I told you I would have more pop culture. Well today on this glorious sunny afternoon I wanted to dive into the philosophy behind the Naughty Dog masterpiece ‘The Last of Us’. It is hard to believe they once animated the red fox ‘Crash Bandicoot’ on the original PlayStation 1 console and then really showed their diversity with the adventurous “Indiana Jones-esque” franchise ‘Uncharted’. ‘The Last Of Us’ is Naughty Dog’s grimmest installment and even after it being out over a year, it still leaves a huge impact on my heart and mind.
The game tells the story of two unlikely people getting stuck with each other in a post-apocalyptic/pandemic world after a zombie-like virus called cordyceps whipped out most of mankind. Oddly enough, this brain infection truly exists but only in insects at the moment. The fungus latches onto to the host’s brain controlling its nerves and functions while affecting its behavior. Eventually like in ants, this parasite will kill the host as spores are released into the air. I’ve found all this information on WebMD and Wikipedia. There is even a short video about the science behind the cordyceps fungus. Take a look when you get a chance below.
Getting back to the video game, anyone who becomes infected with this cordyceps either through bites or spores eventually turns into a rage cannibal. These grotesque deformed infected humans act as though similar to the infected zombies from ’28 Days Later’ and ’28 Weeks Later’ while the back drop setting of the dystopian world could easily be comparable to ‘I Am Legend’.
After 20 years into the post-pandemic world, Joel in his late forties is a survivor that clearly has been through the mill and has lost a lot. The same man he was 20 years back is long gone. Joel along with his companion Tess try to smuggle a 14 year old girl across the US who is rumored to be immune to the virus. You play as Joel as you go through a horrifying set of ordeals in order to keep yourself and the girl Ellie alive. However, you learn that this game is more than just seeing zombie and killing zombie or killing humans. This game has heart. As you experience each moment as Joel you also get to know Ellie’s or dare I say Ellen Page’s character very well. Joel and Ellie go from a group who are forced together to a father and daughter relationship. I do not want to reveal too much about the story but Joel’s eventual likeness towards Ellie could easily be explained by the first five minutes of game-play. This hidden linear video game follows a story that can easily be one of the best movies I have ever seen, it sure would be Oscar worthy. The acting is also superb. Ashley Johnson who has appeared in such films as ‘The Help’ and ‘What Women Want’ voices Ellie while Troy Baker a modern day Mel Blanc video game voice actor speaks for Joel. Their tandem performance can easily be described by an off-screen chemistry that is both pure and widely relatable to the gamers and viewers alike.
To explain more about the plot, there is an anti-government organization called ‘The Fireflies’ that was formed to help find a cure and develop a vaccine. Leader and Queen of ‘The Fireflies’ Marlene gives Joel and Tess the burden of carrying along Ellie thus beginning their journey. This game which is pact full of surprising moments and scares also explores the human condition. It says a large statement about human nature. Lines are blurred between good and evil or what is right and wrong when morals are judged.
As I’ve said in the last paragraph, you also kill humans. The end of the world is an ugly place. There is a group called ‘Hunters’ who seek out and kill other groups of humans for supplies, food and sport. Joel and Ellie run into these type of people several times throughout and its your job to either stealth kill, brutally murder or pass by unnoticed all out of self defense. I found out these moments in the game were the most challenging. I had to really think tactically because the non-infected human enemies you come across are very unpredictable as opposed to the infected ones that run towards you like maniacs.
What also makes this game challenging is the limited amount of ammunition, first aid and supplies you get. Crafting becomes your best friend and the game proceeds to award those who search every nook and cranny. You can seriously create some effective weapons when crafting: a Molotov Cocktail, Nail Bomb and Smoke Bombs. Shivs become your best bet against clickers. Clickers are among one of the scariest things I have seen, developers of the game have out down themselves with making the most terrifying and dangerous zombie creature. Clickers not only step creepily while making clicking noises, but also have echolocation. Like a bat they’re able to sense things and see things through sound and echoes like sonar but aren’t able to see since the fungus has already damaged their eye sight. The best way to destroy one is by slowly crouching near it without making much noise and pressing the triangle button to stab a shiv in its neck. You can also throw a bottle or brick at its head stunning it and then run towards it while hitting the square button as Joel will smash a clicker’s head to pieces with his melee weapon. Then there’s the conventional way of just spraying a clickers head with shotgun shells. Either way, your best bet is the first because most likely you’ll encounter more runners or clickers in the area who will easily hear the gunshots or the smack of a bat. After a long period of time, those same clickers eventually turn into Bombers, giant mushroom-like beings that not only have great strength but also shoot out spores like the missiles on a jet plane. They are extremely dangerous and the best way to take one out is to keep your distance while throwing Molotov Cocktails, Nail Bombs or spraying them with the flamethrower; they will light up like a Christmas tree. Whatever you do, don’t get bit by a runner, clicker or bomber or else you’re restarting from the checkpoint. There are so many different ways you can kill enemies that playing the game over and over again never gets old. I have already played and beat ‘The Last of Us’ five times on all difficulties. This is one of my favorite games as the game-play is phenomenal, has a stellar story along with graphics that make it the best looking game on the PlayStation 3. I have not tried the re-mastered version on PlayStation 4 yet, but I bet its awesome.
You encounter a few allies along the way but in the end it’s merely just Ellie and Joel against the world. I won’t reveal the end nor anything else. However, I will mention that the score by Gustavo Santaolalla tackles the emotion of the story perfectly. When I reached the end I admit to crying. This game really explored every emotion. There’s never a video game like this that had that effect on me. So I highly recommend this game to anyone who wants to escape from the daily tasks of reality and gain an experience. If you look all over the internet, it has 10 out 10 and 5 out of 5 stars. The game features an online third person Call of Duty-like network play called ‘Factions’. It’s quite challenging, fun and rewarding when you become a master at tactical field combat. There is even an expansion mini-game that explores events before Ellie met Joel titled, ‘The Last Of Us: Left Behind’. This video game is truly a gem and you will miss out and be left in the dust if you don’t give it a try. This post isn’t even a sponsor or advertisement for the game in anyway. It’s my own take on the experience. Hopefully, yours will be just as fulfilling as mine.