Words: James Ekron
“Everyone I have ever cared for has either died or left me. Everyone fucking except for you,
so don’t tell me that I would be safer with someone else because the truth is I would just
be more scared.”
Of all the consumers of media, gamers are notoriously the worst behaved. No one’s mother is safe in online gaming so, when I say The Last of Us is the greatest gaming experience I have played in my life you must know the danger posed to me and my mom. It is the Citizen Kane of gaming and nothing before or since its release in 2013 can hold a digital candle to it. You have to play this game if, for nothing else, than to deprive trolls of insulting your mom.
Video game studio Naughty Dog (Uncharted) have rendered a most realistic apocalypse to bring the game play of Playstation 3 to the realm of possible, predictable and compelling narrative. Creator Neil Drukman has used Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with its future of “fire on the hills”; to combine it with an actual fungus named cordyceps which subsequently mutates to infect civilization with its zombie-itis.
Our controllable avatar is bearded, grizzly Joel as smuggler and constant misanthrope. Since the ‘turn’ he has moved goods in and out of a government safe zone which exists as a sparse beacon of statehood in a world crippled by infected. The rebellious Fireflies oppose the military state by demanding all branches of government be returned to the people. Amongst this, a girl, Ellie, proves immune and is the precious cargo which Joel must smuggle to safety. The controller is provided with weapons to shoot, shiv, torch, grenade and slip an arrow into zombies and humans alike and, yet, always has a narrative honesty to keep players invested.
There are many technical reasons to play the game, not least of which is the competitive visuals of cities torn apart by water, but Joel’s frantic construction of a Molotv in real time, for example, mirrors our desperation in-game. You are frequently without ammo and stealth is ineffective when resources must be won and are there to be pilfered. Joel’s physicality, furthermore, is remarkable as he is able to melee his enemies ala-Arkham Asylum style.
Musically, the score is a thready guitar accompaniment with elements of folk, orchestral and instrumental styles combined to underscore meaning instead of overpowering it. Thematically, the music reflects Joel and Ellie’s growing and subdued relationship of surrogate fatherhood and daughterhood in a very, very quiet game.
Where the game thoroughly humiliates competitors, such as Halo or The Walking Dead, is that by not allowing choice to yield only a handful of generic results anyway the ending invites moral angst over the act you must commit. It is a combination of the ‘No Russian’ shootout in Call of Duty with the moral ambiguity of a Lannister dinner table which leaves you thinking long after the cut to black. Joel and Ellie’s relationship, established with small talk and a 9mm, develops to the point where you feel like the actor in your favourite movie.
On The Last of Us, Drukman had a secret agenda “to create one of the coolest, non-sexualised, female video-game protagonists”. In the DLC Ellie is humble, interested in quantum physics and playful through a broken down mall. In a game like Last Souls, where Ellen Page voice-overs a seduction, it is refreshing to have a Left for Dead level of violence which doesn’t sexualise its female characters to cater for gaming’s pervasive, masculine gaze.
Metacritic gave the game 95%, it won the User Choice Prize over GTA V at the 2013 Playstation Awards and Sam Raimi (Spiderman) will be directing the movie. There are embarrassingly glitchy moments such as Ellie being invisible to guards, or, missed jumps failing to activate cut scenes, however, these are nominal. The game is a visual masterpiece and skull-bashing goodtime which any gamer worth their salt will have clocked on Survivor.