The end of the world seems to be as hot as ever this year. Though it will be difficult to find another apocalypse from this year that’s as engaging or captivating as The Last of Us from Naughty Dog. Set in the aftermath of a worldwide infection (based on the real-life fungal parasite Ophiocrodyceps unilateralis), you take control of Joel, a smuggler hired to transport a 14-year old girl, Ellie, to a rebel group known as the Fireflies. A lot is on the line as Ellie may hold the cure to the infection, but not only does that mean traveling outside of the quarantine zone, but facing the infected lifeforms on the outside.
I don’t go out and buy a lot of games these days but there are several things that will always suture me in. One, fluid gameplay, something unobtrusive and easy to remember that doesn’t throw a bunch of new shit at you every few minutes. When I found out that Last of Us was more or less the same engine as Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series I was hooked. Something about the feel of those games was so natural and simple, it helps you enjoy the story and characters. Another thing that always draws me in is atmosphere. I love the idea of games becoming more and more like movies, but not so much that you’re not still playing a game. Last of Us has a superb cinematic quality built up by engaging character interaction, dramatic situations and an eerily beautiful, realistic visual quality. It’s just as much fun to watch as it is to play.
I’ve noticed a lot of perfect and near perfect reviews for Last of Us. As much as I enjoyed this game, I do have a few critiques. One, I don’t agree that the premise is as original or unique as some may suggest. I think the characters are great and I love their interactions, but the whole overarching plot is fairly stock. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it did feel a little overly familiar. The whole “We found someone immune in the face of an epidemic” is a little played out. Off the top of my head 28 Weeks Later has something like that or maybe even The Stand. The country-fried characters definitely remind me of some of the folk on Walking Dead as well. Though there’s certainly nothing wrong with building off of past ideas to make something even better.
Personally, doing combat with the infected was also a bit of a mixed experience. I love slinking through the shadows and shanking Clickers (one of the game’s distinct adversaries) but other times it feels very by the numbers, fighting off waves and waves of enemies until you’ve cleared an area. Though familiar isn’t necessarily bad, I don’t think there was anytime where I wasn’t enjoying myself. Most of all I admire the cinematic quality of this game more than anything else. I rarely enjoy cutscenes but here it’s exciting and even terrifying. You care about the relationship between Joel and Ellie and that’s saying something. Naughty Dog never ceases to amaze me with their ability to craft worlds that overflow with personality and adventure. I can only dream (or have nightmares) about what they’ll do next.