The Last of Us is a truly memorable experience. Home to some of the greatest writing, storytelling and performances to ever grace a videogame, Naughty Dog’s latest is nothing if not cinematically outstanding…..it is however, something of a ho-hum videogame. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but honestly, take away the gorgeous graphics, outstanding animations and carefully crafted story, and you’re left with what amounts to a relatively average videogame.
Yes, that is a lot to take away, but historically, the most important aspect of any videogame was invariably its gameplay. Is that still true? Well, based on the review scores for, The Last of Us, The Walking Dead and, to a lesser extent, BioShock Infinite, the answer would have to be no.
The Walking Dead is the most extreme example, what with the gameplay being little more than a superficial addition to the overall experience, but that game at least had no qualms about making the gameplay a footnote to the more cinematic nature of the storytelling. The Last of Us however, despite delivering a true master class in interactive storytelling, does make its rather run-of-the-mill stealth gameplay a huge part of the complete package.
As great as the cut-scenes are, as fantastic as those tiny, incremental details that help to bring both the characters and the world to life might be, you still have to make your way past hundreds of enemies using the core stealth gameplay that the world is built around. For every 10 minutes of great storytelling, there is at least an hour of stealth inspired gameplay. Have critics been too forgiving? Is BioShock Infinite equally guilty?
Well, that’s obviously open to debate, but I can honestly say, from a gameplay perspective, BioShock Infinite is unquestionably the better game. It might not be as ground-breaking or revelatory as it’s equally fantastic storytelling, but (especially in comparison to the first BioShock of this generation), is a tight, technically competent and surprisingly robust FPS, one that delivers more options than your average shooter whilst still doing the basics right. Yes, the story and characterisation unsurprisingly surpass the gameplay mechanics, but not nearly as much as some would have you believe and certainly not as much as in the case of The Last of Us.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Naughty Dog have slipped a solid if unspectacular game past us in the garbs of a triple-A experience. Despite sharing The Last of Us’ gift for cinematic storytelling and outrageously high production values, the Uncharted series also suffered from surprisingly average gameplay mechanics. Again, nothing was bad, but be it the simplified platforming or the very average cover based shooting, the fact of the matter is, Uncharted (1, 2 or 3), like, The Last of US, is only half a great game.
Again, before I get murdered on the street, both the Uncharted series and The Last of US are fantastic experiences, I’m simply struggling with the balance between storytelling and core gameplay mechanics. The question I keep asking myself is – would I like The Last of Us any less if the gameplay was removed completely? Heck, would I enjoy it even more? To be honest, I’m not sure, but the fact that I am even asking that question suggests that, while still being a top-notch entertainment experience, as a videogame, the Last of Us might not be the classic that many are claiming it to be.
Of course, whether you consider it a classic or not will depend largely upon what you deem the most important aspect of a videogame experience. While changing trends and ever more cinematic delivery suggests that gameplay can take a back seat to storytelling, when it plays as large a role as it does in, The Last of Us, I still find it impossible to overlook such relatively uninspiring mechanics.