The Last of Us
Released: June 14, 2013 (PS3) August 1, 2014 (Remastered edition PS4)
I’ve seen a lot of these Throwback Thursday things and I thought I’d try my hand at it with reviewing a game. Only this won’t be much of a review but more about my feelings of this game. I’m aware that this game isn’t particularly old but I have told almost every person I know about how much I love this game and now I have a platform to do so in writing, which I love almost the same amount. Although, to be honest, there’s not much to review with this game. Every gaming website that I have seen have showered this video game with the highest praise and every person who I have met that has played this game had nothing but great things to say about it. I was sat in the cinema with my brother getting ready to watch Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) and the adverts before the film started featured the cinematic trailer for The Last of Us. I was absolutely encapsulated by it and I honestly remember the experience of seeing that trailer more than my first time of watching Star Trek, and I love those films so that’s saying a lot. But the horror set in when I saw and heard the announcement: “Only on PS3”. I was genuinely mortified as I remembered that the only console in my house was an Xbox 360 and I recall groaning in my dismay, out loud, in the middle of the cinema. My boyfriend rubbed salt in the wound when he told me that he had preordered the game, but little did he know that I would invade his house just to play it (though he took control when I was scared to play on). I waited another year until I finally got my hands on the Remastered edition, with enhanced graphics to match the powerful machine that is the PS4. Also, spoiler warning to any readers who have not played this game yet as I will be writing about parts of the story in great detail.
I adore this game and it has an extremely special place in my heart. While it’s not my favourite game (and the spot for this is reserved for a game that is so nostalgia filled that I will probably write my next Throwback Thursday on it), it is most definitely the best game I have ever played. With over 200 Game of the Year awards, The Last of Us takes the player on an incredible journey full of love, loss, danger and survival. Admittedly, I couldn’t contain my excitement for this game and I took to the internet to watch a Let’s Play, thus beginning my addiction to YouTube. So, I did actually know what happened in the game but that didn’t spoil my playthrough of it in any way. Watching the first cutscene gave me a lot of happy feelings as I remembered how it all started. Joel, the protagonist, and his daughter, Sarah, sharing a heart-warming conversation while quietly celebrating the then young man’s birthday. Joel puts Sarah to bed after she falls asleep on the sofa until she is woken up by a phone call from her uncle, Tommy, and the player takes control of Sarah. I remember seeing this on YouTube and thinking “Oh, you don’t play as Joel? Okay, I’ll go with this”. In my own playthrough I explored the little details of Sarah’s room (her reflection was actually visible in her mirror, this is quite rare in games). Now, when I say little details I don’t just mean the tiny pixels that make up the aesthetics of the game. As Sarah calls out to find Joel but finds her dad’s room empty her body language changes entirely. She turns from walking nonchalantly around her home to cradling herself as fear begins to set in. Her voice becomes shaky and more desperate and it was this moment that I remembered that Sarah is a child, no more than 12 years of age, and this alone would be absolutely terrifying let alone what I knew that was coming next. I really have to hand it to the actors of these characters. Not only did they provide their voice but they motion captured them as well, so these small changes in their demeanour is thanks to both the animators and the actors who worked painstakingly to create the realism in the masterpiece that is this game.
Explosions, panic and murder ensues and the small family the player follows talks about how people in the cities have become ‘sick’. They jump into a car in the hopes of escape but find that everyone has had the same idea and you, the player, is helpless as Sarah as all you can do is look out of the windows and witness the horror that is unfolding around you. Unfortunately they wind up in a car crash in which Sarah is injured, rendering her unable to walk, and Joel takes it upon himself to carry her while Tommy is armed and protecting them. Initially when I saw that the game was under the ‘zombie’ apocalypse genre I was quite skeptical. It’s a genre that’s been overdone in pretty much every art form, but The Last of Us takes the concept in a new way. Technically those affected are not zombies but instead infected with a mutated form of cordyceps, a fungal parasite that in reality infects insects and is able to destroy entire colonies. The game’s version of cordyceps attacks the brain and the infected loses all control of themselves and fungal growths and plates sprout from the head and body after years of infection. Upon natural death the infected find a corner to die and their body emits lethal spores that will infect any who inhale it. This in itself impressed me to no end. The developers had actually come up with an entire biological cycle for the infected and meticulously designed their appearances in the different stages of infection (Runners, Stalkers, Clickers and Bloaters), with each being more terrifying and dangerous than the last. The fact that cordyceps is a real thing was also something that I found scary as it made me think that this was actually possible, as it’s not your usual reanimated corpses terrorising the nation and wanting to eat your brains.
Last warning for spoilers.
I cried like a baby when Sarah died. I did not expect within the first 20 minutes or so of playing a game that I would get so emotionally invested in these characters but it continued to happen throughout the game. That’s a real achievement for the actors, they played their parts to perfection and I wouldn’t change anything about these characters. They at least gave us a short introductory credits to recover from the trauma, but the game then throws you 20 years into the future where you find an older and much more aggressive Joel hardened after years of surviving the hell that had been unleashed. You’re then introduced to Tess and the player then begins to realise that it’s a motif in this game. You meet someone new, team up with them for a while and they’re tragically taken away from you. In the short amount of time that the NPCs are with the player, you can’t help but feel attached to them. The developers of this game managed to successfully get players involved with the story of each character, no matter how vague it is. Take Tess for example: she comes into Joel’s ‘home’, bruised up from a brawl she’s had and there is clear tension between the two people. Did they have an argument the night before? Are they always like this with one another? Who knows. But what the player does know is that they have each other’s back no matter what. It’s 20 years into the future and we only get told snippets of what happened in the time between Sarah dying and where Joel is now.
It’s a masterfully told story and it immerses the player completely. In my previous review of The Order: 1886 (2015) I talked about how immersion into the game was difficult as there are too many cutscenes that throw the player in and out of gameplay and cinematic sequences, which overall ruins the flow of what could have been an incredible game. On the other hand, The Last of Us uses cutscenes only when it needs to. Most of the dialogue and interactions between characters, objects, etc are done through gameplay and this makes the player feel as though they are as invested in what is happening in the game as the characters are. In my own playthrough I found myself caring a lot more about the characters than in other games I have played. If I died in other games I would become frustrated but never have I found myself feeling horrified at the idea of the playable characters getting injured or worse. The death sequences in the game are terrifying as it cuts to black right before Joel’s mouth is torn open by a Bloater or as a Clicker rips a chunk out of his neck. Your imagination is vivid, and this is your worst nightmare when trying not to think about what just happened to either Joel or Ellie. Or the fact that you let it happen.
Now that I’ve mentioned Ellie I feel obliged to talk about her. She is, by far, the strongest female character I have had the pleasure of playing as in any video game. Granted I didn’t like her at first, because I thought that she was the most stereotypical part of the epidemic based apocalypse theme, as she is immune to cordyceps. I found myself rolling my eyes at the thought of her being the cure for humanity but she soon changed my mind about her. Ellie is 14, tough, funny and she has a rather colourful vocabulary. Each of these things made me love her more and more and I have never played a game with so much effort as I did as I tried not to let her get hurt. I don’t know if it was a maternal type of feeling (I’m frequently named the mother in my group of friends) or if I just simply didn’t want anything bad to happen to her because I had grown so fond of her. Either way, I grew as attached to her as Joel does by the end of the game even though he doesn’t want to because she reminds him of Sarah. The developers lied constantly about the ability to play as Ellie in the game as they didn’t want to ruin the surprise. Upon Joel’s near fatal injury the player takes control of Ellie and in my own experience I noticed an immediate change. The controls felt more nimble and agile to suit Ellie’s stature but I could no longer take down enemies with brute force and my weaponry was limited to what Ellie was actually able to wield. I began to feel a lot more vulnerable as Ellie, which made it even worse when the entire scenario with the cannibal, David, played out. As a character, David scared me more than any other enemy in the game. I came to realise that the real horrors of what happens in that type of world is not the infected, they can’t control themselves and it’s not their fault that they are infected.
I have all the praise in the world for this game and not enough time or words to talk about how amazing it is, but take my word for it. Of course, I will mention the fact that there were a few graphical issues here and there as no game is without its fault but it is quite amusing seeing some of the characters locked in stasis during a cutscene while the audio continues to play out. During my first playthrough of the Remastered edition, Tommy was using his body to hold a door shut to give Joel and Sarah time to escape but he became frozen and the arms of the infected flailed around helplessly through the gap as they tried to bypass their stationary obstacle. Glitches are always part of a game and I actually enjoy finding them, so long as they don’t ruin the gameplay, as it’s a little quirk that you’ll remember for a long time. The amount of collectibles and the detail of the environments that aren’t even necessary for the player to explore is astounding. The player will probably find something new every time they play through the game, so hats off to the developers for creating such an amazing world that can be explored time and time again.
I may come back to writing about this game as there’s a lot of things that I haven’t said. Though I will make a quick note about the soundtrack of the game: Gustavo Santaolalla does an incredible job with the music and it’s got me through a lot of assignments over the past couple of years. Soothing, beautiful and visceral. Amazing job. I recommend The Last of Us to anyone who hasn’t played it already and to those that have (or those who don’t mind spoilers) to watch Grant Voegtle’s video on YouTube entitled ‘The Last of Us Changed My Life: In Depth Analysis and Dissection’. It was a joy to watch and even the director, Neil Druckmann, along with several cast members have Tweeted their praises for the video.
If I could only use one word to describe this game it would be: breathtaking. Truly a testament to what video games really are – a form of art.