HyperGeeky has been in cruise control since I started teaching. And unlike the other “careers” I’ve taken up (photography, IT, part-time teaching), going full-time and switching schools hasn’t given me much time or energy for playing video games, watching movies, and writing reviews.
But isn’t it funny — to think that a pandemic led me to start working on the site again and that one of my first reviews is about a game in which the world has been turned upside down by a mysterious illness?
It wasn’t planned — I moved to the WordPress servers like a couple months ago. (I have receipts.)
Anyways, the Last of Us isn’t the first game I played now that I’m back into gaming, but it is the one I most recently beat.
It’s a game I’ve been wanting to play ever since its release, but circumstances always kept me from actually purchasing it. Now that the sequel is out, and some critics have called it a masterpiece, I decided it was time.
I purchased the remastered for PS4 version along with the sequel for a very good price online. The picture featured the original art — I’d rather avoid the red Greatest Hits labels — and I was excited to finally get into the game and see what all the fuss was about.
Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed to open the package that came in the mail. Not only was the remastered game packed with a Greatest Hits label, both game labels were in Spanish.
I know that PS4 games are region-free (right? ), and I got over the false advertising pretty quickly. I stuck the disc into my PS4, got ready to install the game, then found out I didn’t have enough disc space. So I erased a thing or two and then was surprised to find the game instantly worked. Like, I deleted something, and then I opened the game. Not sure how 50GB copied to the hard drive so fast, but it is what it is. I thought for a moment that maybe I had already purchased the game digitally, but I tried to play the game without the disc and it wouldn’t work.
Having been able to avoid major spoilers, this is what I can say in one sentence — The Last of Us isn’t what I expected.
I thought I was going to play some sort of sandbox game where I had to fight my way through a horde of zombies and survival-minded humans while protecting a young girl.
Now, the reality is that the game is one where you play as one of several characters, including said young girl, marching through a post-apocalyptic world fighting and running from hordes of spore-infested zombies and people who have, long ago, given up their humanity.
The main difference is that TLoU isn’t a sandbox game. It’s actually very linear and story-driven. It’s also a game that relies heavily on stealth mechanics mixed with some survival horror aspects where resources are in limited supply. There is action, but the conflict and tension comes from deciding when to use the weapons and resources you have at hand in order to push forward.
Players start as Sarah, a young girl who has just celebrated her father’s birthday by giving him a new watch. After waking up in the middle of the night, Sarah finds her father, Joel, gone while the news on the television reports on the spread of a mysterious illness that turns infected humans violent.
Sarah witnesses her father shoot their next door neighbor, and the pair try to escape town with Sarah’s uncle Tommy. Things go from bad to worse, and Sarah is killed.
The main story takes place 20 years into the future with Joel making a living by smuggling. Cities are under strict military rule with infected citizens killed on sight. The old world is dangerous, taken over by highly infectious spores and the wandering undead that grow increasingly dangerous the longer the spores lay claim to their bodies.
When Joel’s partner Tess comes through with news that they’ve been swindled by a black-market dealer, they decide to recover their stolen goods and exact revenge.
Players will need a bit of adjustment time to get used to the play mechanics. Joel, an adept killing machine, can run, crouch, and slink around obstacles in order to sneak behind hapless victims that can either be choked, shived, or pistol-whipped. In instances where a direct approach is warranted, Joel has access to his fists along with a variety of melee weapons and firearms that can be modded with gears spread all over the world. He also has his trusty flashlight which, when it goes dim, can be shaken by actually shaking your controller.
Joel will obviously take damage, so he’ll need to find items to turn into first-aid kits. He’ll also be able to create traps and smoke bombs, and ha can mod pipes and bats with shivs for extra takedown power.
Due to the survival-horror aspect of the game, everything is in short supply. Melee weapons will break and traps need materials. Players will have to decide how to pass through, for example, a patrol of armed soldiers, using what little they’ve had the fortune to find. Do you conserve ammo and sneak through, choking each zombie or human to death, or do you fire a warning shot and wait for assailants to come rushing into hail of bullets you lay down in an efficient manner? Don’t assume that the armed humans you take down will leave bullets or guns for you — it happened very rarely for me and usually in instances when the game tossed me into a horde-mode type situation with multiple waves of enemies rushing in.
Work tables will allow you to mod your weapons for more bullets per clip or less recoil. You start off with a handgun, but eventually you’ll find a revolver, a bow, and some fancier items that will make you a living terror for the undead and soon-to-be dead. In terms of melee weapons, you will only ever be able to build shivs, but later enemies will drop pipes, bats, and machetes.
Once players get used to the buttons and maneuvering around, it’s important to get used to the stealth mechanics. Instead of a light bar or some sort of visual that shows whether enemies can see you, TLoU relies on sound cues. If you’re close to being spotted, an alert will sound. If it’s a human, they’ll shout that you’ve been seen before they take cover or attack you.
Zombies, on the other hand, will be the most difficult thing you face. There are multiple types, each with a strength and weakness. The runners are the first type of zombie you’ll meet, and they will attack immediately if they lay eyes on your. Some have yet to fully succumb to the spores they’re infected by, and they will stand in one spot struggling with the infection which allows you to sneak up behind them for a mercy kill.
Clickers can either be a bit more difficult depending on how you approach them. Since they don’t have eyes, clickers rely on sound. You can sneak up on them, but you’ll have to do so very slowly. They can’t be choked out, but they can be hit with melee weapons or stealth shiv’d. Clickers usually wander in patterns, but they can become suddenly unpredictable depending on whether you make a noise loud enough to attract them to your position or whether one of your secondary partners decides to shoot one suddenly.
You’ll have to switch up tactics and consider various plans of attack depending on who or what’s in your way. Runners will usually attack you head on, bringing other runners to bear on their targets. They can be fought off with fists, though they can take a heavy beating that leaves you open to the swarm that will attack you from all other sides.
Clickers, though, can be hit with fists up until they grab you and instantly kill you. If you don’t have sharp objects or projectiles, it’s best to ignore them as best you can.
Stalkers can be the most annoying of all the zombies you’ll face. They can spot you with sight, and they are difficult to sneak up on. If you plan on firing on one, be ready to fire on all of them because they will throw themselves headfirst into a battle.
Lastly, the most powerful form of zombies are the bloaters — big puffy infested humans completely covered in spores that they will launch at you like grenades. These will take a lot of hits, but you won’t see too many of them in the game.
The game is split into seasons and various locales that will take you through abandoned cities, sewers, nature parks, and a winter resort. Players will have to navigate through buildings, looking for exits or power sources to open electronic doors. The game is one giant labyrinth of darkened hallways and creepy underground passages — there is the occasional open field — with an atmospheric soundtrack that heightens the mood. When you’re not fighting for your life or stalking victims, you’re looking for the next way forward with only a crude paper map if you can find one. Hints will sometimes chime in if you’re spending too much time scavenging or cluelessly lost.
The main plot of the game involves bringing Ellie to the Fireflies, a rebel faction of humans fighting against military control. The Fireflies are also looking for a cure to the illness, and Ellie’s immune system has found a way to stave off infection.
As Joel leads Ellie to the Firefly headquarters, he’ll come across a cast of characters, hostile and friendly. The game’s strongest point is in its story, which is fully realized by its superb voice cast and the environments featured in the game.
Voice actors Troy Baker as Joel and Ashley Johnson as Ellie lend their talents to some career-defining roles. They do more than just read lines — they fill their characters with motive, expression, and a depth that makes TLoU a prime example in video-game voice acting. Baker’s accent for Joel imbues the character with a southern drawl that can be gently wistful when he’s deep in thought or teeming with depraved malice when he’s caught up in rage.
Johnson’s Ellie speaks like a teen, but this young girl is filled with confidence and the sort of innocence that comes from growing up in a world built from civilization’s demise. Ellie is capable, though her age and size are a constraint to her abilities. Throughout the story, Joel and Ellie butt heads on sharing responsibilities, but the two learn to trust and rely on each other.
At this point, I have to point out that the scripting is one of the best ever for a video game. The written lines give the actors a solid foundation to work with. The dialogue is realistic, and the conversations are refreshingly mundane. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but it’s not. Not every character has something pithy or dramatic to say — in fact, a lot of the lines the actors read aren’t especially groundbreaking in what they’re saying so much as how it’s being said. The game avoids overtly cheesy lines and pretense as it opts for grounded exchanges where characters talk like normal human beings who live in an extraordinary environment.
When Joel tries to drop Ellie off with his brother for the last leg of her journey to the Fireflies, Ellie doesn’t info-dump her feelings onto Joel. There’s a way in which the story treats the player with respect — it expects that you’re following along and trusts that you’ve been an active listener familiarizing yourself with the inner and outer conflicts for each of the characters.
The strength of the voice acting and the scripting shows itself in scenes when the story relies on the silence in between words as you watch characters feel the taut tension of the moment or see incredible sights that don’t need to be explained by a narrator or dramatized with words.
In terms of visuals, the motion capture is effective in carrying the story’s plot and emotion. The environments and artistic direction also create a realistic perspective of a world that’s returned to nature as humans retreat into zones. In one abandoned office building overtaken by foliage, a collapsed floor leaves the monitors, desktops, and keyboards hanging from their electric sockets. It’s a memorable visual that was both beautiful and eerie. Sights like these are thought-provoking, and the experience is immersive.
For the remastered version, the game’s graphics are a cut above the PS3 version, which isn’t a bad thing. The original game was noted for being a shining example of what the last generation of consoles could do at their full potential. The Last of Us Remastered looks beautiful, and if I didn’t know it was a port, I don’t know if I would have been able to tell.
In terms of gameplay and mechanics, TLoU is solid. The combat is a little wonky and reminded me of a more polished version of Red Dead Redemption 2’s control schemes, but its sneak mechanics were buttery smooth. Joel moves where you want him to move.
However, there were a few issues that drove me a little crazy — if Ellie is supposed to climb a ladder, your character will not be able to do so until she does. This can cause weird problems when a horde of zombies suddenly rush in, and you’re expected to run and not stick around to fight. There were times when Ellie would get stuck, and I was pretty much left for dead because I couldn’t progress by climbing onto a platform or a ladder because the game was waiting for Ellie to move first.
The limited types of enemies also left a little to be desired, and things became a bit too formulaic by the game’s end.
But I have to circle back to the story, music, and voice acting which are the defining features of the game.
The Last of Us is a journey with a complex ending that will leave you conflicted. When Joel finally gets Ellie to her destination, the Fireflies decide to operate on her and extract a possible cure. Unfortunately, due to the spore’s growth on the brain, the process will kill her. Joel, in a fit of rage, decides to take on the entire building to rescue Ellie, leaving a trail of blood that some might find difficult to exact.
In a game where humans can be more frightening than the zombies, the unconventional ending shows how complicated it is being human. It can be argued that Joel, for all the love he has for Ellie, is acting selfishly and that his actions could result in the inevitable eradication of all humans. It can also be argued that Ellie is a symbol of Joel’s redemption, thus the title The Last of Us.
Is it correct to interpret that the ending in which Joel chooses to save Ellie shows that even in the worst of times, people will save people? For Joel, the past 20 years spent killing and surviving for his own means ultimately haven’t taken away the last part of himself.
The Last of Us Remastered (2014)