Developer Naughty Dog's latest outing, The Last of Us, is one of this year's most anticipated gaming titles. After playing it for 5 minutes, I can tell you that it combines elements of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Children of Men, 28 Days Later, Hillcoat's The Road, Spielberg's War of the Worlds, The Walking Dead, and the recent I Am Legend, all while engaging you emotionally more than any of those pieces could and, dare I say, improving upon them. It's crazy, but it's true. Here's how, and here's why.
Occasionally, the interplay of cinema and video games becomes so great we just can't keep our mouths shut about it. We've previously noted Naughty Dog (the developer of my childhood-beloved Crash Bandicoot games) and its appropriation of the cinematic in its Uncharted series of games. But this is interactive action -- and more importantly, drama, on a whole other level. In case you missed it, here's the game's story trailer:
Playing the first 5 minutes, I was in awe: not because I was marveling over the technical magic which created the living, breathing, feeling characters before my eyes, but because of how gripped I was by them. You sort of realize how much you take for granted in the expressiveness of actual flesh-and-blood actors -- the weight of woes which a simple darting of the eyes and a slow sinking of the brow can illustrate. The Last of Us captures that, devastatingly -- and I fell into no uncanny valley.
It isn't the first game to capitalize on performance/motion capture, of course, but not many games possess the brutality of realism and the prowess of dramatic, character-driven storytelling that Naughty Dog has instilled here. The combination really sets the experience apart from anything I've ever encountered. (If you think I'm exaggerating, play the game and feel free to crush my dreams in the comments.) And darkly, dream-crushingly disillusioning the game is. That's not to mention that it's also one hell of an adrenaline rush -- one that's enveloping, exciting, terrifying, and even heart-breaking.
Here's some material on the all-important (and ultimately, hopefully invisible) technological side of the The Last of Us. Note, if you're unconvinced of the -- convincingness of the animation, I say again -- play the game with a good HDTV set up, and I doubt you'll be disappointed.
The official PlayStation YouTube channel has also included this interview with some of the game's lead creatives:
It's worth noting that Joel is played by Troy Baker, whose credits also include BioShock: Infinite's lead character Booker DeWitt, solidifying a connection to the other greatest games of all time. Next up, here's an exploration of the environment of The Last of Us, beautifully rendered by both talented conceptual artists as well as the PS3's ~7 CPUs.
Finally, we'll take a look at the other-other half of what delivers Last's artful payload, its music and sound -- the former composed by the wonderfully talented Gustavo Santaolalla in his first video game outing, followed by another great micro-doc from the SoundWorks Collection (note, the pieces share some overlap). It sure doesn't hurt to have a composer who won the Academy Award for Best Original Score two years in a row (Brokeback Mountain, Babel) on your team.
The beginning of the latter brings up another good point, which is The Last of Us's novel new concept for what constitutes 'the infected' -- a fictionalized strain of a real-life fungus that, as it turns out, can mind-control ants (in real life). This of course lends a little bit more plausibility to the creation of the infected, which are traditionally left to various vague 'zombifications.' At every level of its creation, it seems Naughty Dog truly pulled out all the stops for this project. And, if you ask me, it shows.
Who out there has played The Last of Us, and what do you think of the game? Does it mark yet another notch on the 'cinematization' of interactive media? What can filmmakers learn from the creators of this experience?