*WARNING - This post contains spoilers
2013 has given us a bumper crop of fine video games, capped off with the runaway Game Of The Year, Bioshock Infinite. Or is it? Leave it to developer Naughty Dog (who gave us the iconic Uncharted series), to throw a blood-encrusted wrench into Bioshock's coronation with the post-apocalyptic road trip The Last Of Us.
Of course, about half of all video games can be categorized as "post-apocalyptic road trip," (my personal favorite is Barbie's Dream Fallout Shelter, in which she, Ken and Skipper try to withstand hordes of G.I. Joe undead ... poor Ken, if only he hadn't tried to sneak that rooftop tan.)
But The Last Of Us sets the new standard, with its bleak but vivid landscape, the best voice acting and characterization ever seen in a video game, and a pervasive feeling of dread (anything could be right around the corner).
You play as the stoic Joel, who is living a quiet suburban life with young daughter Sarah when the Infection Apocalypse begins, and after an unimaginable tragedy, the game skips forward twenty years, when the world has fallen into chaos.
The infection has ravaged the land, with pockets of civilization struggling to survive, both against the infected, and each other. Joel is tasked to smuggle a package to a faraway outpost, a package in the form of 14-year-old Ellie, who may hold the key to curing the infection.
So that's the gist of the story, as Joel and Ellie traverse the countryside, fighting through the infected, while occasionally enlisting the help of new ... and old friends.
That's where things get interesting.
One of the old friends that Joel seeks help from is Bill, who is big, burly, and badass. He's also a xenophobic paranoid prick who treats Ellie like dirt, and can barely stand the sight of Joel, or any person. Oh, and he's also gay.
We get our first clue when Bill mentions his "partner" Frank. Partner can have different meanings, of course, but after he mentions it a few times, the inflection in his voice makes this meaning of partner clear.
In one of the game's many gut-wrenching scenes, Bill leads Joel and Ellie back to his house in search of a car battery, only to find that Frank had become infected, and decided to end things before he could become a shuffling extra. To make matters worse, he leaves a note for Bill explaining that he was ... unhappy with their relationship. Harsh.
Joel and Ellie's time with Bill comes to an end, but we get one more confirmation of Bill's sexuality as they continue their road trip, as Ellie reveals that she procured a few of Bill's belongings, including some literature.
Harsh? Yes, and it's a completely unnecessary way to end Bill's story (as a punchline from Ellie, the most sympathetic character in the game), but I wasn't as disturbed by it as a lot of people were, for two reasons.
First, Bill was a complete jackass towards the kid, so who can blame her for laying on the snark? And secondly, and more importantly ... Bill survives the game.
With all of the incredible loss in the game with family and friends, the fact that Bill lives, and will continue to be badass and take no crap from anyone, is quite remarkable. And who knows, maybe there's another Frank out there somewhere for him. Or at least someone who can stand to be around him. In fact, I'm going to ship him and Arcade Gannon, one of the gay characters from Fallout: New Vegas.
They're almost from the same post-apocalypse. It could happen!
I'd like to hear from others who have played The Last of Us (and judging by the phenomenal sales, I know there are plenty). Did the treatment of Bill bother you? Would you like to see his acerbic self make another appearance in a sequel? And wasn't Joel's little brother Tommy working some Kingslayer hotness?