Look, I don’t play a lot of video games. I’m an adult with a job and a wife and some kids and some other stuff that keeps me from sitting for hours at a time shooting zombies and jumping from ledges and stuff. I’m still only three quarters of the way through Half-Life 2 on the original Xbox for god’s sake. No, I mean like I literally still have the game system hooked up from like 12 years ago and have yet to get through the thing. So it’s pretty damn amazing that I finished this game on my PS4, which, as far as I know, is a modern gaming system released in this decade.
Suffice it to say, I had to have a compelling reason to dedicate the kind of time it takes to get through a story-driven, third-person shooter like The Last of Us. Or the kind of time it takes me to get through something like this. I mean, I kind of suck at the whole gaming thing in general. I watch Hipster Jr. shoot the crap out of Stormtroopers and whatever manner of soldier on other games and wonder if maybe there’s a lag (a favorite word of 12 year olds the world around) in my brain that doesn’t allow me to adeptly switch weapons, aim at rampaging infecteds or avoid all manner of spores and flesh-eating, mindless runners. Whatever my overriding issue, I finally managed to get through this post-apocalyptic game that mirrors, in a lot of ways, the unsparingly bleak book, The Road. A narrative that starts like the awful Fear the Walking Dead (though it, unlike the show, is actually compelling) as a family story that seems hopeless, but becomes something different. Our protagonist, Joel, is a family man who sees his daughter taken from him early in the lifespan of the outbreak that essentially turns humans into zombie-like berzerkers and alien-ish clicker things. Add in the paramilitary organizations that are trying to round people up and the plain-old humans like Joel who are just trying to survive and you end up with a pretty hostile situation.
It’s years later and Joel has managed to survive the fall of society. And along comes Ellie, a girl who is seemingly immune to the infection that has brought down the world. He is tasked by a rebel society to deliver her safely to their headquarters half a continent away to see if they can somehow use what she has in order to save the human race. And there you are: a chance for a broken man to redeem himself and save the daughter he could’t save the first time. Along the way he needs to make a lot of questionable moral calls in order to save her and himself and must avoid every manner of horror and violence by shooting, stabbing and blowing up creatures and humans, both dead and alive. The whole thing plays out like the show The Walking Dead wishes it was. And engages and pulls at the heartstrings like a mixture of the aforementioned The Road and even has elements of a Walter Matthau / Tatum O’Neal relationship from The Bad News Bears, but a lot more bloody. It really is a storyline that makes you want to finish it out and find out what happens to these two, as you find yourself invested in the characters. I’m not sure how often you can say that about a tv show, let alone a video game.
As a guy who doesn’t do a lot of video gaming and was never good at the whole up-down-down-left-right-c-button-a-button thing, I found the controls not overly complicated (though I’d forget how to do everything as I took two-month breaks) and the game play pretty simple. I only recall having to Google one scene after getting completely stumped, which is pretty damn good for someone like me. I think the thing is pretty damn cheap on Amazon at this point, as I’m sure all the gamer kids are onto the new-new, but I have a hard time believing, despite it being old, that there is anything that has come after this that has a better mixture of story, graphics and care given to it. So, if you have a couple years to leisurely get through a great game, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It’s pretty damn awesome.