Post-apocalyptic video games are a dime a dozen these days, but even if the mere mention makes you roll your eyes, there’s one you absolutely cannot skip. Arguably the best PlayStation game ever, The Last of Us, is easily one of the all-time greats — with a rich narrative, wonderfully-written characters, satisfying gameplay, and stunning visuals. Ahead of the game’s upcoming HBO TV adaptation, and with the recently released PS5 remake (which Inverse awarded a 10/10), there’s never been a better time to experience the best post-apocalyptic game of all time.
Ahead of its time
Whether you play the original PS3 game, the PS4 remaster, or the PS5 remake, The Last of Us is a treat from start to finish. The PS5 remake offers 60+ new accessibility features and massive quality-of-life improvements. But you’d be surprised just how well the 2013 original holds up, too.
At the time, there wasn’t anything like The Last of Us. Naughty Dog, the game’s developer, was previously known for the Uncharted series, which shares TLOU’s cinematic visuals but not its brutality.
The Last of Us kicks you in the gut right away and doesn’t let up much at all during its 12-14 hour runtime. Its post-outbreak story is almost too harrowing at times, especially now. But the game’s emotional heft is a also testament to bold design and narrative choices that feel more relevant than ever today.
The Last of Us grips you immediately with its visuals. The PS3 version was a bit more stylized, with a slightly more saturated color palette. In the PS5 remake, the lighting and performance are improved tremendously to feel even more lifelike.
Naughty Dog’s careful attention to the subtlest of details maximizes the immersion. Most of the cities are dilapidated, with destroyed structures throughout, and when you’re inside a building, the light sometimes shines through holes in the roof, allowing you to see little dust particles floating around. When your exploration requires you to plunge into some water, Joel and Ellie’s clothes remain wet for a while, unlike in most other games. All these small details help make a world overrun by the walking dead feel unexpectedly alive.
The little moments
The biggest achievement of The Last of Us is the narrative. The overarching road-trip plot is definitely one of the game’s strongest assets, but it’s the little moments between Joel and Ellie make it all the more relatable and memorable. At one point, the duo enters an abandoned coffee shop in search of supplies.
“Did you go to coffee shops a lot?” Ellie asks.
“I did,” Joel sighs. “All the time.”
It’s a painful reminder of what the world used to be, told in a heartbreakingly offhand way.
The game is packed with these moments, as you can trace how Joel and Ellie go from prickly travel companions to trusted pals to found family. As the seasons change to summer, they stumble upon yet another surprise — only this time, it isn’t a terrible one. It’s a giraffe: a beautiful, peaceful reprieve from the destruction that’s been a constant throughout their journey.
It’s no hyperbole to call The Last of Us one of the most important video games ever made. And there’s no better time than now to play it than now.
The Last of Us HBO TV series airs on January 15, 2023.