Are you game?

Updated: Jun 26, 2020, 09:24 IST | Sukanya Datta | Mumbai

The second part of an action-adventure game set in a post-apocalyptic world has made a timely release. A gamer shares what's it like to navigate a pandemic.

Ellie fending off  her enemies
Ellie fending off her enemies

A fungal pathogen called the Cordyceps has turned humans into aggressive creatures, or the Infected, who have ravaged the United States. The world is divided into quarantine zones, cities are filled with marooned buildings, overgrown weeds carpet the roads, and humanity is back to its hunter-gatherer roots. Sounds like a foreseeable future? Well, this is the post-pandemic world of game developer Naughty Dog and publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment's latest release — The Last of Us Part II — which has created quite a buzz, thanks to the eerie similarities with our current predicament.

"The game comes seven years after part one. I finished playing the first part the night before the second one released. I had got an idea of the second part thanks to the spoilers, but still wanted to follow Joel and Ellie's story," says Santacruz-based Kartik Bhardwaj, a 24-year-old media professional and an avid gamer. Bhardwaj, who took 30 hours to finish the stealth game, gives us the lowdown on the adventures of the protagonist Ellie.

A weak plot

Ellie, the protagonist, often plays the song Future days by Pearl Jam
Ellie, the protagonist, often plays the song Future days by Pearl Jam

The story picks up from the first part, with Joel, the smuggler, and Ellie, a teenager he rescued from the Infected and other hostile groups, living in Jackson with the former's brother Tommy. "Adept with skills to kill the Infected, Jackson residents frequently go out to cities and jungles to gather supplies. People are trained to kill [the Infected] from an early age," says Bhardwaj, adding that an unfortunate incident leads Ellie and her partner Dina on the path to revenge against this group called the Washington Liberation Front, which has overthrown the government in the Seattle quarantine zone. "You play as Ellie initially. The developer, Neil Druckmann, has tried to experiment with the plot, but has ended up with a clichéd storyline. However, what works is Ellie's anger that seeps into the gameplay, making it a mix of stealth and frantic action," he adds.

Stunning visual design

The gameplay graphics and the cut-scenes meld like a charm with a dominating grey hue and a looming hopelessness, feels Bhardwaj. "It inherits the minimalistic legacy of its predecessor and refines it. The encounters feel more personal with cinematic close-ups of each punch. There are multiple non-playable characters and one can explore the landscape more, which lends variety. The suspense-filled soundtrack works well, too," says the player, describing the visual design as "stunning". He elaborates, "Especially, the open areas with bombed buildings, abandoned restaurants and the perfectly swaying grass. It has one of the best action sequences with brawl-like fistfights; a realistic shooting recoil and gut-wrenching stabs," he tells us.

A mirror of our times?

Kartik Bhardwaj
Kartik Bhardwaj

Does it feel odd to play a game centred in a post-pandemic world, while living through one? "COVID-19 led to a lockdown, which in turn, led to empty streets and police patrols. This sort of mirrors the environment of the game, too," Bhardwaj explains. "The game tells the story of a world that's back to the jungle law — where you kill or get killed. There is no moral ground and nobody flinches before slicing a throat. Although our sunny skies due to low-vehicular emissions are in stark contrast to the dark zombie-infested corners of the game, COVID-19 has led to a lot of economic losses. There is a palpable fear. I can only hope that our reality doesn't match the amoral fiction of the game," he concludes.

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