The Last of Us Remastered (only available on Playstation 4) offers its players a deep and emotional story fit for the big screen. But its well-acted tale of redemption and finding purpose in even the most desperate situations is overshadowed at times by its extremely mature themes and content.
For years, video game makers have been trying to bring audiences a cinematic experience, hoping to give players the feeling of being a character inside a Hollywood blockbuster. The creative minds at Naughty Dog, a Sony exclusive game development studio, are pursuing, and some say achieving, just that. The key to Naughty Dog’s big screen feel is a high production value with well-written stories and a long history of using motion-captured actors for their game’s characters. It even hired film composer Gustavo Santaolalla to create the game’s soundtrack. In mid 2013, Naughty Dog released The Last of Us on the Playstation 3 to mostly positive acclaim from gamers and critics alike.
The game’s post-apocalyptic setting is nothing new in video games or other media today. In fact, The Last of Us is very similar to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. Both take place in the United States after a great calamity and have an adult and adolescent as their main characters. The Last of Us centers on the story of Joel, a beaten and emotionally broken survivor of a worldwide pandemic. The other main character is the young but rough Ellie, who was born after the pandemic. In The Road, the main character struggles with his faith, and the importance of God permeates the novel. But mentions of faith are absent from The Last of Us.
The game offers a variation on the popular zombie theme—a fungus rather than a virus causes this outbreak. The Cordycep fungus, which affects the brain, eventually turns people into grotesque, zombie-like creatures called “clickers.” The last of humanity groups together in heavily militarized quarantine zone cities. The story starts when the reluctant Joel must smuggle Ellie out of the city and across the wastelands of the former United States, because she just might be humankind’s last and only hope.
The storytelling is made more engrossing by just how well these two characters are realized through back-story and personality. More of the backstory unfolds in diaries and letters left by ancillary characters, which help bring this tragic world to life. Joel is a good man broken by tragedy who has become a brutal and cold survivor. Ellie could be any normal teenage girl, but growing up in this world has made her a foul-mouthed, tough adolescent who has never known the care-free fun of being a child. Together they form a dysfunctional father-daughter relationship to survive and protect each other.
The Last of Us rarely backs down from its mature rating. The game is thematically dark and often shows the worst of humanity. Ellie spews profanity from start to finish. People often are killed in graphic and violent ways. At one point in the game, a man forms a disturbing infatuation with Ellie and attempts to assault her. She is forced to defend herself by killing him. The practice of cannibalism is also implied, with one scene showing body parts being prepared.
While The Last of Us shows how well a video game can convey a meaningful message, it’s unfortunate such masterful storytelling is mired by its content. The Last of Us Remastered is rated Mature for blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language and use of alcohol. Players interested in experiencing what Naughty Dog’s games are like but who want to avoid questionable content should give the Uncharted series, rated Teen, a try. The Uncharted games channel the zeitgeist of playing as an Indiana Jones-like globetrotting treasure hunter and offer the cinematic experience without a lot of extreme, mature content.