There's a lot of discussion about artistic merit in video-games, and there's a lot of discussion about which video-game is the greatest of all time. I don't usually like lists like that, I don't really like it when individuals take it upon themselves to makes lists making such judgments. Everyone has favorites, or ones they enjoy, but to refer to a video-game as the greatest of all-time is something I find overzealous. If for no other reason than because I haven't played every video-game and therefore, how am I qualified to make such an ambitious judgment. Everyone has favorites though, and The Last of Us makes it near the top of the list for very many.
I am one of them. The Last of Us is an action-adventure survival horror video game developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It's from the developers of Uncharted and I think there's a lot of similarities in-terms of animation and other superficial features that I noticed when playing both of them. The video-game was an enormous success from a financial standpoint, selling over 1.3 million units in its first week and it has sold over 7 million units as of July 2014. Last of Us received widespread critical acclaim from audience-members and critics alike as one of the best video-game experiences of all time. Earlier this year, Sony announced that Screen Gems would be creating a film adaptation of the video-game and there are also rumblings about a sequel.
The story follows a main-character named Joel (voiced and motion-captured by Troy Baker, one of personal favorites, also for his work as The Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins and Booker DeWitt in BioShock: Infinite) as he tries to escort Ellie (Ashley Johnson) across the United States which has since become absolutely infested with zombie-like creatures. Ellie's importance is found after they find she has been bitten and was not infected by the mutated strain of Cordyceps fungus that has caused all of this. The video-game follows their experience together, the brewing chemistry they have as characters and the various situations dealt to them. I want to start off by telling you everything that is worth liking about this video-game but I really don't know where to start with it all.
The zombie video-game genre has been at an excess for as long as I can remember but never once has there been an approach as well done as this. Resident Evil finds value through its entertainment-value and finds greatness in its game-play and The Walking Dead video-game has definitely been noted about its in-depth storytelling but The Last of Us brings it all out with an oomph. Joel and Ellie are two of my all-time favorite characters in a video-game. I have some bad news for you if you were reading this review expecting it to be anything other than a circle-jerk for other fans and eventual players. Ellie's character is immensely likable and I really felt a connection with her character before it was all said and done. Joel's character is much more distant. They could have easily made this character feel generic or maybe not with enough emphasis on certain themes, but instead, his character is the kind-of character that you can dissect and only discover more depth. Their character-development and encounters between one another is the best aspect of the entire experience. Absolutely, I think that their relationship is the highlight because they take an extreme amount of time making you care about both of them. This makes the sadder even more gripping and emotional.
The story itself is simplistic without too much in the way of sophistication. I like that approach more than I like the opposite. I feel like over-thinking is one of the leading reasons why a lot of other video-games like this have the tendency to crumble under their own overzealous ambition. They do everything with a minimalist approach that is carried with strength by the engrossing characters and the immersing atmosphere.
Everything works on all cylinders to complete this experience to such a high magnitude. Like I said, the animation feels similar to Uncharted in a lot of ways. At least that's as far as movements are concerned and the little mannerisms each character is equipped with. I make that comparison with praise as the animation is done very well and adds tons of 'little touches' to the graphical aspects. The scenery is apocalyptic while at the same time not so much so that it looks desolate and dreary. I like this because the overall experience doesn't come across that way and therefore the imagery itself shouldn't either. While The Last of Us is mostly a serious narrative, there are various elements of humor and it doesn't feel depressing for the whole time. The music is also effective, what I like about it is that it's mostly subtle and it's not obtrusive to some of the moments that are better spent in silence. The moments where it is walking around and merely enjoying the view or exchanging in dialogue are some of my favorite aspects.
As for the game-play, some individuals managed to find something wrong with it. Particularly, various thoughts that it too closely resembled a straightforward third-person shooter which ultimately contradicts the ulterior approaches that The Last of Us takes with other elements. They didn't like the idea of fighting waves and waves of zombies. Truth be told, while I can almost understand their dismays, but I don't agree with them. I feel like I had to do another short play-through of The Last of Us before writing this to even remember anything about the game-play and the controls. They weren't what I walked away from this experience remembering but that isn't because they are bad. I think they are fine and in-fact I think they are very, very good. They're satisfying and they offer that happy-medium between being somewhat easy and unnecessarily frustrating. I liked the elements of stealth, as well as the standard combat that it offered at times. I think it borrows from various different third-person shooters but I also think that it offers itself with a certain amount of polish and care that manages to make the whole thing feel unique.
By the end of it all though, I think The Last of Us is one of the greatest video-games that I have ever played. I can't share the consensus that it's one of the best ever because I haven't played every game, but I can definitely say it's one of the best I have played. The controls and game-play are strong as I established, but also there's the musical scoring and composition, the graphics, animation and scenery, but also one of the best stories I have seen with two of the best characters I have ever seen.