Sometimes when a game is overly hyped, I can fall into the trap of dismissing a game entirely due to its popularity. Back in 2013, there was this huge hype about The Last of Us. At that time, I was too busy playing Dark Souls II to drop the game to see what the hype is all about. Thanks to my purchase of the PS4 back in 2015 (the main reason I bought the console was for Bloodborne), it came with a digital copy of The Last of Us. I decided to give the game a whirl because I want to challenge my preconceived notion about the game. Is it a masterpiece?
To my surprise, I must admit, I did enjoy the game to some extent. The biggest strength of the game is progressively watching the father-and-daughter-like relationship grow. I find the bonding between the main protagonist Joel and Ellie more believable than the father and daughter relationship in Resident Evil Revelations 2, The Evil Within 2, and even Nier Gestalt (another topic I will go into detail at a later time). As the saying goes, “show but don’t tell” is a popular saying when crafting a good story. The same rule applies to video games. The presentation in Last of Us is cinematically engaging. Throughout the game, Ellie is seen side by side with Joel most of the time, allowing the audience to feel close to the characters over time. Even in combat, Ellie is not useless like Sheva in Resident Evil 5. Throughout the game, teamwork is heavily emphasized for the two characters to survive. The most memorable part of the game to me is when a player has to switch from Joel to Ellie. At that point in the game, a scene takes the player into the future without giving many details of what has happened from the previous dramatic scene where it appears as if Joel has been shot (my memory is getting fuzzy here, I played this game back in 2018). I couldn’t tell if she is all alone until later, she is seen nursing Joel back to his health. That section of the game gave me a sense of relief. I didn’t realize I was becoming emotionally invested in the two characters’ relationship. I wanted to see them succeed. I wanted to see them survive.
Another section of the game that is memorable is where Ellie has to drive out the bad guys away from harming the injured Joel. I know I would do the same for my dad without a doubt. There is that urgency to protect. When the role is switched to Joel, likewise, I feel the very same urgency to protect Ellie. That part of the game did strengthen their bond and implies how much they need each other to survive, but more importantly, how much they trust each other.
As Joel and Ellie’s relationship deepens in the game, it’s not hard to empathize with the characters. Toward the end of the game, I suppose the game has already turned me into a monster. The only option given to me is to shoot the doctor if I want to save Ellie. Similarly, to Joel, Ellie is no saint either when she hesitantly accepts Joel’s answer about the fireflies. For one, Joel is all she has in the world. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing him as we see in a scene in the game where she throws a little tantrum and runs off with the horse. But at the same time, she feels tremendously guilty for not being able to save human lives as she mentions her best friend is the first to go, and of course there is Tess, an important character who has died in vain along the way for the sake of humanity.
Presentation and story-wise, this game gets a decent grade. The story flows well, however it has been told several times. What it excels at is speaking to humans on a primitive survival level, drawing out what matters most to the heart. Every day, humans make sacrifices and tough decisions. With a stern face, Joel already decided to carve his fate. Any normal human being who underwent the traumatic event of losing a loved one will never be the same. He never recovered from the tragedy of losing his daughter but at least he has someone like Ellie to fight for. It makes perfect sense why the title is called The Last of Us. The game is about two people who lost everything–and they are not willing to give up on each other even at the expense of saving humanity. And as f*cked up as it sounds, the argument made in this game is pretty valid to me. Is a strong family man such a bad thing in society? I rather have that than a narcissistic, ambitious father who treats his children like second-class citizens.
In terms of gameplay, the gameplay is cheap and unoriginal, which makes the entire game feels like a book, but plays like a movie. There’s nothing really exciting about the gameplay. Typically, I am not much of a stickler for stories in video games. Most of the time, if the gameplay is fun, I will keep playing. After all, I bought games to play. The gameplay in The Last of Us is very stale and tedious. There were only two instances I thought were exciting. One part is when Joel is separated from Ellie for a brief moment, forcing him to dive into the water and navigate in the dark enclosed area to find a keycard. In the area, there are clickers. At first, I experience a little nervousness because nobody likes dark places filled with lurking monsters! But then, I realize I have many different types of weapons so my nervousness instantly goes away as there aren’t many obstacles to overcome to reunite with Ellie. I blast the enemies away with my shotgun. Once I obtain the key, I bypass all of them and quickly get to a safe place. Not much of a challenge there. The other part is when Joel is hanging upside down shooting the infected. That part reminds me of a section in Resident Evil Revelation, where Chris Redfield fell from the cliff and is pinned down to the ground, having to defend himself from the approaching wolves while waiting for Jessica to make her way down to help him. The only difference between the two games is that the Last of Us gameplay is forgiving. The game autosaves frequently. So, if you die constantly, it puts you in a decent spot in the game to try again. If you get stuck in the game, push the L3 button when it appears. This will give you a hint. The game is very generous, but that consideration kills any challenges the game has to offer, and what is even worse, it makes the gameplay becomes dull quickly as gameplay becomes predictable. I think I would be just content watching a movie version of the Last of Us than go through all those unnecessary troubles. On the positive side, there were some breathtaking, beautiful wild scenic landscapes. I am not complaining much. It’s a nice little escape from the noisy city life I was once used to.
Overall, the game feels genuine as it amplifies the American identity–a free and rugged individual who has a choice. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? That’s for you to decide. The more I think about it, the game is just a political statement going against big pharmaceutical companies. I was entertained while the game lasted, but not entertained enough to demand a sequel.
Note: Originally posted
July 1, 2018; revised and edited May 30, 2022