Hot off the heels of their most recent Uncharted outing, developer Naughty Dog could have simply stuck to the tried and true, guns-blazin’, wall-clamorin’ formula of the iconic action/adventure series. Instead, the Sony-owned studio chose to go much darker with The Last of Us, a brooding tale of loss, redemption, and survival.
A mysterious fungal parasite has ravaged the country, leaving countless victims in a-like state of blood lust, and Joel, a smuggler with a mysterious past, is stuck in the middle of it all.
The nation’s state of decay is immeasurably large-scale as survivors are moved into ghetto-like quarantine zones run by the military. For reasons we won’t spoil here, Joel finds himself in a tricky situation, and must escort teenaged Ellie across the nation whilst contending with the viral outbreak, ruthless bandits, and others just doing their best to get by and live another day.
If there’s one thing Naughty Dog, it’s engaging and detailed stories. The Last of Us takes these tenets to brilliant new heights.
The engaging story
Joel is a man with a tortured past now working as a smuggler in a Boston quarantine zone. Need pills or guns? Joel is your guy. These military-run ghettos might promise safety and security, but the sad fact is that everyone is still struggling to get by using any means necessary — sometimes violent means. Food rations are scarce, trust is a thing of the past, and many are forced to do things they might otherwise never have even thought of just to live another day.
We join Joel and his partner, Tess, as a routine deal goes awry and they are forced to confront a fellow smuggler to retrieve stolen firearms. This sets into motion a chain of events whereby Joel finds himself escorting 14-year-old Ellie across the country as a means to retrieve the weapons from the Fireflies, an insurgent group of radicals attempting to wrestle control away from the military and put it in the hands of the people.
Joel is a reluctant hero and at first wants nothing to do with Ellie… the tension between the two is palpable.
The post-outbreak generation gap
Ellie is, for the most part, a happy-go-lucky teenager as she has never known a world without the infected. In other words, this is the only life she has ever known. For Joel, who can remember a time before the outbreak, it’s a little harder to achieve any sort of happiness. Though she is feisty, Ellie is still naive, and it’s endearing to see her gasp with wide-eyed astonishment at things we take for granted…forests, wildlife, fresh air, etc., or tell bad jokes during downtime.
Joel, on the other hand, is hardened by the horrifying events of his past, and struggles to look at the transport gig as a job and nothing more.
Over the 15-20 hours of gameplay, however, the two begin to form a father/daughter bond similar to that of Lee Everett and Clementine from Telltale Games’ brilliant Walking Dead series. Whereas Joel is gruff and curt with Ellie at first, he slowly grows to love her, and so do we. This gradually forming bond is the true star of the show, and the dynamic that develops between the two characters feels truly organic and showcases some of the best writing of this gaming generation.
Early instances that find Joel impatiently bossing Ellie around evolve into more of a partnership, and we begin to care for Ellie as if she were our own daughter. The lengths to which Joel will go in order to provide protection are mind blowing and sometimes heartbreaking.
Questioning your morals
In most games — let’s face it — the task of killing is an almost joyful event. In The Last of Us, however, each enemy you encounter and kill carries serious emotional weight. For the most part, those you fight are survivors just like you, and you begin to see yourself in your enemies’ actions. Yes, some enemies are downright bad guys, but they are fundamentally trying to find another meal, more water, antibiotics, etc. You will begin to wonder who you are to decide who lives and dies; it never feels good to sneak up behind an enemy and strangle them to death as they fruitlessly try to cling to life.
Naughty Dog’s different take on game violence is smart and sticks with you. The game even goes so far as to straight up point out that the very people you’ve been fighting and killing are no different than you in terms of situation and motivation.
Continue reading the review after the jump…
- Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
- Published by:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developed by:
- Naughty Dog Software
- Year Released:
- June 14, 2013
- Also Available On:
- PlayStation 3
- Official URL:
- The Last Of Us