It’s rare that a game can have a real emotional effect on me. If it does at all, it’s usually somewhere towards the climactic finish, leaving me panting from lack of breath and fist pumping with joy. It also usually makes me happy enough to want to play the game again, or pine for a sequel. I wasn’t expecting The Last of Us to have that effect on me, but it did, twenty minutes in. I had to turn the game off for a while.
I didn’t turn it back on for six months.
I had become emotionally unglued that day in June, waking my toddler on my way to bed and hugging her intensely. Every time I fired up the PS3, I had to force myself to have a good reason to continue playing. Each time I would try, I couldn’t get past the title screen. To tough. I didn’t want to relive that, or whatever the aftereffects were.
It wasn’t until I was emotionally secure in December, with enough time off of work and the ability to get some hours of sleep in during the holidays, that I picked up where I left off. I’m so, so glad that I did.
The Last of Us expertly puts together pieces of an elaborate tapestry of characters and emotions. Much like Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, the post-apocalyptic terror that the people within its world are facing is nothing compared to their personal interaction, to their own experiences, to their own terrors. Survival is a part of life now, not the key plot of it, and the game reminds us of that. It is a window into the new lifestyle, one focused on new class systems and new routines.
Technically it mixes moments of action and stealth and fear together very well — a Naughty Dog trademark — but they’re not the focus. The focus is how we make decisions, how we deal with those decisions, and how those decisions effectively deal with us. After those first twenty minutes, I thought I had made some grave mistake and that my heart was demolished because of it. How I dealt with those decisions in subsequent chapters of the game made it that much more satisfying, and that much more compelling and emotional.
The Last of Us gave me a fast punch to the gut, then never let up. It’s an incredible way to close a gaming generation, and one that will be unforgettable for many of us, unmatchable for others.