(Disclaimer: All of the following are my own opinions and observations from playing The Last of Us. I have not completed the game nor will I ever return to it.)
I have another post in the works regarding ludonarrative dissonance in general, and more specifically comparing and contrasting this dissonance in the games Far Cry 3 and Tomb Raider, however since starting working in this piece, thought-provoking conversations about The Last of Us have taken place. Thought-provoking enough to warrant this post, solely dedicated to The Last of Us.
It is no secret how much I dislike this game. Everything from the mechanics, to the visual design just irked me in such way that when I came across some really, really bad enemy balancing, it was all I could do to not snap the disc in half. I am aware that I am alone in these opinions, and that, obviously says more about me than it does about the game. But for once, I have something positive to say about this game; The Last of Us has no ludonarrative dissonance, at all. At least not from what I’ve experienced. By that I mean, there is no conflict between the game’s narrative and it’s gameplay. It could be argued that the mechanics in The Last of Us compliment the narrative in a deep, thematic way.
The mechanics in this game are inherently bad. Possibly a layover effect from the Uncharted series. The shooting mechanics are difficult and clunky and generally got in the way, same with the character controls. Difficulty balancing seemingly had little to no effect on how easy (or in this case, difficult) the weapons were to us, resulting in multiple deaths even on the easiest of difficulty settings.
The narrative of this game tells us how difficult the world is to traverse, how seemingly impossible it is to even survive a day. The world of The Last of Us is clunky, and doesn’t help you, the player, the main character or any other characters to survive. The narrative throws up obstacles for you to overcome to help protect Ellie. The dialogue could also have been improved in places.
However, the (bad) mechanics of this game are more than just a way for the player to interact with this world. They are a physical representation of how much the characters in this world struggle, by in turn making the player struggle. These mechanics force the player to understand this world on a deep mechanical level to the point where only a year later am I finally understanding this game.
There you have it; finally something positive for me to attribute to this game. And maybe it’s time to start looking at games’ mechanics in context of their narrative. Except for Watch_Dogs, there’s no excuse (narrative or otherwise) for such bad mechanics as what that exhibited.
Please feel free to share your experiences either with the games mentioned in this post, or perhaps even with games that exhibit ludonarrative dissonance in the comments on here or on Twitter.