I just finished The Last of Us.
I am not one to gush unnecessarily. I don’t usually heap praise upon anything. And I don’t usually write in the first person.
But that was goddamn incredible.
Top to bottom, I don’t ever remember being immersed in a game like that – to be gripped so completely and unable to stop playing. The Last of Us is all parts infectious (ha!), poignant, brutal and beautiful.
Everyone deserves to play this game. And here’s why.
1. The narrative
Nevermind a good video game narrative. The Last of Us is carried by one of the best dystopian narratives ever. I say this as a mostly-reformed English major – but this game stands up with damn near anything. It’s very clearly influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and takes many beats from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. But that’s okay – it feels like a homage rather than a rip-off.
There’s elements of Children of Men and The Handmaid’s Tale in there, too. The game doesn’t aspire to the heady dystopian ideals of 1984 or Brave New World, but that’s fine. The story is so personal and so immersive that it doesn’t have to.
The pacing is perfect, and the beats are all there – this truly is a gripping story.
2. The characters
Ellie and Joel feel real. They don’t feel like a collection of pixels, or even like characters. They feel like real people, desperately struggling to survive. It’s a feat partly achieved by some superb voice acting coupled with spot-on facial animations.
But the biggest character boon is the way they interact. Conversations aren’t relegated to cutscenes and minor quips during gameplay. They play out organically as the game progresses. Joel and Ellie actually talk to each other like, you know, people. It sounds simple, but in video games, it’s often stilted. Naughty Dog nails it in a way that’s never been done before.
3. The mood
The Last of Us is frigging bleak. This is a world without hope and remorse – cold and unforgiving in a way that feels really oppressive. In other words, it’s awesome. It’s one of the few games where total immersion is easy – no need to suspend your disbelief.
There is also a constant feeling of dread. Every fight is just that – a fight. It’s a struggle to survive. Couple that with some genuinely terrifying enemies (sweet Jesus I hate clickers) next to no ammo and near total blackness, and you have one scary-ass game. I was freaked out in a way I haven’t been since Resident Evil 2.
4. The music
The score in The Last of Us is damn near perfect. It rises and falls at just the right times, supplementing the onscreen action or drama to bolster any emotional effect. Gustavo Santaolalla deserves a medal for this one.
5. The graphics
It’s fitting that this game would be one of the last big releases on the PS3 – because man, it is pretty. From the obscenely well done character models to the spectacular lighting effects, this is one hell of a detailed game.
The level design is pretty much perfect. The world has largely been reclaimed by nature, and the way it is intertwined with our crumbling infrastructure really needs to be seen to be believed. I can’t think of another game that looks this good.
I’m not going to say The Last of Us is perfect. Yeah, I encountered a couple of gameplay glitches and yes, the gunplay can feel a little stilted and clunky.
But forget about nitpicky gameplay mechanics and listen. I say this as an XBOX fanboy who stole his roommate’s PS3 just to play this game (and fuck you Joe, I’d do it again).
Play this game. Even if you aren’t a gamer – buy a PS3 to do it. The Last of Us is honestly one of the best works of fiction I have ever seen – a masterpiece of storytelling and immersion.
It is something every fiction-lover should experience.