If you’ve not played Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games, they will seem at first glance like any other shooting game. However, their execution of movie-quality cut-scenes and themes of commitment, relationship and hope lift the series above the humdrum of other gunplay-centric experiences.
Even with that in mind, moving from Uncharted’s roguish fisticuffs and hip irony to the darker, more mature violence of The Last of Us, the new game from Naughty Dog, will be a step too far for many. Certainly, the Mature (17+) rated is warranted for the sheer bloody, brutal and at times vindictive violence on display.
The game is set 20 years after a crippling fungal outbreak and is as bleak as you might imagine, with various factions looking out for their own interests. The game makes it clear that those acting like Good Samaritans in this world soon meet a brutal end.
This comes close to eclipsing anything else of value in the experience. However, just as the violence and confusion at the end of the Old Testament functions to make the arrival of Jesus all the more essential, the central relationship of The Last of Us feels salvific and almost holy.
Joel is an aging survivor of the world, largely by looking out for himself and traveling light, with both trappings and relationships. Ellie is a 14 year-old-girl needing to get to the other side of an infested city. Begrudgingly, Joel agrees to help her.
The game makes it clear that those acting like Good Samaritans in this world soon meet a brutal end.
As they travel together he slowly warms to Ellie, who he at first sees simply as cargo to transport. Eventually, he gives in to his paternal instinct, which has been dormant since the loss of his own daughter. Against the harsh world they become a unit of hope and the possibility of life in this threatening world.
Again bringing to mind Jesus and His band of followers, we soon discover that Ellie is special in her potential to cure the broken world. Similarly, the excitement of the adventure is soon brought into the cold light of day as Joel is forced to choose between his relationship with Ellie and the greater good.
I won’t spoil the resolution here; suffice it to say it created space for me to revisit not only the sacrifice that Jesus made but the difficulty for those around Him to understand the path He chose to walk.
For players with the gaming ability to play it, the stomach to cope with the gore and the right number of years under their belt, The Last of Us offers much more than we have come to expect from our electronic entertainment.
Here’s my interview with Ashley Johnson (who plays Ellie) and Neil Druckman (the game’s creative director) about how the game was created and came to address the themes mentioned above.