A new year means a new attempt at reviewing anything of interest to me that’s over 2 years old on Thursdays. Have no fear: this article contains NO spoilers! Pls enjoy.
And in another episode of “time to play a video game/play backseat video gamer with the little brother”, I took advantage of the Christmas windfall and purchased the remastered release of The Last of Us for the Playstation 4. My previous experience of the game was grossly limited. I had decided, on the urging of a mate of mine from DWRP, to climb on YouTube and watch the full collection of cinematic sequences of the game in order to see its story for myself.
The hype is real, guys. The Last of Us singlehandedly saved the survivor horror genre and is, perhaps, one of the best video games of our generation. It deserved, without question, every single award that it received back in 2013.
As I stated above, my previous experience of the game was grossly limited. The cinematic sequences that I found were compiled REALLY well and edited to pretty much turn The Last of Us into a miniseries. Just watching the thing already reduced me to a shivering, ugly crying mess of Feelings. Playing the game (or in my case, watching somebody else play, helping him out, yelling at the screen whenever Clickers come ‘round the corner, and assuring him that Why Yes, It Does Get Worse) can and will ruin your life.
A contemporary take on the classic “main character transports NPC of importance across a zombie-infested country” plotline, The Last of Us is a father-daughter story set against the backdrop of post-apocalyptic America. The segments of the game are artfully arranged by seasons, and artfully weave together several levels of narrative: Joel’s story with Ellie, Joel’s journey from grieving father to hardened survivor, the survivors of the outbreak and the virus that is killing them off, and America’s story with the Cordyceps fungus. What is most intriguing about the execution of these plots, however, is the fact that it isn’t done in a linear fashion at all. Sure, you’ll get the “important stuff” from the cut scenes. All of the things that make each cut scene what they are, however, is written out in snippets of conversation between the characters as you move through the map, in events you will toggle during the walk, and in fragments of the lives destroyed by the virus.
By today’s standards for video games, nothing about The Last of Us is conventional – and, ironically, that’s precisely what makes the entire thing seem far more realistic than pretty much every other survival horror game plot ever produced. At the end of the day, the only special thing about Joel is the fact that his life was interrupted by the onslaught of the outbreak, and gave him a burning need to survive at all costs. Ellie may very well go down in video game history for being one of the only zombie story teens that isn’t annoying as fuck because Naughty Dog went, in-depth, into a study of the sort of children a zombie apocalypse would produce through her character. You, as player, aren’t overflowing with supplies or ammo, and are thus forced to scrounge through a landscape rife with the ruins of a better life for whatever you can get your hands on – and whenever you do come across some remnant of the past, the designers of the game have written out each part in a fashion that will leave you with that uncomfortable uncertainty about the fate of the survivors who left pieces of themselves behind, by choice or by chance.
And before you start wondering, the gameplay of The Last of Us is also a force to be reckoned with. Reviewers with better words and expertise than myself have talked a lot about how the game engine makes use of sound and ambient noise, and their take on it only leaves me nodding in agreement now that I’ve tried things out for myself. Combine that with the narrative hook of having a young NPC partner tailing behind you, the near-one-hit-kill nature of a failed encounter and the scarcity of supplies, and you’re in for one hell of an experience.
Said experience only gets better later down the line, when you hit a point where chances are you will not feel safe without Ellie at your side. Forces within the narrative only make her start actively assisting Joel later, and in my experience? Once that happens, the few sequences where you are left controlling Joel will have you torn between wanting to make sure the girl is safe and agonizing over the lack of decent back-up – a total reversal of how things started, and a nod to the deepening relationship between her and Joel. I also feel compelled to mention that, unlike other survival horror games, Naughty Dog just HAD to insist on making zombies and humans sound exactly the same when Joel fights them. Y’know, for that constant, haunting reminder that you might not be dealing with mindless zombies after all.
Disturbing? It’s meant to be.
The Last of Us is notably short compared to its predecessors, but I’m of the personal opinion that extending it any further or insisting on making it “open world” would have detracted from the game’s drama and artistry. If there’s one major flaw that the game has, it’s that it’s an exclusive release for Playstation, thus limiting it to just one demographic of gamers.
That said, if you have some means of checking the game out even if you don’t own a PS3 or PS4, do so. Just keep some tissue close at hand, and prepare the emergency booze to nurse your feelings with.