Back in 2013, Naughty Dog blessed us with this wonderful survival-horror drama rom-com entitled The Last Of Us. Back at the time I figured it was just another game to add onto the pile of zombie-invested games next to Dead Island, Dead Island Riptide, Dead Island 3: Deadlier Island, and of course, Dead Island 4: Dead 4 Dayz. Back in those days, I only had the warm embrace of my Xbox 360, and so the Last Of Us slipped by me on a haze of critical acclaim and fan-screeching reviews that "it IZ THE BEST GAEM EVUUUUUR."
So when I picked up my PS4, the first game I decided to give a shot was of course, this. Rocking into remastered edition showed me two things; the graphic capability was beautiful, and two, five minutes in and my heart would collapse from the emotional gut-wrenching tale that Naughty Dog and the IP's Neil Druckmann wanted to tell. Not five minutes in and we're shown the man we're to play; Joel, and the morally ambiguous tale following the death of his daughter launches away!
"I got you this watch so you can count down the minutes til I eat bullets, dad."
I slipped through the game on normal difficulty, marking it for all the right things; the writing, the characters, the believability of the cordyceps infection on its victims. This was why the game was so beautiful, under the construction of several teams, it seemed that Naughty Dog didn't want to just give us a run-and-gun game--they wanted something soul. If not for the little things, the way characters flinch at flashlights, the tiny little comments, or the completely beautiful desolation of the world we're seeing, then the game wouldn't stand on its own merit. Yet, this isn't why I believe it gave a lasting impact on me.
I completed the Last Of Us within two days and I loved every single moment of it as a game. I can understand why it won 240 awards, and did exactly what I expect Naughty Dog to do; make worthwhile games.
Then I decided to give Grounded a shot.
For those of us that weren't illuminated by the brilliance of this game, a little bit of backstory must be given. See, I've played games where supplies dwindle, hope runs out, and you're left to ponder the constant fear of death and destruction from whatever the fuck's coming around the corner to eat your ass like groceries, but this game toppled that effect.
"You think this bothers me? I took on six clickers with a paperclip once!"
When it comes to TLOU, Grounded places the character in the worst case scenario. The entire game sets you up like so:
Welcome to The Last Of Us.
While the game tried to implement a system of dwindling resources against an onslaught of zombies, bandits, fireflies, the environment, Donald Trump, AIDS, and thirst, there was always the feeling of safety in you finding supplies, healing up Joel, and moving onto the next part. However, Grounded cuts down supplies by 90%, lowers health to 10%, and increases the enemies, the AI, and the overall shitstorm of gunfights, monsters, and everything!
While before you could count your twelve bullets of your snub-nose revolver and think "Eh, fuck it, if I miss, I miss," you aren't given such a privileges this time around.
"I can take all of em out if they stand in a line."
You are to completely change your way of thinking. You don't have bullets, you don't have health packs, you have six men coming for you, and you've got a paper-clip, a piece of string, an arrow, a brick, one clean sock, and four nails. Facing people head on is a complete suicide act with the AI hiding behind cover and only coming out to shoot the second you pop out yourself, you're completely outnumbered, underwhelmed, and that is why I absolutely love it.
Joel and Ellie are on the moral ambiguous line of storytelling. We hear plenty of times that he's changed throughout this world; once a dedicated father and hard-worker, he had now become a murdering, flip-flopping smuggler who doesn't acknowledge the right or wrong in the world. Yet, we see him as a complex, real character and from that we empathize, and it makes wanting to see him and Ellie survive so much more that Grounded really gives us the game we're aching for. You feel the desperation in the their situation and story, and when you finally get to the third act of this magnificent tale, you feel like you've been through the same ordeal yourself. You've scrounged up molotovs, snuck around more clickers than a ninja in a nightclub line, and come out of every ordeal by the skin of your teeth, and overcome it in the only way you could.
When those credits finally started rolling, I really did feel like I'd been through one hell of a journey. And from it, my entire gaming perspective changed completely. While going back over old games like Fallout 3, New Vegas, Far-Cry 2--I began to realize that I was running and gunning my way through everything. When looking back to the gameplay of Grounded, it made me appreciate everything so much more. I would look back and completely evaluate every action I would make. When I hopped on Alien Isolation, I'd collect everything, work out every kink, save every piece of scrap, and barely used any supplies while evading the evil bitch. While playing Fallout, my stimpaks wouldn't falter or fade--my guns would be repaired, and I'd be cautious. I would leave settlements in Far Cry with more bullets than I spent, and health too. The Last Of Us completely revolutionized my playing style and made me appreciate the important of both challenging gameplay, style, and story.
Unfortunately now all I can do is throw bottles to distract my family while I search my fridge for food and if anybody asks me how I am, I instinctively smash their heads into cupboards while screaming for Ellie to run.