The Last of Us

Posted on July 9th, 2013 in games

A good friend of mine with whom I play a lot of games often tells me, with good reason, that I hate everything.  So it is with some surprise that I admit to having really liked – if not to say loved – the last three games I’ve played.  More surprising still, my long-established taste has generally been for sprawling adventure games, free-form strategy and sandbox open worlds, rather than more tightly scripted, ‘on rails’ gameplay, and these recent three – Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, and The Last of Us – are all pretty tightly scripted.  Even more surprising, I’ve always said gameplay is king, and gameplay is actually not a particular strength of any of these three, but in various ways they score huge on character, setting, story, and that rarest and most desirable of things in video gaming – emotional involvement.  These are three exceedingly well written games, which taken together are making me feel very optimistic about the future of gaming.  It’s a character, story and setting bonanza trifecta.  It’s a video game fruit machine emotional involvement jackpot.  It’s a goddamn end of generation scripted adventure holy trinity we’re looking at here.

And the apex of the triangle, the best of the crowd, is the Last of Us.  Let me be clear.  From its title to its final scene, it is a superb experience.  Raw, thrilling, affecting, uncompromising.  Quite possibly the best tightly scripted game I ever played.  This may be the old generation of hardware, but it is a new generation, a quantum leap, a brave new world in character, story, setting, and, you guessed it, emotional involvement.

So, it’s 20 years after the apocalypse.  Mankind has been largely wiped out by a fungus that turns people into fungal flesh-eating fungus zombies.  The eponymous last of us are  scratching out hand-to-mouth existences in military run totalitarian quarantine zones, banding together for survival in the wilds or living as packs of predatory hunters in the ruins of the cities.  Joel is a hard-bitten old survivor with a dark past and violence issues obliged to escort Ellie, a 14 year old girl with a secret, across the ruins of the US.

Studio Naughty Dog has good history in the cinematic action adventure arena with the Uncharted series, but while those games have a sparky, humorous, Indiana Jones sort of a feel you can probably tell already that they’ve gone for something an awful lot more solemn – if not to say horrifying – with The Last of Us.  If I say the game sits somewhere within the venn diagram formed by The Road and the recent Dawn of the Dead, I’m probably making it sound a bit more dark, hopeless and cynical than it is.  But not a lot more.  There’s some nasty, nasty stuff going on out there, and our protagonists are responsible for a fair bit of it themselves.

Looking for a video game comparison I guess Resident Evil 4 springs to mind with more stealth and less shooting. Indeed if you’re reaching for a gun early on the chances are high you’re doomed, because once they’re alert to your presence the infected will swarm you in a heartbeat with hideous consequences.  Much better results are achieved by creeping around and throttling the infected from behind, blowing them up or torching them with improvised explosives, and, when you must, beating their skulls to pulp with a lead pipe with five pairs of scissors taped to it.  Or for that matter distracting them with a tossed bottle and avoiding the creepy bastards altogether.  Action is swift and extremely savage.  Sneaking is pretty simple but plays smoothly and intuitively.  There’s a simple system for crafting helpful items, upgrading weaponry and learning new skills which will have you scouring every decaying corner for anything of use.  There are varying styles of infected to overcome or sneak around, but as in all the best horror the true hell is other people, with soldiers, raiders, freedom fighters gone wrong and loopy cannibals all making their own particular attempts to horribly rob, murder and eat our protagonists, not necessarily in that order.

Characters are big and detailed, move with a believable weight, interact convincingly with the surroundings and each other, helping with that feel of cinematic realism.  I’ve never seen such a beautifully realised setting, so cohesive, realistic and believable.  Although in some ways it’s repetitive – lots of abandoned cityscape and suburbs – colossal efforts have obviously been made to make everything individual.  It’s not just an office – it’s an architect’s office with fancy furniture, drawing boards and certificates for each employee.  It’s not just a smashed-up shop, it’s a toy shop where they were having a half price sale when the world ended.  It’s not just a cellar, it’s a janitor’s closet where a band of psycopaths were stripping their victims of their clothes and neatly arranging them in useful heaps.  The atmosphere is second to none, music spare and haunting, the groans and unearthly clicking of the infected suitably nerve-wracking.  They’ve done a very smart thing, I think, by not crowding every area with masses of enemies as well.  Large sections are just empty, abandoned, rotting, overgrown, with the noises of wildlife taking back the city, and everywhere evidence of the carnage that ensued following the outbreak, human stories picked out in notes, journals and photographs that rarely have happy endings.

The designers have had the confidence to let things breathe, to leave silences, to let you fill in the blanks – it’s about the notes you don’t play, as Miles Davis had it.  That extends to the characters too, who are vividly painted with some spare dialogue, some highly convincing, understated voice acting and some great visual design.  You see what happened to Joel in the initial outbreak in a storming opening sequence which sets the scene for you to be put through the emotional wringer for twenty hours, and you know that he’s done some dark stuff since to survive, but the mentions are forced through tight lips in passing, never made explicit.  The bond between Joel and Ellie is built up steadily, carefully, without a lot of show, but when it’s tested, you believe it.  They don’t tend to make the easy choices – the characters are spiky, aggressive, shitting themselves, difficult, believable.  The choices made become increasingly dubious, but never out of character.

It’s a very carefully and cleverly paced game, as well.  They’ve split it up into titled seasonal parts.  A classic multi-act structure.  And each season doesn’t just bring a shift in the weather, the settings, the atmosphere, but a shift in the approach, in the relationships between the characters, in the emotional resonance, constantly changing things up and throwing new styles of gameplay and drama into the mix.  New secondary characters come in too, and new dynamics between the characters.  Men and women, which is good to see.  It’s maybe 20 hours for a thorough, slow going play through, a mere bagatelle compared to something like Skyrim, but it in no way feels like a small game, and it’s an extremely intense one.  The Uncharted games were packed out with cinematic set-pieces, with climbs up dangling trains, crawls through capsized ocean liners, escapes from burning chateaus, the full-motion video and the gameplay all smoothly dovetailing.  They’ve applied all that expertise here, special moments scattered throughout, but they’re more intimate, more realistic.  Caught in a trap Joel dangles upside down, trying to repel a zombie onslaught with a revolver while Ellie struggles to free him.  You cover your allies, sweaty-palmed, with a sniper rifle while they’re attacked by a squad of thugs, then a legion of infected.  Badly wounded Joel staggers through an abandoned science block towards safety, leaning on every counter he passes, occasionally blacking out from the pain while Ellie urges him on.  You get the picture.  It’s not one bland office block full of zombies after another, it’s full of incident and invention.

Criticisms?  Pfah.  Combat can be lumpy, jittery and messy but then combat is.  Checkpointing’s maybe too smothering, you rarely have to go back far and that can make things a little on the unchallenging side.  Sidekicks occasionally run about in plain view without being seen by enemies, but I’m clutching at straws in the light of what’s done so well.  I’ve heard people say that they wish the game was less ‘on rails’, that there were more choices here, more ‘moral’ options, but I actually think the designers made the right call in telling the story they wanted without a lot of input from the player in the overall shape.  I’m not sure how well those moral choices ever really work in games, nearly always they boil down to – will you be shining hero or cackling villain, actually making things feel more artificial rather than more organic – and here things are kept much more ambiguous.  Events fall out how they may, sometimes with a sick inevitability, sometimes with a suddenness that leaves your jaw dropping.  That goes right through to the ending which, without spoilers, I found to be wonderfully surprising, understated, and complex, but still hard-hitting.  There are no easy answers, no simple decisions, no clear right and wrong, only the driving need to survive at all costs.  Not what I was expecting at all, but a very bold choice in a game which, after all, is a big time commercial proposition.  This does not feel dumbed down at any time.  It does not ever feel adolescent.  It does not feel lowest common denominator.  And I think that’s the really heartening thing for me about The Last of Us (and Tomb Raider, and Bioshock Infinite).  While commercial cinema seems to be becoming ever safer, dumber, more dominated by the bland, repetitive and obvious, in commercial games there still seems to be room for originality, bold approaches, and great design and writing.  Games – at least some of them – are getting grown up.

What makes The Last of Us so bloody good?  I think, in the end, it’s a gestalt of many small things, technical and creative, all done very well and all aimed squarely at creating that atmosphere and that involvement with the characters, which in turn makes the gameplay – relatively simple though it is – so very intense.  Great music and sound, great motion capture and expression, brilliant pacing with a fluid ebb and flow of calm and tension, strong dialogue, characterisation and a refusal to do the easy thing, a willingness to keep it all spare and tight and let the silence talk, and just amazing attention to detail throughout which makes everything feel powerfully real.  It’s a masterpiece.

I am of the first generation to grow up with video games.  I thrilled to Space Invaders, to Way of the Exploding Fist, to Elite, to Dungeon Master, to Street Fighter II, to Shogun Total War and many many many more.  But it feels like gaming is starting to come of age not just as entertainment, but as a storytelling medium.

Fine, fine times to be a gamer, my friends.  Fine times.

BY THE WAY: I’ve tried to keep this spoiler free, but I can’t say the same for the comments. If you read the comments, BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

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  1. Agree on every count, Joe. I’m the kind of guy who didn’t enjoy GTA4, who found Red Dead Redemption boring, who thought Mass Effect and Uncharted and Bioshock and whatever other hyped-up, well-received game you can mention was fun, but ultimately: nothing spectacular. I expected to feel the same way about The Last of Us.

    God damn I was wrong. I loved every minute of it. Elle is also probably one of the best creations in a videogame ever, as far as characters are concerned.

    I think another thing I really enjoyed was that it didn’t feel like there was a disconnect between the character you were playing, and the people you were killing in the gameplay. With Uncharted I always felt that. I had to suspend my disbelief that wisecracking Nathan Drake would mow down literally hundreds of random goons. Not the case with Joel. It felt like he really was the kind of hard man born out of hard times who would kill these people if necessary.

    I have nothing against Uncharted, but this was just on a whole other level.

  2. JamesM,
    Yeah, it’s a good point about the violence. Believability was the watchword in all kinds of ways. Uncharted always was cartoonish, and this is the absolute opposite. I think they played a blinder by initially inviting you to believe that Joel was that gruff but basically good natured guy who, despite the hints, would prove to have a heart of gold in the end. But by winter you realised, no, this is a guy who’s made a choice to stop at absolutely nothing to survive, and that made his final choices kind of horrifying but still totally believable and understandable.

  3. there’s going to be lots of gamer’s daughters called Ellie in the next couple of years…

  4. Great synopsis Joe. I agree with all of your salient points, and I am a bit reluctant to admit that this may be the first time a game actually made me shed a tear. Screw the false claims of sadness that everyone says they felt when Aerith died in Final Fantasy VII, (SPOILER)when Joel quietly whispers “I got you baby girl” while cradling Ellie I damn near lost it, hell it chokes me up now just thinking about it.

    To bring it back around to your work, I saw some striking similarities between Joel and Ellie’s relationship vs. Shy and Lamb in Red Country. Though Shy could clearly hold her own a bit better in the beginning, by the end of the Last of Us, Ellie was a force to be reckoned with and the surrogate parent/child relationship, dark pasts, and GRIMDARK worlds are all accounted for.
    (Note: I think the last 2 games I will be purchasing this generation are Beyond Two Souls and GTAV. Then I can’t wait for my PS4-which was a bit surprising as I was mostly an XBOX guy this generation)

    Can’t wait for your next novel, and you should then do a larger tour of the States to support it…*cough*…Northeast Ohio…*cough*!

  5. Absolutely gutted about this game
    Havn’t got a playstation 3
    Xbox and wii u (love Zelda games and mario 3d games)
    Noticed this game last year looked just up my street unfortunately I would probably be divorced if I turned up with a PlayStation
    So all you PlayStation owners out there feel very lucky

  6. Would you of made the same choice as Joel at the end guys, given his circumstances and events leading up to it I guess I would of. But boy what an ending eh? INCREDIBLE!

    I loved the way the 2 characters changed throughout the story essentially reversing. Awesome stuff.

    To be writing all this about a game, Joe you are right – extremely good times we live in. The golden age of entertainment.

  7. I own a book called Creating Emotion in Games, and I’ve gleaned good tips in it for creating emotionally complex and believable characters. I also could not help but notice that in Bioshock: Infinite, they use every trick in the book to make Elizabeth’s character likeable. And Bioshock further displayed its storytelling muscle with a strong four-act structure and robust foreshadowing. Given enough foreshadowing, a writer can conquer the world.

  8. (Pardon my English guys, I’m a hungarian)
    I read it somwhere that a good zombie story is that that works without the zombies too. I’m considering to buy a Ps3 just for this game. Just watching a walkthrough but it is more than awesome… It is touching in every way. I had the same feeling with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That game is so well written, that is like i’m playing with Rick Deckard, Sam Fisher (and sometimes John Rambo as well) within the same game

  9. Agree on all points – I was blown away by the whole experience.

    Spoilers ahead obviously, but stand out moments for me were:

    David’s “everything happens for a reason” speech to Ellie after you fight off the infected. Interesting that he was played by Nolan North.

    And of course the ending.

    Joel’s decision in killing all of the fireflies – including probably the last brain surgeon in the world – to me cemented his character.

    I read in an interview that Naughty Dog said every parent that had played the game agreed with Joel’s decision. Not being a parent myself I thought it was interesting, I can see why he made that choice but fuck me it left me feeling very uncomfortable.

  10. Rather boringly, I agree as well. Top game.

    On the cinema/games comparison, it’s also interesting that TV seems to be superceding cinema in a similar way.

  11. God damn you write so well. Tomb Raider, Bioshock and Last of Us were also the last three games I played! But Last of Us is definitely the best of the three.

    (spoilers)
    @ Harvey Quinn: You actually don’t have to kill the doctors in the room. It seems like you have to (and sometimes I just happen to hit melee with my axe…oh well!) but if you just walk over to the bed you can press triangle and get to Ellie without killing all the doctors. I think it’s one of the few parts in the game where you actually make a decision, but it still doesn’t really affect the story.

    That was the most emotional part of the game for me!

    Beyond: Two Souls is definitely next on my list, and since you cannot obtain a PS4 until after December 31st now, looks like that’s all I’ll be able to get until the next year. Metal Gear V looks amazing too.

    Mr. Abercrombie, I wonder if you like Metal Gear…

  12. Matt,
    Ha, the parallels with Red Country never occurred but, yeah, I guess he is a little Lamb like…

    Harvey,
    MAJOR SPOILERS HERE. It’s funny, whether or not you agree with Joel’s decision seems a weird way of looking at it to me. What was great about the game is that they didn’t try and make an, ‘ooh, what would YOU do?’ lame moral choice out of it, they showed you Joel’s choice, and invited you to think about it. I’m more interested in it as a storytelling decision, and it worked so well for me because it was so difficult, so conflicted. I am a parent, but I don’t know that gives you some magic new way of looking at it. What was so interesting to me was that (by my reading) Joel saved Ellie and damned the world not really for her benefit but for utterly selfish reasons. He knew that Marlene was right, and that if she’d been given the choice, Ellie would have chosen to sacrifice herself, because she still had her humanity intact. Joel lied to her in the end, and with total conviction, so she wouldn’t be able to make the choice he couldn’t bring himself to, to let her die and hence rob him of his reason to live. He says it himself in the last scene, something like, ‘I used to have trouble with surviving, but you have to find a reason to live.’ He’d found Ellie, and he couldn’t let go. Couldn’t lose his daughter again. He’d fight to keep her alive with absolute ruthlessness, whatever the costs.

    I was sure throughout that at least one of the two would die, but they actually did something much more interesting in keeping them both alive. You could pretty effectively make the argument that Joel is the ultimate villain of the story, because he chooses to doom the world for his own benefit. But then what he does is understandable, relatable, even, to some degree … heroic? I think that’s what makes it a great ending. No easy answers.

  13. Pleasantly surprised; one of my favorite authors played and reviewed what I consider to be the best game I have ever played.

    SPOILERS!!!!

    It’s not that a haven’t played many though. I’ve conquered several final fantasies, shot through over a handful of FPS, humped through bethesda’s morrowind, oblivion and skyrim, strategically outplayed age of empires and total war, even built towering monuments minecraft.

    I had a hard time getting through the first bioshock, and haven’t touched the others. While Tomb Raider was a diamond in the rough for me, it didn’t take me on the emotional roller coaster like The last of us. We all know the gun toting, wolf slay babe that is Lara Croft wouldn’t find her end on some remote eastern Asian island.

    So not only was the possibility of Joel dying (not necessarily from lack of a shiv or poor stealth) or the “oh shit, don’t make her eat that” of Ellie’s abduction more “real”, it was far more intense. The last of us gave us man, and they took everything from him, and then kept on taking.

    It’s a look into the human psyche, the man in front of the controller, not the one controlling him. Joel nonchalantly saying he didn’t enjoy violent video games before bashing the fungus out of a clicker’s skull. Ellie’s corny joke book, her questioning Joel’s past. The relationship they built, over time, was relatable. Nothing fantastic, nothing surreal. And that touched me as a gamer more than any other game has.

    While it was hard watching Cortana fade away in Halo 4, and even harder when I found out that Logen wasn’t actually charging through the woods in the heroes, it was nothing compared to how brutally I cleared the hospital on the way to Ellie.

    Also, a manly tear may have been shed when Joel cradled Ellie in the burning steakhouse, calling her babygirl as he nuzzled her hair…. Which I can say hasn’t happened from any other game.

  14. Interesting review, I’m so dying to pick up this title now and give it a go as a hardcore zombie fan…

    That said, I have a small counter-argument to make here that we are entering the golden age of video games. Without out a doubt the medium has matured to a point of breath-taking scope and depth of play, provided that a developer has the balls to take advantage of creative teams and actually use what technology offers. If anything, I’d say the three titles mentioned above are exceptions to the rule of “metrics first” number-crunchers, in which everyone seems to be playing it safe by targeting the lowest common denominator in the room (Interesting article here about a movement against that trend http://slashdot.org/topic/cloud/deus-ex-creator-starting-his-own-gaming-academy/).

    And out of curiosity, does anyone have the actual sales figures for these titles? I know Last of Us is killing it for Naughty Dog, but I think that Square Enix took a big loss on the TR reboot while Irrational Games is getting healthy but not spectacular numbers from Bioshock.

    Ideally, I’d like to see production cost come down a bit so these guys can keep running more novel risks without fear of having to meet an unrealistic, hundred million dollar recoup bottom line.

  15. Are you going to buy a PS4 or an Xbox One in the fall? Both perhaps?

  16. Morgan,
    I’ve had a Playstation since the first one came out, but I’m certainly not evangelical about it, arguments between XBox and PS fanboys are some of the lamest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The Last of Us is a big strike at the end, but overall I’d have to say XBox seems to have had the best of this generation, and I might have been thinking about moving over. Then the launch of XBox One was the most suckitudinous public relations exercise by a major company since the foundering of the Exxon Valdez.

    I can’t see any compelling reason to buy a One over a PS4 now, whereas there are plenty the other way. And what the whole thing has said about Microsoft’s attitude bothers me quite a lot.

  17. I’d love to see a PC port of this somewhere down the line, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Tell me, will the PS4 have backwards compatibility? Because if it does I might buy this when I get that.

  18. “Then the launch of XBox One was the most suckitudinous public relations exercise by a major company since the foundering of the Exxon Valdez.”

    Not a fanboy? It wasn’t a launch, it was a press conference. Yes, PR wise it was a miss. But they learned from it, adjusted and really now without the DRM stuff the two are virtually the same. I am actually excited about the TV application stuff which to me just enhances the device. That and the camera more then justifies the extra $100.00. Also the online has always been stronger on xbox. And there is no way im missing out on Dead Rising or Titanfall (I dont game on PC). By the way, I have both systems pre-ordered. I’m not missing out on Killzone either.

    Regards to their attitude? Not sure but seems to me the fandom spoke, MS listened and made changes. If they had said “fuck you fans” and done noting then I would agree with you. When has Sony done that? The launch of the ps3 was a mess and they launched at 599.00. At E3 this year, SOny showed very few exclusive games, their entire show was centered around how they were not MS, did not have DRM and did not make you do online checkin. Seems pretty lazy to me, especially since those are not issues anymore.

  19. dan,
    Honestly I’m interested in playing good games, my main concern about the hardware is that it not get in the way of the experience. Knowing what I know now I might well have got a 360 instead of a PS3. But are you trying to say the XBox announcement has been a crashing success? It’s hard to imagine them striking more false notes. Sure, they’ve backtracked under universal derision, but they gave Sony the opportunity to score huge just by smiling and saying, we’re not that. I’m amused by the sheer corporate incompetence of the whole thing and that, for me, they managed to make some of the exact same mistakes Sony made last time around – a lack of focus on the core function and an obsession with making the console they wanted rather than catering to the needs of the creators and their customers. Do I think Sony are way better? Not a lot, but I think they’ve learned from some of their mistakes and the commercial pasting they’ve been taking lately has made them a bit more customer-focused for the time being.

    But hey, no big deal, it’s early days, and I daresay it won’t make all that much difference which you go for in the end. I’ll be getting a PS4 first off, but if games come out on the XBox One that make it worthwhile I might be persuaded to pick one of those up too.

  20. Originally a Mega Drive owner, I’ve also had Playstations since they came out.

    I’m very glad the deranged 24 hour online check’s been removed, but if I were thinking of getting an Xbox One the Kinect would put me off. It also largely explains the higher price.

    It’s possible by making it mandatory that Microsoft will end up developing it so that it’s really useful and works well (whether as the main controller or allowing some voice commands/movements in a more minor role). I don’t like the idea of being charged something like £80-100 for a mandatory camera I just don’t want.

    Not that I’ll be buying a PS4 at launch. Assuming I get one, I’ll wait until there’s at least half a dozen games I want.

    The general lack of backwards compatibility from the two big companies (Nintendo seems to be ploughing a separate furrow) is both annoying and stupid. I’ve got Playstation, PS2 and PS3 games. Unlikely to buy an Xbox One but I have no issue shifting to whatever the Xbox after that is if it’s a great machine. If Sony or Microsoft had backwards compatibility it’d make me (and others, from either side) less likely to shift their allegiance because it’s a cool feature to be able to play games from years ago.

  21. In terms of writing and setting, my stand-out of last year was “Dishonored”.

  22. I have not played the game, but I have read a good few excited reviews of it. Interesting that many people have said, like Joe did, that the guy was the ultimate survivor initially.

    His choice in the end was to die, not just for himself,but his species, and ultimately even his “Little girl”. Since we could first reason, every human has known he would die, and about the only consolation anyone can find is that you can “live on” in your deeds being remembered by humans, the good you do, children you have, etc.

    He wasn’t a survivor, but a suicide looking for a way to “do it”. He choses to die, completely and utterly, and masks it from himself by “saving” a female to ultimately die alongside of, with no chance of posterity.

  23. Spoilers ahead…

    I thought the ending was brilliant and I too am glad that they did not pull any punches and told the story they were going to tell, without giving the player a moral choice.

    To me I saw it as Joel just figured Ellie is worth saving and the rest of humanity was not. Was it a selfish choice? Of course, but it was an understandable choice. The slow moment with the giraffes kind of made me think the same way, in that humanity as it is, may not be worth saving. You go through so much hell up until that point. Better to build something new, then to try to restore what has been destroyed.

    As far as the xbox one vs ps4, I am also leaning towards ps4. They just have the better selling points right now, not to mention price. I really don’t care for kinect in any form. I don’t want to talk to my electronics.. but others may. Most likely I will get the new xbox at some point when there are some exclusives I want.

  24. I think a lot of you guys have it wrong. The Fireflies were extremists! Sacrificing Ellie was a desperate grasp at a cure – there were no guarantees…

    And the ‘doctor’ at the end was almost certainly not a qualified brain surgeon! At best he would have been a scientist working towards a cure – why would they just have a brain surgeon knocking around their base?

    The part when David touched Ellie’s hand made me realise that her children could well be immune. Cutting her brain out was not the only option to consider! Joel did not doom mankind to save one girl. Also the way the Fireflies went about it; no consent from Ellie for the surgery (even though she would probably give it), not letting Joel near her, etc. They were not going to take no for an answer! They were desperate and obsessed with survival, just like the hunters and the cannibals and everyone else…

  25. I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with almost everyone else about the merits of this game – it doesn’t do anything better or amazingly different to anything before. There are many who feel the relationship between and characterisation of Ellie and Joel is special but I humbly disagree – mainly due to the fact that Joel remains the same person throughout (but maybe that’s why people like it).

    I found playing TLOU a rather monotonous affair. The post apocalyptic setting has been done many times before. Gameplay is Metal Gear Solid esque and doesn’t change up enough – the controls are a little bit fiddly too. Graphically it does a job but it doesn’t strike you in the same way as Tomb Raider or Bioshock Inifinte. There is no story to really speak of in essence it’s A to B without deviation. My main gripe is that Joel does not evolve – he remains selfish and uninteresting throughout. Playing as him was a rather disconnecting affair(for me) and the relationship between him and Ellie didn’t seem open or honest enough for it to be realistic.

    I’m pleased people like it so much it’s just a shame that It didn’t strike me in the same way.

  26. Peter,
    Heh. That comment about the main character not changing is a criticism I’ve often heard people make of my books. I thought it was great that Joel didn’t change. We just learned more about him, and saw it put into practice, and a lot of it wasn’t very pretty…

  27. I think Joel did change as a character!

    It was subtle, throughout the whole narrative, but he ended up needing Ellie more than anything else; where as at the start he wouldn’t ever allow himself to become too close to someone.

    Also the journey itself gave him the opportunity to deal with the unresolved issues about his daughter. He may not really deal with those issues and instead take on Ellie as a surrogate, but that is more interesting/complex imo.

    I’m glad there were no ‘in-yer-face’ character arcs or transformations. This story feels more sophisticated than any other computer game plot I can think of (from the top of my head).

    In short, I think Peter has missed what makes the game so special! The ambiguity, the moments of calm, the subtlety, the beauty… (I could go on and on)

    Also, what about the changes for Ellie? I think Peter has overlooked almost all of the subtlety in this game and as a result doesn’t really like it. And why you’re writing off the whole plot because one character doesn’t seem to change is beyond me! Maybe he isn’t meant to change, maybe he can’t change… Those are interesting ideas that are worthy of exploring too.

  28. I am currently utterly involved in The Last of Us, and yet I’m desperately trying to drag it out and make it last. Winter has set in and I know there are only 3 chapters to go before the end and its going to be a long while before I’m this involved in a game again.

    Although I said that about Tomb Raider 2013 as well… Bioshock Infinite, I felt lacked something that it’s predecessors had, and I didn’t care about any of the characters at all. Unlike Tomb Raider, where I felt the tangible progression in Lauras character as she is forced to make hard decisions and face situations. Similarly Joel and Ellie, I’m invested in them as people and want them to survive and for there to be a happy ending…. although I fear thats not the case.

    It’s the same thing that makes The Walking Dead so compelling is what makes The Last of Us so great. Very much the human condition, the sense of survival. It’ll be a long time before there is a game that ticks so many boxes on the ledger of “what makes a great video game”.

    Metro Last Light is next – I think it will not stand up well in direct comparison, maybe I’ll take a break from video games and catch up on season 5 of Breaking bad instead!

  29. Big Spoiler! So if you listen to some of the tape recorders in the hospital at the end, you hear that the Fireflies have actually found 12 other people who were immune and attempted brain surgery on them to no avail. Knowing this made me feel like Joel’s actions were a little more heartfelt, and made the whole thing less ambiguous.

  30. Just finished the last of us. Wow although the gameplay was not amazing. I was driven to find out what happened next in the same way as reading a novel or watching the next episode of a tv show. As Joe said I was emotionally evolved. If only they could write some story arcs like this in sand box games like skyrim or fallout. That would be my perfect game. Love how hard it is to find ammo!

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