Replaying The Last of Us in 2020

Replaying The Last of Us in 2020

The Last of Us is widely regarded as one of the best games of all time and is back in the spotlight with the sequel coming out in less than two weeks. What better time to revisit a game about a pandemic causing the decay and fall of all aspects of society than now?

I wrote about how Doom Eternal wasn’t a game I was jiving with during quarantine times and wondered if similar would happen as I prepared to revisit the bleak world of The Last of Us ahead of the sequel. The Last of Us is my favorite game of all-time. I played it twice and watched multiple playthroughs online to see how other people react to the key moments.

This time, I dove into The Last of Us Remastered, the version for the PS4 that has improved graphics, for my third playthrough. The opening scene where you play as Joel’s daughter, Sarah, as the outbreak hits is as emotional as ever. The montage that follows during the opening credits hits a lot of beats that we are seeing during the coronavirus pandemic today, albeit on a far less destructive scale. There are similarities that weren’t familiar when playing the game previously.

That somewhat unexpected emotional response reached a climax later on in the early hours of the game. In the first scene Joel and Ellie are alone together, they come across an armored truck patrolling the streets of the quarantine zone of Boston. In the game, it acts as a demonstration of the world they live in. In real life, I was playing with a window open in my apartment, which is on a busy street in Chicago. Just as the armored vehicle drove by Joel and Ellie in the game, a police siren blared outside my window.

Had this happened earlier in in the coronavirus pandemic, I might have ignored the comparison. However, police violence has been brought to the forefront on top of the pandemic, which fit The Last of Us scene all too well. I never expected the world of The Last of Us to be so relatable.

Of course, even that shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. The way the game uses the world to build its characters is what makes it so special. You understand most of the extreme actions the people in the world take to survive and buy into how the world devolved the way it did. That’s why I think it will work as an HBO series as well.

The opening hours of the game are more about showing the quarantine zone of Boston and display the grim world you, as the player, are tasked with surviving. In Boston, the gameplay and the story move slower. The shock value of seeing the world of The Last of Us is lost by the third playthrough, but the game gradually gains momentum throughout until its hard to put down in the back half.

Early on, the gameplay’s failings are still apparent, perhaps the cracks even growing larger with time. However, the gameplay succeeds at putting you in tense moments that complement the story. You see a broken world and then you are on the edge of survival and every kill is tense. So, while the game shows its age, even in Remastered form on the PS4, it still holds up as the most memorable experience I’ve had in a video game.

For some of the key dialogue moments, I found myself reciting lines as they were about to happen as if quoting a beloved movie. It sounds pretentious, but The Last of Us moved video games forward for the way it told a truly compelling story. I’m happy to say that even during quarantine the game was still gripping and didn’t depress me.

I can’t wait to see what developer Naughty Dog has in store for the sequel.

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