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the last of us

[ Game Theory ] The Last of Us: Ellie and the Infected Revisited

Last summer I posted this article talking about this game called The Last of Us for the PlayStation 3 and one of its greater mysteries: the infection and why Ellie was immune. In order to understand what was going on I looked at the inspiration for the infection, ophiocordyceps unilateralis, more commonly referenced in the game as cordyceps, hoping to grasp how it worked and why it did what it did. I understood the concept but that was based on a misunderstanding of what a fungus really was and how it worked in the context of the game. This misunderstanding was cleared up thanks to a correction I’d gotten from a reader on my previous post, something I should have known if I’d done my research just a little more thoroughly: that fungi are no longer classified as plants and haven’t been for many decades, based on the fact that they have no chlorophyll; in addition, due to that, they cannot perform photosynthesis.

I'm about to bust some serious science chops, here, folks, so hold on tight.
I’m actually surprised that good ol’ Nye here didn’t personally slap me for that one.

It was rather shameful because I based all of this on old knowledge and I really shouldn’t have assumed. I know better, now, though, and decided to revisit the topics; this time, though, with a renewed focus on what the infection in the game really is and why Ellie is immune. I think that the two go hand in hand – while the question of “Why is Ellie immune?” is more intriguing to me, you can’t understand one without understanding the other.


What is The Infection?

According to the game, the infection, which receives no formal name, originated in South American crops. It’s strongly implied that this fungus was a mutation of the fungal infection we currently know as ophiocordyceps unilateralis. While the reasoning for this mutation is not quite clarified, I believe the mutation was evolutionary; the ants that the infection formerly spread through adapted and found a way to create immunity to the infection, giving the fungus an ultimatum: evolve or die. This infection made the easiest and simplest choice: spread through the most dominant species in the planet that shares the most common characteristics with other species. I also don’t believe that the infection, as the population knows it, didn’t originate in South America but rather the first instance of human infection was noted there.

Protecting yourself from infection through the game is primarily done through two methods: covering one’s face with a gas mask to protect one from exposure to spores and keeping yourself from being bitten by one of the infected. Given the infected, driven only by instinct, attack by brutalizing and/or biting the victims; this makes one wonder if skin contact with the spores are exactly how the infection is spread. Given that the infection needs to take root in the brain in order to perform any kind of manipulation, this makes one wonder where it starts and how it gets there: my theory is that the infection is primarily transmitted through the blood. If one were to leave their face uncovered that exposes two methods of infection via spores: through the eyes, nostrils and mouth; the latter two through ingestion and absorption into the blood via the small intestine or through the eyes, giving the spores direct access to the brain almost immediately. If one were bitten then the spores given off by an infected would have instant access into the bloodstream. From the blood they would take root in the spinal fluid and then, from there, into the brain stem and take root into the brain from there. Most of the time spent from bite to infection is spent by the body metabolizing the infection and moving it from the location of the exposure to the brain – once it takes root in the brain the changes in character and function take place almost immediately, turning the person into a vehicle for infection.

This is similar to the Rage virus from the film 28 Days Later, a point I made in the last article regarding this topic, in that the infected turn into vectors for the infection whose sole purpose is infection through the bloodstream; I might say, though, in that movie, the results are a little more dramatic as the infected could throw up blood creating the possibility of infection through mere contact with the infected’s blood. Another similarity is how the Rage virus also bolsters the infected; in the context of The Last of Usthis way the infected are able to continue on actively spreading the infection without fear of damage or destruction. With regards to The Last of Us’ infected, this happens in many different ways: the first and perhaps most noticeable are the growths that can be seen on the body as the infection spreads through it, creating a kind of armoring against physical damage, happening first around the head and facial areas where the infection is more severe and focused, at first, and then affecting the body as time goes on; the more immediate way is biologically, how it bolsters the senses, causing blindness almost immediately and probably affecting the nerves to eliminate pain sensations, bolstering and chemically affecting muscle tissue for optimal strength, agility, and tenacity, and generally alters the host to make it the most powerful, deadly, and invincible it can possibly be; and then the least noticeable, in how it handles itself when the infection is sensing weakness or oncoming death in the host by moving itself to an area, if possible, that’s extremely humid and dark, allowing for the death of the host, sprouting stems, and spreading spores even after complete cell death of the host.

What type of infected you see tells you how long the host has been infected for: much like a tree’s rings, the sizes of the growths, the strength and types of its abilities, and its overall strength and appearance can tell you a great deal. Many don’t reach its final stage – Joel calls them “bloaters” – for a variety of reasons but the fact remains that if the infected is allowed to live for a certain period of time, they reach this stage with almost certainty. This final stage is able to actually launch projectiles containing spores at their victims, also able to take extreme amounts of damage due to the growths all over their bodies.

Now that we understand what the infection actually does, why it does it and how it does it, we’re left with one very important question that was asked by Sam when discussing things with Ellie: in the primary stages of infection, is there any humanity left in the infected?

Good question. There’s no explanation that I can give as there’s no straightforward evidence that could explain this: the people in The Last of Us justify their actions against the infected like many would in their situation; because they cannot understand the infected and they cannot cure the infected – by means that anyone’s aware of at the start of the main story, anyway – they defend themselves using any methods possible, usually using lethal means to ensure their safety. However, when observing infected hosts known as “Runners” and “Stalkers,” they exhibit qualities that do not directly affect their ability to spread their spores: they are often seen moaning, acting erratically, screeching, and sometimes appearing aloof in their motions. This has always led me to assume that the infected, up until a certain point – this point being when they become what’s known as “Clickers” – the host is actively fighting the infection, suffering through the process and trying to remove it from the body the best way it knows how. I believe that while the infection starts affecting thought processes and motor skills almost immediately after taking root in the brain the brain still initially retains some of its more functions that aren’t necessary to the spore’s spread and therefore is in constant combat that it’s bound to lose because the infection, by that point, controls most important functions of the brain, leaving the rest to follow until the infection needs to do away with those functions to increase efficiency. Is there a person still left in there? I believe so but they are forever and irreversibly changed. Once infected, they are best to be put out of their misery.


 Why is Ellie Immune?

That leaves us with the grand-daddy of all the questions in the game and the question that the game’s storyline pretty much hinges on: why on Earth is Ellie immune to the infection? In order to explore this I would have to warn that there are some pretty heavy and juicy spoilers so, please, if you haven’t played the game yet, don’t go any further; better yet, if you haven’t played the game, why are you even reading this article?

Moving along, we know two things from the game that vaguely hint at the reasoning that Ellie may be immune: when Joel and Ellie reach the laboratory where the Fireflies are able to find a cure through Ellie, they have to perform surgery on her brain; secondly, everyone on the planet has been, at least, exposed to a minor amount of spores as spores are airborne and will travel some ways before dying off. It would be hard to believe that the human population hasn’t mildly been exposed, at some point, to the spores. The solution, after doing my research and writing this article, would lie in her blood and her brain: my theory suggested, at first, that the ants the cordyceps initially infected evolved to adapt to the infection, rendering the infection useless against those ants and leaving the infection to also adapt to their situation. I would think that it’s safe to assume that due to humanity’s obviously more complex biology in comparison to ants and to the mild exposure to the spores over the years have caused an immunity to be built over time in Ellie. If this is true, one can only assume that others have built up an immunity as well, especially in children born after the pandemic took place.

This leaves some hope for the world of The Last of Us after its rather sad ending; witnessing Joel’s collapse into an emotional meltdown left a lot of us thinking that Joel could be responsible for the eventual death of humanity as a whole… but, hopefully, this theory holds up in the context of the game… leaving hope for humanity, after all.

If the theory doesn’t hold up, the only other suggestion could be that some kind of neural or brain condition created an anomaly in the human brain that caused the spores to be introduced into a host but cause the infection to pass up the host; this still allows for the possibility for others who are immune but when Joel broke down, he may have ended up killing the only ones who were able to isolate and promote a cure, effectively dooming everyone still. Here’s to hoping that there’s still hope to be held out for the world of The Last of Us and judging from talks about making a sequel and a movie based on the world of the game, I’m going to hold out for hope. How about you?

[ Review ] The Last of Us

This one doesn’t need much introduction; unless you’ve been hiding underneath a large rock in the gaming world for the last year, you’ve heard of this one. In case you haven’t heard, it’s also doing really well among critics and fans. If this, still, isn’t enough to convince you, many are already making game of the year predictions – myself included – and the ending is disturbing a lot of people’s shit and causing a general ruckus. That’s usually how you can tell a seriously high-quality game apart from the rest, these days – see how much dramatics it’s causing and you can almost gauge how good it is by how many people are fighting over it. Seemed to work for Mass Effect 3.

I shouldn’t have to say this but this review won’t be spoiler-free. You have officially been warned and normally I try to be as neutral as possible when talking about a game that not everyone was able to get their hands on for a while, I feel I’ve waited long enough to write this review that everyone that intends to buy this game has already played at least a little of it, so here goes, my review for The Last of Us:


The Game

Once you first boot up the game, you’re not initially treated to anything incredibly unique: The Last of Us is a cover-based, third-person shooter with a strong emphasis on scavenging and melee combat. As you progress, though, things begin to change – you find that there’s many ways to progress through the game and how prepared you are for every combat situation can drastically change how – or even if – you progress further.

The best way to explain how combat goes down in The Last of Us is to demonstrate it: you’re in what used to be an office cubicle farm, stationed in a building that’s almost toppled over, leaning on another skyscraper. Lights are down and the area is positively filled with these things called clickers – if you haven’t read my article about the infected in this game you definitely should now – and you’re already faced with a few options: there’s about ten clickers in the office, meaning that if you make any amount of loud noise, you’re going to be swarmed and, unless you have a good plan, you won’t be able to get the clickers off of you. Your one-hit melee weapons and your shivs are the only things capable of taking out the clickers at close range once they’re closing in on you and once they grab you, the only thing that can save you are shivs. Even then, the shivs only get them off of you and you need to spend points towards the ability to do just that. I try to keep my shivs and modified melee weapons aside for emergencies. If you used a long-range weapon, in this situation, you will immediately alert them all to your presence, demanding that have at least two shots per clicker for even your high-powered weapons, if they’re not upgraded. You could sneak by them, find alternate routes, but even that is absolutely fraught with danger – one slip-up and you’re gutted. This is where the survival and scavenger instincts come into play and turn this usual cover-based game into something special: when you start, if you take one path, you find a lead pipe lying there at your feet, which is the best melee weapon you can pick up from the ground. You can also find ammunition lying around on the person of many infected. Factor in that you can makeshift a kind of proximity bomb and Molotov cocktails – which send shrapnel firing off in many directions once triggered and sets an area of the ground on fire on impact, respectively – and you have a great deal of options. What I did, personally, in that particular situation was this: I threw a Molotov cocktail at a couple of the clickers that were close enough together where I could hit them both and after the fire died down and enough of them came around to investigate the noise and burning, I threw a proximity bomb and the shrapnel took out the stragglers. This strategy, though, wasn’t perfect and I still had to defend myself against a couple others that were walking around elsewhere.

This is a great example of the beauty of why combat works in this game and doesn’t feel stapled on. It compliments the setting of the game and the story that goes along with it all. You’re not some high-powered mercenary fighting off gun-toting thugs on a aircraft carrier, you’re a goods smuggler fighting off what appear to be plant zombie things in the shattered and broken remains of what’s left of the planet – which, I might add, seems like there’s not much of it left to speak for. Of course, things change when you introduce the human element and, yes, you will be fighting various human varieties of enemies, too. How you have to approach each combat situation is changed centrally around how much attention you’ve been paying to the world around you and how many resources you’ve gathered in the meantime. 

Everything else is just your basic exploration-type gameplay between combat segments, really: something already familiar to Naughty Dog veterans like myself but a fresh change of pace in how it’s handled. There’s a lot of extrapolation through dialogue between characters and you get a real feeling for how much of an impact that exploration is actually making for your party. It’s another thing that feels more organic, even if it’s less integral than the combat and story segments. Everything feels incredibly organic and it flows very nicely with everything else in the game.

With that in mind, though, the game is not without basic flaws: you have path-finding problems with the non-player characters, periodically, and sometimes the environments don’t respond the way they should. These are all things that can be fixed with time with patches but they shouldn’t really have left the factory with some of the periodical glitchiness that does come up. While this could be excused by trying to stay in context of the game’s story and environment, I was really unimpressed with the unstable difficulty level. It could be completely tense for a time, keeping you on the edge of your seat, and then for no reason at all, the area becomes a complete death zone. I’m not going to spoil it for you but there’s a spot where you’re just exploring a building, trying to get through, which is tense enough because things are too quiet, but you drop through the floor into a literal hotplate for the infected, complete with runners, stalkers, clickers, and a couple bloaters. Did I mention that the only way to proceed further out of that section is to start a gas generator, guaranteeing you alert each and every one of them? It’s that kind of difficulty spike that’s really unnecessary, to me, but it can be explained away in the context of the setting and plot and that’s the only reason I’m not cursing it.


The Story

This is the big one, folks: the one game of the year that will blow your socks off. While Bioshock Infinite gave you Shyamalan-style twists that were fantastic and otherworldly, The Last of Us presents us with a very realistic, scary, and terrible circumstance: a pandemic washes over humanity that expands so quickly that humanity has no time to react in kind. This pandemic comes in the form of a fungal plague that actually exists in reality but only for a select type of ants; this fungal plague mutates so that it is able to perform its functions on humanity, effectively turning those infected into shambling shells of their former selves, resembling zombies. We gain control of our main character, Joel, who lost his daughter as a direct result of the panic caused by this pandemic, and has not been able to cope with his loss since. Fast-forward twenty years and you start to see Mother Nature taking her planet back and the infected are sporadic all throughout the world, or so it seems. All have their stake in the shaken world around them but there are two main factions known to Joel and the citizens left in the world – the governments, as broken as they are, and the Fireflies, who are basically rebels against the government faction: the government is trying to get everything in order and reestablish the control they once had while the Fireflies appear more concerned with humanity and its recovery from this pandemic and also its freedom from governmental control.

Joel makes a living – or what resembles a living in this climate – being a goods smuggler, a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, taking from government supplies that are stocked but not given to those in need, and distributing it among those in his community. Joel also takes contracts, it would seem, so he seems to be a jack of all trades. After settling up a feud with a personal enemy of his, him and a personal friend – there seems to be a romantic tension there that’s never really addressed – receive a contract to smuggle a young girl out of government control and to a hand-off point where a Firefly agent would receive her and transport her further. The contract starts out as one in trade for guns and ammunition but, as the escort goes on, things complicate further.

There’s a lot that happens after but there’s a lot of heart-wrenching and mind-blowing that goes on here that any post-apocalyptic tale-done-right will wave around – society has crumbled, people are showing their true colors, there’s no room for tact or professionalism, and some have turned into psychotic bandits. You’re faced with humankind at its worst and you’re merely just trying to find your way through without losing Ellie, Joel’s escort.

Ah, Ellie: the raison d’etre, as it were: I’m going to get a little spoiler-heavy, here, because the relationship between Joel and Ellie is a big part of this game and a lot of the plot is involved in Ellie, so… just skip it if you don’t want to be spoiled, I guess. Ellie is Joel’s contract from the head of the Fireflies and you learn early on that Ellie appears to be immune to the infect as she’s harboring a bite and she hasn’t turned over. After the transport to the Fireflies goes awry a couple of times and Joel losing his partner-in-crime, Tess, Joel takes it upon himself to transport her to the Fireflies, much to his dismay. What you see is a serious internal confrontation going on – Joel lost his daughter and seriously blames himself for not being able to protect her. He’s had this boiling in the back of his mind for twenty years and he’s not exactly apt to let that bitterness go anytime soon. Ellie, not knowing this, tries to get him to open up but she’s got some personal wounds of her own to deal with, not to mention the weight of the fact that she may be humanity’s only hope in overcoming the pandemic. As you’d guess, they don’t always meet eye-to-eye but then something happens: they realize that they’re perfect for one another – Joel is looking for someone to protect in his daughter’s stead, where he could actually help and feel like he actually has value; Ellie, on the other hand, is tired of being such a big deal and just wants to give in to the feeling of becoming a daddy’s girl. They start licking each other’s wounds and, after some time, come to rely strongly on one another.

That brings us to the controversial ending which, even though this is spoiler-rich, I’m not going to give away. Let’s just say that things happen as you should have expected and yet not, at the same time, leaving a lot of possibility open for DLC and any kinds of sequels, though talks of either have been limited. Naughty Dog has been adamant in saying that Joel and Ellie’s story has ended but I feel that they are kind of being dodgy about this; that they are choosing their words carefully so that way they can take certain paths and not run into the hellfire Bioware had to face a year and change ago. The way I see it, there will be some side-stories told in the form of DLC soon – could be a story of how Joel and Tess got together and their story explaining all the romantic tension, a story of the Fireflies and the government, a story of what happened shortly after the pandemic started, away from Joel, maybe telling it from the perspective of a drafted soldier. However, there does leave room for a sequel – what happens to just Ellie? The fact that Joel survived for as long as he did after being wounded bad and then not having proper antibiotic treatment is a miracle but he won’t be around forever: Ellie will have to launch out on her own and I think that will offer a different story altogether. Yes, Joel and Ellie’s story may be done – the one they had together – but Ellie’s story, alone, is not.


The Final Verdict

This is a game you cannot miss, this year. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t at least try it – you can download a demo from the PlayStation Network and the demo also comes packed in a very decent game, God of War: Acension – so if you haven’t at least tried it, at this point, you’re avoiding it, and you’re missing out on one hell of an experience.

I’ll basically repeat to you something I said to a coworker of mine who was deciding on whether or not to purchase the game because he “had heard things from both sides, saying that it was equally bad and good” and wanted to, at least, check it out because he enjoyed the Uncharted games: I would pay three times the money I initially paid to buy this game. I almost feel like buying ten copies to support this kind of approach to game-making. I want more games like this: not games that take place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-not-zombie wasteland – no, that can get overdone really quickly. I want games that have this kind of in-depth storytelling, that have this much attention to detail, that have this kind of graphical prowess that accepts the weaknesses of the system but also plays to its strengths, that plays to what’s necessary to the narrative and not, particularly, everything the market demands – yes, it is a cover-based combat game but it doesn’t pander to all the standards demanded – a game that just makes all the extra efforts in all the right ways. Mass Effect 3 went from credible artistic integrity to trying to hard to keep everyone happy over time and, while that did work, for the most part, I did lose a little respect for Bioware, going forward from that, even if going with EA would have been a dual-edged blade to begin with. The Last of Us is a game that brings out the best in gaming while telling a story that stays true to its context. It’s a brilliant melding of mediums and I don’t think I’ve seen a game that has brought these together so well since Metal Gear Solid 4.

Buy it. Enjoy it. Complete it. Discuss it. That’s what I think.

[ Game Theory ] Dissecting The Last of Us’ Infected

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. Before I played The Last of Us, I’d only heard of this in passing; it’s a fungus that seems to spread among ants through spores in the air. The spores, once taken in by a host ant, slowly start growing inside the ant until its baser functions are overridden, presumably to benefit the fungus somehow, until the host gives up, the fungus takes over, and takes the host to a very specific spot where it is left to die, sprout several stalks which then release spores from which other ants would be infected. The process is still mostly a mystery to us and it’s been known to take out whole colonies of ants and acts in a very specific manner. What we do know is that it infects the ant, takes over basic motor function, only to drag it to a very specific area so that way it can spread its spores. All the details inbetween are difficult for us to understand  at this point and, frankly, it’s kind of scary that such a thing exists.

In The Last of Us, this fungus exists and has mutated in such a way that it takes over humans to the same purpose. While it seems obvious what the end result is, physically, there’s a lot of questions raised in-game about what the infection really is and what happens to humans when they become infected. I’ve brushed off an article type that I rarely get into, game analysis and theory, to break this one apart and see if I can answer these questions. To understand the infection, you have to start from what is plainly obvious – the progress and stages of the infection, of which there are five known types:

all runners, aside from the clicker bringing up the rear.
all runners, aside from the clicker bringing up the rear.

The Runners

Perhaps the most recognizable form of the infected, the runners have retained most of their humanity. They still have most of their motor function and the fungus has only started destroying their psyche: when the spores are inhaled, they dissolve and start spreading throughout the body, releasing into the blood and taking root in the brain. Cordyceps has only one purpose: to spread and thrive and that is the first instinct implanted into the brain as it starts breaking down the personality of the infected. Runners will thrash about, not totally understanding the commands being sent by the fungus, running at the nearest target, torn between the commands being grafted on and the need to be released from the infection. This tear in their minds, as it’s slowly being overwritten, causes a great amount of torment in the infected and it’s clear – even in the picture above – that the runners are tormented.

They seem a lot like the “zombies” from 28 Days Later, also affected by a pandemic and not reanimated from the dead. While the two are driven by two different instinctual needs, two things need to be noted: there is still very much a human being beneath the infection at this point and the basic need to spread the infection is prevalent. This stage takes place within the first two days of infection, spreading quickly and taking root in the psychosis almost immediately, depending on the nature of infection; it seems to spread quicker from a bite than from breathing in spores, as a bite eliminated the need to dissolve and, as such, can take a direct route to the important parts of the body needed to take root.

As I’ve implied, I think it’s this stage that’s caused people to associate the pandemic with zombies: the infection spreads best through bites and the infected lose most of their motor skills and personality.

a stalker that has almost become a clicker.
a stalker that has almost become a clicker.

The Stalkers

This one’s kind of hard to differentiate between the others as it’s a kind of middle-point between the clickers and the runners. There’s no set time between when an infected becomes a stalker – it would appear that the willpower, strength of body and mind, and health seems to affect the time lapse of infection. Stalkers are especially deadly because they start developing traits and abilities of clickers without the total loss of motor function and perception, making a sort of hybrid.

What’s most important to note, here, is the growth that starts forming on their head. The actual purpose of this growth isn’t actually stated in the game or any in-game literature but there’s a few things I’ve considered: first and foremost, photosynthesis, the conversion of light into energy for a plant, meaning a plant would expose itself in a way so that it can convert light into energy; the Wikipedia article for this brand of cordyceps state that it fortifies the structure of ants in some way while taking root, meaning that this could serve as some kind of cushioning or armoring for the body; it is commonly believed in some circles that human senses only cloud the human mind to what’s really important, meaning that this growth would actually take away senses that the fungus actually knows will only get in the way. Whatever its purpose, be it a mixture of those three things or none of them at all, is never fully explained.

the last stage for many infected; the clicker.
the last stage for many infected; the clicker.

The Clickers

Characterized by the clicking noise they make in order to exhibit echolocation – making use of the few senses they have left to locate their pray and attack. The brain has degenerated to a point where it’s almost entirely consumed and overwritten by the fungus – this means that sensations of pain are gone, emotions are lacking, and the only portion of humanity left is a portion driven completely insane: somewhere between where a stalker becomes a clicker, the infected retains a sense of survival and soon the fungus and infected become codependent on one another. At this point I still believe that there is still a sense of humanity in the infected, at this point, though it’s in shambles – it has been driven mad by the fact that in order to continue living it has to be the fungi’s willing puppet. So much so that when it finds a living being nearby it goes into a rage without consideration of the life it’s about to take.

Some have stated that the attacks – bite-driven, most times – are driven simply to spread the infection; though, to me, there seems to be a bit of hostility there: if you’ve ever died at the hands of a clicker, you’ll see that they simply don’t bite to spread the infection but rather they take a chunk right out of the victim’s neck. They are biting to kill. That makes me believe there is a sense of humanity still left, still hanging on, but barely there and, by this point, symbiotic with the fungus.

a bloater: the true monstrosity.
a bloater: the true monstrosity.

The Bloaters

In very few of the infected does the fungus – or injury – not kill them. In these, the fungus continues to grow to the point where they are more plant than man, becoming something Joel and a friend called “bloaters”. These infected have grown to the point where their entire body is covered in fungal growth, serving as a kind of protection but also gives it strength via photosynthesis. The bloaters seem to rely on a kind of spore bomb that is produced from these growths, which the bloater launches at its target – which seems to harm and not infect. This is interesting because the goal of this version of the infected, yet again, has changed its instinctual priority. Before, driving the infected mad was key to spreading the infection – through its flailing attack, an infected was able to spread the infection by opening a wound on a victim and coming into contact with spores, presumably from the attacker. Clickers, though, seemed to change its priority to growth maturity and self-defense. Bloaters, however, seem to take this priority to becoming entirely offensive and spreading a type of spore that does not infect the victim but harms them in some way. This could have been an oversight by the writers but somehow I doubt it.

I would assume that the symbiotic relationship between the fungus and the infected has grown to the point where its rage is pointed in a different direction: the human and fungus need each other, now, and the fungus has created such growth that it doesn’t have to worry about very much physical harm anymore. What’s left of the humanity in the infected is nearly gone, at this point, possibly driven to such a point in their insanity that they want to kill all they see that isn’t them. This role has made them extremely dangerous.

what's left.
what’s left.

The Dead

When the infected has succumbed to injury or has grown too weak as a result of the infection, they move to a very specific area to, basically, shed their human form in order to grow spouts which burst at its full growth, releasing spores into the air. Large groups of the infected dead can cause problems for those passing through as they usually choose dark, humid, and closed-in areas to discard themselves in. These areas actually attract some of the nearby infected, as it tells them this is an ideal place to discard of their humanly form.

It would seem that, injury not included, the willpower and strength of heart can keep an infected alive as it matters not to the fungus whether the human can be used as a host – it takes root in the most ideal spot and spreads its spores to find a stronger host. What question this begs is this: is the fungus really just trying to reproduce or is there some kind of larger scheme at play, using humans as drones? It’s hard to say.

this is the kicker:
this is the kicker:

Great Big Spoiler Alert

The evidence behind most of my thoughts in this is in that Ellie carries the infection and yet does not succumb to the infection. How this is done is not really explained but the plain fact is that her body has rejected the spores. Humanity was quick to evolve past this naturally occurring pandemic and I believe it has something to do with the metabolism, somehow: causing the spores to die before they get a chance to get through the nervous system and into the brain. I’m no chemist but it’s either that or something in her blood – a kind of natural defense against the spores.

In conclusion, I seriously believe that the infection does not take over the human body completely but rather creates a kind of symbiotic relationship with the host, a codependency, making the human host, eventually, rely on the fungus to carry on its common goal. It’s really interesting to think about this and incredibly scary but there it is… my thoughts.

[ Blog ] Playing The Last of Us, Pt. 1

I hate snipers. I can only think of two scenarios in which I love snipers and both of them involve me being the sniper: either we’re both snipers and it’s one-on-one – which I almost always win – or I’m the only sniper and I’m picking people off. When I’m outnumbered by grunts on foot, the playing field is wide open, and there is a single sniper with a wide open view of almost the entire area… well, I just think that’s unfair. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m stuck in a kind of open neighborhood, strewn with abandoned cars and appliances, with a sniper a few clicks away from me and many grunts along the way. This means having to avoid the grunts if possible, find alternate routes through the houses, and get at the sniper. I’m used to being able to pick off the sniper somehow but that proved fruitless. Even though I found the guy and took him out, being on the other end wasn’t that simple. Grunts came pouring out of the woodwork and then I was swarmed with infected.

I think there’s something that I touched on in my First Impressions review that I need to reiterate: how successful I’ve been feels like it directly correlates to how resourceful I am. Whether it’s scouring the area for resources, checking for workbenches, even retrieving arrows after they were shot to kill enemies, it would seem that the more I did this, the more prepared I was for what was to come. When you’re faced with a building filled to the brim with infected and you’ve got squat for resources, your entire game plan has to change. I’ve found myself unable to find a play style to carry through the game thus far. I’ve had to adjust my game plan for every combat scenario and, while I think that kind of sucks because I’m methodical when it comes to stuff like that, I’m growing used to it and learning to appreciate it. I find myself often going “alright, there’s about five clickers and a bloater here… time to set a blade bomb, throw a brick, keep a Molotov out just in case, and watch the magic happen” when things are okay but things can turn panicky in a quick second once things don’t go as planned or you find out you planned wrong. Don’t try applying situations that worked to other situations, either; you’ll find yourself in a problem before you know it. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error, early on, that’s for sure.

in other words, you're going to see a lot of this.
in other words, you’re going to see a lot of this.

In my earlier article about this game, too, you’ll see that I drew connections between this game, the movie I Am Legend and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. There’s a good reason for that – in all of these, there’s nothing really new here: all three present to you stuff you should have known and probably expected but the storytelling and presentation are so good that you’re surprised and shocked by it anyway. This is probably the best kind of experience – it’s one thing to be shocked when something happens that you didn’t expect, it’s another to be shocked by something that you expected but didn’t anticipate anyway… but in the case of The Last of Us, you’re shocked because you may have expected but it all happens so suddenly that you have no time to properly process what’s going on. That’s great writing, right there. It takes situations that aren’t all that likely but are realistic enough to be presented in a kind of “what-if” manner that really makes something like this hit a little closer to home than some fantastical tale of spaceships and overpowered heroes.

I’m about ten or eleven hours into the game, now and I think it’s time I give it a rest. I’ve had my triumphs, my shocks, my stresses, and I’ve come to yet another grinding halt that tells me nothing more than I should give it a break and attempt again when I’ve got a clear mind. I almost wanted to keep going to stay with the immersion – Joel and Ellie aren’t often getting breaks so why should I? Then I fast forward through a few more attempts and I realize I’m just playing a video game and put it down. Good gods. I’m beginning to wonder when I can see the home stretch without realizing things aren’t quite what they seem when I get there.

[ First Impressions ] The Last of Us

I’m going to warn you now: this is not a spoiler-free review. I’m not going to ruin the game for you but I’m not tip-toeing around. That’s all you’re getting.

Have you ever watched I Am Legend? You know, that movie with Will Smith about the end of the world at the hands of some kind of manufactured disease that turns humans into some kind of monstrosities similar to vampires or zombies? In case you haven’t, Will Smith’s character parades around a metropolitan city, living day to day, trying to reach out to what remains of humanity while coming up with a cure, as he’s a military scientist, in spite of the fact that the city is overrun with these monsters during the nighttime. He tries to eke out some semblance of a normal life with his dog and his… imaginary friends. Later on in the movie, it’s implied that there are quarantine zones where the military is holed up, securing survivors. Over the course of the movie, too, you see how Will Smith was forced to respond as this disease is released on humanity and causing immediate and desperate evacuations.

I Am Legend – Alternatively: “Will Smith as Will Smith in Will Smith”

There’s a lot of parallels in I Am Legend and The Last of Us. Not just in its story but in its presentation. It moves quickly to establish a very serious tone and gets only more serious and dire from that moment. The Last of Us opens with a segment showing the main character, Joel, with his daughter at the onset of the pandemic – some kind of parasitic plague that acts like cordyceps unilateralisa naturally occurring organism that is capable of altering the form and function of ants – that mounts against humanity so sharply and quickly that humanity has almost no time whatsoever to respond. A lot of people die and things just get worse from there – this pandemic has turned infected humans into a shambling semblance of their former selves. The infected either continue to change and grow or they start breaking down and become more plant than human.

Fast forward twenty years and you have an embittered Joel trying to get through life the best way he knows how: as a goods smuggler. He and his partner, Tess, are confronted with an extremely awkward contract from a rebel cause called the Fireflies: smuggle a child out of the military blockade and into a Firefly compound. Joel is given no real information other than the girl is extremely important and that the contract comes from the leader of the Fireflies, making this even more important.

"I'm sorry, you want to smuggle what in where?"
“I’m sorry, you want to smuggle what in where?”

You don’t really need to know more than that to know that your journey will take you across the wasteland and things go from bad to worse to even worse at almost regular intervals. This game makes absolutely no mistakes about the tone and tries to be as realistic as it can be about the circumstances presented. These creatures that you’re faced against have one purpose and one purpose only: to spread the infection.

That brings me to the gameplay: this game seems to borrow elements from many triple-A titles but keeps all the gameplay elements in context with the story. Like Tomb Raider and Fallout 3 before it, the name of the game is that of resourcefulness: you have to conserve every bullet, you have to make every item, you have to find every resource you can and you can only upgrade your weapons at workbenches. If you’re not resourceful, you will not succeed. You sometimes have to pick your battles based on how your inventory counts out. Combat is a very important part of the game and it actually plays very differently depending on what you’re fighting – the infected come in different varieties and sometimes you’re fighting fellow survivors.  For example, there are two main grunt types: runners and clickers. The clickers’ heads have been deformed to the point where they have absolutely no vision so, like bats, they make this sound in order to find their way around using echolocation. They are easy to navigate around if you’re careful and strategic but one slip-up could mean disaster, killing either you or your inventory. Runners, on the other hand, haven’t been infected as long as clickers so they still have their sight and enter into rage as soon as another uninfected human is seen. They often move in larger numbers and can overwhelm you easily if you’re not careful but they are easier to fend off via melee combat. Humans operate in much the same way they do, realistically, like in other stealth combat games before it, nothing really new, there.

Everything feels very organic and flows very well together – there’s a lot of times where I caught myself thinking I was in an exploration section just to be jumped from behind by a runner and find out that the area is crawling with infected. Combat scenarios and story exposition doesn’t feel disconnected, either, which is great. It drives home the sense that no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, you should never assume you’re safe – and if you’re safe and calm, there’s a good chance you got lucky, in the context of the story.

Oh, yeah. They got off really lucky.
Oh, yeah. You got off real lucky.

They took everything they did right about every game they made before and propped them into this game. They have learned from other developers, for sure, as well. I see flavors of many games and experiences past. I was still shocked by some of the story’s twists that I’ve discovered so far – which doesn’t happen very often – but those twists are definitely not new for the whole “zombie, not zombie” style of story: this is something that I’d like to point out. This game is nothing new. This game doesn’t do anything that games past haven’t done. Why this game is a shining example of how games should be made is not in the new ground it paves or risks it takes but rather in the attention to detail, the writing, and refinement this game shows. There is definitely a sense of what people really want from a game in this and there is an extreme sense of care and detail that went into this. I am reminded of how Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty felt when I first played it: I went in with great expectations and anticipation going into the game and I was taken for a ride – not a path I haven’t been down before but rather given a ride that made the journey from point A to point B extremely worth it.

Given, there’s a lot of the game left open to me so it’s possible that my opinions will change but as it stands, right now, I am so impressed that I’ll be hard-pressed to find a better title this year for the PlayStation 3. I think it’s sold out around the world for a reason – hype alone can’t always do that.

No, we don't need you this time.
No, we don’t need you this time.

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