The art of storytelling is a fickle thing and institutions like Hollywood can at times be a great disservice. Ultimately, drama is conflict and whilst blockbusters have no shortage of drama, there is at times an over-abundance of neat and tidy. Of happy endings. They lived happily ever after. The Last of Us is not only affirmation that video games are a legitimate medium for conveying a story, but also that in the real world, happy endings are in short supply.
My first ten minutes with Naughty Dog’s latest title shook me to the core, because (without going into any detail) it threw a very real, very deep fear in my face and I’m not talking about the larger concept of a worldwide pandemic. It’s not often that I get emotional in a game, but the introduction to The Last of Us was one of those times. I’m not a fan of horror in general – I will not watch Event Horizon ever again and Resident Evil….even the dogs….*shudders* – and I’ve not really played much of franchises like RE or Silent Hill, so The Last of Us was sitting in the same dis-comfort zone as Half Life; intriguing enough to play but dancing on the edge of sending my hair even more rapidly into greydom.
I’ve seen criticism from some about the gameplay. Fair enough, there may be games out there with better systems for physics, stealth, fighting and cover, but I myself was happy with what was on offer. For me, this was simply a means to an end, I quickly grew connected with a character that I could relate to and I wanted to see if Joel had something to live for.
Twenty years on from when all the chaos first erupts and you can clearly see that the world is one of survival. Food is sparse and people are lean, cautious and devoid of indulgence. Emotions are kept in check, sentiment is nearly non-existent and if people want to survive, they can never let their guard down. Lives are both precious and worthless, it just depends on your perspective, and only the fittest and most ruthless win out. As I played through The Last of Us, I appreciated the thought that had gone into the writing of the story; Neil Druckman knows when exposition can be detrimental to the experience. Throughout the game, some things are left unsaid, some things aren’t up for discussion, and yet there is plenty in the surrounding environment and interaction between characters to give you a solid foundation for their world.
There are other ingredients that made The Last of Us so resoundingly good; basing the disease of The Infected on a real-world fungal condition like cordyceps is just so damn logical and terrifying at the same time. But what really came out strongly for me was the sad truth of humanity – our civilised society does dance on a knife’s edge and when that mutually agreed structure collapses, the conflict that makes humans so human becomes our own worst enemy. I found myself constantly wondering how these settlements and camps throughout the story could have flourished by working together rather than scrabbling over territory and resources. It also deftly raised the question of how dark and deep do we go within ourselves to survive, what lengths are we prepared to go to, and how much more human are those that are not infected compared with those who are.
Whilst I would love to discuss this game in more detail, I think it’s a bit soon, and I’m still absorbing the whole experience. The Last of Us leaves a lot unanswered, a lot unresolved. That’s a good thing. It’s a reminder that our own lives aren’t a Hollywood film with a happy ending and it’s also a reminder that our own lives don’t have checkpoints that we can reload. Every now and again, there will be a work of art that reminds us to cherish our loved ones and enjoy every minute that we can, and The Last of Us is one of them.
Check back with Resident Entertainment for more from Warwick in the future or check out his blog for more of his work.