Is The Last of Us really too violent?

The Last of Us came in for criticism over the levels of violence after its E3 showing, but really it fits the world it’s in argues Alex Walker

The Last of Us appears dark, unremitting, and bleak. Not aesthetically obviously, as the most immediate visual cues are that of Naughty Dog’s own Uncharted series, and Ninja Theory’s Enslaved, which is hardly a surprise given that the team is composed largely of Uncharted 2 veterans, and joined by Mark Richard Davies, formally lead designer of Enslaved.

That said though, we’re not in for too many wisecracks.  The best point of comparison here would be Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with the main thrust of the story concerning the relationship between playable character Joel, and the AI controlled Ellie. Since they are not related, it’s unclear so far what’s bound them together, but bound they are, and the dynamic is very much father/daughter.

Given this setting, it seems somewhat odd that the game is coming under criticism for the level of violence. The Last of Us has shown Joel committing acts of violence for sure, but it’s never been gratuitous. He’s simply a man doing the best he can to protect his younger companion in an incredibly violent world.

For those wondering why Joel is of the shoot first, ask questions later persuasion, the truck ambush trailer might hold a few answers for you. The E3 gameplay footage shown clued us in on that they had been chased, and the audio from people they then encounter seems to confirm that they’ve just killed others. It’s unclear whether or not you kill the first man or simply choke him unconscious, and whilst you open fire first on the others, what we go on to see confirms that these are not nice men. As we haven’t seen this in context, it’s likely by this point in the game we’ve every reason to believe given the premise that it’s kill or be killed.

There is the point that yes; Naughty Dog didn’t have to write the world this way. They could well have toned down the bleak nature of The Last of Us. The idea that sparked the game though (rather oddly, BBC nature documentary Planet Earth which showed fungus infected ants) rather lends itself to an apocalyptic event, and given the reaction seen even as recently as the London riots, it seems unlikely that the end of the world would be anything other than bleak, violent and nasty.

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