Game Review – ‘The Last of Us’ (2013)
Platform(s): Playstation 3
Developer: Naughty Dog
“The Last Of Us” is a revelation. End of review.
Well, it sounded better in my head than on paper. :p
Set two decades after a destructive pandemic of global proportions ravages the world, a man named Joel is tasked to escort a young girl named Ellie across America because Ellie may hold the secret of the world finding some sort of salvation. Naturally their quest ain’t gonna be a walk in the park or a stroll through an abandoned, pitch-black flooded subway…
To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe I can say any more about this treasure that hasn’t already been said upon its release- gripping, edge-of-your-seat, emotionally resonating, intense and worthy every coin you pay because it’s all true. The perfect scores it has been awarded with, the applause and consumer adoration are not the result of something over-hyped. Part of the reason why I feel this game has done as infernally well as it has is because it was made at the right time in the right era and by the right people. While quite a few games out there tend to concentrate on the sensationalism of the post-apoc/wasteland genre, they tend to focus on the wide scale as opposed to the small-scale. An epic RPG like the “Fallout” franchise, “Metro: Last Light” and the like have such grand, sweeping tales to tell with the benefit of an open world, customizable type characters and a blank slate type of main character personality of which the player is able to form their own avatar from scratch. Not so with “The Last Of Us”- oh yeah, it’s BIG, but the plot does not center around the world as a whole. Instead, we are privy to the very intimate, and very personal experiences shared by middle-aged beast in man’s clothing Joel and the 14-year-old Ellie, two very different souls who over time become one’s world entire. While the world is huge, the game is completely linear, where Joel and Ellie’s shoes tread, we the player are to follow, be it through the natural landscapes of America and the suburban jungles that have been taken back by nature. Not only do we walk in their boots, we are also in their bodies and we share their same mental processes as they brave through this unforgiving world filled to the brim with danger and uncertainty as to whether or not they will see the next hour alive. The concept is so simple, but the execution is beyond what simple words can express. This isn’t merely a game, it is a quest filled with danger, thrills, drama all laden with human emotion that we simply cannot ignore.
While all of the crucial gaming elements of “The Last Of Us” exceeds any expectation even from the most elite gamer. Visually breath-taking, glorious sound design and brilliant game play, I don’t believe I could add anything more in that regard because by now you have all heard that. So rather than speak about the technical aspects of the game, I want to try to express that for me, the timing of this game’s release is arguably the best element. You see, we all know we live in such a perilous world- on a regular basis we hear news reports of murder, war crimes, acts of terrorism, irrational human behaviour and natural disasters. And while we for the most part feeling nothing by sympathy for those who are victims of these beastly circumstances, another part of us feels an impersonality toward them because they aren’t happening to us or those close to our hearts. That doesn’t make us a bunch of uncaring, unfeeling creatures, but we have that degree of separation between us that prevents us from bleeding when our fellow inhabitants are cut. With something like an international pandemic such as the one that tore through the world in “The Last Of Us” it would affect us all- some folks may fare better if they received forewarning, but as a whole, without some form of order, we descending into panic and resort to the impossible in order to survive. The sweet little girl next door may turn into feral child who wouldn’t hesitate to stab you in the throat if you got to close, the old man next door may become a paranoid sniper who will shoot upon sight and your best friend might try to kill and eat you if it means they get to see the next day. While these examples are just that and nothing more from me, what would you do if you were in that child, that man’s, your friend’s position if the circumstances were not in your favour? You could hardly blame them. 2013 has been one of many years of which we have accepted that danger is a part of our world and while we haven’t necessarily embraced the fact we could die, we are aware of the possibility. In a way, we are more ready than we ever have been in case somebody presses that little red button, or walks into a crowded mall and mows everybody down with gunfire. The entire universe in “The Last Of Us” is born from the notion of what moral boundaries would we forsake in order to continue to live in a vastly different, cruel world where survival is the only option for us all? Human beings have always had the will and desire to continue to live, to defy the odds even if we are logically well without our right to just call it quits. Really, living on this Earth is a chore for us everyday, even if we don’t acknowledge it, but we have learned to adapt because we have ways of coping with them. In the event of being overwhelmed by a global end of days scenario though we just wouldn’t know how to respond because all of our circumstances are different. We would be forced to do things that are considered taboo culturally and socially all in the name of preserving our existence. Apart from Ellie and Joel, there are no other characters that you can really get attached to, which was no doubt Naught Dog’s intention. Of course, you get one or two truly likeable characters that when they exit the game one way or another, you feel a part of you has gone with them. Ultimately though, all of your attentions will always revert back to our lead duo and what a duo they are.
In terms of the characters in “The Last Of Us” Ellie and Joel have previously led diametrically different lives- prior to the outbreak, Joel was a young single father with a 10-year-old daughter who was struggling to keep his head above water as a building contractor. Ellie was born quite a while after the event and all she has known is a buckled down, highly strict and policed way of life in a quarantine zone. Joel worked in various vocations and when we are reunited with him 20 years after seeing him as that young father, he is now a grizzled, seasoned individual who has put aside right and wrong in order to do what is necessary to eat. He leads the life of a smuggler, working under the radar in order to obtain illegal goods with his equally iron-clad partner Tess. Nobody dares question Joel about what he does for a living because chances are they have done the same things he has. He doesn’t enjoy what he does, he just does it if it means he benefits. There is nothing in this world that surprises him or evokes his curious mind because he’s seen it all. On the other side of the line is Ellie, who has never been in the world outside of the walls that confine her and her keen, curious mind drives her desire to know more about the world of the past. Every so often during their travels, Ellie will make observations about how she views the history of the world through what she sees- empty record stores with nobody in them to listen to music, coffee shops with old, rusted equipment, book stores filled with tomes of knowledge she only dreamed of and media images of film posters and lifestyles. She approaches these relics with a huge amount of wonder and Joel finds himself being her tutor, imparting several kernels of his own knowledge for her to add to her developing encyclopedia. At one point, she comes across a poster of a very slim model and asks Joel why even though there was much more food around at that point of time why people chose to look that way and Joel rumbles “Some of us just chose not to eat it.” “That’s stupid” Ellie snorts incredulously. To her, choosing not to take advantage of access to food is a sin because she has lived on rations all of her life. In fact, all of what Ellie has to say rings a bell in us all because we live in a world that we take for granted on a regular basis and when you as the player hear her commentary on the world you live in, we don’t find ourselves waving our hand dismissively, it genuinely makes us take a step back and think just how lucky we are. Naturally I am speaking from a First World perspective when I say this, but there is no doubt in my mind that the same logic a fictional character such as Ellie applies is the very same of those unfortunate to reside in Third World societies in our reality.
The blossoming connection between Joel and Ellie is by no means romantic (because eww and it would ruin the point of the game) but it becomes forged by surrogate paternity and mutual trust. When they first meet, Joel outright expresses he doesn’t give two hoots to why Ellie is deemed worthy to smuggle, and Ellie can’t exactly express any fondness for him either, though naturally this changes when they are forced into a bond of co-dependency. As the game goes on, you start to see that they complete each other in such a way that cannot be expressed via words, but through actions. I honestly have no other way to put this, but Ellie and Joel ARE the game, they are the ones who we love and want to protect as if they were our own family because at the end of day, no matter how many enemies we fight, no matter how much the odds stack up against our favour throughout the game, Joel and Ellie are our beacons. Simply speaking, no amount of praise I could ever laud on the writers or the developers could express anything new so all I will say is Joel and Ellie are two of the best characters in a video game EVER. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s voice work as Joel and Ellie respectively I just… let me say, neither of them are performing, they aren’t acting… they are being these characters. They understand them, they express themselves as well as any flesh and blood actor ever could, or perhaps even better so. They unquestionably blew me away, I want to give them both a hug and kiss their hands… though with Baker I would aim more for his mouth, but that’s just me. :p Johnson in particular is astronomical because while Ellie is 14, Johnson doesn’t resort to a cutsey, little-girl-lost vernacular, she conducts Ellie with maturity melded with a natural, inquisitive mind. She isn’t wise beyond her years, but she is not disillusioned by the circumstances she has been born in to, she swears but she also isn’t the pessimist Joel is. Ellie is one of the best female characters in a game period because quite frankly there has been nobody else like her and Johnson just hits that ball out of the park with her stellar work. When you see the countless interviews with her and Baker, you can see true passion for their work in their eyes and voices because they know they are part of something that goes beyond just getting a paycheck. Additionally, Naughty Dog alumni and overall voice acting hooker Nolan North gives life to a character that I feel nobody really saw coming from somebody who gave Nate Drake of “Uncharted” a voice. Along with the fact they have been part of such a gifted and highly intelligent assortment of individuals who have helped to get this game to its feet, this is bound to be a highlight on the resume of everybody involved because “The Last Of Us” is an amazing collaboration of mind, ardor and ingenuity- it’s a work of art.
Apart from the admittedly exceedingly bleak world that “The Last Of Us” formulates, there is a definite message of hope and optimism throughout. I know, I know, those of us who have played the game may cock and eyebrow at this notion, but here is my reasoning. There is no definitive hero in this game, in a sense, Joel, Ellie et. al. are in one way or another a ‘savage’ due to what we have seen them do, but what prevents this game from being an emotional and draining downer for me is the justification of the actions Ellie and Joel take in order to each one another. At various intervals of the story, when one is in trouble, the other helps out- when Ellie is grabbed by an enemy, be it one of the Infected or a human, Joel will react violently all in order to keep her from being killed or worse. You can see the wrath on his face when he plows a hole in a Clicker’s head with a spiked 2×4 or when he heartlessly smashes a human survivor’s face into a countertop, nose-first. We are right there doing it, and we feel some sort of cold victory when we manage to save Joel’s young charge. Similarly with Ellie, when she is looking out for Joel’s best interests, she isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done, even if it means taking human lives in order to do it. There is nothing neither would do for each other and when you strip away the darker of elements, you can understand and appreciate that in the end, all we will have is each other. While that shoots my earlier suggestion about what we personally would do in the name of looking out for Number One in the foot, if you see somebody you love in jeopardy, the instinct to protect them far outweighs the desire to turn tail and save your own hide. Humans as we are now are creatures of passion, passion can be harmful and harmless, it all depends on how we spend it, and when it comes to saving a loved one, that passion knows no bounds. This notion is oddly life affirming in the case of “The Last Of Us” because even when the world has gone down the toilet and we are forced into doing what we usually say we would never do, we will still have those we care about. We could easily just lay down and die, but our instincts are far too strong to allow that- if we go down, we do so fighting, which indicates the strength of the human spirit. Personally speaking though, I’d rather the world not get to that point before we come to the revelation that helping out a fellow human being is the greatest deed we can each achieve, but in terms of what “The Last Of Us” is telling us, while the world may be lost, we that fire within us all that demands us to press forward because there must be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Wow, I never intended on this game review becoming an actual analysis! Best get on with the ratings, then!
Fun Factor: 10 – While “The Last Of Us” is not meant to be a fun game, it is absolutely immersive in every respect. You will laugh, you will cry, you feel anxiety when you hear a Clicker and a sensation of triumph when Joel and Ellie overcome every obstacle in their path. In terms of the multiplayer though, the saturation of competition is prevalent to the highest order, none of the intensity of this game is lost even when you are playing with somebody named Cuddle_Bear453.
Graphics: 10 – Even though graphics to me don’t factor into what makes a game GREAT, given Joel and Ellie are wandering across the sprawling hinterland of America, the visual beauty and textures add another dimension of total absorption. Every piece of scenery is a marvel, no matter how unsettling it may be. If you have Stendhal Syndrome, you will probably suffer quite a few episodes at the sheer magnitude and splendour.
Sound: 10 – Just as with the graphics, every sound you hear will no doubt keep you on edge, especially in scenarios that require you to stealthily make your away through a darkened room filled with Infected or an abandoned hotel that is crawling with human survivors who won’t hesitate to kill you on sight.
Control: 10 – As Sting crooned:
“Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you”
Truer words couldn’t speak more. Every movement you make will matter. Rushing into combat encounters are never a wise thing and you must think before you act and consider all of your resources. Being on your toes has never been more masterfully conveyed here.
Lasting Appeal: 10 – Look, if you don’t already know the consensus now, right?
100% – Masterful.
You owe it to yourself to play this game because quite frankly, there is none other like it.