The Last of Us is not a "feel good" game by any means. Rather, it's a brutally honest take on a humanity's survival in a post-apocalyptic world. While the use of zombies, or in this case zombie-like infected, is nothing really new -- zombies being one of the most milked ideas in video games, movies, and television -- The Last of Us is about more than just survival. It paints a grim picture of humanity 20-years after a horrific outbreak, while exploring human emotion and evolution during such a horrific time. I'm not talking physical evolution (aside from becoming an infected), but rather the mental transformation one must undergo to get into the mindset of "survival of the fittest." You won't be proud of your actions in the game, but you'll damn well have to do some pretty horrific things in order to survive.
Joel, a smuggler with a dark past, is tasked with escorting Ellie, a fourteen year old who only knows life inside the quarantine zone, across the United States to meet up with a group of survivors known as the Fireflies. The relationship between the two characters is some of the best I've seen in a video game. The back-and-forth dialogue between Joel and Ellie -- and any character you come across through your journey, for that matter -- is authentic and believable.
Naughty Dog wasn't joking when they said The Last of Us was heavily story driven. Seeing this father-daughter-like relationship develop between Joel and Ellie grow as you progress is as beautiful as it is terrifying. For fear of losing either one of them is always on your mind -- especially toward the latter half of the game. Throughout the 10 to 12 hour story, you become invested in this developing relationship between this bitter older man and this innocent young girl, and the transformations that take place as the story progresses. It's this type of investment that leads to a constant state of paranoia and fear of death.
While the narrative is easily one of The Last of Us' strongest elements, it also becomes one of its greatest obstacles. For the story is so enthralling that gameplay, at times, seems to get in the way.The Last of Us prides itself on offering a realistic take on an apocalypse. To its credit, it mostly does a good job of being a believable story. But as many games tend to do, especially as you build up towards the end, it loses focus on narrative as the main driving point and begins to rely on combat -- lots of combat. In turn, the narrative gets disrupted as you're forced to eliminate wave after wave of enemies (again, especially towards the end) before the story progresses.
The problem isn't necessarily the combat itself; The Last of Us' gameplay is actually some of the best I've played (I'll touch more on that later). Rather, it was the actual process of the combat sequences that took me out of the mood. I was so captivated by the characters and story, especially as the tension builds towards the end, that I found myself annoyed by the disruptions. And part of that is how the game handles death. Naughty Dog has attempted to build a believable world, where humans are reacting realistically to the apocalypse around them. You lose that sense of realism when you start to encountering unbelievable amounts of enemies and, particularly, when you die. It really took me out of the mood and by the time I found that by the time I got to the next cinematic to move on in the story, I wasn't as into it. The combat effectively took me out of the mood.
Again, that's not to say the combat or gameplay in The Last of Us is bad, because it's not. In fact, it does a fantastic job of balancing that survival element with action gameplay. Thanks to the limited supplies at your disposal, each encounter is heightened – do you choose to engage in combat or do you prefer to sneak around? Unlike what you may be used to with Naughty Dog'sUncharted series, it's sometimes better to avoid combat altogether than to run in guns blazing. A useful crafting system also makes scavenging for supplies a central focus throughout your exploration.
The decision to avoid combat is important for two reasons: one, ammunition is scarce (especially on the harder difficulties) and two, shooting or any type of noise is sure to attract Clickers. Clickers are the final stage of the infection and are absolutely terrifying. One wrong move around a Clicker will definitely result in your death. As you can imagine, some of the more intense gameplay moments in the game occur with infected.