Game Review: ‘The Last of Us’ means surviving zombies

Colin Bowden, Staff Writer

It takes brains to make a good zombie experience for gamers these days. Supple, delicious brains…

One thing the big companies in the gaming industry have had issues with is creativity. Sequels upon sequels would be produced, and clones of more popular games would be made ad nauseum to sell millions without the hard work of innovation or thought to story, continuity or to intellectually challenge.

Case in point, one of the bigger trends in games for the past decade has been non-linearity, or being able to escape the main story to tackle any number of side stories. This has been done well (example: “Elder Scrolls: Skyrim”) but is often done poorly, with game elements repeating, the main story being trampled, and lackluster level design rife in many big-selling games like “Dragon Age 2” and “Mass Effect.”

“The Last of Us” for PS3, a zombie adventure game by Naughty Dog (makers of the famed “Uncharted” series) attempts a more linear path. That is, “TLOU” has decided the story and path, and the player is to travel along with them. This is a formula for modern-day failure if the story is not done just right. Fortunately, “The Last of Us” gets the story amazingly right.

“The Last of Us” is a tale about Joel, a middle-aged veteran of a zombie outbreak in the United States, taking care of Ellie, a 14-yr-old survivor who needs to be taken westward for a greater cause. Joel, a man used to deep loss, struggles to both care for Ellie as an escort and yet not paternally. Ellie, for her part, just wants to live, understand, and grow and be normal, whatever that means in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. We learn about both of these characters, their environment, and for some people, ourselves, through their story.

The Sony Playstation 3 console is on its way out, and usually big titles like “TLOU” make sure to show off the console’s greatest assets. This is without a doubt true in this case. Lighting and shadows are magnificent here; sounds accentuate the experience, especially on certain unforgettable enemies. There are times where the player will absolutely need the sound to alert them to the surroundings.

Similarly, the voice acting is top-notch. Ellie, played by Ashley Johnson, really does a great job with giving a sense of what a young person growing up knowing only brutality, mortal fear and constant loss must think of our current-day fascination with celebrity, fashion and all manner of frivolity. The acting helps keep the player involved and wanting more little tidbits or terrible jokes from Ellie’s joke book.