by Ian Sifton, Canada Blogger for jaBlog!
I have three requirements for any entertainment medium set during and/or after the apocalypse:
1) an engaging story
2) memorable characters that I will care about
3) a tense and well-crafted atmosphere.
The first to ever meet these standards was Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, and now, game studio Naughty Dog has brought their chips to the table with The Last of Us.
The Last of Us is set 20 years after civilization fell to a viral epidemic, and humanity is barely getting by. The truth is that there is no such thing as good or bad people in the world. The only reason people survive is to simply see another day. Some have gone over the edge, and others try to cling to the only bit of humanity they have left.
The story follows the journey of Joel and Ellie as they make their way across post-apocalyptic America. These two are the heart of the game. It’s important in this genre to have characters that you care about; when devastating things happen, it is as tragic for you as it is for them. Joel is a survivor, having lived through the epidemic since the beginning and has lost a lot of what he used to be. He’s been hardened by the years and has painfully learned what it takes to survive.
What is unique about Ellie’s character is that she was born in the middle of apocalypse. While characters such as Joel once had a job and paid taxes, Ellie doesn’t know what a life like that is. She has only known survival, and the “normal” world is just a dream to her. The interactions between these two when they are scavenging and in tight spots make for some of the story’s best dialogue and heartfelt moments as we get subtle glimpses at their humanity.
Ultimately, the apocalypse is used as a means to tell a story. While other games in the zombie genre get lost in an overarching plot to save the world, The Last of Us focusses on the relationship of these characters and their personal growth as they try to survive in a dangerous world. There are twists and turns in the story that bring perspective and morality into question, and you may even discover something about yourself along the way.
While on the topic of the world, the atmosphere and tension is executed extraordinarily well. What first hits close to home is that the outbreak is caused by the Cordyceps fungus, a virus that actually exists in our world. Usually only affecting ants, it has jumped the chain to humans. Those infected by it slowly mutate into the wild and ravenous animals that have brought civilization to its knees.
The dialogue between our protagonists and the various characters also adds to the feeling of how on-edge the world is. Without giving anything away, an example of this is when Joel and Ellie come across a group of other survivors. Both parties appear to have the same destination in mind, and, of course, the idea comes across that they should work together to survive. But can they be trusted? Even when the two groups have a nice conversation, they’re thinking, “Can we trust them? Are they going to pull a gun on us?” Even when the odds of survival seem to go up, no one lets their guard down.
If you enjoy a story of survival and engaging character development, I highly recommend The Last of Us. It is a huge milestone for its genre and, if you experience it, is one you will never forget.