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He Said, She Said Review Site

The Last of Us

What He said:


I’ve never done anything like this before—reviewed a video game that is.  There is a reason I have chosen The Last of Us as the game to put an end to that, but more on that later. If I said any more, it would be like spoiling the end of a movie you haven’t seen.

The Last of Us tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombie-like creatures.  I say zombie-like because that’s really the best way to describe them. They aren’t technically zombies. Unlike zombies, they aren’t the walking dead. They are very much alive. They are people who have been infected with a mutated version of the Cordyceps fungus. But similar to zombies, they are mindless, violent, and enjoying snacking on people. 

The Last of Us

Now I know exactly what you are thinking. Zombies, again? Really? It’s true, the genre has been done to death (thank you, I’m here all week) over the last several years. Zombies are everywhere: comic books, movies, TV shows, novels, video games, and just about anything else in pop culture your brain can conjure up. But to dismiss the entire genre would be a mistake. There are still plenty of good examples of quality in the genre and many are saying this game is one of them.

The story begins on the night of the initial outbreak. Joel and his daughter Sarah are lounging around the house, after what appears to have been a very stressful workday for Joel (Troy Baker). Joel just wants to go to bed, but his daughter Sarah (Hana Haynes) won’t let him until she gives him his birthday present. The small gesture cheers him up and is one of the last moments of happiness he’ll have for a long time, because the shit is about to hit the fan.

The game picks up a few hours later. You are playing as Sarah, who has just woken up after a frantic phone call from her Uncle Tommy (Jeffrey Pierce). Tommy is Joel’s brother and when he calls he is in a state of panic. The phone goes dead before he tells her anything of real substance, but his demeanor shakes her enough to where she goes looking for her dad; who for some reason appears to be missing. She eventually finds him and quickly discovers something is wrong. Next thing they know, Tommy – who was a few steps ahead of them – shows up at their house in his truck and the three of them attempt to flee town.  

The Last of Us

The outbreak starts off with a couple of smaller-scale incidents, but it builds up at a nice pace, and quickly turns out into all-out chaos. The way it unfolds feels very natural. At first you have an incident or two involving a small number of infected people. After a little while of that, the next thing you know they are all over the place, cars are crashing all around you, there’s fire everywhere, and there’s no time to think. The only thing you can do is run. I have seen movies that didn’t scare me as much as this intro did and that’s the honest-to-God’s truth. My body was pumping out some major adrenaline the first time I played the opening sequence.

The story picks up 20 years later. Society has crumbled, but not totally fallen apart. Joel is living in one of the quarantined zones. He lives with his business partner Tess (Annie Wresching) in a militarized area. The two of them are smugglers for just about anyone who wants something snuck outside the walls of the quarantined zone. They don’t care too much about what they are smuggling or for who, as long as you stay out of their way. They are pretty good at their job too. It is for these reasons that they are hired by local militia leader Marlene.

Marlene (Merle Dandridge) is the leader of a group called the Fireflies. The Fireflies seek to challenge the military for control of what remains of civilization. They are also attempting to find a cure for the infection. Marlene is the caretaker of a young girl named Ellie. Ellie (Ashley Johnson) is a fiery 14-year old girl that Marlene wants smuggled across the country. She wants Ellie taken to another Firefly camp for reasons she will not disclose. Joel and Tess aren’t known for asking questions and when Marlene offers them a pretty hefty payment, they take the job.  Joel isn’t really crazy about the idea, but Tess manages to convince him after she gets a look at the payment Marlene plans on exchanging for the delivery of Ellie.

The Last of Us

Joel and Tess eventually come to find out the reason Ellie is so important is because Marlene and her group believe she is immune to infection. She was bitten over three weeks ago and still hasn’t turned. Most people turn in a matter of hours. So the Fireflies want to run tests on her, find out what’s so special about her, and hopefully find a cure. At this point, Tess really buys into the mission. She and Joel have been smuggling for years. They work for money, supplies, and whatever else they can that’s valuable. In other words, they’re just surviving. It’s empty and she feels like this is their chance to make a difference in the world. Joel doesn’t care anymore than he did when he didn’t know what was so important about Ellie, but he wants to get paid. He also wants to do it because it means something to Tess too. It’s never confirmed whether the two are an item or not, but at the very least, they are very good friends and not merely business partners. If it means something to Tess, that’s enough for Joel to see it through, even if he’s not happy about it.

As the three of them travel, they must fight against infected and humans alike. Oh yes, the threats come in all shapes and sizes. They must fight against thieves, murderers, and deviants of the worst kind in addition to infected humans. If you thought the infected were scary – and believe me they are very scary – wait until you come across somebody who hasn’t eaten in days. The game tends to go in spurts in that sense. The game goes back-and-forth between fighting infected and human enemies. You get a break from one, but  are usually pitted against the other in the meantime, and neither is what I’d call easy. They each offer their own set of challenges.

The Last of Us

Not everyone you meet alone the way is bad though. There are still some good people left in this horrible world. You meet several people throughout the game; both people Joel and Tess already knew, as well as complete strangers. You play mostly as Joel and occasionally Ellie, but the game actually has a nice rotating supporting cast. You get to know different people with different personalities from different backgrounds. It adds a lot of depth to the game.

Speaking of depth, I can’t say enough good things about the storyline. I mentioned earlier that zombies aren’t exactly a new or original thing in movies, tv, or video games nowadays. That’s completely true. But it’s the execution here that makes this not only one of the best video games I’ve ever played, but one of the most gripping stories I have ever seen. I said “seen” because that is exactly what is going on here. This game is like an interactive movie. This game has a wonderful mix of gameplay and truly engaging cinematic scenes. I felt like I was watching a movie that just happened to control parts of it. This game has some legit drama. There are times where I was absolutely terrified. I’m not kidding either. I could feel my heart racing as I was fighting for my life. There was some really emotional stuff too. This is not a happy world. A lot of bad things happen here every single day. This game explores the darker side of humanity. It is violent, shocking, and depressing at times, but the story is so good you just can’t put the game down.

The Last of Us

The more the characters get to know one another, the more we get to know them too. This is the case particularly with Joel and Ellie. It’s their story. They are the two main characters and spend the most time together. The story wouldn’t have worked if the actors didn’t have chemistry; and boy did they have great chemistry. The relationship grows from complete strangers to that of adoptive father and daughter and does so in a very real and natural way. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson were absolutely the fantastic. I would put their performances up against award winning animated movies and I say that without hesitation. They were that good.

The gameplay feels unique too. It manages to capture the best of so many different genres and blend them together flawlessly. The Last of Us is classic survival horror. You are always scrounging supplies and very rarely have an overabundance.  You have to improvise a lot. You have to use strategy. There are times where you have to pick and choose your spots and others it’s all-out war. The game is without a doubt a shooter, but melee weapons and even hand-to-hand combat play a very important role too. There are times where things are too fast and hectic that you don’t have the time or space to aim, so you just have to hit somebody in the head with a pipe, an axe, or your fist.  The game is also an interesting balance between action and stealth. There are times where you are caught in the middle of a massive firefight and others where if you do that, you are toast. It is really a lot of fun to go back-and-forth between the two. It forces you to think and plan. Then there’s the times you don’t have any time to think and plan and you just have to do whatever it is you can as quickly and efficiently as you can.

The Last of Us is an award winning video game and I can see why. It was receiving critical praise before it was even released. This is one of the most engaging games I have ever experienced. It feels weird to call it a game, because it is more of an interactive experience. This is one of those instances where something is every bit as good as the hype.

This is a good looking game as well. Both the gameplay and cinematic scenes are visually stunning. There level of detail is some of the best I've ever seen.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This review was written for your reading pleasure on November 3, 2013.