game review of THE LAST OF US

TheLastOfUsJoelEllieArtworkI don’t even own a PS3, but after all the hype surrounding The Last of Us, I had to do whatever it took to get my teeth into it.  So I showed up at my friend Adam’s apartment and told him the front office had a package for him.  Then I locked the door and barricaded myself in with his Playstation for 15 hours.

That said, The Last of Us is 100% worth trading a friendship for.  It may, in fact, be the best game I’ve ever played.

The Last of Us follows the story of Joel, an everyman just doing whatever it takes to survive the fungal apocalypse.  However, that “whatever it takes” bit happens to include a whole lot of killing.  There’s chords of loss, desperation, horror, and panic.  All along, human life seems so hopelessly fragile, and the world–a nature-reclaimed America–remains beautifully indifferent. Having someone screaming and banging on the apartment door only added to the tension for me.

The Last of Us isn’t a game of Good vs. Evil.  In some ways, it’s almost the opposite of modern shooters, which so frequently cast the technologically superior, gun-toting protagonists as “good” and the lowly, slaughterfied masses as “evil” while hoping nobody looks too closely at these sorts of things.  In The Last of Us, many of the enemies are regular human beings whose motives for survival are no higher than Joel’s, but you as the player must be the boot stomping on their human faces if you intend on surviving the zero-sum game of post-apocalyptic living.  There is no good or evil here: only survivors.

That alone would be enough.  The benchmark isn’t set very high for video games, to be honest.  Video game characters are often described as “deep” if they’re made out of corrugated cardboard instead of the single-ply variety, and duct-taping a copy of Atlas Shrugged to an anvil usually goes far enough theme-wise to merit accolades and awards.

But Naughty Dog didn’t want to just stop at an uncompromising perspective on the constructededness of morality, no.  Neil Druckmann, the writer for The Last of Us, clearly knows his shit.  Without spoiling anything, the characters are nuanced, understated, and go through distinct character arcs, the story structure employs artful foreshadowing and motifs that string together resonating ideas like fish on a line (keep an eye on all the abdomen wounds, for example), and even genre-savvy fans will have their expectations twisted around and subverted because it’s almost like the writer doesn’t think his audience is a bunch of mouth-foaming idiots.

The Last of Us is a story that knows what it is doing, and it does it well.

Great job, Naughty Dog.  You guys can all go home proud of yourselves now–wait, what’s that?  You’ve decided to put in accessible gameplay mechanics that are intuitive to learn but which can be mined for deeper, more strategic combat and stealth?  You decided not to give the players everything they need but instead make them scratch and claw for every bullet and bandaid on the wacky theory that scarcity actually increases immersion?  You based your zombies on actual science which makes them stay scary as fuck even if you stop and think about them rationally?  And you added a novel and complex multiplayer system?  Good grief, Naughty Dog, you’ve made enough content here for seven grade-A games.  Didn’t anybody every tell you to quit while you’re ahead?

Oh, and the art, cinematics, and character designs are all jaw-dropping.  And the AI is impressive.  And the music is gorgeous.

The Last of Us is actually a hard game for me to write about because just thinking about it makes me want to close my internet browser and attempt to write a story that strives to be as competent and beautiful and achingly human as it is.  Crappy stories are easier to review, it seems, because doing so scratches an itch the same way righting a crooked picture frame does. The only purpose this review serves is to hopefully make you rush out and get The Last of Us as soon as possible.

  • Good stories make us better people.
  • The Last of Us is a good story.
  • The Last of Us makes you a better person.

I recommend it to everybody.  Go play it now.  That is all.

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