NSFW Gamer Review: The Last of Us

NSFW Gamer Review: The Last of Us

There was a time when post-apocalyptic stories involving zombies were subgenres, produced on cheap budgets for grindhouse theaters and shoved into the pulp section of comic book stores. Depending on your preference, we have either come a long way or regressed as a society. The Walking Dead remains one of the highest-rated shows on cable by both critics and viewers while World War Z and its $175 million budget open nationwide this Friday.

When the history of video gaming is written, this entire generation of consoles and mobile devices will be summarized by flesh-eating corpses. Zombies have been done to death in video games; that is neither an awful attempt at a pun nor an understatement. Call of Duty, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, Plants vs. Zombies, Dead Rising, Dead Island, Left 4 Dead, ZombiU…I could go on longer if I listed all the utter shit released on the Xbox Live Arcade.

The Last of Us wipes the slate, cleanses the palate and gives us a game so incredible at what it does, it ensures another zombie game need never be made again.

The Last of Us
Systems: PlayStation 3 [Reviewed]
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release: June 14, 2013
MSRP: $59.99 (Retail disc and PSN)

NSFW Gamer Review: The Last of Us

The opening of the game foreshadows what is to come in the nearly 20 hours you will spend playing through the story of The Last of Us. You begin not as Joel, the surly protagonist seen on the cover of the game, but as his daughter Sarah, who is jarred out of sleep by a panicked phone call from her uncle. The line goes dead, and the blaring TV in the other bedroom broadcasts a cable news outlet spreading word about a spike in hospital patients.

I felt an immediate emotional connection to the characters, thanks to the details in Sarah’s bedroom. The posters, the birthday card she forgot to give to her father, the trouble in Joel’s voice while on the phone about a job…these all served to heighten the gut punch when everything goes to hell, and before you can get your bearings as Sarah, something bad happens.

Twenty years later, the world exists in a frozen state. Nature has taken over again. Animals run free through abandoned suburban developments. Lush green grass sprouts on forgotten highways. In the quarantined business district of Boston, recreated with such painstaking detail that I recognized the Common House’s steps I had seen on vacation a year ago, I was taken back to the first time I got off the train at City 17 in Half-Life 2 while walking the city streets.

Joel is not bitter, as he is not able to feel anymore. Voiced with a gruff Texan drawl by Troy Baker, the best male voice actor in the business, Joel does what few others have been able to do after the fungus took over human civilization. He lived, and continues to live. Joel does not meet Ellie, herself as much of a main character and voiced just as well by Ashley Johnson, until several hours into the game. It is this introductory period where we are shown the mechanics of how the game is played.

If you have ever moved around in a third person perspective while shooting a gun, you have a basic idea of the mechanics of The Last of Us; in fact, you will immediately notice the lack of a dedicated cover button. Joel does not need a prompt to duck behind a pillar, desk or road divider. This can feel off-putting for veterans of Naughty Dog’s previous Uncharted series, but you will eventually be thankful you have one less command to worry about while soldiers and looters take fire at you and the six bullets you have left.

NSFW Gamer Review: The Last of Us

Joel is not Nathan Drake. He is slow, a bit on the blundering side and lacks any finesse in exploration. This is a game about survival, and it will take careful planning for you to live on to the next fight. If you attempt to rush in and fire away, you will die. You will die over and over again until you figure out a way to see the next part of what comes to be an incredible journey for Joel and Ellie.

When I was killed by humans in The Last of Us, I was not annoyed at the game, but myself for not doing it correctly and making several careless mistakes. I cursed and swore at myself audibly, unlike Ellie who will whisper vulgar condemnations every time Joel ruthlessly slaughters an unsuspecting mugger. During my stealth kills, I thought of what Rockstar’s original Manhunt would be like on modern technology, and I am convinced that Naughty Dog took some of their inspiration from the PlayStation 2 game. The ever-present fear of being seen and shot in the face never truly went away at any point during The Last of Us, and this was just from other living things.

NSFW Gamer Review: The Last of Us

The pandemic in this alternate horror of the United States comes not from a virus, but a fungus that invades the brain and turns people into crazed, violent devourers of anything in their path. The early stages of infection result in “runners,” similar to your 28 Days Later breed of undead. They are loud, deliberate and can see you just as much as you can see them. Aim for the head, conserve ammo and you just might be able to sneak up on them like you do anyone else attempting to kill you.

The true “horror” in survival horror is presented in the “clickers.” These were once human, but have been ravaged so horribly by the disease they are unrecognizable. Their faces belong not in a game about zombies but a classic entry in Silent Hill. They are blind but use echolocation to find you, and when they do, you are fucking dead. You may be able to sneak up on one at a time and plunge a knife into their throats, but if they are in a pack, you had best pray they don’t hear you do so. One sequence near the end of the game in a tunnel had me sweating as I heard their demonic call emanating from deep within their throat, keeping pace behind my panicked sneaking away.

When you finally have a moment to regain your breath, you are able to craft Molotov cocktails, nail bombs and first aid kits from the scraps left behind by former inhabitants of apartments, hotels and offices. Should Joel happen across a workbench, he can modify and upgrade the guns he picks up, but don’t expect them to make you invincible. You are not a space marine, engineer or superhero in The Last of Us. You are just a guy who got tasked with escorting a 14-year-old girl, and this is where the game becomes more than just a shooter.

NSFW Gamer Review: The Last of Us

There were a few moments during combat with humans and/or infected that stuck with me, but what I will remember the most about The Last of Us are the exchanges between Joel and Ellie. Comparing their dynamic to that of Booker and Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite is inevitable thanks to Troy Baker’s deep bass voice behind both male protagonists, but it also represents another step in what I hope is the maturing of relationships in games. You can trace a line in the evolution of the dynamic between Joel and Ellie, and at no point does their connection feel forced or cliched simply because of their world.

You will encounter other characters along the way, many of whom want you dead. Only some of them will be up front with you about it. Such is the nature of a world that has, as Stephen King would put it, “moved on.” We have taken the apocalypse and romanticized it as a culture. We have bumper stickers, dorm room posters and button pins that tell the world of our plans for zombies. At no point have we ever been asked to live in that world, and no game has shown us exactly how it would feel to do so quite like the one Naughty Dog has created. The same company who gave us the whimsical Jak and Daxter, lovingly given tribute in the form of beanies found in abandoned children’s bedrooms, has stripped away all irony and wit from what has become a played-out punchline.

NSFW Gamer Review: The Last of Us

Comparisons have been drawn between this game and the novels of Cormac McCarthy, writer of No Country for Old Men and The Road. While I could see some of Llewelyn Moss and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in Joel, The Last of Us is presented in a light that gives hope, albeit minimal, that unlike The Road, Joel and Ellie might actually make it out of this. It is shielded optimism, but hope occasionally shines through, like Ellie’s lame jokes that actually award a trophy if you manage to just stand and listen to her.

And that is how I look forward to the next generation of consoles: shielded optimism. The Last of Us is the last game set against the backdrop of a zombie outbreak that I ever need to play. I hope other developers, be they independent or corporate, have seen what Naughty Dog accomplished with this game and do not attempt to copy it. They will not succeed. With the possible exception of Bioshock Infinite, no other game on the PlayStation 3 has taken a conventional genre and used it to craft such a powerful tale about life and how easily it can be taken away.

Game 5/5

NSFW Gamer Review: The Last of Us

This game fits the NSFW moniker for a completely different reason. You will not play The Last of Us to forget about your problems for a little bit, or to aimlessly shoot at things while having some drinks or smoking a bowl. Ellie, at 14 years old, will not be showing off anything except a potty mouth, and it’s to be expected after being raised in a world gone to hell. She kills just as violently as Joel, and parts of this game will shock you in its lack of glorifying bloodshed.

Joel’s only encounters with women result in tragedy, be they past or present. He may not be a popular depiction of a lead male, but that kind of imperfection is what contributes to the total package of The Last of Us. This is a bloated way of saying there is absolutely nothing remotely sexy about the game, and you will either be thinking about it for quite a long time or wash away the images with other content on NSFW Gamer.

Hotness 0/5

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