As an audience, gamers demand more than they ever have before. We hold developers to a higher standard – and rightly so, when each game is sixty to seventy quid a pop on release day. So when Naughty Dog decided to do a zombie apocalypse game, I thought the decision was a little…odd. They don’t make horror games (even if the Descendants in Uncharted were creepy.) It’s a saturated market. It was going to be hard to stand out. But The Last Of Us is not just one of the best games in its genre – it’s one of the best games. Period.
The centrepiece of the game is the relationship between protagonists Joel and Ellie. While initially the two see each other as a means to an end, they grow to care about each other. The game gives us loads of touching little moments between them throughout. Joel tells Ellie she’s doing a good job. Ellie jumps down to Joel as he’s about to be shot down. Joel gives Ellie a gun. It happens slowly and organically. They become as close as any family ever could. Hell, I don’t think I got off the chair for about fifteen minutes after the credits rolled.
The story maintains a dark tone over the four seasons throughout which the game is played. The environments everywhere tell their own haunted tales – children’s graves, family photos. But winter definitely takes home the prize for most haunting season.
As winter begins, the player takes control of Ellie as she nurses Joel back to health after he is wounded in Fall. She hunts for food and keeps him warm. It’s on one of these hunting trips that she comes across David. For those who don’t know, that’s Nolan North, best known as the lovable Nathan Drake. Only this time, he plays the creepiest character I’ve ever come across in a game.
David initially acts as an ally to Ellie, offering to trade some of her meat for medicine for Joel. While waiting for his man to return to the medicine, the player fights alongside him against waves of infected. He reveals that they killed his men at the university(where Joel was injured), but seemingly lets her go. He soon captures her however, and when Ellie wakes up strapped to a table we see David carving up a human corpse. She escapes his clutches, although not before eating what was probably human meat.
The player then spends some time switching between Joel and Ellie. Ellie tries to escape as David tracks her, and Joel attempts to track her down and rescue her. The climactic fight occurs as David and Ellie find themselves in a burning restaurant and David locks the doors.
Play through this fight if you want to know what real tension is. We know that he is a cannibal at this point, and it is heavily implied that he is a hebephile. We know what’s at stake. Most boss fights have a pretty basic concept. Shoot/stab/punch boss until it dies. Here, stealth is key. Broken plates litter the floor. If you step on one he rushes you. If you turn the wrong corner, he rushes you. The place is burning to the ground, and there I was, crouching behind a counter trying to work up the nerve to move from my hiding place. He taunts you throughout – “Run, little rabbit, run!”
The fight causes your heart to thump like a jackhammer while also demanding that you remain calm and pick your moments. I panicked so often during this fight due to plates. Sometimes I didn’t see the plates in time and walked over them. Cue death by machete. But moving around corners as David approached, only to find broken plates beside me – nothing was worse. As a player, you chose – stay still and pray he doesn’t see you. Or sprint over the plates as he gives chase behind you (crying at this point is optional.)
If you manage to see this fight through without succumbing to fear, the most sinister cutscene of the game plays out. David pins Ellie to the ground, proclaiming ‘You have no idea what I’m capable of.’ Ellie grabs his machete and hacks at him repeatedly, and Joel comes in as Ellie breaks down and sobs into his arms.
It’s one of those boss fights that I’ll never forget. Temporary ally turned sinister threat. He’s the most deplorable character I’ve ever seen in a game, and he had me genuinely scared. It may not be one of gaming’s hardest boss fights – but its sure as hell one of it’s most memorable.