The Last of Us – Playstation Game Review
by Oliver Mooney
Platforms: PlayStation 3/ 4
The Last of Us is a video game by Naughty Dog Studios. It was first available on the Playstation 3 in 2013, then on Playstation 4 as a Remastered version in 2014. Almost seven years have passed since its release, but it still stands as one of the best-written single-player story-driven adventures available on any gaming system. I played it for the first time last weekend.
It’s a post-apocalypse story in the vein of The Walking Dead, I Am Legend or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where survivors make the best living they can, picking over the ruins of humanity’s former glory. They do this while competing against other roving groups of hunters or fleeing the infected, humans that have been turned by a fungal infection into varieties of disfigured zombies interested only in violently spreading the infection to others.
But the real heart of the story is the relationship between Joel, whose actions you mainly control, and Ellie, his young charge, as they travel across a ruined United States. Joel is a man reduced by grief and loss to a violent, angry cipher of vengeance, unable to even speak about his past when asked without lashing out. Ellie is great; a funny, wise-ass kid affected by the horror all around her, but slowly forming a relationship with Joel that draws him out a little further each time they talk.
It’s still a videogame. It’s punctuated with moments of near-absurd violence, where human bodies react to pre-canned animations in gory crescendoes unlikely to ever occur in real life. Human heads aren’t the cantaloupes this game imagines they are. But it has that wonderful gaming tension too, where you’re inches away from violent defeat by a keenly wailing infected that might turn to blindly stumble across you or (just as likely) turn away at the last moment. You’re never so powerful that you can blindly wade into groups of enemies and expect to make it through alive. Even more so when you play as Ellie in certain short story spans; she’s far more vulnerable than Joel is, sometimes frustratingly so. Then there are quieter moments where you try to find a route past some environmental obstacle, looking for ladders and planks to navigate (sometimes arbitrarily) blocked routes.
The musical score throughout is superbly judged for the most part, heightening tense moments and counterpointing peaceful scenes. And the Remastered version’s graphics still impress, seven years on (I played the Remastered version on a Playstation Pro).
Players can only advance the story by playing through these sections – there are no effective choices you can make to influence the outcome of the story. Incidental conversations between the characters keep you invested in them but you find yourself playing the (great fun!) sections to advance the story, though there is joy to be found in incidental details like diary entries and other detritus left behind by survivors scrambling to forge new lives.
My only caveat is its depiction of human survival in the face of adversity. The game, like so many other treatments of post-apocalyptic collapse, shows humanity descending into violent competition with itself, descending into martial law before reaching a degenerate free-for-all. But every piece of real-world research shows that this is the opposite of what usually happens. Instead, people pull together, work to help strangers, and readily share what resources they have. Perhaps that’s a less gripping story, but it is one worth bearing in mind after Joel’s closing actions linger in your mind. Especially in these quarantined times. That said, I recommend The Last of Us unreservedly, both for newcomers and returning players.