My take on The Last of Us
After seven weeks, The Last of Us has finally been dethroned from the top of the UK videogames chart, so I thought now was a good time for a retrospective look at my own personal experience with the game. This is the story of how my feelings towards Naughty Dog’s latest adventure went from scornful indifference to something not too far from reverence.
WARNING: The following article contains MAJOR spoilers for The Last of Us. Please only read if you have either completed the game or don’t mind the story being ruined.
I’ll be honest; when The Last of Us was first announced at the 2011 VGAs, my feelings towards it were fairly apathetic. ‘Oh great, another post-apocalyptic zombie game’ I thought, scathingly. Not only that, but it was a survival horror title, a genre that I’ve always struggled to get into (I’m one of the few people who thought the more action-oriented Resident Evil 5 was an improvement over the previous games in the series!).
Even the hordes of perfect reviews weren’t quite enough to convince me that I’d enjoy The Last of Us, but even so I still picked it up on day one, for three main reasons: 1) because I’m a big fan of Naughty Dog; 2) because I felt I had a duty to as a PS3 owner; and 3) because GAME were selling an exclusive limited edition that included the soundtrack and various other bonus content.
When I finally started playing, the first thing that struck me was just how phenomenal it looks. We all knew it would look good, but quite how Naughty Dog got it looking that good on seven-year-old hardware is a complete mystery to me. I bought a high-spec gaming rig a few months ago and, when it comes to visuals, The Last of Us genuinely gives many of the PC games I’ve been playing a run for their money; it’s really only the PS3’s lack of anti-aliasing that lets the graphics down a little.
Naively thinking that the gameplay would be similar to the Uncharted series (which I’ve never had much trouble with), I decided to start my first playthrough on Hard, which unfortunately proved to be a big mistake. It was all going well until my first real encounter with the Infected (about an hour or so in), and after half a dozen attempts it became clear that I needed to rethink my choice of difficulty.
I’m slightly ashamed to say that this bad experience put me off the game slightly, so after that I didn’t touch it for about a week and a half. When I eventually went back to it (mainly because the rest of the PS3A team kept saying how good it was), I decided to swallow my pride and play on Normal difficulty. This turned out to be a great decision, with combat encounters that were challenging but never frustrating.
Although the story is full of emotional highpoints, there were two key moments that genuinely made me sit back in my chair and say ‘Wow!’. The first was at the beginning of the Winter chapter, when you play as Ellie. It was a fantastic gameplay twist that I admit I didn’t see coming, and the whole deer hunting sequence was beautifully constructed.
The second section was near the end of the game, just before Joel and Ellie get to the Fireflies’ base, and the duo comes across a pack of giraffes. I spotted the zoo poster a few minutes earlier and thought ‘That would be cool!’, so when it actually happened I was completely floored. It was a moment of poignant reflection, for both the two protagonists and also me as the player.
The ending was similarly superb. The fact that Joel so blatantly lied to Ellie about what really happened with the Fireflies poses some very interesting questions for the much-rumoured sequel. Surely the biggest of which is: what’s going to happen if (or when) Ellie finds out? It’s the thought-provoking moments like this that help me forget the things that I don’t like so much about the game.
For example, although the gameplay is fantastic overall, there are a couple of niggling things that bother me. Firstly, it’s pretty convenient that a wooden pallet is always somewhere nearby whenever Ellie (who can’t swim) has to cross water. Also, Joel has some sort of inexplicable sixth sense that allows him to locate these pallets, even when they are not in his view. The word ‘contrived’ comes to mind, which is disappointing for a game that is otherwise extremely successful in creating a realistic setting.
I also take exception to the idea that Ellie, as well as fellow teenager Sam, cannot swim. I get what Naughty Dog is trying to say; many children are taught to swim by their parents but, as orphans, this kind of ideological childhood wasn’t available to them. However, in a world where survival is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it just seems absurd that Ellie knows how to handle a gun and craft supplies, but Marlene evidently didn’t think it necessary to teach her how to swim.
In the end it doesn’t matter though, because these faults pale into insignificance when compared with everything The Last of Us gets right. When it comes down to it, no game ever made is absolutely perfect, but Naughty Dog’s latest creation is just about as close as it’s possible to get. From the emotional story to the awe-inspiring soundtrack, the tense gameplay to the incredible visuals, gaming genuinely doesn’t get much better than this.
It’s been a few weeks now since I played The Last of Us (most of my recent gaming time has been taken up by the games I bought in the Steam Summer Sale!), but I’m really looking forward to getting back into it. Next on my to-do list is complete a New Game Plus playthrough to find any collectibles I missed the first time around, and then it’ll be time to sample the multiplayer; I can’t wait!
In recent years, the zombie genre has ironically become a bit of a zombie itself, stagnating, decaying, and stubbornly refusing to die. However, the new generation of zombie games, including of course The Last of Us, but also other games like The Walking Dead and the upcoming DayZ, proves that there’s still plenty of life in the undead yet.