Ever since I became a part of the Fing’rs & Thu’ums team I’ve held off talking about Naughty Dog’s masterpiece The Last of Us. One reason for this is because of spoilers, but also I was concerned that whatever I would say about the series just wouldn’t do it justice, as it is genuinely my favourite video game franchise ever.
Now, this is a bold statement for me as I’ve grown over the years loving games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and many more, all the way to Uncharted, another Naughty Dog game series.
Thinking long and hard about which game has given me more emotional variety in how I feel whilst playing it I start to analysis various key components. From fluid gameplay mechanics, believable and real characters, a story to rival anything by acclaimed literary and cinematic storytellers and a gorgeous, yet brutal environment set in a desolate post apocalyptic world. I cannot think of anything that has engaged me more as a gamer than The Last of Us.
And seeing as so far there has only been two games released (parts I and II) as well as a side story DLC, the fact still remains that I hold the games in the highest of regards for such a fledgling gaming franchise.
The beginnings of a world
Now I feel that if I’m going to talk about my favourite franchise I want to praise the details and break down the experience of mixed emotions the player receives after Part II ends. But ultimately I want to keep it spoiler-free for those who have yet to play the games.
During the pressing reality of a real-world pandemic that we currently find ourselves in, video games regarding outbreaks that affect humankind is of course very topical.
The games are based on a very real phenomena known as cordyceps. This is a genus of fungal endoparasitoids, which is a parasite that develops and lives inside a host animal that eventually leads to its death after effecting the host for it’s gain. The series focuses on what would happen if cordyceps mutated to include the ability to effect humans and turn them into zombie-like and horrific creatures.
The world struggles to cope with such a devastating pandemic and society (for the most part) falls. Twenty years after the initial outbreak, the hope for a vaccine has not been successful. The worldwide population has been destroyed and the once bustling cities and major urban sprawls have been overrun by nature, the foliage slowly taking back the land it once flourished in.
The World Without Us
The developers took insight, and gave credit to the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman which details about what would happen to the natural and built environment if humans suddenly disappeared. Using his vision, and working his magic into the games surroundings, the absolute detail of this world is incredible and jumps into life – a bleak mirror of what it represents.
The game has absolutely gorgeous visuals of crumbling moss-covered skyscrapers, shops and houses with vines and roots of emerging trees breaking up through the floorboards.
Looking through abandoned houses is like looking at a photograph of a family’s last moments of normality. Plates are set at tables with mouldy food upon them, showing that this family was sat down for dinner when the pandemic spiralled out of control rapidly and violently. A lot of beds are unmade, meaning that the individual involved at the time possibly got yanked out of bed so they could run for their lives, and this imagery is deliberate and utterly reflects the past emotion that would have been felt. It’s these background details that allow you to ask and answer your own questions about the events that unfolded on an intimate level.
Standing in the street, looking at overgrown gardens and abandoned cars makes you have a moment of eerie contemplation of where all these people are. Are they dead? Are they holed-up in one of the safe zones? Or are the infected that now roam the streets?
Ultimately this is a zombie story similar to one of the movies created by acclaimed filmmaker George A. Romero. This is apparent because, despite the horrific creatures that are in the surroundings, the main focus is on the last few remaining humans and how they cope and live amongst each other in this new and hostile, lawless world. The anarchy is fuelled by the complete lack of judicial repercussions.
When society and justice breaks down, humanity de-evolves and primal animalistic behaviour becomes more prevalent. Gangs and even communities of rapists, murderers and cannibals are more of a threat. They create more of a threat to the small pockets of humans than even the infected creatures that roam the landscapes can muster.
Whilst considering the characters we play as throughout the games, such as Joel, Ellie and Abby, you can see the personalities of the characters change. Whether it be through flashbacks or the narrative of the games itself these individuals evolve through the evolving storylines. The moral choices these characters make begin to blur the lines between good and bad. As a player you become torn between who to root for as, instead of the polarising black and white expectations, we are very much in a world of grey.
You start to question yourself whilst you play. Can you consider yourself a protagonist if you violently execute someone who is pleading for their life even if they’ve been trying to kill you? Is personal vengeance justifiable when it affects the innocence of others? These questions are not only part of the games dynamics, but they become part of your own.
As the end credits were rolling after playing The Last of Us: Part II, I had tears slowly rolling down my cheeks. Anyone who has played the game knows the significance of the final scene and the questions that arise. I can’t think of any gaming franchise that has evoked as much emotion in me as The Last of Us. The game is an outstanding work of art that is more than deserving of the the awards and the plaudits and it has received so far.
Consider this another.
Nostalgia junkie, retro reminiscer and always immersing himself in his own perception of reality. Mike Leigh is a proud author, journalist and content creator for Fing’rs & Thu’ums.