You make every shot count - Joel
A Masterpiece in Video Game and Cinema Storytelling
Every once in a while, you will stumble upon a video game, a movie, or a TV show that you can not stop talking about. You tell others to the point of annoying them to check it out because how amazing it is. What I really am trying to say to people is that said thing actually had a huge influence in me to the point that I had an urge to dissect into detail and to simply enjoy it over and over again. It never gets old no matter how many times I sit through it. One of those things is the video game, The Last of Us. Honestly, you don’t even have to play this game to enjoy it, although I recommend playing it thoroughly since you’ll get the most enjoyment. It’s literally a movie with gameplay both which gel together in today’s video games.
Stop right now and realize that The Last of Us is getting an HBO series in the coming years. Oh and by the way, creative director Neil Druckmann who wrote the majority of the Last of Us and Chernobyl director Craig Mazin are leading this project. That should tell you right now how serious about adapting a video game to what should be an interesting TV series that will in all likelihood rival Game of Thrones as the most popular HBO program. What is there anymore to say about The Last of Us? It has garnered hundreds of game of the year awards. It is certainly one of the best games of the 2010’s. It is also undoubtedly one of the best video games ever devised. I even dare say it is one of the best stories ever told including movies, TV shows, books, plays, you name it. Who said video games can’t be a form of art like movies and books?
The Last of Us begins rather in a peaceful way with Joel and his daughter Sarah living a subtle yet sweet life. Things immediately get out of hand as a real life fungus called Cordyceps (Google it) turns people into senseless cannibals. Sarah is then mindlessly killed by the military with Joel sobbing for her daughter’s loss. It is a gut wrenching way to start a story that makes me care for the protagonist. There is a massive time skip of 20 years into the future where things haven’t exactly gotten better. Joel is a smuggler with a friend named Tess. They smuggle weapons, equipment, or whatever else is asked from others as a way to make a living. The starting point in the Last of Us is in the quarantine zone in Boston. The government there constantly lies about the availability of rations which results in a starving population and sometimes signs of uprising by the people. At this point, I felt like the Last of Us was already something special with how realistic it portrayed a post apocalyptic world and how governments and people would really be.
Joel and Tess are soon tasked by the Fireflies, an anti-governmental faction that desires seek a cure or vaccine to save humanity, to smuggle a 14 year old girl named Ellie. It turns out that Ellie is immune to the Cordyceps fungus. What was supposed to be a normal smuggling task turns into a possible salvation for mankind. However, Joel is extremely reluctant about even considering a cure or vaccine reminding us what exactly is out there. Tess, on the other hand, is very optimistic about the possibility of Ellie being that answer.
For the rest of the game, the story centers around Joel and Ellie. Their main goal is to reach the Fireflies which leads to Joel and Ellie having to survive in a post apocalyptic United States across different cities. What unfolds is a tumultuous relationship between him and Ellie. He is distrustful of her which rubs Ellie the wrong way. She is optimistic, but Joel is very pessimistic which offsets each of their personalities. Their dialogue is entertaining and there is never a dull moment in their journey.
The ending of the Last of Us is ambiguous and open to interpretation. On one hand, one can argue that Joel made the right decision to rescue Ellie from the Fireflies. On the other, some argue that Joel literally cost humanity’s only hope for a vaccine. I tend to agree with the former. What gives the Fireflies righteousness in their utilitarian philosophy? What gives them the right to sacrifice Ellie’s life for a chance at a vaccine. Even if a vaccine is possible, would they be serious about giving it to the cannibals in the Winter arc or the Hunters in Pittsburgh? Or would they keep it to themselves? Sure, it can make everyone immune to the Cordyceps, but it wouldn’t solve the problem that society has all but crumbled and people are out there trying to survive. Also, did Joel have every right to lie about Ellie? What if she really wanted to give up her own life to engineer a vaccine? At the end of the day, it probably should have been her choice.
Plot Grade: A+
If you don’t like at least single character of The Last of Us, then you are not human at all. There is someone in The Last of Us that you can relate to whether you are young or old. The actors who performed both motion capture and voice acting for each individual character deserve the utmost credit for their performances. There was not a single flaw in the acting that I could critique. Every word from every character and their facial expressions show precise human emotions that I almost forget that this is fiction. I dare say that the acting in this game was better than most Oscar worthy performances specifically with Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie). Everyone was at their best.
Joel: Played by Troy Baker who is perhaps one of the most recognizable video game voice actors of all time. This is easily his best performance in any video game. The manner Joel speaks in the Last of Us resonates with how terrible the world is out there. He has seen everything considering he has survived 20 years even at one point likely being a Hunter himself. What unfolds between him and Ellie is that he begins to see her as basically Sarah’s replacement so to speak. He loved his daughter, but the world took it from him. Ellie deeply reminds Joel of his past that he desperately misses. Joel is brutally honest more times than not (minus the ending). Joel is one of the best video game characters ever developed.
Ellie: Played by the talented Ashley Johnson, Ellie is cheerful, funny, and hopeful that the world will be a better place someday. Kids in video games are often a nuisance, but not Ellie. She often swears which unintentionally creates humorous moments. She can also be serious and ruthless if pushed to the limit. Likewise, she is innocent and optimistic trying to be a kid in a post-apocalyptic world. Unfortunately, her obliviousness is quickly shattered during her journey especially after the Winter story. This was a turning point in her personality forever stripping her innocence. Like Joel, Ellie is one of the best video game characters ever created.
Character Grade: A+
The Last of Us isn’t very intricate in its gameplay. However, this is offset by the tension, fear, and survival horror at its root. If you are not afraid of the human enemies, then I guarantee that clickers will send chills down your spine. The game does test your resource management. Do you want to use resources on a med-kit to heal yourself or do you want to use those same resources on a molotov cocktail to incinerate your opponents? This is much more punishing as the difficulty level increases.
What I also enjoy is the pacing of the action. In between every action sequence, there is a break. In between that time, you are given the opportunity to breathe after such tense fighting. You also get the chance to explore the world around you and learn about other survivors and their tragic stories. However, you are soon reminded of the hysteria that is prevalent due to the unpredictability of the enemies. You don’t know what lurks ahead or what you will be confronted by next. Expect the unexpected.
Gameplay Grade: A
Perfection. When I saw the rain for the first time, I was mesmerized. I knew I had to complete this game to see it through. The game’s graphics have aged a little bit especially when compared to other Naughty Dog games like Uncharted 4. However, The Last of Us still looks better than a lot of games today. It would be unfair to critique a 2013 game and its graphics in 2020, but it is surely far above anything else in its respective console.
Graphics Grade: A+
Gustavo Santaolalla won an Oscar for Best Original Score for his work in the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain. In other words, I abide that you listen to the soundtrack from The Last of Us on Youtube especially if you play guitar. Even the ambience music in between and during fights express human emotions. The Last of Us has perhaps the greatest soundtrack of any video game I’ve heard.
Soundtrack Grade: A+
I have analyzed and studied The Last of Us like how teachers at school try and task you to find literary devices in books. The Last of Us has everything from motifs, symbolism, metaphors, imagery, themes, allusions, etc. A great example is the giraffe motif. Throughout the game, you will stumble upon plushy giraffes at toy stores or other place were children lingered. Did you know it symbolizes a child’s innocence? It also foreshadows a scene later in the game involving actual giraffes. The giraffes in this scene are a metaphor to the theme of hope. This specific scene is perhaps the most iconic in the game and there’s a great reason why it is quite often talked about and repeatedly shown in trailers. Don’t tell me that video games can’t express literary devices that can be studied and written about in academic papers.
The Last of Us Part II is set to release on June 19, 2020. It is no coincidence that I wrote this review weeks before the release date. The last time I was excited to pay to play or watch a game/movie? Avengers: Endgame in 2019. The trailers of The Last of Us Part II have been viewed more times than a lot of other movie trailers have in their entire life spans. The Last of Us is a developing franchise. The HBO series is an example of an ever growing story. Depending on what happens in Part II, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more spin offs of the Last of Us focusing on new characters in the same universe. It would be an insult to call The Last of Us great. The Last of Us is the greatest post-apocalyptic piece of media ever created bar none.
Overall Grade: A+