Not too long ago, I reviewed The Art of Dead Space, one of my favorite horror games. Today, we’re going to be checking out another art book from another one of my favorite games: The Last of Us. While it isn’t quite as fantastical as Dead Space, The Last of Us was an absolutely beautifully designed game, imagining the United States many years after an apocalyptic plague wiped out the vast majority of the population, leaving much of the nation’s infrastructure to fall apart and be reclaimed by nature.
You don’t have to look far these days to find a zombie survival video game. It’s practically a genre unto itself at this point. So it stands to reason that, for a game to make an impact, it has to have something special to set it apart from the competition. The Last of Us does this in three different ways.
First, it’s set long after the zombie plague has decimated the world. While most zombie games (and films, books, comics, etc.) are set during the early parts of the zombie outbreak in order to tap into the chaos and confusion, this game gives us a world in which humanity has adapted to living with the zombies. This make for some absolutely stunning environments in which the characters have to navigate the crumbling, often flooded remains of the country. It also makes the focus slightly different, with a much greater sense of tragedy and loss than the average zombie survival experience.
Next are the zombies (technically infected), which is the thing most often tweaked to set a horror property apart. The Last of Us is hugely successful here because of how their zombies work. Instead of dreaming up some crazy new method of infection, the developers decided to work with something from the real world: the cordyceps fugus – popularly referred to as the zombie mushroom – a parasitic organism that highjacks ants and other insects in order to propagate itself.
Finally, the most important part of The Last of Us is the relationship between the two playable characters: Joel and Ellie. They are what elevate the game from a zombie-filled survival horror experience, to something far more literary. Make no mistake, this is still very much a horror game (god, those clickers), but one with a lot more depth than we’re used to seeing. Let’s look at how The Art of The Last of Us
deals with Joel and Ellie first.
Because they carry the emotional weight of the story, it was extremely important to get the look right, and the artists completely nailed it, eventually anyway. Like many great creations, Joel and Ellie are both the result of a good deal of iteration, minor changes compounding over time as their personalities take shape. And, since the game takes place over an extended period of time and a variety of environments, the artists experiment with a wide variety of clothes and accessories, giving the characters an incredible amount of variety.
The same care is shown with a number of characters and enemy types. The artists behind this game were absolutely incredible.
We also spend an entire chapter with the infected, showing us the enormous amount of different ways the cordyceps fungus twists and mutilates its victims for its own ends. What I loved about this chapter is how organic these artists managed to make the zombies of The Last of Us seem. You really get a sense of how these poor creatures are slowly being completely overwhelmed by the unstoppable parasite, with their ultimate fate either being killed by a survivor, or laying down to become a mountain of spores. All zombies are tragic monsters, but these seem to take things up a notch or two.
An interesting thing about this art book is that there is a chapter devoted to the game’s promotional efforts, highlighting much of the memorable artwork used, and occasionally showing a gradual evolution in that art. When I was flipping through the table of content, I didn’t think I would care for this segment of the book, but I ended up finding it fascinating.
If you like zombies, art, The Last of Us or any combination of the three, pick this book up. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and gives you a tremendous amount of insight into what goes into designing dynamic characters and environments. I only wish there had been a bit more textual content to go along with the amazing art.
Perfect timing Dave… I purchased this game last week, I have not yet started playing it but I am now even more excited about it!
I don’t want to overhype it, but this is one of my all-time favorites. Play it on hard. It makes things more fun in my mind, and I usually play everything on easy.