It Was Him or Me

himorme1We’re crouched behind the desk at a ruined security checkpoint. Originally introduced to help screen out the infected during the early days of the outbreak, it has long since been abandoned. The army are dead, murdered by the very people they were sent there to protect. It’s a warm, clear day and the voices of three men carry across the outpost. Absentmindedly finishing their conversation, they drift off in different directions; this makes things much easier.

When I originally played The Last of Us following a particularly gruelling stint of studying and sitting exams, it felt like more of a revelation than normal. It may have been the sheer relief of knowing I had passed some horrific exams or it may have been the sheer shock of knowing how much I enjoyed this horrific game. I say horrific but that’s the setting and not the actual game itself. The Last of Us was Naughty Dog’s swansong for the PlayStation 3; a masterclass in setting, design and character development. So powerful was this game, that I can’t help but see its impact in something as different as Uncharted 4. They are wildly different games but Naughty Dog’s magic touch is present nevertheless.

Last month, having owned the remastered version of The Last of Us for the PlayStation 4 for over six months, I finally sat down to play it and, while my motivation was slightly based in the realm of trophy hunting, it was one I was bursting at the seams to get on with. Thankfully my excitement was rewarded because the game has aged very well and having only completed it once initially, I had forgotten large chunks of what it was all about. Part of the trophy hunt involved me completing the game once on any difficulty setting and so I selected hard mode (The Last of Us should always be played on hard mode, as to best reflect the world in which it is set).


This isn’t a hard mode that beats about the bush; there are fewer supplies, less ammo, and enemies that are tougher and smarter. Generally speaking, The Last of Us is not an easy game, and most of it is spent with low amounts of ammo and supplies. The clips for your guns are regularly half empty (or half full depending on your outlook), medical kits are rare and getting hold of a brick, bottle or large piece of wood is seen as being just as valuable as a finding a couple of bullets.

I need to be quiet because I know there will be more guys in the building and if even a couple have guns I won’t stand a chance; the area is too open and I’ll be flanked and cut down. I turn and look at Ellie. She’s crouched, flicking the switchblade open and ready to act if she needs to. Following a couple of heated conversations, she already knows not to get involved unless she absolutely has to. This is no place for a kid.

himorme3The game takes place in the near future where a disease has wiped out most of mankind, having either killed them off or turned them into monsters. Those that are left fall into one of three groups: part of the heavy-handed police state, part of the resistance group ‘The Fireflies’, or general survivors, mercenaries, thugs and lowlifes. You are one of those general survivors and it’s up to you, Joel, to escort the inquisitive-yet-troublesome teenage girl Ellie across ruined America. The where, the why and the how are best left untold, because the story and the storytelling in this game is exquisite.

If the storytelling is exquisite, then the setting is incredible; ruined America never looked so good. This isn’t Fallout or Metro 2033, there is as much greenery and wildlife as there would be in a modern day jungle. Instead, The Last of Us has a world that has been retaken by nature in all but a few areas (and those areas are largely uninhabitable thanks to the disease that kick started the whole thing). Looking at a world that has been forced to stand still in time but not because of a nuclear bomb or natural disaster means that it resembles something out of I Am Legend or The Road.


All three guys are quietly dispatched. A quick chokehold and a snapped neck means I can move around outside unchallenged, to a degree. The large building looming over me is my goal, though, and I need to get inside. That’s the easy part – windows are largely a relic of the past in these areas of land reclaimed by nature and not man. I hop inside to find a distressingly large number of men, six I think, that will either need to be sneaked past or killed in order to gain access to the rear of the building.

Combat in The Last of Us is an interesting risk and reward scheme that will reward either a stealthy or aggressive playstyle. If you’re quiet, you might be able to sneak through areas without having to go toe to toe with large numbers of foes, but you sacrifice the option of hunting for much-needed supplies. Alternatively, you can go aggressive, all guns, knives and fists blazing but you’ll use up the very supplies you stand to gain. Generally speaking, a mixture of both options tends to fair well and ‘going loud’ is only reserved for when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place.

himorme5Luckily you’re blessed with quite the arsenal, even if it is mostly predisposed to making noise. A couple of pistols, a shotgun and a rifle mean that you have got some options should things get messy. Equally, you can rely on your bow and arrow or a trusty melee weapon to keep things quiet. If things get really bad, you’ve still got your fists but not everyone is going to be in range of those bad boys.

Then there is Ellie. She isn’t like most AI companions that you will have found in other games. When you’re playing it quiet, she’ll follow suit, maybe occasionally grabbing the last person in the group while you deal with his friend. She’ll never use her gun unless it’s an absolute emergency – you tell her as much – but if you’re in a bind she can still bail you out. She won’t always though; she isn’t another adult, after all. She’s just a teenager and one that is sufficiently shorter and weaker than the average person who is trying to kill your or her.

The four guys on the ground floor are patrolling in a fairly random pattern, which won’t make this easy. Nevertheless, I take two of them out with my bow and arrow; both chest shots that have them fall down dead. The third gets a shiv to the neck because its quicker and leaves me exposed for less time. The fourth guy is trouble because he’s weaving in amongst book cases and getting to him risks exposing myself to the two guys on the upper floor. I can still reach him with my bow and arrow though and I carefully weigh the shot before releasing. The arrow flies but he turns at the last second and it thuds into a bookcase. I duck back down as he turns to shout for help. Fuck.

One of the things that makes the combat so good is just how visceral it is. It really feels weighted, bloody and brutal. You feel the explosion behind every punch, you see the knife snap off in your victim’s neck. Gun shots are almost seen as the kinder option because you haven’t seen Joel disintegrate a brick into someone’s face. The death sequences, should you die, are some of the most gruesome, but unlike games like Dead Space you get a mere glimpse of what is about to happen to you: a clicker ripping out strands of muscle from your neck or a bloater literally pulling your top and bottom jaw apart, and the screams of your dead avatar echo into your next life.

And yet, you feel like these people deserve it. Perhaps not the infected, they are just another breed of zombie (a clever and fun breed but a breed none the less). The people you fight, however, have either done some unspeakable things or plan to do them to you. This game is a representation of Darwinism at its finest. Survival of the fittest is the only language that most people speak and you’ll learn that language with violence and pain. Every single fight you have with people, you’re never in any doubt that it’s either them or us.


He’s shouting for help, the arrow is a giveaway of a near-death experience and I need to get ahead of this. I run forward from cover (he’s got his back to me) and I smash him round the back of the head with a baseball bat that has got scissors duct taped to the top. The scissors snap off in his head, killing him instantly, but the other damage is already done. The two on the second floor have been alerted and I rush to confront them. Ellie is screaming my name but I have to deal with these two first. I rush to the top of the stairs and am greeted by a sharp punch to the face. I stumble but regain my footing to let off my only pistol round into the guy’s chest, before finishing him off with the baseball bat, which has now seen better days.

himorme7For me, The Last of Us might be Naughty Dog’s greatest creation. Although the adventures of loveable rogue Nathan Drake provide me with warm feelings and wide grins, The Last of Us provides me with a cold splash of reality, with a stark look at the world that could be a reality should we ever get hit by a disease this deadly. It isn’t bleak for the sake of it, nor is it controversial for any reason other than the simple fact that this is how it would likely play out. Naughty Dog made an incredible game, both the original and the remaster. There are so many moments that left me with so many emotions, and not just the combat or the story. The whole world is, quite frankly, something to behold.

Two more men appear and I’m now out-numbered three to one. They open fire, careful to not waste bullets but hoping to catch me out all the same. I pull out my shotgun, only two shells to the good, and let one go as a guy darts between cover. It catches him in the leg and he slows, so I impulsively let the other one go and put him down for good. I watch as one of the last two takes the opportunity to start circling to left with his shotgun, while his friend breaks cover and runs straight at me. I’ve only got a six-shooter left, three rounds. I fire off two rounds at the shotgun guy, he returns one back. Everyone misses, it’s like amateur hour at O.K Corral.

The second guy is rushing me so I fire at him, wing him and then get bundled into a bookshelf as he gets too close. I take a couple of punches to the face before jamming my knee into his gut and smashing him over the head with the butt of my six shooter. Another shotgun round flies past me and then everything slows down. He’s ten feet away and reloading the shotgun. I aim my pistol and pull the trigger but nothing happens, just the lifeless click of an empty barrel. I’d lost count and now I was going to pay with my life. He’s too far away, laughing because I’ve got no bullets left. I won’t reach him in time. I’m a dead man.


I implore everyone to play The Last of Us, because it is probably Naughty Dog’s finest creation. It is a masterclass in storytelling, game play, graphics and sound. It has everything you could want as a game and was a fitting swansong for the PlayStation 3 at the time, and is an essential element in any PlayStation 4 collection. It’s multiplayer is something I’ve never dipped into but I heard it was fairly decent, if not short lived. How developers like DICE can make incredible multiplayer games with Battlefield but attach such dross single-player options to it is incredible given the feats Naughty Dog achieves here.

himorme9The DLC entitled Left Behind is a more sombre affair, focusing on Ellie in two different timelines, and if you purchase the remastered version, you get this included. For fans of the base game it’s an incredible little add-on and gives extra depth to Ellie’s character that is both fun and serious in equal measure. The game is an excellent title in its own right but it also asks questions of you, the gamer. There aren’t any moral deviations or optional side quests that change your ‘karma’. Instead it forces you into increasingly fraught and uncomfortable situations, which you have no choice but to participate in because, if this was the reality, you’d have to deal with it and you may not have any other choice.

He aims the gun at me and I wait for the sound of a shotgun being fired. Instead I hear the teenage cry of ‘take that fucker’ and watch as a thrown brick smashes into the side of the guy’s head. The shotgun never goes off and I sprint forward, baseball bat in hand and draw a deep swing, cracking the guy round the face as he gets up off the floor. The baseball bat splits clean in two and he falls to the floor, with me on top of him. I punch and punch until he’s dead. He’s dead. They’re all dead. I didn’t have a choice and neither did she. ‘Jesus Christ, Joel’ she says, a little fear and shock in her voice. She didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have a choice. It was him or me.

Last five articles by Chris


One Comment

  1. Tim Tim says:

    I’d argue Uncharted 4 is the better game (only just, mind), but The Last Of Us is certainly the stronger experience. Even to this day, The Last Of Us has kind of ruined games for me. No other game can probably ever get to me the way Joel and Ellie’s journey did.

    I totally agree with you in that it should be played on Hard. I played it on Normal back on PS3 only the once, but played the Remastered version on Hard (similarly for Trophy hunting reasons) and found it a more suitable fit. Even though I knew what was coming, it was another fraught and intense 16 hour ordeal I’ll never forget.

    The Last Of Us is also the only game that’s made me jump out of my seat and shout “Holy Shit”. It’s too big a moment to spoil even three years later, but if you’ve played it, you’ll know what bit I’m talking about.

    Thanks for the memories.

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