When you’ve been playing video games for as long as I have – I started on the Commodore 64 & Atari, and have continued with every generation since – it takes a pretty special game to make it onto my, “All Time Best” list.
For a game that had me so emotionally connected within the first 20 minutes that I shed tears, not to mention going to bed thinking about the world that they created and the story that they’re telling, Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece, “The Last of Us” has quickly cemented its place in my Top 5.
This is not the first time for Naughty Dog, either. Another one of their titles, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, is also on that list…but for different reasons.
For the purposes of this review, I am going to assume that you have either played The Last of Us or read | watched a million reviews about it. Therefore, I am going to spare you the long paragraphs of exposition setting up the context of a, “post apocalyptic world filled with what can only be described as Zombies, even though they’re not really Zombies,” but rather what I loved about the game and why it was able to skyrocket so quickly onto my all time top games list.
Additionally, I also understand that what constitutes a great game can be an entirely subjective matter from one player to the next. We all have different parameters and bars that we set for such a distinction.
In this piece, I will simply lay out why I feel that the Last of Us is one of the best games that I have ever played.
It’s the Story, Stupid
Oh God, the story.
Since its release, The Last of Us has (deservedly) been showered with a lot of praise. Some have even made the assertion that it almost can’t be considered a video game anymore, and that a new genre needs to be created in its wake…I’d suggest, “Playable Movie” or “Controllable Cinema.”
In my opinion it isn’t the gameplay that stands out – since it’s pretty standard fare and nothing particularly groundbreaking – but rather the masterful storytelling, stunning visuals and top-notch voice acting that Naughty Dog employs, which results in the game staying with you long after you turn it off, and makes you count the minutes before you can finally jump back into the world that they created.
I became so emotionally invested in the characters and the story, that my motivation to succeed within the game was not simply to get to the next level or to earn another achievement, but rather because I felt a compelling responsibility to the characters, along with a desire to protect Ellie and to not let her down.
I also became so invested in their relationship, that some of the biggest payoffs (for me) were when they started to let their guard down with one another and became closer. This powerful connection to the characters is achieved through the incredible cut-scenes – in which I muttered, “Holy shit!” or “I’m not crying…I just have something in my eye,” repeatedly throughout the game – and via the in-game exchanges (many of which are humorous) between Joel and Ellie.
Couple these powerful emotional elements with the hauntingly beautiful and astoundingly perfect soundtrack composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, and you have an experience that is truly something special.
Sure, some people will point to other games like the, “Call of Duty” franchise as “great” games. However, I could give a shit about the story and half of the time I have no idea what the hell is going on – thanks to noisy, disjointed and jumpy cut-scenes – other than, “some bad guy wants to do more bad stuff and I am supposed to kill him…rinse & repeat.”
Sure, gameplay is fun and they sell a lot of copies…but that’s not enough to qualify as a ‘greatest game’ in my book. Not to mention the fact that I still have 2 CoD games that I have yet to finish, and stopped caring enough about to ever feel the need to.
With, “The Last of Us” this was never the case, and you would be an idiot to skip the cutscenes. I had forsaken all other games I was playing at the time (and in some cases, basic hygiene) until I finished it.
Gameplay: You Will Die…A Lot
Although I mentioned previously that the gameplay in The Last of Us is not particularly groundbreaking, it does effectively lend to the story and is worth mentioning.
Throughout the game you are forced to make decisions. This is a post-apocalyptic world in which 20 years have passed since the outbreak first occurred, the world has been picked clean and materials are in short supply. Therefore you cannot take a, “run and gun” / “spray and pray” approach to enemies, nor will you ever have enough ammunition to do so.
Every encounter requires you to immediately assess your chances for survival, and to make a determination based upon your situation. Do you fight, run or attempt to sneak past your enemies? Joel, the main protagonist, is not some ex-special forces military assassin who never misses… in fact, every time I missed a shot, I lamented at the loss of the bullet, that is how scarce supplies can be if you decide to stand and fight in every encounter.
Joel has a “listening ability” – which is essentially a cheat, but I’m not complaining – that helps him to “see” where enemies are and to plan his next move. This option can be removed by playing on Survivor mode, of which I am not man enough to attempt yet. As a result, you sneak around a lot and try to take out enemies silently (for fear of alerting others…alive or infected) or bypassing them altogether.
Due to the sparse nature of supplies needed to craft med packs or weapon enhancements in The Last of Us, I found myself trying to take out every enemy, simply so that I could fully search the area for additional supplies. This lead to a lot of deaths…like, a bunch…too many probably. 😉
The AI is smart and will react to you, often times attempting to flank (living) or overpower you with numbers (infected). This made the game feel tense and I often commented on how “twitchy” the game constantly made me feel… which aligned perfectly with and felt right within the story, as well as the gorgeous and dangerous world that I was playing in.
The Last Word
As I said earlier, gamers are a finicky bunch and we all have different prerequisites for what we consider to be a great game. For me, the combination of a masterclass in storytelling, a strong emotional investment in the characters and solid gameplay made, “The Last of Us” one of the best games that I have ever played.
I was sad when it ended, simply because I wanted to keep playing and did not want to leave Joel, Ellie or the world that they inhabited.
I am a little conflicted about the ending and perhaps that is a post for a later date, or a discussion for the podcast. However, the fact that Naughty Dog created a game in which I could seamlessly and tirelessly play for hours, go to bed thinking about it, couldn’t wait to play it again and had a real & visceral emotional reaction to the world and the characters, puts it in my Top 5 list… easily.
So, what are your thoughts on the game? Feel free to sound off in the comment section!
By: Dana Sciandra
The Last of Us is exclusive to the Playstation 3 console gaming system