Ellie is a remarkably well-adjusted teenager. Her maturity and resiliency as society crumbles beneath her feet and as everyone she cares about dies a horrible death are heartening, but it's not her strength that makes The Last of Us so important. Rather, it's how this PlayStation 3-exclusive drew us into this bleak world and made us develop a strong emotional connection to the nomadic residents trying to survive in the only ways they know how. We understood what it would be like to live with so much crushing despair, and as we saw people react like the animals they are, we questioned what we would do if the tables were turned.
Would we lose our humanity? Or would we mirror Ellie, whose hope is never extinguished and who accepts setbacks with renewed vigor instead of losing her sanity?
Remarkably, The Last of Us takes the tension and desperation of the single-player campaign and translates it beautifully into competitve multiplayer. As you scavenge for scarce ammunition and craft makeshift weapons, the threat of a swift, violent death is everpresent, and there are consequences that ripple beyond each match.
The rough immediacy of the multiplayer and the emotional depth of the campaign ensure that The Last of Us leaves a lasting impression on everyone who has played it. It's tense because life is presented as the fragile glass it really is, scary because we're never sure whom to trust, and optimistic because, as long as you're alive, there's always a chance to make things right.