogue/streaming device. They literally wanted “One” box to control everything entertainment in their home.
One of the freakiest features of the new Xbox console is the “always on” Kinect. For those of you who don’t know, the Kinect is a camera that you can use to interact with your Xbox. But with the Xbox One, the Kinect is super-freaky-smart. It has a 1080p wide-angle camera with an infrared sensor so it can see in the dark and a microphone that always remains on in order to pick up voice commands even when the Xbox One is in sleep mode. From a purely technological standpoint, this is pretty cool, however amidst talk of government surveillance through major companies like Microsoft, I worry how such a powerful tool could be implemented.
Outside of the voice and motion controls managing the entertainment coursing through your living room, the PS4 offers everything I need. I can play both new and used games independent of an internet connection. I can still watch Netflix and BluRay movies. I have access to tons of cool new games that can also be found on the Xbox One, and other games that are exclusive to the PS4. Perhaps the only real downside on the PS4 is the announcement that online gaming will require a PlayStation Plus membership (rather than remaining free). To be honest though, I’ve been looking for a reason to join PlayStation Plus, and online gaming is just the thing to do it. As soon as I sign up, I’ll have access to an online backup of my game saves, an online library of free games, and discounts on new releases.
So bring it out already, Sony. You’ve made me a lifelong customer with the service you’ve shown and your ability to listen well to your customers. I’m ready to buy.
Since childhood, I’ve always loved making things. Legos, robots made from cardboard, forts, and SimCity were all great fun. Building and making things is one of my favorite hobbies (this is probably why I love to write). When I moved out of my parents house, I had to leave all my tools behind because apartment living doesn’t exactly provide shop space. Over the years, I’ve rebuilt my tool collection, and after starting my job at Windsor Plywood, my fascination with woodworking definitely took off.
Over the last seven years, I’ve taken on several major projects, and I’ve learned important lessons from all of them:
The Coffee Table
When I first decided to get back into woodworking, my approach was (and to some extent still is) amateur. I set out to build my girlfriend a coffee table, however, I had no idea how to build one. I got ideas from a woodworking magazine on how to make legs and then attach them to the top, but the top was the most daunting part. I had no experience using a biscuit joiner, nor the tools required to stand the top once I was done, and plywood was absolutely out of the question.
Then I had an epiphany. Prefinished maple flooring. The finish was extremely durable, and all I had to do was nail the board to a substrate and finish the edge. I thought it would be soooo easy. The legs and skirt came together nicely. I cleaned up some hemlock scrap to make the legs, and I used the table saw to rip a nice 45º edge on two sides.
But then came the top. I chose ¾” MDF as my substrate (my first mistake). While solid and flat, the MDF weighs a ton. It takes two people to move that coffee table to this day. Once I’d nailed the flooring into place and then trimmed up my top, I had to figure out how to finish the edges. In my mind, I had two options: I could use real maple 1x3 and trim the edges using a miter joint, or I could use real wood veneer.
I succumbed to my second mistake and chose to use veneer. Miters scared the hell out of me, and veneer seemed much less intimidating. Beside, the veneer might give a nice “slab” appearance to the top. So I slapped some contact cement on the front edge of my top and to perfectly cut piece of veneer, making sure to let it dry before putting the pieces together.
I had no idea what was about to happen.
If you’ve never used contact cement before, you should know something. Contact cement is exactly what it sounds like. Cement…on contact. In retrospect, my veneer should’ve been larger enough to trim on all four sides rather than perfectly cut to fit because as soon as the veneer sagged down and touched the edge of my top, it bonded instantly. Horrified because I knew I’d screwed up, I made my third rookie mistake of trying to pull it off so I could reposition it. The veneer tore (as did my shirt when I tore it from my body in a heated rage and vowed revenge against the woodworking gods).
Of course, I quickly realized the mistake I’d made. I ran the top through the table saw to clean off the edge and went to work with the solid lumber that I should’ve used in the first place. Lesson learned. I chickened out on the miters though and chose to butt the ends of the boards together. Seven years later and two thousand mile moves have proven the coffee table to be sturdy, and the top itself has held up nicely against discoloration, scratches, and stains of any kind.
But man, that thing is heavy!
Pics are below, taken very recently (like tonight). You'll have to excuse the mess...the table is currently being store because we don't have room for it.
Video Games, Comics, Movies, and Books. I'll talk about it all, and I'll tell you why it's so awesome!