A History of Violence – The Last Of Us

Foreword: This article was actually written a few months ago, but since at the time I hadn’t explored the multiplayer mode, it ended up un the back burner.
Now, after publishing the multiplayer review, I think the time has finally come. I tried to catch “the mood” behind the game, not to write the usual walkthrough. To avoid spoilers I skipped “sensitive” parts, whenever possible.

Here I go again. This is my third run, down through the world of “The Last of US”. This time I’m not alone since my wife and my little son are now back from visiting her parents. They wanted so bad to see this game since we talked so much about it in the last few months. I need to make the experience match “their needs” so the difficulty level is set to “easy” (no point in seeing me failing and repeating the same stage over and over) but the audio is now switched from Italian to English, with no subtitles. I can talk to my son and explain to him that the violence is simulated (he understands that) but I don’t want to expose him to profanities. Once those get into your head, there’s no way to take them out (do you remember when WE were kids?).

So I start the game, once again. On loading screen I watch spores whirling in the wind: man, I’m no 3D coder but it already looks like the physics behind this game is excellent! On the other hand, we are talking about Naughty Dogs here. I still have before my eyes the ever-changing path of running water in the boat level of “Uncharted 3”, not to speak of the desert sands…

I watch my son playing in the first minutes. He enjoys impersonating little Sara (Joel’s daughter) and he starts exploring the house: nice little girl room first, walk down the alley afterward. The environment is dark but highly detailed.
When he gets to the master bedroom the TV is on and casts credible shadows on the walls. A frantic reporter is broadcasting from the local hospital. There is an outbreak going on and in the last few hours, things have gotten worse every minute.
At a certain point, an explosion (perceivable also from the open curtains in the window) cuts out the transmission. The nightmare has begun ……

… Time has passed. Twenty years have gone already. Joel is getting old and he’s sleeping, when Tess slams the door open. They begin to argue because surviving is getting harder every day and Robert’s minions have beat her and stolen their supplies: money, food, and weapons.
Joel and Tess now live in a quarantine zone. No one gets out if the Government says he can’t. The contagion is still running, no cure been found yet. But the infected are only a part of the problem since everyone is striving to survive in a world where resources are getting scarcer every day and you run the risk to be killed for nothing. They will kill you for your shoes if they need’em.

Tess wants to get her things back, so she talks Joel into it: “You can’t let Robert win, or the next time they will come for your life!”, she says.

So here we are, walking down the streets of a desolated city. It is dirty, it looks old and falling into pieces. There aren’t many places where you can go. Almost every door is locked, almost every street is fenced.
At a certain point, you see a special disinfection squad exiting a building. They stopped a few runaways which are now been screened for diseases. The first two are ok. The third is infected, so they instantly kill her with a lethal injection.
The last one, probably infected as well, tries to run away.
He gets killed on the spot too, shot in his back by the police. Damn, how do I explain this to my son? …

… We press on and we are now downtown. Someone is trying to sell used clothes, another one is selling food. Jesus, is that a rat cooking in the frying pan? Just like during a war … do or die! I look around and I don’t like what I see. Actually, I don’t even understand if I like this game or not. It gives me a very bad feeling, something that makes me feel uneasy. Everything seems wrong and out of place. Is it really so?

At a certain point, I understand. A few months ago we experienced a major fault in the water piping that left the entire block where I live without water for almost a day. In the following hours, we also had a few earthquake shakes (originated a few hundred kilometers away) that probably worsen the situation damaging the pipes even more. We ended up in having a shortage of running water (off and on) for almost a week because the pipes started to leak again a few hours after repair. Now, can you imagine the situation? Can you imagine if there were no electricity as well? And no food? No medicines? NO NOTHING? The bad feeling wasn’t coming from the game, but rather from deep inside me. What if it happened to us? Would we be able to survive? What I’m trying to say here, is that this game looks more real than reality. NAUGHTY DOGS RULEZ! …..

…. Now, after a few stealth sessions, we finally get to our “primary mission”: escorting 14-year-old Ellie out of the quarantine zone. Ellie was born after the outbreak and she has no idea of how things were “before” (kinda like living without an Amiga .. LOL!).
Everything is new to her, and it’s kinda new to us too. The open space adds variety in the game’s depth, but also adds new threats and the police are not the only “thing” you must try to avoid. It is raining now and the sky looks so real.
Every once in a while a lightning strikes the ground. The rain wettens our clothes and leaves visible signs when it hits a puddle. The only way out of here is an open truck trailer, that slipped down a sloping terrain. As I enter the trailer the sound of the rain changes, lowering in pitch but keeping its intensity: yes, I would know that I have a cover above my head even if I couldn’t see. The sound effects are great! And not only the rain but anything else. At a certain point, later in the game, I’m trying to catch an annoying mosquito that is bothering me while playing. This horrible creature is moving from left to right and then all around me. I finally realize that the sound I hear comes from INSIDE the game….. What an experience! And I believe that the entire sound department deserves an award: not only sound fx but also the background music is always in place: from soothing and relaxing to pounding and disturbing, it always underlines the given situation in the right way.

As for the story … Well, you will like it and you will hate it, depending on the moments and the given situation, just like in real life. And like real life, you will be prompted in a world where Nature is slowly but firmly taking away from men what we took away from Her. After 20 years without maintenance man-made artifacts are falling down, but 20 years without pollution (no cars running, for example) mean that trees are growing back and life is flourishing even in unexpected places.
So I am with Ellie, trying to get into a hotel with no apparent way in since the lower floor is nearly entirely flooded. I dive into this “natural pond” in search of a solution, and I suddenly notice something moving. Yes, even downtown a former metropolis fish are now swimming in fresh waters!

Entering the “Hotel level” puts TLoU’s gameplay at its best.
The place is nearly full of enemies (humans and … well, not humans anymore) so now we’ll see if you learnt to survive; if you crafted your items correctly; if you planned in advance which abilities to enhance; if you can stop, listen and plan your strategy; if you run when you have to; if you can orient in the dark even when someone is hunting you down (sorry dudes, no map holding your hand here!). Now we will really see who is the “true survivor”, “The Last of US”.

The story, of course, doesn’t end up here but I’ll let you discover it by yourself. I think it is worth. I know it is since this is a story of love and hate; of heroes and villains; of life and loss. And, in the end, no one is immune, the hero of today possibly being the villain of tomorrow. What scares me the most is, after what I saw, that one day it could happen for “real”. Will I be ready?
Postscript: A few days before original game release (June 2013) Tony opened an entry on this blog that was fertile soil for hints and discussions. If you missed them, here are all the relevant links:

Get the original post;

Get Pastajensen article and Penny Arcade strip;

Get my multiplayer review.

For the Otakus among you, I suggest the following (beautiful) short series of 13 episodes, exploring life and loss of earthquake survivors.

Edited January 26, 2014:
Here is the first clip of real playing. Enjoy!

Edited January 27, 2014:
The following clip was taken from inside “Choo Choo Toys” store (Pittsburgh level). Joel finds here (fake) boardgames from “Uncharted” and “Jak and Daxter”.

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