The Last of Us review
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Third-Person Survival
Number of Players: One, 2-8 Network Players
Available on: PlayStation 3
Release Date: June 14, 2013 worldwide
With such games as Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and the Uncharted series under their belt, Naughty Dog has struck gold again with The Last of Us. Their highly anticipated PlayStation 3 exclusive has been one of the most highly anticipated games of 2013, and is now widely considered as the game to beat for “Game of the Year.” Naughty Dog set expectations extremely high for their audience, and to be frank, they do not disappoint.
The Last of Us is very much a tale of redemption, and drops the player into the shoes of Joel, a survivor in a post apocalyptic Boston. He has a somewhat checkered past, and does not realize yet that the journey he is about to embark on will change his life.
Joel is in a position that many others would find themselves in after the end of the world. He takes odd jobs around town in exchange for food or supplies, in hopes of living another day.
Not too long after being introduced to your partner, Tess, the player is tasked with escorting Ellie out of the city, and for an experienced survivor like Joel, the chore should be no problem. After running into some trouble and an interesting plot twist, the player is on their way cross country with Ellie in tow.
When you first boot up The Last of Us, one cannot help but be taken aback by the stunning visuals. Everything from Joel and Ellie’s character models, to water flowing over the rocks in the surround forests, everything is animated to almost perfect realism. The Last of Us pushes every boundary that the PlayStation 3 has in terms of graphics.
The next thing I noticed upon starting the campaign was how well Naughty Dog presented their story. I became highly invested and attached to Joel and Ellie from the start, and the plot only thickened and spiraled from there. The writing is absolutely amazing, and is pulled off with incredible voice acting all the way around. While you do get the usual cutscenes that convey the general story arc, I was surprised at how much information was given during the lulls between enemies.
A good deal of the story is passed between Ellie and Joel during contextual interactions in the environment, as well as dialogue exchanged while exploring. Often in video games, dialogue that is delivered outside of a cutscene or scripted event can be painful and downright idiotic, but somehow Naughty Dog managed to turn the tables. These interactions are a real treat, and enrich the story from its already strong foundation.
I really cannot stress enough how well this game was written. Neil Druckmann has stuck literary gold with his rendition of a post apocalyptic America and, if you look hard enough, you may even catch a reference to a variation of one of the Grimm Brother’s classic fairy tales.
While the story gives The Last of Us solid roots, it is the gameplay that really makes it shine. Ammo and other supplies are extremely scarce in the environment, so inventory management is a big part of surviving your encounters. In this way, the game really pushes the use of stealth when navigating your interactions with other humans and infected alike. The Last of Us also includes a variety of missions and a broad range of enemies that keep the game fresh during the entire 15+ hours that can be spent playing.
Because of how much time is spent in the shadows, I was very thankful to learn that the stealth mechanics are flawlessly implemented to give you a challenge, while not making it cripplingly difficult to complete an area.
Part of the challenge is finding a groove to attack. If you take too long studying your opponents, they will switch up their routes and possibly find you, but if you are too gung-ho, you risk wasting ammo to repel the attacks.
Getting through an area without being noticed is a profoundly gratifying experience, and if you fail, it is somewhat disappointing. However, it is this disappointment that helps you get back on the horse to do better the next time.
If you do manage to get killed, the game features an extremely generous checkpoint system so that you can “restart the encounter,” and try again. I actually had to make use of this feature more than once because of my A.I. partners.
During the first hour or two of the game, I found it difficult to pull of the stealth aspects perfectly because my partners did not follow my lead. This may have been because the game did not deem my skills to be worthy to direct them yet, but I got frustrated when this did happen. Luckily it did not happen too often after the first major plot point came to fruition, and my partners began to follow me more closely and did not break cover unless I did.
Another aspect that makes the gameplay shine is its use of sound queues. From stepping on a piece of glass, to the rustle of the trees around you, the sound design in the Last of Us is brilliant. Especially from that of the “Clicker,” a variant of the infected that is blind and must use sound to see its surroundings, much like a bat. The sound of this creature searching for you and Ellie in the dark will haunt your dreams. I have seldom been as terrified of being discovered in a video game since I played Dead Space.
At the end of the day, The Last of Us is an outstanding game. It surrounds itself in realism which is shown through the humanizing story, and even down to the melee finishers. These attacks often use the surrounding environment to, say, smash an enemy’s skull in on a wall. It is especially disturbing to watch Joel choke someone while they helplessly swipe and bat at him in an attempt to break free. However, it is this realism that really makes the game shine, and I would not have it any other way.