The Last of Us has me at a loss for words. When I first saw the trailer for this post-apocalyptic world, I was excited. It was amazingly pretty, the characters had depth and the live gameplay was impressive. Unfortunately, after a few weeks and a whole bunch of new trailers coming out, I promptly forgot about The Last of Us. After playing it, how I managed to forget is astonishing and I think this game is one that will stick with me for a good, long while.
From the moment you start the game, you’re thrown directly into the action. You’re as confused as Joel and his young daughter Sarah are and you want to know what’s going on as much as they do. Within the first 25 minutes of the game, I’d already felt guilt, panic, fear and heartbreak and the emotions continue to freely flow.
Trying to break down my favourite part of this game is hard. I’m not sure if it’s the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack from Gustavo Santaolalla that you don’t notice until it hits you and it overwhelms you or if it’s how Neil Druckmann has crafted the characters into people you care for and you want to protect but it all melts into a story with a gorgeous backdrop. Whether you’re running through the barren cities overrun with nature or trying to silently pass through a broken building trying not to alert the Clickers, the detail that has gone into this game is immense and very little has been overlooked.
In fact, even when talk about the monsters in this game, the developers have taken from real life inspirations. On the night of Joel’s birthday, a Cordyceps-like infection breaks out and spreads across the United States. The infection is based on Ophiocordyceps unilateralis which is a fungal infection that infects ants and alters the way they behave and eventually the infection uses them to spread spores to infect others. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis turns ants into zombies.
In the game, there are varying levels of infection which range from relatively tame to stomach-churning. While they aren’t your typical gruesome zombie with decaying flesh and missing
limbs, the infected in The Last of Us make you terribly uncomfortable. The Clickers (which I mentioned above) are completely blind because physical, fungal growths have formed on their faces. Clickers eventually become bloated and die at which their bodies will start producing infecting spores, like the real life infection.
Non-infected enemies are even more difficult to encounter. Naughty Dog developed a new AI-System called “Balance of Power” where enemies act more like real people. Enemies will take cover, call for help and try to flank you with their reinforcements and even take advantage of weaknesses. During gameplay, I’ve been taken by surprise when trying to reload and had someone grab me from behind. Thankfully, I’ve got Ellie.
Ellie is a masterpiece all of her own. This fowl-mouthed 14-year-old isn’t just a character in a game that’s essentially a game-length escort mission; she’s a fully-fleshed personality who takes care of Joel and herself. She’s a major catalyst for change with Joel, too.
Ellie was born after the Cordyceps infection spread and she’s never known a world where there aren’t military, checkpoints and infected so her personality is mature for her age, but she’s willing to take on so much more than you think she’s capable of. When Joel is being attacked, Ellie can help by attacking his attacker. Once or twice, she’s helped my Joel by stabbing his attacker in the neck! When she sees the outside world for the first time, she’s blown away by how beautiful it is.
When I was first introduced to Ellie, she was just another person I had to protect and just someone else to get in the way but when you go through these events with her, she grows on you and you genuinely care for her well-being. I’ve found myself saying, “Excuse me, Ellie” when she’s blocking a doorway or wondering where she is during an attack because I want her to be safe.
The only ‘problem’ I’ve found (and I say ‘problem’ because I’m really just nit-picking at this point) is that sometimes I could put the controller down and not want to play for a while. It’s definitely not a bad thing, but I’m able to just stop where I’m at, save the game and come back to it later.
The Last of Us lives up to the hype. It’s been called ‘perfect’, a ‘masterpiece’ and some are calling it a significant title for the current generation of consoles. Everything about The Last of Us from the writing, the sound, the characters and the graphics works together and compliments each other. It’s scary, breath-taking, edge-of-your-seat kind of game play that you need to be a part of.
Naughty Dog have done something amazing with this game and I’m genuinely looking forward to see what they have in store for us next.