2013 is shaping up to be quite the year for gamers. It's the first time a PlayStation and Xbox console will compete head to head and it's the first next generation hardware launch in seven years. Except for the Wii U ... Poor Nintendo.
Not only do we have new systems to look forward to but we've already had some fantastic releases, the most notable being The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite. With both games being incredibly unique and the best examples of escort missions done right, it's not surprising that the two are being compared, despite the fact that the escort mission is where the similarities end.
Today I thought I'd compare the two head to head in five categories: Gameplay, Visuals, Artificial Intelligence, Characters and Story. Okay let's go.
The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite do a great job of taking familiar territory and putting a unique spin on it. The Last of Us is a third person survival horror game with an emphasis on crafting your own tools, tension, and sneaking around. It plays very similarly to the Uncharted series in it's basic locomotion and cinematic moments, but it also plays relatively similar to the more recent Splinter Cell titles. The atmosphere throughout the game is consistently tense and the gameplay and animation reflect that very well.
BioShock Infinite is a first person shooter and it plays more or less exactly like it's predecessor. You shoot guns, melee, and use vigors (which now take the place of plasmids from the first game), and use different combinations to take down multiple enemy types throughout the game. It's more or less what you'd expect from a BioShock game, but the additions to the formula really make the gameplay stand out. In addition to the traditional "guns in one hand, magic in the other" idea, they throw in the skyhook and skylines which allow for high speed level traversal and interesting verticality for motion and combat purposes. They also throw in tears which allow the player to change the landscape to suit specific playstyles. The ability to morph the landscape and play in the skies really gives the edge to BioShock Infinite. While The Last of Us has solid gameplay, it's nothing we haven't been introduced to before and that's why BioShock Infinite get's the point for gameplay.
It's like a roller coaster, but with explosions, lightning, wormholes, and guns
The art design in both of these games is phenomenal and both should be recognized. BioShock Infinite has incredible architecture and a slew of interesting palettes to keep the games atmosphere from getting too stale or boring. That being said, the graphical fidelity of The Last of Us is unmatched in any console game I've ever seen. Everything looks believable, from the animations to the emotion in characters faces. It's leaps and bounds ahead of any console game I've seen so far, and that includes BioShock Infinite. Although BioShock Infinite has an incredibly unique look to it and is probably more artistically original, it can't be argued. The Last of Us get's the point in visuals.
Nature overcoming humanity is astoundingly beautiful
Most of you might think I'm talking about the enemy A.I, but no. I am not. The enemy A.I in these games cannot be compared as far as I'm concerned because both enemy A.Is exist to serve a specific purpose. In BioShock Infinite they serve to engage while in The Last of Us, the serve to be avoided.
No, I'm talking about your friendly A.I namely Elizabeth in BioShock and Ellie in The Last of Us: AKA: the primary reasons these games are being compared in the first place. In both games your task is to protect your friendly A.I and they both do a fantastic job, but let me explain the problems behind them.
In The Last of Us, Ellie acts as someone that must be protected but will assist you when you need help. Unfortunately, in my experience anyway, Ellie took me out of the story during gameplay. She would often walk directly in front of enemies during stealth missions and would often hide in plain sight yet remain invisible. It's a shame too because given how realistic the rest of the game feels, a detail as small as that can do a lot to take you out of the game if done poorly. She would often warn me of incoming danger after said danger had already come upon me and I would often find myself stuck in places because Ellie refused to move.
In BioShock Infinite, Elizabeth serves to keep you alive and to allow you to open the tears I mentioned earlier. Elizabeth can not take damage, nor can she attract the attention of any enemies. She is specifically programed to move out of your view while in combat and she will point out things to you that you might have missed. I felt that Elizabeth's A.I was done better not only in practice, but because of how well they toyed with the idea of an escort mission. The game tricks you into thinking you're protecting Elizabeth, but in reality you are Elizabeth's escort mission. It's interesting and it's done well, while in The Last of Us, Ellie serves more to the story than the gameplay. BioShock Infinite get's the point for Artificial Intelligence.
The alternate reality exploration is awesome too
Elizabeth, Zachary Comstock, Booker DeWitt, Jerimiah Fink, the Lutece's, and Daisy Fitzroy are all incredibly interesting characters with interesting pasts and unique personalities, but The Last of Us does a better job at creating incredibly realistic characters. This is obviously due to the advantage of having a fictional story grounded in reality, while BioShock Infinite has a rather fantasy oriented story in a more imaginative world. The themes explored in BioShock Infinite are inherently grounded in reality, but so are the ones in The Last of Us. Joel, Tess, and Ellie aren't characters. These are people. While overall, I enjoyed the characters in BioShock Infinite to a greater degree, there's no denying that The Last of Us has the edge due to it's darker tone and more grounded setting.
She's an awesome character, even though she's basically Ellen Page
STORY AND NARRATIVE
The story goes to both. I literally cannot put one story over another with these games. The Last of Us is a personal story that puts us in the most realistic zombie apocalypse we've ever seen and asks us as people what we will do to survive. It's tense and a fantastic experience that nobody should miss. This is one of the most emotionally rich zombie games in a long time and it does something remarkable for a genre that's gone stale.
BioShock Infinite is a grand story that digs deep in the bowels of the human condition. It's a story about revolution, racism, perspective, religious extremism, politics, quantum mechanics, epiphany, perception, rebirth and the fragility of reality. This game explores so many things in such an amazing and fantastical setting that nobody should go without experiencing it. It's got a twist you'll never see coming and it's ending will stick with you long after you've beaten it. It's a giant mystery and it's one of the most refreshingly fun and incredibly well-written shooters I've ever played.
Few games have atmospheres this palpable
The bottom line is, both of these games are worthy of your attention. Wether you prefer the tension and the grit of The Last of Us or the profound nature and fantastical setting of BioShock Infinite, one thing is certain. Right now, we are having a conversation about two video games that have tackled more in depth ideas than any video game ever has, and the fact that we're having that conversation is a testament to how much our industry has grown and we should all be very proud that our industry gave us incredible experiences like these.