At first I was hesitant to talk about this game because they has been so opinions expressed on it, so much praise and critical acclaim that it’s mind blowing to be honest. Hundreds of awards, millions of fans, thousands of hours played and countless playthroughs from players. This was the game that sent Naughty Dog flying into the stratosphere and elevated their status in the games industry.
The Last of Us is a good game maybe even great you already know this, I don’t think it revolutionised the video game industry yet no one can deny the game made a huge impact when it was released back in June 2013. The Last of Us demonstrated that videogames could be cinematic, contain relatable characters and tell a brutal and grounded story that connects with its audience.
From the start to the end feels like a journey, some characters live, some die, some characters grow closer and some drift apart, everything has a nice balance with uplifting moments that evoke hope and depressing moments that leave the characters on their brink. I find the idea of humanity being on it’s last legs to be fascinating although a bit scary, how quickly people can turn on each other and kill to survive.
Joel (Troy Baker) is my favourite character in the game because he feels the most relatable and human, he moves like a broken man who is close to breaking yet he something inside of him keeps on going. What are his motivations? What does he have left? What does he care about? The game never explains any of these questions and I love it, Joel is a complex and flawed character and I find myself understanding his decisions even though I don’t entirely agree with all of them.
Everyone who has played The Last of Us knows what occurs during the first 20 minutes, this leaves Joel in a real sorry state. We fast forward 20 years to see a tired looking old man with a head full of grey hair and a scruffy looking beard. Joel is a good ole fashioned Texan who doesn’t say much, he clearly internalises a lot of anger and frustration and he takes this out on any poor soul that gets in his way.
Joel brutally murders countless humans and infected without displaying a single ounce of guilt, how did he go from a caring and loving father into cold murderer? His humanity has been completely stripped away and we see what is left, I think Joel feels guilty for all the suffering he’s caused although maybe he entitled to it considering what has happened to him.
This is a harsh and unforgiving world, nobody cares about each other and they will kill for the smallest scraps of food. The military aren’t much better, they seem neglecting their civilians instead of helping them, they also have no issues murdering anyone who doesn’t follow orders. The old version of Joel woundn’t survive in this world so it’s understandable why he’s changed so much.
I like how Naughty Dog added their own unique twist to the traditional zombie, instead of just simply getting infected, dying and then returning as an undead. The cordyceps virus slowly eats away at the infected victim from the inside, as the victim loses their grip on reality the infection completely takes over.
The first stage of infection is the typical runner, the person still maintains some of their human instincts although they are unable to control their body, their eyes have turned red and they will run mercilessly at Joel until he has put them down.
The second stage is known as the ‘Stalker’ stage where the infected person once again still maintains human instinct although the fungus itself has progressed to the point where stalks have starting growing out of their head. Stalker’s only make a handful of appearances in the game and I find them to be frustrating to fight, they will typically hide and pounce on the player instead of directly confronting you.
The third stage is the clicker stage where the fungus has completely consumed the victim’s face to the point where they are blind, the name clicker comes from the clicking noises they emanate whilst patrolling an area. These are deadly creatures that can take Joel down in one hit, playing it stealthy is the best way to tackle clicker, if you play recklessly you will have to deal with their cauliflower shaped exterior which is a unpleasant sight to see.
The bloater stage follows this and it is by far the rarest, this stage occurs after years of infection where the fungus has completely taken over the body. The infection has formed armour plating of fungus around the victim’s body and they have the ability to throw spores directly at the player, Encountering these creatures is rare occurrence although when it does happen they prove to be a formidable opponent.
The final stage of infection occurs when the clicker/bloater is nearing death and is looking for a place to spread the disease, it will do this by finding a quiet area to die and release infectious spores into the environment. This will infect anyone who inhales these spores, the only way to avoid infection is by using a gasmask to completely cover the face.
The gameplay is nothing special although it still does a perfectly good job, every movement Joel makes has a nice weighty feel to it and the combat itself is brutal. The player feels every punch, bullet and knife slash and excellent sound design plays a big part in creating this effect. Stealth is also major component to the gameplay with many levels requiring slow precise moves to avoid death, this creates plenty of tension which can be unsettling to play.
Ellie (Ashley Johnson) seems to be a fan favourite and I can understand why. She has a honest and no nonsense approach that gives of the aura of a badass, Ellie loves to swear, annoy Joel and provide some occasional comic relief, she is definitely the yin to Joel’s yang.
Despite being a complete badass Ellie does show vulnerability as well, the game makes sure to show us both sides of her character which allows the audience to connect with her even more. Ultimately I feel it is Joel and Ellie’s vulnerability which brings them together, they are both looking to connect with someone and they eventually find it.
Ellie was born into apocalypse and she frequently asks Joel questions about the old world, they talk about old music, coffee, films, comic books and toys, these little moments are big highlights for me and add to Joel and Ellie’s growing relationship.
Minor characters also leave their mark on the story, Tess (Annie Wersching) for example is a close friend of Joel’s and she accompanies him at the start of the game. I enjoy how the two characters play off each other and how natural their friendship feels, she is also a badass lady who will often aid Joel in combat.
I love how The Last of Us presents it’s female characters as strong and intelligent without slapping you over the head with female empowerment, I love when a game treats it’s characters as human beings without forcing a particular agenda onto the audience. In my opinion stuff like that shouldn’t been a huge focus when making a game, the story and gameplay should take precedent instead of political correctness.
Bill (W. Earl Brown) is another standout character for me in the fourth chapter, he is miserable and lonely yet I find him unintentionally funny. His chapter is one of my favourites in the game, I enjoy it’s slower pacing combined with shorts bursts of action. Some sections overwhelm the player with infected and others rely on suspense and tension. To be honest the linear game design adds to this by putting pressure on the player and forcing them to make quick decisions.
Talking further about Bill, I like that fact it is hinted he is gay without making a big deal about it, small details like this enrich the characters and world and don’t take anything away from the story. The Pittsburgh chapter is another favourite of mine more specifically the section where you play alone with Joel in a basement filled with infected, this section borders on survival horror and I love it.
The music composed by Gustavo Santaolalla is beautiful and adds to the emotional scenes, I love the thick tunes produced by a acoustic guitar and purring sadness from the violins, the minimalistic sound to the music complements the games quieter moments and elevates the games most memorable moments, I also love the variety of music found in the soundtrack with ‘The Choice’ and ‘The Path’ being personal favourites of mine.
I should probably talk about Marlene (Merle Dandridge) and the Fireflies because the two play such a huge part in the main story, for example they are the reason Joel and Ellie meet each other. Marlene needs help and she happens to know Joel and Tess, they aren’t her first choice although she has no other options. Marlene asks them to deliver Ellie to a firefly hideout in Massachusetts, the two agree and this begins a long journey filled with plenty of twists and turns.
The Last of Us leaves you drained by the time the credits roll, not in a negative way you just look back on everything Joel and Ellie have been gone through and you feel like taking a huge sigh of relief. The ending itself has certainly divided many people and I don’t understand why, personally I think it makes perfect sense and it fits Joel’s character, the ending requires plenty of thought afterwards and I appreciate Naughty Dog’s bravery to the game on such a note.
I should probably bring up the multiplayer as well because its stand as one of my most played online games to date. I love the slow and tactical gameplay and how you need to work as a team to win. I also find the hunters journey to a unique and engaging mechanic which keeps the game fresh, losing your entire camp can be heart breaking yet successfully navigating the 12 week journey can leave you exhilarated.
The multiplayer also has a good selection of maps to choose with Checkpoint and High School being my personal favourites, I don’t think there’s one map I truly hate, well maybe Downtown might an exception to this rule.
Overall The Last of Us is a brilliant game, I do think people overexagerate it’s significance a tad and I don’t think the game is perfect, I find direction the story goes in on times to be a little predictable such as the end of the Pittsburgh chapter with Henry and Sam (Brandon Scott and Nadji Jeter). The game does cross the line into melodrama on occasion although this is rare, also the gameplay can feel a little clunky on times in terms of aiming and firing weapons.
It would also be cool if the game included a wider variety of infected, of course I understand this was Naughty Dog’s first attempt at creating a new IP and to be fair they do provide a good range of enemies in this game. I just hope they expand on this in The Last of Us sequel.
The Last of Us is a complete package to me, the game has good storytelling, excellent voice acting from the entire cast, solid gameplay, a good multiplayer, plenty of content, top notch DLC and a lot of replay value. The Last of Us has so many good aspects to it and if Naughty Dog manage to surpass it with part 2 well what an experience that game will be.