Here’s hoping they aren’t looking at a Bloater.
At long last, the moment has arrived! Hubby and I finally finished playing through The Last of Us! Our journey with Joel and Ellie is now complete, leaving me with an unsettling void as I realize they’ve left an emptiness inside of me that no other media I’m currently involved in can fill.
I’m late to the ball game on this one. I’m sure anyone reading this article has either already beaten this game or exhausted themselves reading all kinds of lovely tidbits about this game online to hold themselves over until they can play it. Well, bear with me. I still need to express myself about this award-winning creation of Naughty Dog’s and talk about why this does or doesn’t deserve all the perfect scores it received. Major gaming outlets and critics hand out praise and perfect scores like candy it seems. Oftentimes, I feel like they’d wax poetic over a pile of dog poop on a plate if it was decorated with pretty flowers. So it’s time to see this game through lifelong gamer lenses.
You know the setting for Last of Us, right? 20ish years after a zombie outbreak cleverly disguised as a fungus ravages human society and leaves humanity a scarce, violent mess. I say ‘disguised zombie’ outbreak because the ‘infected’ are basically identical to zombies. Except if we come out and CALL them zombies… well, zombies are so overdone. Besides, no one will take us seriously if we say zombies. So we say infected. Cordyceps infected, to be more specific. Don’t you dare laugh at the thought of fungus ruining civilization as we know it. If you haven’t googled images of cordyceps fungus taking over the bodies of spiders and ants, you need to. It is pretty damn creepy and serves for a great sci-fi “What if” scenario. Definitely less cheesy than the premise of mitochondria acting in Mitochondrial Eve’s best interests, like in Parasite Eve: one of my favorite games of all time. *Cough*
There’d be a whole lot less things to shoot at and get killed by if this fungus growing over and controlling people’s brains didn’t make them violent maneaters, amirite? Not that this game has any shortage of PEOPLE to shoot at and get killed by. Now, I’m no psychologist or sociologist or anything, but it seems weird to me how cheap human life becomes in a lot of post-zombie apocalypse movies and video games. It’s like 99.9% of the decent human beings got selectively picked off. All you have left are thugs and killers who shoot at anything that moves. I’m also not even remotely optimistic, but it just seems strange to me. There is a settlement of people Ellie and Joel stumble across later in the game who seem like a well-established mini-civilization. Until you find out they’re cannibals, which really seems to upset Ellie. Not really sure what her deal is. I mean, people gotta eat, right?
So sadly, you spent a majority of the game shooting back at people who are shooting at you for whatever reason. The fungus zombies become the least of your problems about halfway through the game. Clickers became suspiciously rare after we saved up the 100 supplements (or steroids, or whatever those bottles are supposed to have in them) to get shiv master to make dealing with them a lot easier. Then 100 MORE for level two. Anyway, by then Clickers will seem tame compared to the damn Bloaters, who are just like those Left 4 Dead Boomers. Big and fat with annoying projectiles. While Boomers projectile puke all over you, the Last of Us Bloaters throw bright orange sacs that explode, filling the air around you (presumably?) with health-draining spores? How is that possible? Can someone tell me what that orange crap is? It can’t be spores, because then Joel would be infected by breathing it in without his mask and then it’d be Game Over, right? People must not be able to breathe in the spores, or else why would Joel put on a mask whenever he enters a heavily infected area? I need someone with a PhD degree in Mold Studies and high suspension of reality capabilities to explain this to me.
Dealing with jerk-off thugs and infected undead people is executed through a battle system that is reminiscent of Naughty Dog’s other money maker, the Uncharted series. The duck and cover mechanics are rather similar. Everything else is a pile of adjustments to make the game much harder. You don’t auto-regen health if you escape gunfire long enough, as in Uncharted. This is a pseudo-survival horror, so you need to scavenge the area for materials to make consumable healing items, shivs and fun explosives such as molotovs. As an aside: I still can’t figure out how Joel can light a molotov then change his mind and stick it in his backpack without it going off. Then I get even more mad when I think about that after thinking about how much damage I took when I was too close to the blast radius. But I just carried that thing around on FIRE in my backpack for two hours, what’s the problem guys?
The game tries so hard to BE hard that it lets a lot of weird inconsistencies happen that I have difficulty wrapping my head around. For example: people will shoot at you nonstop (literally nonstop… they never have to deal with that pesky “reloading” business) and unload the Middle East’s entire illegally smuggled ammunition cache on you, but once they’re dead there is nearly no ammo to be found. Apparently I always killed them JUST as they shot their last bullet on me. Or after they die their gun miraculously disappears and you don’t get to steal the remainder of their bullets.
I wish the game would have relied less on drawing in the shooter crowd (and not only because my video game shooting skills leave a lot to be desired). It would’ve made more sense if ammo was scarce for everyone. Not just the player.
I mean, who wastes 15 clips of ammo on some random man and teenager passing through? Why wouldn’t the enemies try stalking you too? I think it would’ve been fun to do some more dancing with people who are also trying to sneak up on you and shank you instead of reserving that stuff primarily for cutscenes.
This game is hailed for being intense and atmospheric. Doing a silent stealth mode while trying to take down unaware Clickers and Runners are some of the most intense moments out there. One small thing I would suggest to make the game even more intense and scarier would be to make it more seamless. Like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, it is pretty clear when you’re safe and when you’re not safe. After killing all the enemies in an area, someone will say “Okay, that’s all of them!” and you move on with scavenging for supplies and you release your finger from the trigger. How do they know they killed all the enemies? Why can’t you spend the entire game never knowing what is around the next corner? Or wondering if you’ll attract a Clicker by opening a door? No, instead they pretty much give you a free exploration pass after you killed all the enemies in an area. This is an intensity buzzkill for me.
That’s why this game is a survival-action-adventure, not a survival-horror, I suppose.
The main selling point of The Last of Us is the relationship that blossoms between the main characters. Without spoiling too much, I’m going to say their conversations and the subtle ways they warm up to each other are definitely the highlights of the game. Dialogue (and lack thereof at points) is well written. Most of the time they actually spoke in believable conversations. The voice acting is superb as well. I couldn’t believe Joel was voiced by Troy Baker, also known as Booker from Bioshock Infinite! Aside from having Troy Baker in common, The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite also set the bar when it comes to character development. Maybe in overall story writing as well, but ask anyone who played either of these games and they’ll tell you the relationship between Joel and Ellie or Booker and Elizabeth was really what kept them up late at night with these blockbusters.
Something else that’s created a lot of buzz online is Joel. Or, more pointedly, Joel’s lack of… refinement, let’s say. Okay, he’s a selfish, insensitive prick most of the time. But you know what? According to the writers, so aren’t most of the other humans out there. Therefore, MOST of the time I felt no guilt and didn’t blink at the things he did. As Ellie says, they weren’t given a choice. Almost everyone else in the world had no problems shooting and asking questions later, why should Joel be any different? Shooting at someone who shot at me first doesn’t have the same moral implications to me as, say, dragging an innocent priestess who was minding her own business to her death by crushing her in a trap mechanism so I can advance to the next room like in God of War. See the difference? The only thing about Joel’s character that caused me to pause or shake my head was how he treated the people he cared about. I can’t say anything else without spoiling, so I’ll just leave it at that. Once my husband even said, “Joel’s mean I don’t like him!” because he was a jerk to Ellie. Not because he killed some thug who was taunting us from the other side of his rifle.
Now that I’m done making remarks about this game’s shortcomings that the media happened to ignore and questioning the things they over hyped, I’m gonna come out and say I really like The Last of Us. It’s definitely up on top of this generation’s offerings and makes me happy I stuck with Sony when times got rough. Naughty Dog are only getting better and better… They need to hurry up and release another Crash Bandicoot game already!