The Rollercoaster of "The Last of Us"
Zombies. The media landscape has been oversaturated with them for years. Whether it’s TV shows like The Walking Dead, or movies like the Resident Evil franchise, anime like High School of the Dead, or books like World War Z, you can’t look too far in any direction without seeming some form of the undead. I’m not too big a fan of the genre, or the creatures in general, but there are times when a story that has zombies in it can grip you, refusing to let go until it’s had its fill of you (no pun intended). That is what happened when I played Naughty Dog’s, “The Last of Us.”
Now, I should point out that Last of Us has been out since 2013, originally on the PS3, so I’m a bit late to the party. But, seeing as how I didn’t own a PS3, nor did I have any friends who had the system, I missed out on the game when it first came out. That has since been remedied with the re-released and remastered version available on the PS4, and I scooped it up as soon as I could, and I’ve never been more satisfied with a gaming decision.
The Last of Us, or TLoU, is a story set in a post-apocalyptic world, ravaged by a zombie outbreak. I know, sounds like every other tired, hackneyed approach to zombies we’ve seen countless times before. However, TLoU shines where the others fall short. How, you ask?
The story centers around two people. The first is Joel, a survivor hardened by the loss of his daughter in the game’s brutal, heart-wrenching opening chapter. We witness the onset of the of the outbreak, and watch helplessly as Joel loses his daughter. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the game, and had goosebumps popping up all over my body while I experienced it. I can’t remember the last time a game hit me so hard emotionally.
The second character that the story revolves around is the head-strong Ellie, a young girl who is immune to the infection the zombies spread. Her introduction kick starts the plot, with Joel being tasked with (by his close colleague, Tess) delivering her to the Fireflies, a group of rebels who fight against the authority of the military and just might be the last chance humanity has at using Ellie’s immunity to take the world back to its pre-outbreak days. Joel and Ellie both live with heavy burdens on their shoulders, and despite hesitation and reluctance, embark on a journey that just might save the world, and heck, maybe result in some personal healing on the way.
I can honestly say that the relationship Joel and Ellie have is the strongest point of this game. Not to spoil anything, but to watch their bond develop over the course of the game, tested not only by the zombies who want nothing more than to kill them, but also by the baggage they both carry (both have dark pasts after all), compounded with the troubles brought on by the people they encounter, be they friendly or hostile. Watching the realistic progression of their rapport was a treat, and only made the more intimate moments that much more satisfying or heartbreaking.
Plus, the prequel chapter, Left Behind, lets us experience the story Ellie alludes to during one of her more emotional conversations with Joel: The final moments spent between Ellie and her best friend, Riley. It provided a look at Ellie before she met Joel, and it allowed me to appreciate her character and relationship with Joel even more.
Through our duo’s journey, they encounter countless zombies, varying in type. There’s the initial type called Stalkers, who haven’t been turned for that long and have the most facilities of all the zombies. Then there’s the Clickers, the zombies whose infection has physically morphed them into something only barely resembling a human. They use echolocation to locate potential victims and creeped me the hell out with their clicking (Made my skin crawl every time I heard it if I’m being honest). Finally, there’s the most far gone of the zombies: The Bloater. This beast of a zombie doesn’t resemble a human at all, its body covered in puss and spore-filled boils—that’s its able to tear off and lob at you! Easily my least favorite to fight. Each have different tactics you can employ to take them down, which keeps it from being just another survival game that leans only on headshots as the best way to take out the undead.
But, that’s not all they have to face. They encounter other survivors, each bent on surviving however they can, no matter who suffers because of it. Gangs, militias, whatever you want to call them, these bands of rogue survivors killing others for food, clothes or whatever else they may need is the other threat Joel and Ellie constantly come across in their cross-country trek. Like-minded survivors, paranoid individuals and fanatics make up the population now, and man, does it make for some disheartening setbacks and intense interactions for Joel and Ellie!
The remastered version of TLoU uses the enhanced power of the PS4 to deliver a fully realized take on a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by crazed infected humans, and merciless survivors hell-bent on surviving no matter what. The world presented is a stark one, yet still a beautiful. There were times where I would just stand in one spot and look around at the environment (which resulted in quite a bit of enjoyable dialogue from Ellie). I would go as far as to recommend this game based off the visuals alone. They’re that good.
The Last of Us has been lauded as one of the best games of the past decade, if not all time, and while I initially thought that was nothing more than a shameless overstatement, after playing it myself, I’d have to agree. It was one of the best games I’ve ever played, and this is during a time where games like Dragon Age Inquisition, the Batman Arkham Trilogy, Fallout 4 and Witcher 3 have been released. Ripe with themes of love, loyalty, impossible choices and survival, if The Last of Us was the only game I ever played on PS4, I wouldn’t have been disappointed in the slightest.