The resounding reviews from Naughty Dog’s Masterpiece, The Last of Us, have had everyone wanting to sound off on the achievements the studio has made and just how raw, honest, and rich the story it told was for today. Reviews have been pouring in from everyone and, with the exception of a few critiques, there is so little to say about the game that would leave a bad taste in your mouth. I could sit here, easily, and glow about the successes in storytelling and graphical achievements, and that would be acceptable.
However, that’s not what I think is important to take away from this game.
The Last of Us: What’s It All About?
To be honest, I was one of the few folks who reported technical issues with The Last of Us. On the day of release, a slight, yet game-breaking bug was reported and within 24 hours (even less, actually), Naughty Dog had fixed the problem with its servers. My issue was not with this, but with another bug that made my character’s walking animation restart a few times over — but consistently. As the game progressed, this problem became more and more complex and yet I still soldiered through it. It didn’t stop me from playing the game even if it did make my stealth a lot more complicated.
Without spoiling anything, The Last of Us is a story about survival and enduring in the face of complete and absolute adversity. It tells the story of a world that, in 20 years, has been decimated by infection. Its victims are not zombies, mind you, and the world is not teeming with them — human beings outnumber them — but they are still a threat to survival. What this story shows you is an honest one: yes, human beings will survive, but our humanity may be lost entirely.
This is no hero’s tale, ladies and gentlemen. This is not about one man overcoming odds and saving mankind, because that story is so played out and over the top that the trope isn’t even fascinating anymore. We can’t even take it seriously. In a world like ours, we know that the human condition is fragile and nobody is above pushing away sacrifice simply to stay safe and keep the ones we love in one piece. That is honest and that is where The Last of Us rests, in the comfortable space between entertainment and actual honesty.
Now I have been following this game steadily since it was announced, and when I sat down with the developers at E3 last year, I was engaging them on every level to discuss anything and everything they were allowed to discuss. Details were sparse until a year later, when we actually got to play this game that we’d only heard bits and pieces about. We had no idea how much impact it would have on games from there on out.
This isn’t a review, gentle readers. This is me throwing my absolute love and support behind a beautifully executed concept and the promise it gives to storytellers in the gaming industry from today forward.
With that said, I don’t know if I can play The Last of Us again for quite some time.
The Last of Us: Can Good Storytelling Be Too Good?
I know, you just read my ringing endorsement for this game and everything about it; despite technical issues, I still love a game that I’m telling you I cannot touch again for quite some time. I know you’re wondering why.
When I played The Last of Us, I responded as someone who was and is a survivor of trauma. When I played the game and experienced the character of Ellie, she reminded me what it felt like to be alone and yet dependent on the world of adults who, you know, were telling me they had my best interests in mind. I have been alone and struggling to understand where to go from tragedy. I won’t riddle you with my back story or even bring the attention away from this game, but I will tell you that this game triggered a lot for me. It reminded me of having to grow up and mature too fast. It reminded me that not all adults are out there to protect children, and it reminded me that the world is so damned terrifying that we can’t even think to imagine the horrors we’d experience were it to collapse around us.
It took many breaks to get me through; I would stop, I would pace, and I would breathe in. I was all too quickly envisioning scenarios I had been through and remembering the thoughts that would race through my mind as I wondered if we’d be alive tomorrow. In a particular scene, my camera kept freezing during a pivotal point in which one of the characters must quietly escape detection of a man bent on finding them. With no weapons to shoot at a distance, no escape, and absolutely nothing to do but hide, I was in a panicked state. My controls acted up, and that didn’t help me whatsoever. I had to restart that scenario 38 times before I lucked out when the character stumbled in front of me and I could quickly do what needed to be done to go to the next part. I thought it was over, but it wasn’t. The next minute and a half gave me some of the most grueling gameplay I had ever endured. It was scripted perfectly and I appreciated that, but it was harrowing all the same. This game builds you up to care for these human beings and hope for their survival because you want to push them through the trauma to get to the end.
Most of all, as a survivor of a tragedy, I can see how honest this story is. It is real. There is nothing about The Last of Us that wants you to see the silver lining for the world, but the silver lining on the horizon for a person’s inner humanity.
All images are from Naughty Dog and are free to use.