Name - The Last of Us
Developer - Naughty Dog
Publisher – Sony
Available Platforms – PS3
Snacks Involved – Lays BBQ and Coke
Difficulty Played – Hard
The Last of Us was a promising title back in 2012 when developer Naughty Dog showed off what they had during E3 at the Sony press conference.
What they previewed was nothing short of enticing, but of course, even from me, there was the skepticism of the game being heavily scripted. Skipping ahead a year, a week before it was released reviews came out reporting that it was the “Citizen Kane” of the gaming industry. My anticipation and skepticism were now at an all-time high and I was worried if the Last of Us would live up to the mass hype it generated. I didn’t need to concern myself too much, looking back now. It’s the finest game Naughty Dog has ever created.
The Last of Us begins with a prologue which sets the scene for how a younger Joel experienced the initial outbreak. After a quick example of what to expect we skip 20 years to how humanity is surviving, in a gritty makeshift society. The military is strict and unforgiving, infected citizens are put down quickly, and rations are usually short in supply. People are scared and under strict surveillance, but it’s a necessary cost.
The plot centers around, Joel and Ellie, trekking across the post infected United States. Ellie, a fourteen year old girl, who is a lot more important than you might’ve originally thought. Their journey is a lot longer than I figured it would’ve been, filled with genuine surprises, and some predictable ones too. Along the way Joel and Ellie meet with several survivors. These characters represent how other people have survived the outbreak and are a portal towards how people in this setting live and breathe and the kind of sacrifices they have made. One survivor is paranoid and self-centered, while two brothers are a mirror version of Joel and Ellie, and one of the last uninfected humans you deal with is a Hunter. Hunters are survivors who kill others in order to loot supplies off their bodies – they are the kind of people who are a constant threat to Ellie and Joel throughout the game.
“THE PLOT CENTERS AROUND, JOEL AND ELLIE, TREKKING ACROSS THE POST INFECTED UNITED STATES.”
The Infected you encounter in The Last of Us takes an interesting form – It’s something I haven’t seen before. The infection is not from some sort of super virus or bacteria; in fact it’s from a mutated spore. Once it gets in your system, it takes about 24 hours before a fungus has grown over your brain, and central nervous system. Several types of infected plague the abandoned buildings of humanity’s past. The Runner is a recently infected person who doesn’t look too different from you or me, they’re fast and angry, but easy to put down. A person who has been infected for a longer period of time is known as a Clicker. Clickers can be very difficult to kill, and need to be approached with caution, or they could jump you with a one hit kill. The third and final form of infected is known as a Bloater. These are fearsome ammo sponges which use a ranged attack, and can lumber slowly towards you for an instant kill.
The ending has been a polarizing experience for many. While I feel it should have ended slightly differently, I feel that Naughty Dog crafted a satisfying ending none the less, as it brings together the game’s overall tone and atmosphere. I really don’t want to say more on the story, because it has some of the most intense scenes I’ve seen in a long time, and they’re best left unspoiled.
Combat is easily one of the most thrilling aspects of this game. Stealth is a very strong and prevalent tactic which will get you far, and you are rewarded for using it. However you can play it Rambo style, shooting anyone who looks at you funny. You should be kept in supply of ammo and support by Ellie if you decide to go guns blazing. It’s great that the Last of Us can be played successfully with either play style.
The stakes are high in The Last of Us; crouch walking through a crowd of clickers, hoping none of them decides now is the time to notice you, or waiting for Joel to quickly finish strangling a Runner fast enough for Joel to slink back into the shadows. It is very nice to know that while you will find chest high walls everywhere, Joel will not stick to one, he can press himself up against a corner, but you won’t be pressing any buttons to cling to it. It’s this that makes the game feel very free and open, because you won’t get killed trying to unglue yourself from the wall.
“STEALTH IS A VERY STRONG AND PREVALENT TACTIC WHICH WILL GET YOU FAR, AND YOU ARE REWARDED FOR USING IT.”
While the game is essentially one big escort mission, Ellie can handle her own, and she does not need a lot of attention. She can’t die on you unless she’s been grabbed by an infected, which doesn’t happen often, and she even helps distract enemies by whipping a brick straight into their face. She openly reacts to Joel as he strangles and mangles opponents, and is also a crack shot with a gun later in the game.
The whole game plays a number of balancing acts which lets the player choose how they approach situations. For example, the same ingredients will go into making an offensive or defensive item. You could make a first aid kit, or you could make a Molotov, a smoke bomb or a shrapnel grenade, and so on. There is a lot of strategy that can go into each enemy encounter, and it’s solving that problem which makes it so much fun. The environments make each encounter different and varied, from museums to hotels, and to underground parking garages. Each environment is like a little playground for you to explore for supplies, and different ways to dispatch baddies.
With such fun combat, it can be hard to sit through the cutscenes, as beautiful and well written as they are, as well as the pre-scripted events. But the Last of Us does weave a very strong narrative, and it is very interesting to delve into the world Naughty Dog created. You can find a plethora of notes left by previous survivors, which let you really imagine how a lot of these people managed to live before making one fatal mistake.
The visuals are truly something to behold, the environments are so well detailed, and with no install and only one lengthy loading screen when you first start, I’m blown away with how well put together this game is. Exploration is really something; the levels are pretty expansive, with lots of little nooks and crannies to lose yourself in.
“THE LAST OF US DOES WEAVE A VERY STRONG NARRATIVE, AND IT IS VERY INTERESTING TO DELVE INTO THE WORLD NAUGHTY DOG CREATED.”
The voice acting is some of the best I have ever heard in a game, Troy Baker is barely recognizable as Joel, while Ashley Johnson plays one of the best written video game child. Naughty Dog fan favorite, Nolan North, also makes an appearance too, and I had no idea it was him until the credits rolled. Again, kudos goes to writer, Neil Druckmann, for his work on Ellie, who talks and acts like a real 14 year old.
The multiplayer was something of a surprise for me. It does play a lot like the single player, and has a very fun twist. At the start of your multiplayer experience you choose if you are a Hunter or a Firefly, and you are given 12 weeks to survive for a certain goal specific to that faction. You don’t gain experience points, instead you get supplies, and this goes towards feeding your clan. As you win more supplies, more and more clan members join you, but this also means that you need more and more supplies to feed them. Should you lose all your clan members, you will have to start again.
The actual matches can be very unforgiving, you don’t have regenerating health, and you must scrounge the battlefield for supplies. You can die very quickly and working in numbers is paramount to success, if you have a microphone, I recommend it.
At the end of the day, The Last of Us doesn’t exactly do anything totally original of itself, but everything it does has been polished to mirror sheen, it is certainly not to be missed.
The story is great, Joel and Ellie are well developed and characterized, but some of the ancillary characters don’t get enough time for us to really connect to them. But Naughty Dog pulled no punches when it came to delivering some truly intense moments. The combat is tight and explosive, stealth is simple and fun, while exploration is rewarding. Naughty Dog has truly outdone themselves.
(NOTE, while there was a day one bug which didn’t allow players to save, and cost me about 4 hours of gameplay, making this review late on arrival, it won’t affect later players, so it’s pointless to mark it down)