Support Us!
Powered by
Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!



Monday, June 8, 2020

‘The Last of Us’: The Zombie Drama That Became a Decade-Defining Landmark for Video Games

The 2010s is a decade that can be defined as the New Zombie Boom. Not the first, but certainly among the most notable. The 2010s saw zombies invade a plethora of hit movies, books, special recreational events, and of course video games. The Walking Dead (the comic and TV series), the plethora of movie spins on zombie material such as Warm Bodies, World War Z, One Cut of the Dead, and Train to Busan among them, and in games like Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption, and Dying Light just to name a few.

Zombies have allowed creators to spice things up in otherwise done to death storytelling, and add in layers of social commentary. George A. Romero was a master of this with his early zombie films like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, but modern creators like Edgar Wright, Jim Jarmusch, and Yeon Sang-ho have integrated their personalities into the zombie subgenre to craft zombie stories wholly unique to them.

But when it comes to video games, zombies haven’t had the same level of treatment that shows and movies have shown. Not to say that there’s a lack of zombies in games because if anything, it’s almost to the point of oversaturation. Even the most low budget mobile game has a chance of including a little game involving you either barreling your way through a pack of the hungry undead or running away from them. 

In many ways, zombies in video games are presented as a little too simplistic to their filmed counterparts. In games, when you see them, you shoot, stab, or retreat until you find something better to use. The Call of Duty games, Dead Island and Dead Rising present the use of zombies as something to help ease the tension by giving the player something fun to play around with. 

That may seem like the point of video games in general, but as time has gone on, the storytelling aspect of video games has undergone a near-fundamental change. Stories in games are further removing the stigma of being “video game stories”, i.e. a story too trashy and niche for movies and TV, and this shift has resulted in games of all genres, zombies included, to experience a similar change in their narratives. 

This change has been in motion for many years now, with games like the Bioshock trilogy and David Cage’s Indigo Prophecy being but few of the games attempting to stand out as unique stories told through the lens of video games to varying degrees of success and failure. As it stands, it’s only a matter of time before the zombie genre becomes affected by this change.

Enter The Last of Us.

In 2013, Neil Druckmann and the people at Naughty Dog went and released an intriguing zombie game about a man named Joel escorting a teenage girl named Ellie across the United States in an effort to find a cure for the disease that has rapidly destroyed the country. The disease has turned many of the living into raging shells of their former selves as they have effectively succumbed to the disease, the same disease that Ellie appears to be immune from on account of a bite on her arm that didn’t become infected.

That’s essentially the catalyst for The Last of Us to get going on its main story, which has you control Joel as he battles through both zombies and hostile humans to keep Ellie safe. She, in turn, provides him with a helping hand as they encounter dangers along the way to potentially saving humanity from extinction. That’s survival horror at its most pure. The driving force of the game is making sure to stay alive despite the enormous odds against you and the characters presented.

But chances are, you probably already know this. Practically anyone who has played, seen a playthrough of, or even just read up on nuggets of info on the game already knows what The Last of Us is about. In 2013, the video game discourse was focused primarily on Naughty Dog’s zombie horror drama, with even the likes of Bioshock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V paling in comparison to the heated discussion around The Last of Us.

With its countless Game of the Year awards, the discourse inevitably shifted to whether the game was truly that good or simply overrated by stuffy critics. How could a zombie game receive labels such as “one of the greats” and “one of the most important games ever made?” On the surface, it looks like a regular zombie survival game, having you barreling through hordes of enemies just like every other zombie game. Right?

Yes and no.

Much like The Walking Dead, The Last of Us places its priorities on the characters of the apocalypse, letting the players attach themselves to Joel and Ellie and whoever they came across over the course of the game. Some of the best zombie media out there prefer to employ similar tactics, with even the OG Night of the Living Dead shifting its focus to the characters amidst the zombie violence rather than solely the violence.

But in a game like The Last of Us, there comes the opportunity to provide a genuine zombie experience intermingling with the strong central characters in a manner that not even The Walking Dead was able to manage. Instead of simply watching characters scavenge for food or wondering why characters didn’t take the shotgun instead of the pistol, you live out those moments, essentially controlling the experience for yourself, which means when something inevitably goes wrong, it’s on YOU to solve the issue.

When playing through the 40th wave on a Call of Duty: Zombies map, the experience doesn’t feel the same as when you have to fight through a yard of zombies in The Last of Us with little to no ammo left. In the former, there’s the knowledge that you will be okay with the various weapons laid out for you across the map, providing an arcade experience that takes away the emotion of whatever story is happening onscreen and placing it on you to fill in the gaps.

The Last of Us incorporates a strategy that feels similar to the developers letting the players fill in the gaps, but the tension is heightened by the lack of resources laid out for you compared to COD. Not only are you left a severe disadvantage against the zombies of the world, but the realization that this could be bad news for Joel and Ellie, the central pair of the entire game, feels a little extra infuriating when a simple mistake forces you to watch a cutscene of either of them getting dogpiled by the zombie horde or enemy humans.

The storytelling in The Last of Us takes responsibility for that, sprinkling in quiet character moments during one of the many instances where Joel is just walking around with Ellie, whose back-and-forth dynamic is instrumental in developing the characters and expanding the dire world that the two are forced to live in. Bioshock Infinite gave us something similar with the dynamic between Booker and Elizabeth, but that game’s insane story and plasmid-focused gameplay strayed far from the somewhat small-scale and intimate nature of The Last of Us.

When critics and players rave about the game being one of the best of all time, it comes with the context of The Last of Us mixing story and gameplay so fluidly that it brought an experience not often found in the world of video games. Even some of the most popular story-driven games of the past 20 years like Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, and Mass Effect still presented themselves as products made specifically in the realm of pure video games.

What I mean is that these games, while groundbreaking in their own ways, still felt like the types of stories you can only experience in the world of video games. Sure, watching a Western can offer a substitute for Red Dead, but Rockstar’s strengths in open-world exploration help the games feel more like video game-exclusive experiences. There’s still an emphasis on the game feeling like a game.

The Last of Us blurs these lines with fun game mechanics mixing with a strong and emotional story in an attempt to distance itself from the feeling of being too “gamey” for casual players and observers. The mechanics are simple, but vital to the universe, relying on scavenging and crafting a limited amount of resources to use, putting the players in the heads of Joel and Ellie, who are the perpetual underdogs in almost every moment of the game.

This mixture of gameplay and storytelling creates a world where the game you’re playing doesn’t necessarily feel like a game anymore and I don’t mean that in a David Cage-kind of way. Naughty Dog still presents a world that people can have fun exploring in a sense, but exploration is limited, bringing everyone closer to the characters since we are essentially stuck with them through their highs and lows. There are hardly moments of reprieve that other games would’ve gladly handed out to us after a hard mission. Here, the entire game is the mission.

Mixing the story and gameplay as such can have its risks. The game could feel like too much of a “walking simulator”, essentially shoving a movie in a game where you have little to no control over what progresses in the story. But The Last of Us walks that tightrope with gory grace, placing an equal emphasis on story progression and player freedom to explore each section of the game.

Naughty Dog is no strangers to this, with the Uncharted series also cleverly mixing story progression and fun gameplay, but it arguably feels the most refined in The Last of Us and as such, the gaming world took notice and naturally reacted with a mixture of annoyance and appreciation for the manner in which the acclaimed zombie drama helped break new ground with its form of interactive storytelling. Never intrusive, but still personal.

The success of The Last of Us wasn’t just a fluke either, as game developers took notice of the fact that this form of storytelling could be both profitable and useful for telling creative tales in their own games. When God of War for the PS4 came out, the callbacks to Druckmann’s survival horror drama came to fruition, with director Cory Barlog stating that he felt very inspired by what Druckmann and Naughty Dog did with their game to completely revamp the tone of the previously arcade-y God of War games.

But it doesn’t stop there. The likes of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Red Dead Redemption 2, Death Stranding, Soma, and even more recently with A Plague Tale: Innocence have taken great strides in implementing The Last of Us’ blend of storytelling and gameplay into their own narratives, opening the doors for video games to stand out for their stories. The Last of Us is not the first game to do this, but to normalize it the way it did all the way back in 2013 and have the domino effect still ongoing in 2020 is something truly astonishing. 

The Last of Us: Part II is mere weeks away from releasing after years of anticipation and games of a similar feel are on their way too, from Cyberpunk 2077 and the sequel to Hellblade, to fellow PlayStation exclusive Ghosts of Tsushima. Whatever the case may be, expect the games (and more in the future) to try and replicate elements of what The Last of Us did to further the development of video games as an art form. Not to say games aren’t already, but why stop here?

Legendary film critic, Roger Ebert, famously said that he doesn’t believe that video games can be high art and this inspired a wave of gamers attempting to prove him wrong. It seems he held strong to his word until the day he died, but the evolution of the video game as an art form is something that begs to be noticed by even the most skeptical living critic of gaming art. Video games, like movies and paintings, adapt and evolve over time and The Last of Us is arguably the most crucial part of the evolution in the 2010s.

Whether or not Part II simply continues where it originally started or takes the art form to another level remains to be seen, but it does nothing to diminish the impact that The Last of Us had in the gaming community the past decade. How video games as an art form evolve over time is unpredictable, but The Last of Us’ gaming footprint is almost guaranteed to be felt by the gaming world long after the PS3 and PS4 transform into relics of a different time.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Support Us!
Powered by
Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

The Top 10 Streaming Scary Movies of Today (According to Netflix)

Given that Netflix really is the master of their own data, how many times a viewer streams The Ridiculous 6, or what films don't get watched all the way straight through, or how many times someone watches an episode of Bill Nye Saves the World, it was easy for them to come up with the list based on just one percentage: 70 percent.

Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

Top 5 Original Horror Movies of 2020 (Even During a Pandemic)

3 Frightening Clowns Not from the Underworld or Magical Hell

3 Viral Videos Proving Spiders Are Still Scary as Hell

Stephen King Adores These 22 Horror Films

3 Super Stories on 'Halloween' and Horror That'll Make You Want to Wear the Mask