The Last Of Us is one of the greatest games ever made. Naughty Dog’s seminal masterpiece was a critical darling upon release gaining perfect scores from IGN, Edge, Eurogamer, Destructoid and more. The story of Ellie and Joel’s journey across the post-apocalyptic United States to try and save the world tugged on heartstrings and tackled certain issues like no game before or since.
Graphically speaking, TLOU was incredible. Coming as the PS3 had grown more than a couple grey hairs, it was a showcase of what the system could ultimately achieve. Story-wise, the game took the zombie trope that had permeated all manner of popular culture up to that point and put a new and brilliant spin on it. Rather than focus on imaginative ways to slay, useless, mindless hordes of undead, the game instead concentrated on the humans and their realistic attempts to survive in a world all but destroyed. Then, like a laser, it focused on the tragic stories of two different people and their journey together. Without going into spoilers, it is a journey of human discovery focusing on them, rather than the undead.
Like many, I first bought TLOU after reading the numerous positive reviews I have already mentioned. Whether they were written or video, magazine or internet, the general result was a feeling of “I have to play this game”; “my gaming life will not be complete if I do not play this game.”
The problem was, and it would turn out to be a major one, when I hear Naughty Dog, I think Uncharted. I had no idea what TLOU was. While at the time I followed games relatively closely, Naughty Dog had done such a good job at keeping this a secret that with all that was going on in my life at the time, I completely missed it. It was at the point of discovery of TLOU that I thought “oh, a new Uncharted game”. I thought TLOU might be a more grisly take, but I could see the Uncharted ideas were there: It looked incredible; It was set in a realistic world; there was a lot of climbing; and the protagonists were a group, rarely alone. Hell, to my untrained eye, even Joel looked like a rougher Nathan Drake. They both had the short brown hair, they were both perpetually dirty, and they both had the almost cliche ‘hero stance.’ Looking back, I was incredibly naive.
Of course, thinking it was Uncharted, I was in for a rude awakening. The first cutscene, in particular, was a moment of discovery and intense feeling I can never have back. I am not going to bore you about how I felt about every facet and moment of this game because, frankly, you have better things to do. However, suffice it to say, incredibly, TLOU didn’t resonate with me. This was not Uncharted, and because I had trained my brain to believe it was, I was disappointed. There wasn’t the happy-go-lucky manner of Nathan Drake or the banter of Sully. Instead, It was replaced with the (rightly) dour and cynical Joel and the naive-yet-aggressive Ellie.
Even the mechanics left a lot to be desired. Yes, It was a gorgeous game, but scavenging and crafting to make improvised weapons slowed the whole experience down. I thought I was getting a bullet-proof main character with more ammunition and weapons about his person than is scarcely believable. Seriously, where do video games characters keep their weapons and ammo?
Anyway, even though the game was not what I thought–and as a result, I didn’t appreciate it for what it was–the story did interest me (sort of). Again, coming from the Nathan Drake school of zombies, I was expecting silliness on a grander scale. “Now,” I thought, “the nazi-zombies from the first Uncharted are going to be the backbone of an entire game.” “Ace!”. Unsurprisingly, that fell flat too. While the story did intrigue me, I went in with the wrong mindset and completely missed the nuances Naughty Dog was trying to convey.
Eventually, and in hindsight, inevitably, I gave up. The Last Of Us was not the game I thought, and there were better games to play. Looking back, I realise there is nothing wrong with this mindset. If you don’t want to play something, even something as critically acclaimed as TLOU, you don’t have to. The world will not stop, life will not end, you will not be ridiculed. Life is too short to worry about missing a game or film or TV show!
After its removal from my system, The Last Of Us found refuge in my games library between old LEGO games and God Of War 3, never to see the inside of my PS3 again.
This was not the end of my relationship with the clickers, however.
With the release of the PS4 came the re-release of the TLOU. Barely a year after initial release, TLOU juggernaut fired up again. More and more people came out to eulogise over the brilliance of the game. It was the “best game of last generation” or the “greatest PlayStation game ever.” Honestly, the euphoria was hard to avoid. Of course, by this point, it had all the awards to back up its critical reception, publishers love to shove the, sometimes ludicrous, amount of awards a game has achieved front and centre of any marketing campaign. TLOU remastered was no different.
With not much to play, and a nagging feeling that I had misread TLOU. I jumped back in. This time, however, I knew what to expect and the mindset to approach it with. I fully expected to hit the same roadblock as before, but I opened my mind and was rewarded handsomely for it.
This time the characters resonated. Joel’s dourness was justified and relatable. Ellie’s volatile demeanour–especially for a girl her age– made complete sense and added more depth to a chasm of a character. While Uncharted’s characters lived off playful banter, Ellie and Joel were juxtaposed personalities that worked together with the outlook simply to survive. That survival further permeated the game. Now crafting made sense, and the wish to avoid combat and the distinct lack of a bullet sponge playable character became ever more clear. This game was not Uncharted and had I known that initially, I would have appreciated it at the first attempt rather than risking not enjoying it at all.
Even though I now understood the game, I was still expecting there to be walls or glass ceilings hindering my progress, after all, one hurdle had ended my first playthrough. To my utmost surprise, there was nothing. I completed the game over a weekend and never, not once, felt like I was hitting a wall. The best compliment I can give TLOU is that I had to be dragged away from the world and the characters (you know, by things like water, food, and sleep, the pillars of human survival). When I did complete it, I realised why it was so revered, and though it took two attempts, that didn’t dampen the experience for me. If anything, it may have enhanced it.
TLOU quickly jumped into my top ten games of all time and even today sits comfortably within that measure, subjective as it is. It truly was a masterpiece that I need a little extra time and a second attempt to realise and appreciate.