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When I finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a guttural despair overtook me. An overwhelming bleakness lingered, and trying to sift for hope between the apocalyptic carnage unsettled my disposition. After playing The Last of Us, I found myself back in that same state.

The post civilization the game takes place in is full of dangers, both dead and alive. The zombie-like beings in the game are called “The infected,” and they are creatures you both dread and also pity as the disease that collapsed society has been stripping away at their humanity for a long time. Just as scary, though, are the other living people you run into. And though the Walking Dead proverb of “Fight the dead, fear the living” has been shoved in our faces often as of late, you can’t deny the truth in it. Everyone is trying to survive, and if that conflicts with someone else’s survival, well then, it’s a problem usually handled brutally.

This is the world main characters Joel and Ellie find themselves in. A wild, wild west of the end of the world proportions. Joel and Ellie are two of the most compelling characters I’ve ever played, both individually and together. The scenes between them and the game’s supporting cast feel so spot-on and genuine, giving a novel’s worth of emotions through glances off in the distance, or grimaces shared. The team at Naughty Dog did an outstanding job portraying these character’s struggles as a sincere fight for survival while also instilling a vivid fear that works through your nerves at every corner you turn.

Nothing happens easily in the game, every attachment you gain toward the characters comes with a host of trials, which is a tribute to Naughty Dog’s handle on pacing. The bond you experience is something special within the gaming realm. Much like the developer’s other PS3 series, Uncharted, the quips and exchanges spoken while Joel and Ellie traverse from one area to the next are a breath of life amongst all the decay.

Even amongst the despair, however, there is beauty, and the player will find it through the stunning sets and ambient sounds that are quiet and expansive. These moments can also evolve into terrifying in an instant. A distant moan or rustle of grass will send all your other senses into overdrive.

As far as gameplay goes, The Last of Us rips out the intensity. My forearms hurt from holding the controller so tight during the heart-pounding encounters. The gunplay feels tight and of the moment, a blowback from being shot or an over-swung lead pipe can be fatal. A strong emphasize is also laid on the survival aspects of the game. The use of stealth is fantastic as I found sneaking past a hoard of infected as satisfying as landing a headshot. And scavenging for goods and crafting items are vital, and make sense within the narrative.

A few small A.I. problems popped up during the course of the game. Sometimes Ellie would crouch right in front of me during frays, but it wasn’t often and never hindered my experience.

The Last of Us takes a very tried story and slips by all the easy tropes that it could have fallen into in order to create a work that is as emotionally provoking as any piece of entertainment you’ll experience this year. The extreme violence and content of the game might not make The Last of Us for everyone, but if you play it for even thirty minutes, it will be a game that sticks with you.