Come the end of 2013 when reviewers, websites, and magazines announce the best games of the year it will come as no surprise when The Last of Us tops many of said lists. With its gut wrenching story, gorgeous art, and morally ambiguous characters, it will be hard to find another game that has left a stronger impression than Naughty Dog’s PS3 swan song.
In addition to the game, Naughty Dog has joined forced with Dark Horse Comics to release a short comic prequel, The Last of Us: American Dreams that sold through many printings for each of the four single-issue comics when they were released this spring. It was hard for retailers to gauge how many to order for the comic, as it was solicited in February 2013 and issue one was released in April, a full two and a half months before the release of the game. Its original print run for issue one was an almost immediate sell out, and the trend continued for months after the completion of the series. The good news is now you can get all four issues in a trade paperback, now on sale at your local comic shop!
The story of the prequel focuses on Ellie before the events on the game. We find Ellie dropped off at a military academy and very quickly we find the spunky young woman assaulted by her classmates, only to have a slightly older teen, Riley, come to her rescue. The rest of the story follows the two young women as Riley helps Ellie sneak out of the academy for the night, though both of them have very different reasons for their departure.
The Last of Us: American Dreams is a quick read, barely making it to one hundred pages of content. The bulk of the story takes place over what might be an hour of two of time, which adds to the relatively short feel of the story. Faith Erin Hick’s (Friends With Boys) art style lends itself to a story focused on an Ellie that is a little more vulnerable, a little less standoffish, and a bit younger than the Ellie we know in the game. She’s still tough, she knows how to fight, and she has a rap sheet, but there is still an innocence to her that comes through during the brief setting of the graphic novel.
Even in its short time span, we meet a few characters that appear in the game, but it’s interesting that Neil Druckmann, the writer of both the game and the comic, was able to keep the game from spoiling the comic in any way, and vice versa. While there are characters that appear in both media, nothing that occurs in the comic spoils any significance they might serve in the game, even when we stumble across some characters that turn out to be extremely important in the game.
The world of American Dreams still mirrors that of the game. We still see the Infected, we know of the Fireflies, we see the ruined remains of the city surrounding Ellie’s school. The Infected are shot with no remorse, though we do see an Ellie who isn’t accustomed to seeing the violence so up close, at least not yet. It’s bleak and there is little hope beyond surviving through the day, but Riley still has dreams, dreams she shares with Ellie and the two form a fast, if uneasy friendship.
While an interesting add-on to the game itself, American Dreams does little to show us more of who Ellie was before she met Joel. With such a short story set over a very limited amount of time it would be hard to include much character development, but we are given a glimpse into what made Ellie so important.
The Last of Us: American Dreams makes for a quick read, and it’s enjoyable in the same sense that the game was, bleak and morose, but one you can’t put it down. Its major flaw is the lack of development. The story could have benefited from an extra twenty pages or so to show a bit more of Ellie’s background. We are given only a snapshot of who she is, and it’s not enough to really call American Dreams a true prequel. It’s more of a prologue, but it does make a nice addition to the story for fans of the game.