The Last of Us and The Walking Dead are the two games that you’ll talk about when you talk about modern zombie games. Both The Last of Us and Telltale’s The Walking Dead are pretty different games, but both games have seen a great deal of critical and commercial success in their own right. They both also have in common that they are about the zombie apocalypse, even though The Last of Us comes with a footnote that it is more like 28 Days Later in that it is an “infection” that is spread by spores. Whatever, though, it is still clearly about zombies, even if we are calling them by different names, right?
I think, upon playing both games that it is almost impossible not to compare the two of them, as they are both heavily narrative-driven games involving surviving the zombie apocalypse. They both have very different approaches to the zombie apocalypse and to telling a story, but if we are going to compare them, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that The Walking Dead is a better game and tells a more compelling story with more fleshed out characters. The reasoning behind this is actually quite simple; The Walking Dead understands the concept of tension and release, bringing the player along on the rollercoaster ride and letting them appreciate the game. The Last of Us simply does not provide that kind of experience. The Last of Us is a tense experience from beginning to end.
Once you see your first clicker in The Last of Us, you know that things are never going to calm down. The parts of the game where there could be some great chances to do some exploration or have both characters be fleshed out some more are skipped over, making sure that there is none of that crucial downtime. Instead of the player being given a reprieve, you are just told that time passes and you are tossed right back into action. This was a conscious decision to create a very tight narrative, which lots of gamers enjoy, but I feel like the game could have benefited from being longer and featuring some of those moments where you could just walk around in a safe area and explore to show more of both sides of the world; the good that is worth saving and the bad that they are trying to fight.
That isn’t saying that there aren’t a few moments of peace in The Last of Us, but they are simply few and far between. It feels like there is no room to think or breathe. Again, this might be your cup of tea, but a game like The Walking Dead gives you this room to breathe, to explore your surroundings and to come up with the right way to handle the situation. There are still those tense, crazy moments, but they are formulated to not overexpose the player. After a play session of The Last of Us I almost felt like I had to turn the game off and just go play something else to wind down, while after finishing an episode of The Walking Dead I was anxious to get to the next one and to keep playing.
Both games absolutely have their merits, but when it comes down to which game provides a richer experience and gives the player a sense of being more in control, The Walking Dead wins almost every time, hands down. While you learn to love Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us, it just feels like it takes too long to get to know them with too much focus on bashing bricks into the heads of Clickers. Lee and Clementine find a way to endear themselves to you a lot sooner in The Walking Dead, plain and simple.
I’m genuinely interested to see which game pulled you in more and why, so feel free to comment and to explain why.