Nostalgia’s a heck of a thing. No matter how good or bad something is, having fond memories of it from your youth can totally change your perception of it. Dracula 2000 can become Citizen Kane if you have good memories of it, and going back to discover how it actually holds up can be a dangerous thing. (Note: on the issue of Dracula 2000, it’s still an awesome film). Recently, I’ve been exploring this issue with some of my favourite (and in one case, least-favourite) video games of all time. So far, I’ve found that whilst the games themselves may be different from what I remember, they have such an innate charm to them that I can say they hold up remarkably well. The issue of nostalgia got me thinking though; what about a game I love that doesn’t have that? What about a game that got me excited about it in recent years? Would that hold up on a revisit? So, in the spirit of experimentation, allow me to present The Last of Us.
The Last of Us was one of the games I was so excited about prior to it’s release. Being a huge fan of the Uncharted series, the developers Naughty Dog are a company who I will follow to the ends of the Earth, and when I first caught a glimpse of their latest offering, it dug it’s hooks in deep. For years prior to its formal release, trailers and artwork caught my imagination and stoked the fires of anticipation within. This was a game which looked like it had the potential to be something seminal, not a praise I’d offer up lightly. If you were a PS3 owner, you most likely felt the same too. This massive console exclusive, being released by a developer who’d proved themselves time and time again. That sense of hype is something special. There’s the untold potential for a game to exceed your expectations, or destroy them with the force of a wrecking ball full of TNT.
The game itself is a survival horror, set in a number of post-apocalyptic american cities. From the game’s starting point in deep rural Texas, you must go on a journey through a land ravaged by a parasitic fungal infection. The infected have had their minds overrun, and like any good zombie tale, they aim to keep the spread of infection going. You play as Joel, a prototypical everyman hero who, after the shocking events of the prologue, must take the young Ellie across the infected landscape on a journey which could lead to a potential cure. There’s not much in the premise which is revolutionary. The plot is fairly standard fodder for this type of genre (the heavy influences of Cormac McCarthey’s The Road blossom across the screen quite frequently), and there’s not much in the way of gameplay that’s truly innovative. That, however, is in no way a complaint. In fact, the mere fact this game is kept relatively simple means the execution can shine through. Having just replayed it almost two years after the first time, I can say my opinion of this game hasn’t changed a bit. Put simply, The Last of Us is one of the finest video games ever. Period.
The gameplay is fairly similar to Dead Space, in that it’s a third-person action game with a somewhat heavy reliance on a crafting system. This allows you to make weapons and items designed to distract enemies. Crafting a molotov and setting light to an enemy is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever been able to experience in a video game. Seeing the flaming bottle arc through the air then burst over your enemy’s head is one of those moments where it’s tempting to leap into the air and yell “GOT YOU MOTHERF**CKER!!” at your screen. Not that I did that. Obviously. The Last of Us, being a survival horror, thankfully doesn’t skimp on the horror portion. The level of tension is something almost tangible, and the frustration and annoyance when you reveal yourself to a swarm of enemies with an ill-timed shanking is similar to a death in Dark Souls. There’s a tendency in the game to reuse a lot of the same set pieces, where you need to sneak past a group of malicious bastards; fortunately, they vary the precise situations enough so that it doesn’t feel repetitive. As this was released only in 2013, the graphics are still sublime, with the recent PS4 remaster being nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Now, a lot of games have a similar excellent level of gameplay and graphics. The premise is solid, but nothing incredibly innovative in terms of the plot. So why then do I say this is one of the greatest games ever? The Last of Us, has amongst the best stories in video games I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never had a game where the characters undergo such a transformation before my eyes. The complexity of what the protagonists go through, the choices they have to make, the ending. My God, the ending. When I finished the game for the first time, I kept finding myself thinking about it. What I would have done in the situation; why the characters did what they did. Since it’s still a game people are discovering, I won’t go into specifics, but the payoff to this game is basically a commentary on the human condition and why we make the choices we do when it comes to the people we care about.
If you haven’t played this game, I urge you to. With the addition of the incredible DLC ‘Left Behind’, it’s worth every second you will spend immersed in the game. It can be an ugly experience, dealing with subject matters you don’t often find in gaming, but it’s such a beautiful and rewarding one, you will not regret it for a second. It’s interesting, there’s such a fine line between nostalgia and hype, where does this game fall? Whilst it may be a case of still coming off the wave of publicity, I can say with confidence that it held up upon this revisit. I’ll be making it a point to replay every few years to lose myself in the story over and over. With the recently announced ‘Part II’, time will tell if the hype dies off and the beauty of a single experience becomes less impactful, but frankly, I look forward to finding out.