There are the tinniest, most well thought-out moments during the story of ‘The Last of Us’. They are engraved into the narrative, crafted to be remembered and special. The kind of moments you remember not because you were playing, but because you experienced something inspiring.
The backbone, the structure, the support of this story is all built on the pacing. There are earth-shacking moments when everything is hopeless, when violence and despair and all of the worst of humanity takes center-stage, but it’s the quiet breaks and the almost sterile environments that Joel and Ellie find together that create the perfect balance for those moments.
There’s a cliche in horror, epics or survival games and movies. It’s when a character says, “I wish we could just stay here forever.” It’s a common expression, and one that does hold meaning but often times is lost in the story. Naughty Dog didn’t push that expression, but instead I actually felt it myself. I loved Joel and Ellie, I loved the characters, they felt real and broken and desperate. The story is of the horrible plight that humanity must face after a devastating fungus has ravaged our population. Everything about this world is cruel, and hard and painstaking to watch, you know that continuing the game means inflicting even more torture on your two characters, and it’s because I liked them that I wished the inevitable hardships wouldn’t happen.
The fungus has been spreading and killing for 20 years now. There is small sense of stability in the world, though it isn’t one with any hope. You meet Joel as a Boston smuggler, one who fetches items and sells them to others that need the supplies. It’s dangerous and lonely and it’s a pathetic life for something so death-defying. Ellie is the counter of Joel, she is only fourteen year old and is being searched for by a group called the “Fireflies”. They are the resistance, the rebels and the underdogs.
[quote_center]she becomes really his last connection to any of the good that humanity has to offer. Joel gave up all of that good to survive in the post-outbreak world. If Ellie is to survive, then she will have to do the same thing.[/quote_center]
I can honestly say that no other relationship on the PS3 seemed to be as realistic and has heartbreaking as Joel and Ellie. The two characters are met with amazing performances and the graphics engine, animation and storyline created a realistic setting for these characters to come to life. It’s more that they just needed one another, or were with one another. Their personalities together are a combination that demonstrates the inevitability of their society. Joel is loss, solitude and hopelessness while Ellie is the future, hope, innocence and a fresh start.
The gameplay of The Last of Us is violent, really violent. These scenes and actions are done sometimes out of love, out of hatred and even just survival. As I mentioned before it is the contrasting moments that make these violent acts so much more impactful than other games. It’s also the weapons, these are basic and personal weapons. There are guns in the game, and guns in other games but it’s the act of killing someone with a shiv, a blunt object or getting away in a crafted smoke bomb that make it seem so much more real. These are last-straw moments, that strip away basic humanity to show you the true horribleness that awaits you in such a desperate situation. These are civilians, not trained killers. Killing is hard, it’s violent, messy and not at all easy to watch. The gruesomeness makes each kill more devastating to Joel’s character, instead of how other games use it just to impress players.
[quote_right]These are last-straw moments, that strip away basic humanity to show you the true horribleness that awaits you in such a desperate situation. [/quote_right]The stealth mechanic in the game was built around necessity as well, you are not well armed and you are outnumbered. Taking on large groups is almost impossible and fighting in the shadows is really your only chance to survive. The stealth is more realistic than you may have hoped, it was hard and unforgiving. Naughty Dog has supplied gamers with a wide-array of tactics, abilities and attacks for stealth, but it did take me a very long time before I really understood it.
In combat there are two very different enemies, the humans and the infected humans. They do not act the same at all, and they shouldn’t, but Naughty Dog did an amazing job creating unique AI for both. Humans are tactful, intelligent and will constantly try and outmaneuver you. Infected overpower you, their numbers, animation and abilities were truly fighting for me, and alerting any of them to my presence was cause for me to become alarm.
I really want to touch on a basic point about the gameplay. I said earlier that Joel is Ellie’s counter-personality. Joel takes on the role of an instructor and a teacher. What makes Ellie so important to Joel is that she becomes really his last connection to any of the good that humanity has to offer. Joel gave up all of that good to survive in the post-outbreak world. If Ellie is to survive, then she will have to do the same thing, but that would require Ellie giving up all that Joel did. It’s an interesting problem and one that serves to explain Joel’s behavior, his violence and his methods.
The Last of Us isn’t just about surviving, it’s what you are left with after you survive that matters. It was a really interesting look at the cost of surviving, and if living through something by any means is really worth the life you are left with. It made me ask questions, to think about the same situations, and to question beliefs, and that something a truly great game will do.