Recommendation: Best video game I’ve ever played, period. I’m not a gamer and I haven’t played very many video games in the past couple of years, but I’ve never had a gaming experience quite like this one. I watched someone else play half the game and played the rest on my own, but I was completely entranced the entire time.
At the request of a friend, I’m branching out again. I read books all the time, but I also watch movies and play the occasional video game, so there’s no reason to limit myself to book reviews. More than anything, I devour good stories regardless of their type of media, and it’s about time I found a video game that truly impressed me.
The Last of Us is one of the most popular games of the year, and for good reason. It follows Joel and Ellie, two survivors of a virus that turns people into zombie like creatures with plants bursting out of their heads. The virus hit suddenly and, obviously ill-prepared for people to become walking Venus flytraps, society starts coming apart at the seams. By the time Ellie and Joel meet up, the United States has fallen into a full-fledged post-apocalyptic world complete with quarantine zones, rogue gangs, and rumors of hope out West.
Real quick, I know that sounds like every post-apocalyptic story that you’ve ever heard, but I promise this one has a style all its own. One of the best things about this game is how it keeps you constantly on your toes, feeding you new information and surprising twists that flow in a natural story arc, and I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises for you by spitting out the details. So, just trust me on this, it is another post-apocalyptic tale, but it’s not some rehashing of the same stale ideas.
This also isn’t your typical slash-em-up zombie game. Some of these zombies are fast, some of them are slow, but they are all deadly and frightening as hell. The first time you meet your untimely demise from a Clicker attack you might need to pause to change your underwear. What makes all this even more frightening is the fact that the graphics are the best I’ve ever seen. Again, I’m not an expert here, I don’t play many video games, but if there are better graphics out there I haven’t been introduced to them. Even when you trudge through water, a sheen of shimmering water stays on your damp clothing for the next couple minutes. it doesn’t slow you down the way water-logged clothes might in real life (because, let’s be honest, that’d just be a hassle), but it still acknowledges the fact that you walked through water a couple seconds ago, and that’s pretty impressive.
Not only do Joel and Ellie look like real people, they also act like real people. Forced together by extenuating circumstances, Ellie and Joel aren’t thrilled to be keeping company when they first meet, but they both accept the situation as a means to an end. Through their travels and near death experiences a bond forms between the two characters that you feel while playing the game. Any other time I’ve been playing a video game where I had a computer controlled character tagging along with my adventures it felt burdensome and, after getting frustrated, I would usually throw ineffective punches through the other character in a vain attempt to make things move faster. With this game I actually felt protective of both Ellie and Joel. I needed to finish each mission, not so I could beat the game, but so I could make sure these two great characters survived. It was really a first for me. I’ve never been so emotionally invested in the outcome of a game (which is probably why I’m not a gamer), but the story and the characters felt so real in The Last of Us that i couldn’t help but get absorbed.
As if that isn’t enough from a video game, The Last of Us is also rife with something I love: moral ambiguity. You face off with plenty of zombies who don’t seem to harbor any remnant of their human past, but you also get into firefights with gangs who are probably just trying to survive, and you have to decide what to do. Do you try to sneak away? Do you kill them? They are trying to kill you, after all. What about the government? And the rebellious organization called the Fireflies? How far will you go to protect yourself? To protect Ellie? There are no right and wrong answers, no clear good choice and evil choice. The game does an amazing job of showing decisions made at the brink, when our characters are pushed against a wall and have to let go of their ideals to make a decision about their reality. Yet another thing that I’d never experienced in a video game.
The only warning I’ll throw out is that this is a violent game. Graphically so. It puts you a real dangerous world filled with monsters and manipulative people, so violence is an inevitability here. I have no problem with it, but maybe you would. If not, go pick up this game right now and I’ll talk to you in about 15 hours.