Title: The Last of Us

Consoles: Playstation
Released: 2013
Fixes: Zombies, Linear Gameplay, Found Family Dynamics, Cinematic Games, Post-Apocalyptic, Action-Adventure

Welcome to a new gaming series here on FYA, borne of our need to talk about the video games we play when we’re not reading books or binging shows. We’re calling it *drum roll* MAS Effect! (Because if there’s anything else that we, Mandy W. And Stephanie, love more than discussing multimedia in all its forms, it’s a good PUN.)

And what better way to find people to discuss video games with than by converting you, our readers, into gamers! (If you already consider yourself a gamer, then welcome! Please join us in the comments with your thoughts!)

Being a millennial, I (Stephanie) have casually played video games my entire life, but it was typically more of the Myst, Mario Kart, Mortal Kombat button-mashing variety, with a brief sojourn into Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Until our very own Mandy C. and Bianca put up a post about their video game boyfriends, I hadn’t thought of video games being a place of romance—but, if there was romance, that meant there would also be some semblance of story-telling, and, as a reader, duh, I LOVE STORIES. It’s been more than five years now from what I consider to be my true gamer beginning, and I have been to so many new worlds and fallen in love with so many characters. I can officially say: I’m obsessed.

So if you don’t think gaming is for you, please allow us to change your mind. This first one miiiight be a bit of a hard sell if you’re not into scary things, but with its enduring popularity and a new TV adaptation right around the corner, it only felt right to begin with: The Last of Us.

The Download

It’s 2013: A mutated strain of fungus called Cordyceps begins to poison humans, turning them into “the infected”, AKA the flesh-craving monsters of your nightmares. Simple construction worker and family man, Joel, rushes with his young daughter and brother to escape the overrun city to dire consequences.

Fast forward ten years later, where Joel is living with a morally complicated past and eking out a living as a smuggler in Boston. What he doesn’t know is he’s about to be saddled with the most complicated cargo of all: a fourteen-year-old girl, bitten but not turned, whose immunity could make her the savior of humanity. Due to one screw-up after another, Joel reluctantly takes on the sole responsibility of escorting Ellie to the elusive faction, the Fireflies, who have a hospital out West where they are trying to synthesize a cure.

It’s-A Me, [Protagonist]!

Characters Joel and Ellie standing outside on a rooftop.

You’ll mainly play as Joel, but sometimes you’ll take control of Ellie for a chapter. Their appearances and dialogue are fixed, although sometimes there will be additional dialogue prompts related to things they spot in their world. Ellie finds a joke book and will tell Joel silly jokes at random times.

Joel is, in essence, not really a “good” guy—he’s cynical, a killer, and he makes selfish decisions—but he’s not totally a “bad” guy either, and his protector instincts are what keep him from being completely reprehensible. Ellie, as a child of apocalypse, has had to grow up too fast and seen too many horrible things, but she still has a hopefulness about the world that gets tested again and again.

NPCs: Notable Paramours & Chums

This game doesn’t work if you don’t believe in Joel and Ellie’s burgeoning found-family dynamic, and the voice actors do an amazing job of making them real and forcing you to quickly care about them. There are a few side characters (hi, Sam and Henry!), but they’re few and far between, so if you don’t form a bond with Joel or Ellie, then it’s gonna be a long game.

Finish Them!

  • The fandom. 😬 I kid, I kid…mostly. Like anything crazy popular, there are rabid fans who refuse to hear a word of slander and those that will play it and poo-poo it on every forum because how dare you like something so pedestrian and basic. (Especially when we start talking about the sequel game, WHEW, the trolls come out in force. I can see why the reasonable fans may not like the way the plot choices play out—even though I happen to appreciate them, despite the story’s grimness—but many are simply being sexist and transphobic and hiding behind “bUt tHe sToRy SuCkS!” as an excuse, and it’s really gross.)

The gross bloater zombie from The Last of Us
  • My in-game answer is obviously the infected, and more specifically, THE DAMN BLOATERS. Clickers, sure, creepy with that echolocation-y noise they emit, but sheer terror I felt when I faced my first Bloater and realized I did not have enough shotgun shells on hand…

  • Okay, and also the bandits/hunters suck too, because of course in a world where there are actual zombies somehow the worst thing out there are regular ol’ asshole humans.

Leveled Up

  • The cinematic storytelling that Naughty Dog is known for is, obvi, my favorite part of this game. If you’d told me way back when that I’d be willingly participate in a zombie game, I’d say, hell nah! I get very stressed while playing, as if it’s my own neck veins that are going to be chomped on if my character dies. But this was one of the first games where I realized I was invested not just for the gameplay, but for the characters. I call it a “playable movie”, which, if you think about it, is pretty freaking cool.

  • Y’all, this game is beautiful (and the sequel even more so). From the first glimpse of dust floating in a sunbeam on the opening menu screen, combined with those haunting instrumentals, I immediately knew this game felt unique. As Joel and Ellie traverse the United States from Boston to Utah, I would often get distracted by the detail of the dilapidated cities and crumbling buildings choked with plant life. It reminded me of those real-life thrill seekers that go into abandoned buildings to take photographs—something I’ve always found kind of cool and yet would never do myself in a million years, but here I can!

  • Thank Jeebus for “Listen” mode, where Joel can somehow magically see the infected through walls and shit – yes it’s super unrealistic in a game that, aside from the zombies, is set pretty much in “reality”, but re: being stressed all the time, I appreciated that there was sometimes an option to stealth attack or sneak around the creepies.

You Have Died Of Dysentery

Ellie crouching on a raft that Joel pushes while swimming.
  • The freaking rafts! Joel needed to take like a half an hour out of their journey to teach Ellie how to freaking swim so he didn’t have to cart her ass around water obstacles.

  • The craft building itself wasn’t the bad part, but having to hunt around for duct tape or alcohol or cloth—for someone as obsessive as me who doesn’t like to run out of supplies because what if I need to heal myself or make a Molotov?!—can be time-consuming and a bit tedious.

Press “F” To Pay Respects

  • Favorite Weapon – the shotgun, fer sure. Also the hardest to find ammo for because of obvious reasons, but when you had it life was good.

  • Favorite Game Chapter – Chapter 5, Pittsburgh, where Ellie and Joel have to get through the city while being chased by human hunters and, of course, avoid the infected along the way. There’s some beautiful scenery and tense moments.

  • Favorite Moment – Go anywhere on the internet and you’ll see most people’s favorite Joel and Ellie moment is when they spot the giraffes, and it’s a moment of beautiful calm before the do-or-die ending.

  • Moral Ambiguity – There’s a lot of actions the characters take throughout the game that could be considered questionable, and I like that there aren’t any easy answers. Is it truly survival if you lose your humanity?  

Why You Should Pick Up The Controller

There’s a reason this game has won so many awards and is still talked about a decade on. The mechanics are relatively beginner friendly (with higher modes of difficulty if you’re really into killing zombies with two bullets, a shiv, and sheer guts), relying more on storytelling than expert gamer motor-skills. Naughty Dog’s signature technique of blending cut scenes and action sequences in a way that feels organic keeps you immersed in the story and caring about the characters right up to the bitter end. I’m someone who rarely plays video games more than once, but I enjoyed my second time ‘round just as much as my first, and, if I’m honest, I can totally see myself playing this again someday.

After The Credits

  • If you’re buying the game now, you’re probably getting the Remastered version, which should include the DLC, Left Behind, featuring Ellie, pre-TLoU, with her girlfriend at the mall when she gets bitten. It fills in some helpful character backstory when you’re craving for more after the game is done.

  • There is also a sequel, The Last of Us Part II, which came out in 2020, and begins a few years after the ending events of the first game. More to come on that!

  • The TV adaptation of the game is premiering January 15, 2023, and we’ll be recapping it here on the site!

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.