Barren wastelands. Decrepit and abandoned towns. Desolate landscapes ravaged by time and trauma. Recognisable landmarks slowly but surely reclaimed by nature after our demise. Games have consistently embraced the post-apocalyptic setting. It invites excitement, apprehension and a deep curiosity, and plays on the thought-provoking hypothetical, the 'what if?'. And when these post-apocalyptic environments and landscapes are incredibly detailed, they can result in great efficacy and power.
Editor's note: Rob's piece here concludes his series of essays for Eurogamer on the seasons in video games. For more, be sure to check out Video games and the life of summer, starring Witcher 3, Firewatch and Dishonored 2, The power of spring in Horizon Zero Dawn, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture and The Last of Us, and Video games and the power of winter, which looks at Skyrim.
After the darkness and dormancy of winter life restarts, almost as if the punishing frosts, snows and winds had never happened. The season of spring starts to take hold, colours reappear, foliage regrows and landscapes transform to offer different looks, feels and opportunities for interaction. This can be truly impactful when it manifests in video games. Where winter revealed the bones of landscapes and their design, spring brings a softer touch, its re-birth and revitalisation draping life and colour back over lands. Spring can empower a landscape to represent and symbolise in its own way. By adding these into games' story arcs and narratives, a whole new side of the landscape can be seen and experienced - one where the land tells stories of recovery, shows an ability to cleanse and has an ability to enhance peace and quiet, all while under the drape of a colourful, full of life landscape, giving the land an entirely new look and atmosphere.
The environments of massive open-world games, particularly in recent years, have been rightly praised for their representation, scale and design accuracy. However, there are some gems at the other end of the spectrum - environments that make you feel cramped, tense and desperate for a break. This is an approach to environment design utilised in our real-world, from gardens to architecture, and is mirrored excellently in some game environments, creating areas that trap us in cramped, claustrophobic conditions.
Some time before The Last Of Us was released in 2013 I received a small, squeezable brick in the post from Sony Computer Entertainment. It was about the size of a deck of cards and textured like a stress toy, and it had "The Last Of Us" printed on one side, with a smiley face on the other. A happy brick.
The brick remains one of the oddest pieces of promotional material I've ever been sent, although with hindsight there are worse emblems for Naughty Dog's serious, desaturated tale of survival in post-civilisation America. John Lanchester, writing about games, noted that "Respectability is a terrible thing for any art form", and with its Oscar-winning composer, its shelf of BAFTAs, and its zombies that are too sophisticated to be called zombies, The Last Of Us comes perilously close. You wouldn't know from its face, but this brick is caught in the middle of a tug-of-war over this respectability, at once a sign of how resistant the game and its grim setting are to celebration and trivialisation, but also, actually, the perfect symbol of The Last Of Us' lean simplicity. The game is cold and hard, compact and brutal.
The Last Of Us was a summing up of sorts. It arrived in June 2013, less than six months before the launch of PS4, a late-generation victory lap for Naughty Dog after the studio had delivered three breathless, brickless Uncharteds. Here, though, was something else, not so much a break from matinee adventuring as a dark inversion - The Last Of Us takes the invincible third-person combat of Nathan Drake's extended power fantasy and turns it into a 15-hour prison-yard murder, the same levering reticule and cover mechanics transmuted into a gasping, sweaty ordeal. It is a game about powerlessness and fear, one that declines to spare us the mundane details of scavenging and survival. It's a game about opening drawers and cupboards, about making bandages with bourbon and rags. It's a game about the irreducible usefulness of bricks.
BEWARE OF THE SPOILER! (It's right there at the very top of the article, so should you not want one of Left Behind's key story beats spoiled for you run, run you fool, and don't look back.)
With Naughty Dog, you often get more than you asked for. When the Sony-affiliated Santa Monica developer set about creating a light-hearted jaunt for the PlayStation 3 with Uncharted, it created a dynamic and impressively filmic brand of interactive action. As the last generation came to an end and it set about a fusion of the survival horror of Resident Evil 4 with the emotional heart of Ico, it flourished a post apocalyptic genre piece with a tale of human warmth: a story about adolescence interrupted, adulthood and parental responsibility, as well as the countless lies we tell each other every day just in order to survive.
"There is no information about a new The Last of Us game but I can share this knowledge; as of this summer, The Last of Us will be on the PS4. Both on PSN and physically," PlayStation's Eurasian Software Market Manager Sercan Sulun told CNN earlier this week. "The PS4 version will also include the DLC so you will be able to play Left Behind as well."
You've likely waited over six months for a fresh hit of The Last of Us's story - so the last thing I'm going to do, with less than a week to go, is spoil for you what makes Left Behind, a prequel of sorts that explores some of Ellie's backstory, so special. I'll share a few numbers with you, though: Left Behind takes some two hours from beginning to end, and in that time I welled up once, while thinking to myself that Naughty Dog has done it again a couple times more. It's an expansion as brave and thoughtful as the original, retaining the quality of Joel and Ellie's story and enhancing it in subtle, moving ways.
We've had our say on 2013's best video games. And so have you. Now, it's the turn of the developers, the makers of the virtual experiences we so love. Read on for the games of 2013 according to the creators of the likes of Super Meat Boy, Assassin's Creed 4, XCOM, Oculus Rift and more, complete with Twitter bios.
By now it's probably obvious that we approve of Naughty Dog's survival thriller The Last of Us, having lavished it with praise in our original review and then named it among our 10 Games of the Generation. But while most of our affection has been heaped on the single-player campaign, which tells the slow-burning story of Joel and Ellie's journey through a dying North America, there was another aspect to the game.
Over the next two weeks we'll be bringing you our pick of the games of the generation. Today we're looking at The Last of Us, Naughty Dog's masterful and melancholy action game that took the formula started with Uncharted to its peak.
While playing and after finishing The Last of Us, all I could think about was a book. When Naughty Dog began development Amazon must have seen a miniature sales spike for Cormac McCarthy's The Road; the mind's eye imagines a bulk order from California, and subsequent rows of well-thumbed paperbacks.
Spoiler alert: This article refers to some plot points in The Last of Us, including the game's ending.
"I can tell you I'm really excited about our story." That's Eric Holmes, creative director of Warner Bros' Montreal studio, talking about Batman: Arkham Origins in a GameSpot interview this week. As a fan of Rocksteady's previous Batman games, I'm excited that Holmes is excited. "I think it's a very important Batman story," he continues, "and I think fans are going to love that probably more than any other thing in the game."
You've had plenty of time to play through The Last of Us since its release last Friday, so it's time to get down into detail and discuss what we really thought of the more powerful moments in Joel and Ellie's adventure. Oli's already bought you his review, and he's joined by Ellie Gibson as they go through the story's twists and turns and deliver their thoughts on how effective Naughty Dog's been in delivering a more grounded, more human take on a world destroyed. Needless to say, there will be spoilers.
The next generation of consoles is almost upon us, and many people are looking to the new hardware to deliver a huge leap in graphical quality. Before that happens though, Naughty Dog has taken one final run at the PlayStation 3, hoping to extract the last few drops of power from the system and produce one of the console's defining games.
If there has been a theme over the past couple of E3s, then perhaps it has been the rush to condemn triple-A game developers for taking the easy route. Consider Ryse, for example - or Saving Private Ryse, as Steven Spielberg's lawyers might have described it, watching the Son of Rome fall sideways during a beach landing and observe his brothers blown to pieces with ringing in his ears. As Rich Stanton put it, "you can tell exactly what this plays like by just looking at it". Playing through The Last of Us, however, is a reminder that sometimes you can't, even when it seems like you really can.
The Last of Us' multiplayer has been a rather confusing affair with little said about it only a fortnight before the game's launch on 14th June, but today I caught up with its multiplayer designer Erin Daly to explain exactly what it would entail and what makes it different from other third-person competitive shooters.
One of the most exciting games of this console generation is almost upon us. The Last of Us - available to buy in a couple of weeks - is the final PlayStation 3 title from Naughty Dog, a last hurrah for the current-gen Sony hardware before the team moves on to the cutting-edge PS4. You can play a sampler of the new game now, provided you own God of War: Ascension, which includes a download link for the demo.
We've come a long way from goggle-eyed bandicoots. Naughty Dog's history - linked to the PlayStation brand since 1996 and tethered to it exclusively after Sony acquired the LA studio in 2001 - is in many ways the story of how video games have changed over fifteen years, and how their players have evolved and matured. We're no longer crashing through wooden boxes and collecting fruit; now we're engaging in character-driven stories that can be as affecting as they are entertaining.
With 2012 already a smudged headline on yesterday's newspaper, it's time to get excited, all over again, for the next twelve months and the incredible games they are sure to bring. There are some amazing-looking games due out this year, including Grand Theft Auto 5, BioShock Infinite, Beyond, The Last of Us and more. And with the next-generation of consoles set to explode onto the scene, proper brand new games are surely not far behind. Hopefully.
Yesterday Sony launched a new, lighter, slimmer PlayStation 3 just in time for Christmas. The PlayStation 3 super slim, or the super duper slim as Bertie called it during our live report of Sony's Tokyo Game Show press conference last week, comes in two flavours in the UK: a mammoth 500GB edition (out now) and a teeny tiny 12GB edition (out 12th October). Sony doesn't set the price of its hardware in the UK (more on that later), but shops are live now with their offers (GAME has the exclusive on the PS3 500GB FIFA 13 bundle for £250).
But why has Sony revised the PS3 hardware yet again? And let's not forget the PS Vita, which by all accounts has sold terribly since its February launch. How's that doing? When will Sony cut the price? And what about those bigger memory cards? And where's 3D gaming gone? Sony used to love that. Now it's on the down-low. And what about the Wii U? How will Nintendo's new console impact PlayStation?
Armed with these questions we spoke with Sony UK boss Fergal Gara at Eurogamer Expo to get answers.
As the major console platform holders prepare to replace their current-gen hardware with the new cutting edge, PlayStation 3 in particular looks set to bow out at the height of its powers, with some phenomenal offerings incoming from Sony's first-party developers. Naughty Dog's The Last of Us is one of the most promising, representing the culmination of the developer's astonishing growth over the last six years - offering us the firm's trademark technical genius combined with a gameplay formula that hints at a new level of openness and opportunity we should expect from next-gen AAA titles.
That's Microsoft and Sony out of the way, then, and in immediate hindsight it's tempting to say that they opted for the same approach overall. Both conferences were relatively conservative affairs compared to the pageantry and showboating of previous years (apparently you don't know what you've got with a space poncho until it's gone), as both companies presumably played the strongest hand they could muster while keeping a lot in reserve for the inevitable unveiling of next-generation consoles in 2013. However, upon closer inspection there were a number of stark contrasts.
When it comes to keeping secrets, the games industry is about as trustworthy as Julian Assange. Just ask Konami, whose VGAs-closing trailer revealing MGS: Rising as a Platinum Games title leaked online hours before the show.
And yet, defying the odds, news of two-years-in-the-making The Last of Us, created by an 80-strong Naughty Dog team no-one knew existed, was met with that rarest of emotions when it broke cover at the weekend: genuine surprise. But, oh, how close it all came to unravelling as the big day approached.
Two months ago, Neil Druckmann, creative director and writer on the project, left his iPad on a plane. An iPad with the debut trailer for the game stored on it. Frantic calls to the airline ensued, but the device was gone. Naughty Dog waited nervously. And, to its considerable relief, nothing happened.