Two years ago, The Last Of Us was released on PlayStation 3. Prior to its release many including me, seen it as another survival horror game. However, once the title was released it was praised in particular for its gripping narrative, portrayal of human nature, and most of all creation of relationships between the player and the on-screen characters. And while all these are correct, there is one thing that many have overlooked. The world in which The Last Of Us was set in.
It started in a year 2013, and showcased a typical 21st century society, which rapidly fell victim to the overwhelmingly deadly disease. Introduction of the mind-crippling fungus allowed Naughty Dog not only to progress the story, but also alter the world in which it was set, both socially and architecturally. Any other game of the genre would simply add some ghastly foes to the mix and be done with the world creation. However, Naughty Dog went a step further.
When players regain control of Joel for the second time, 20 years have passed and the world is not the same as it was before. Mankind is mainly restricted to inhabit enclosed, government controlled zones, and while most are in full support of both the army and the authority, such have surely seen better days. Derelict buildings, and lack of any infrastructure signalize the end of the regular society, as military shakedowns and public executions have become a daily routine. Numerous ‘Firefly’ signs, while to many meaningless, symbolize the spark of life and hope for better tomorrow, and such ultimately becomes game’s main objective.
Throughout The Last Of Us, players traverse numerous environments, and just like the military zone, in which the main portion of the game begins, they all tell their own story. Cities overgrown by lavish flora and occupied by numerous species of American wildlife symbolize nature’s fight against both the disease and the human race which have demonized it for so may centuries. However, you can only truly appreciate that once you stop the struggle for survival, and take a minute to spectate the world that previously was just a background to your parade of violence. Buildings covered in ivy, vehicles rotten to the core, and last but not least tunnels flooded to their ceiling all contribute to game’s story telling. And once it introduces vicious scavengers and their ‘natural habitat’ the game only gets better, as it is painting the story instead of directly spelling it out to you word by word.
While The Last Of Us is a great example of story telling through environment, there are other, much more recent games that have used their environment to portray their story. You can find this in the latest installment in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series.
Arkham Knight’s Gotham City is constantly changing. And while the said change is scripted, and steps in when certain missions are completed, it is still highly impressive. Initially Batman himself is set against the odds, as he is the only man standing on the battlefield facing legions of thugs, and The City of Gotham makes sure to remind you of it. Constantly. No matter where you go, both rioters and militarized henchmen constantly discuss how you, as the Batman are in the losing position as city is riddled with hostiles. At the start even Commissioner Gordon, and your numerous sidekicks doubt in the possibility of freeing the city from Scarecrows deadly clinch. As you start to complete numerous plot relevant missions and side quests, the tone of the city begins to change.
You’re no longer the one that everyone doubts, as both the thugs and friendly NPCs start to believe in your possible success. And all this is accompanied by the constantly changing city, but not spoil the fun of discovery that some may seek, I will not discuss it at this time.
It is true that game concentrates mainly on you, and your struggle against the criminal underworld. Majority of the thugs live their own lives, and this is portrayed through the private conversation that they constantly develop. Throughout my play-thorough there was one particular individual which was constantly occupying the clock-tower territory. And while doing so, he would carry a conversation with other thugs about his private life. At first he discussed the fact that he must finish his ‘shift’ soon as he can, as he has to watch his children tomorrow. Then as the time have passed I’ve met him again, but this time he was telling his partner in crime to rob a toy store as he promised to bring some toys for his children. His story then has taken some rather strange turns, but as the game was coming to a close he has suddenly disappeared, and if you’ll play the game yourself, you’ll surely know why.
Both games, The Last Of Us and Arkham Knight show us that primary in-game monologue doesn’t always have to be the only narrative tool within a game. And that irrelevant side characters or even buildings can carry game’s narrative a long way. So why not create a game that concentrates on sensory experiences based on events set around a single building, or a plot of land?
A set, such as a single plot of land may seem obscure, but with time, even the most important structures get demolished and replaced. And basing a game around such would allow to tell a story not of a single character, but of multiple generations.