The Last of Us, a 2013 survival horror roleplaying video game, is widely considered one of the best video games of this decade. Its developer, Naughty Dog, is known for several other video game franchises, notably Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot, and Uncharted, but they shrivel in comparison to The Last of Us. Reasons for this judgment are plenty; not only is the story line beautifully deep and filled with fascinating verisimilitude, but the characters, gameplay, graphics, soundtrack, and all other features of the game make it an enjoyable, nearly perfect gaming experience.
The Last of Us is about a man named Joel smuggling a fourteen-year-old girl named Ellie across a post-apocalyptic United States. The world has been overrun by a virus that has turned people into zombie-like creatures dubbed “the infected”, and Ellie may hold the answer to a cure. At first, the two cannot stand each other but as the game progresses, so does their relationship as Ellie reminds Joel of his deceased daughter.
To get right to it, this story is like a novel. In fact, it is often compared to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In a review for The Last of Us written for IGN, Colin Moriarty explains:
"The Last of Us is a near-perfect analog for The Road, a literary masterpiece written by Cormac McCarthy. Both present a hopeless, post-apocalyptic situation navigated by two characters – an adult and a child – with nothing but absolute despair surrounding them. Like The Road, The Last of Us is perpetually dangerous and unpredictable, and like The Road, what happened to get society to a point of rapid decay isn’t the focus. It’s the story of the characters at hand, and those characters alone, at the center of both plots. The beauty of The Last of Us when compared to The Road, however, is that it’s fully interactive, complete with all of the vulnerability, uncertainty and perpetual insecurity such a situation inherently provides."
Clever jump scares balance the heart-wrenching emotional scenes and brutal fights in the game and at the end, the player is left feeling as if they were physically present for the entire experience. It helps that the characters are so dynamic; it is almost as if they are real people that the player is helping through this frightening situation, and the player becomes emotionally attached to them.
Ellie and Joel are very clearly fictional characters, but they are so realistic it is obvious that a large amount of time was put into their development. The same can be said for even the minor characters in the game; Tess, Marlene, and even Sam are given such fleshed-out personalities that are so realistic they can be attributed to a living person. In her review for Gamespot, Carolyn Petit describes the two main characters well:
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"Perhaps nobody knows the dangers of loving others in this uncertain world better than Joel, the protagonist of The Last of Us. A hard, bitter man, Joel isn't likable, but he is at least understandable, in large part because the dialogue in The Last of Us is so human and believable. And although that humanity comes through in all of the game's major characters, it's the teenager Ellie who is the game's emotional heart. In contrast to Joel's cynicism, Ellie is still capable of wide-eyed wonder. While Joel seems dead inside, Ellie is very much alive, and over the course of the game, neither Joel, nor you, can avoid growing attached to her."
Having characters so realistic and so human makes the story that much more emotional for the player.
Gameplay is an important factor when reviewing any game, and The Last of Us handles it well. Choice-based gameplay allows for the player to have a more intense, interactive experience and the controls are basic enough for anyone to pick up a controller and learn to play. There are even choices when fighting; one can choose to sneak up on the infected and strangle them or stab them with a shiv, shoot them with a gun, shoot them with arrows, set them on fire, stun them with bricks, or simply sneak past them and avoid the confrontation completely. Minor puzzles that need to be solved and exploration of the numerous buildings in search of materials and weapons add even more variety to the mix, creating an overall fun and exciting experience.
Graphics may not seem like a big deal, but imagine playing a game with a great story line and terrible picture quality. Fortunately, that is not a problem players of The Last of Us have to deal with. The graphics for this game are stunning, and it does not just stop with the characters and close environments. Unlike most roleplaying games, high graphics quality extends as far as the eye can see in any environment the player may be in. Not only does this make the game more realistic, but it makes it a more enjoyable experience; the art is beautiful to match the beautiful story line—and soundtrack.
As if it is the icing on the cake, the music in The Last of Us (particularly the main theme) can make one emotional when they have not even played the game. The simple, acoustic guitar strums will remind any player of certain intense scenes and fill their heart with feelings of nostalgia and bittersweet sadness. The soundtrack alone can make a player want to replay the game, to experience the story one more time.
The Last of Us is a masterpiece in the video game world. Fans of The Road will find it an enjoyably interactive experience just as emotional as the novel it is often compared to, and will not regret spending their money on this game (or borrowing it from a friend). The Last of Us will rank high on lists for years to come and will forever hold a place in the hearts of players.