During my time as a lowly Gamestop employee, I was encouraged by my manager to be honest about my opinion of games when asked by customers. The problem was that I didn’t play any of the games that the average Gamestop patron purchased (i.e. console exclusives). This often led to awkward interactions with customers where I would jump into rants about game design, philosophy, or storytelling when all they wanted to hear was whether there was online multiplayer or whether it would be appropriate for their kid (it almost never was).
One particularly funny interaction involved a young man asking me what I thought about Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us.” Little did he know that I spent the previous night watching an approximately 3 hours youtube compilation of all the games cutscenes and in-game character dialogues strung together rather than playing the game itself. Instead of saying “It’s a pretty bitchin’ zombie game, bro,” I started gushing about how the moral implications of Joel’s actions play with the idea of player agency and character morality in interesting ways throughout the story. “You’re not just a Rick Grimes-looking schmuck that gets to make morally questionable decisions in a zombie apocalypse; you are forced to act out horribly violent acts against increasingly innocent people as Joel descends into a murderous crusade to save his surrogate daughter,” I said.
As you might have guessed, the customer didn’t give a shit at all. “Yup” and “a huh” were just about all I got out of the guy. All he wanted to know is if there were zombies in it and if it was third-person or first. Looking back after playing the game, I would have mentioned a few gripes I had with it just to make my opinion seem less fanboyish, but there would still be plenty of room to gush.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, or like past me, don’t own a Playstation, the Last of Us is a fantastic game. It’s one of the rare games that I would suggest to someone who has zero experience playing games. It could have been a movie, comic book, or Netflix original TV-show, but instead, it decided to take a popular albeit slightly overdone genre and create an incredibly evocative story that could only be told through the medium of games.
That being said, some of the Last of Us’ “game-ish-ness” is also the cause for some of its dullest moments. Repeatedly dying to clicker ambushes in the dark isn’t very fun and neither are repetitive underwater puzzles. At one point, Ellie even makes a comment that seems a lot like the developers taking the piss out of their own game design as you inevitably run into the same puzzle for the fifth time (Why couldn’t Joel have just taken a couple hours out of their trek during the summer to teach Ellie how to swim? That would have saved him a lot of trouble). Despite this, TLOU still manages to keep a steady pace and tell its story without overstaying its welcome.
As a new PlayStation 4 owner, I was taken aback at how knee-high wall focused The Last of Us is. Having played Uncharted 4 prior to jumping into Naughty Dogs other games, I quickly realized that cover-based shooting and awkward stealth levels are kind of their thing. TLOU doesn’t suffer from this very much, however. The gun play is varied enough and the environments are realistic enough for me to forgive the fact that it’s essentially just Uncharted with zombies.
I’d also like to mention how the Last of Us leverages difficulty with the player’s understanding of gameplay mechanics. Unlike some games where the objective is to jump over steep chasms, many of TLOU’s mechanics are subtle enough that a semi-competent player (i.e. me) could play through the game without taking the time to learn them. I only realized about an hour before my playthrough was completed that Joel’s abilities and guns could be upgraded. And even though I hardly used the crafting system at all, I took a bizarre pleasure in rubbing Joel’s handsome mug against every wall of every room while mashing triangle to watch him desperately try to pick up every miscellaneous crafting item strewn throughout the game.
All in all, the Last of Us is a versatile game that appeals to many different types of players and playstyles. If you want to run around shooting zombies and upgrading weapons in a post-apocalyptic United States, TLOU has you covered. If you want to rush through a fairly average cover-based shooter to watch the gaming equivalent of an amazing Netflix series in one sitting, TLOU has you covered. If you want to sneak around like John Rambo and strangle unsuspecting opponents in the wilderness, TLOU has you covered too.
I feel pretty confident adding the Last of Us to my personal pantheon of games that will be remembered for showing why games are art without being super douchey about it. If that’s not a good enough reason to play it alone, then at least do yourself a favor and play it for its superb storytelling.