How Last of Us Reinvented The Zombie Genre

Ever wondered what makes The Last of Us rise above the horde of zombie games?

Reinventing the Genre the last of us
Reinventing the Genre

HBO’s new adaptation of “The Last of Us” turned heads at the recent Emmys, scoring a whopping 8 awards out of its 24 nominations. This critical acclaim is no surprise to fans of the beloved video game the show is based on. The Last of Us may very well be one of the best video game adaptations ever.

However, most of the credit for this success can be credited to the original video game. The show does introduce a few new storylines and characters. Still, the show truly shines when it sticks close to the source material. Did you know that over 80% of players admit to crying during their first playthrough of The Last of Us? 

Key Takeaways
  • Last of Us was able to bring back the dying zombie genre back from the dead.
  • The story’s emphasis on morality, human emotions, and connections truly makes it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  • The game does not heavily feature zombies or the reason for the outbreak, instead, focuses on the characters trying to survive.
  • Voice actors also do an incredible job in bringing these characters to life, and making people root for their characters.

It Is About The People

In my opinion, one of the strongest aspects of The Last of Us is the game’s focus on the people. The Last of Us story has to be one of the best video game experiences and that’s all due to the laser-sharp writing. Neil Druckman the co-founder of Naughty Dog and one of the lead creative writers on The Last of Us, avoided the big spectacle storytelling and focused on human emotions.

gameplay footage cutscene
Joel, Tess, and Ellie – Gameplay Footage

These cut scenes are usually confined to tight rooms and difficult character moments. One of the best examples of this is at the end of Chapter 6. During this chapter, Joel and Ellie come across two brothers, Henry and Sam.

At first, both groups do not trust each other. However, soon realizing they have more in common they decide to help each other. 

Joel can relate to the fatherly role of Henry and his responsibilities. Meanwhile, Sam and Ellie being the same age, get along in the Cordyceps-infested United States. However, right when the players start to feel safe, in true The Last of Us fashion, the end of this story comes as a gut punch.

Spoiler Warning!

At the end of this chapter, it is revealed that Sam gets infected with the zombie virus and attacks the group. Henry being the big brother, makes the difficult choice of ending his brother’s life to save Ellie. Right after this Henry points the gun toward himself, you hear a shot, and the screen fades to black. 

henry and sam
Henry and Sam

In an interview, Druckmann talks about how the game prioritizes engagement over traditional “fun.” This is evident during most of the cut scenes of the game.

The cut scenes are carefully crafted to reveal more about the characters, fleshing out their emotions and place in the world. The Zombie Apocalypse is merely a backdrop against which the complex lives of its inhabitants are shown.

Stealth Or Die

The Last of Us excels in its core gameplay. Emphasis is placed on stealth-based strategies, forcing players to navigate environments carefully. Resources are scarce, demanding players to make tough decisions about when to fight and when to flee.

Stealth Kills and Combat
Stealth Kills and Combat

Trying to sneak up on a clicker in absolute silence has to be some of the most stress I have ever felt in a video game. One wrong kill and you will immediately pay the price, forcing you to start the level again.

Most zombie shooters would want you to go in gun blazing. Still, the real tension lies in trying to survive in an unwinnable situation.

The gameplay also features an incredible crafting mechanic. Unlike simply picking up ammo and health packs, players must scavenge for scraps – rags, alcohol, blades – and use them to craft essential items.

Voice Acting Masterclass

The Last of Us wouldn’t be the genre-defining masterpiece it is without the phenomenal work of its voice cast. It was essential for a story of this depth to have voice actors at the top of the game. Troy Baker delivers a nuanced performance as Joel, capturing his gruff exterior, moments of tenderness, and the depths of his despair.

troy baker and Ashley Johnson
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson

Ashley Johnson masterfully portrays Ellie’s vulnerability, resilience, and growing defiance, making her a fan-favorite character. The supporting cast is equally impressive. Every character, big or small, is brought to life with depth and conviction by the talented voice actors.

The Last of Us’ success goes beyond awards and critical acclaim. It’s a testament to the power of a well-crafted narrative that prioritizes human connection and emotional depth over cheap thrills. Naughty Dog’s masterful storytelling, combined with its innovative gameplay mechanics, creates a truly unforgettable experience.

The game’s emotional impact resonates long after the credits roll, leaving a lasting impression on players. It proves that interactivity and emotional depth can go hand-in-hand. The success of Last of Us showed developers that video games should be treated as art and given similar treatment to major box office movies and shows.

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