In this game, you are protecting a girl from the harm of a post-pandemic world and escorting her across the country. There is plenty of swearing, but it’s a mature rated game and it’s to be expected, this doesn’t weigh down the overall experience as it’s used in the context of the situation. Violence is absolutely brutal but it comes with the world that these characters are surviving in, this isn’t a forgiving place. There are sexual references, one in particular about a pornographic magazine.
In an industry inundated by post-apocalyptic survival games, it is hard to find an original title that is able to depict the harsh reality of daily life while telling an intricate and deep story. Thankfully, Naughty Dogs The Last of Us manages to convey an incredible tale through its unforgiving yet beautiful world while retaining its own unique identity.
The Last of Us takes place 20 years after a fungal pandemic causing total social collapse. Those exposed to the spores spread by the fungus quickly turned erratic and violent. Cities are quarantined and sectioned off into militarized zones isolated amongst the ruins of what were once thriving metropolises. You take on the role of Joel, an aged survivor and smuggler tasked with the safeguarding of a 14-year-old girl named Ellie. She is to be taken out of the militarized zone and transferred into the hands of a militia group known as the Fireflies. On your journey, you will experience the harsh and very brutal world that has been torn apart by nature and infection. That’s all the story you’ll get from me, telling you any more would quickly end this review in spoiler territory. Instead, let me flesh out the characters.
We do not know much about Joel before the outbreak, what we do know is that it changed him. Seeing the infection spread firsthand, he has the experience and know-how on encountering the infected. As a smuggler, he is a ruthless individual, cross paths with him and you will probably end up dead. He is unsympathetic towards the Fireflies cause, only interacting with them when it involves business. This is where Ellie comes in. Growing up in a ravaged world, she has never known what the world once was. She is a tough young girl who can hold her own, dismissing her because of her diminutive appearance would be a mistake. The dynamic of the two is familiar with Joel being the grizzled veteran while Ellie the young precocious hot head out to prove herself. While this might seem like a trope, Naughty Dog crafts a very real relationship between these characters that is rarely seen illustrated so well in a video game. It is all in the execution of the story that allows this game to shine. With major decisions occurring throughout the game, you start to question your own motives along with Joel’s. In this world, you have to ask yourself, who is really the monster?
What makes this game so special is not only its story, but also its dedication to the survival genre. Majority of the time you out numbered or outgunned. You will face a multitude of scenarios, whether it be hostile scavengers known as Hunters or the infected. With all of this, you have to turn over every nook and cranny trying to scrape by with a limited number of supplies, which you use to create items. The crafting system implemented into the game is surprisingly deep. Joel can open his backpack and craft items like med packs, shivs, and small explosives at any time that is if you have the proper number of items. Be warned, while you craft you are doing so in real time, enemies can flank you or overtake you while you create that precious med pack. With crafting you can also upgrade your weapons at certain points in the game at workbenches by using parts that you find scattered throughout the world. Ammo on the other hand is not craftable, it is a scarce commodity so making every shot count is absolutely essential. The best way to conserve your supplies is to use your greatest weapon, stealth.
Taking out enemies quietly and decisively is extremely important, in most scenario’s if you’re smart enough you can actually move around your adversaries without firing a shot or even killing them. This is not a third person shooter, going in guns blazing will quickly get yourself killed or leave you grossly unprepared for your next encounter. While outgunned and outnumbered Joel has a major advantage on his side, listening mode. While optional listening mode allows you to find enemy locations within a certain proximity (comparable to Batman’s Detective mode), it does allow you to deal with enemies giving you a decisive edge in combat. Joel’s listening mode, health and other abilities can also be upgraded by collecting pills. Unlike parts, pills are not as easy to find making your choices on what to upgrade that much more important. Finally, items like bricks and bottles are also scattered throughout the world, which allow you to pick them up and throw them to distract your enemies for a short time allowing you to sneak up on them or simply evade them. It is always a good idea to carry one as they also serve as a temporary weapon in a pinch.
Where the The Last of Us really shines is in its enemy encounters. While the cities are relatively silent, you will come across pockets of roaming bandits and scavengers known as Hunters who are eager to loot your corpse of vital supplies. Humans in The Last of Us are incredibly intelligent, working together in pairs or even in groups combing the area. Unlike most A.I in video games, Naughty Dog has given these enemies a very real feel. While some have predetermined paths, humans will take note of someone’s death in the group and change their strategy to search the area. Even when spotted you have many different options with dealing with Hunters. You can evade them and risk coming back with heightened security or fight your way through with Ellie as back up. The infected on the other hand pose a very different threat. Runners (newly infected) have the distinct advantage of sheer numbers. If you do not take them out one by one, you face being overwhelmed and maimed. They are fairly easy to deal with even with hand to hand combat but are best dealt with through stealth. Clickers (advanced stage of infection) on the other hand pose a very real danger. While completely blind, Clickers use echolocation to find you and are normally encountered in groups.
It is to your benefit to either avoid them or draw them away by using throw able objects to distract them. Unlike normal infected, Clickers also take greater damage to down. Even trying to kill them through stealth is not as easy as silently chocking them out, you must have a shiv in your inventory to quickly kill them or you risk being overtaken by your hostage. If alerted, Clickers will quickly overwhelm you, allow one to get within arm’s reach and it’s game over. While this might seem like an unfair advantage, you do have to option to upgrade Joel with the ability to use a shiv to escape the Clickers grasp. This is only the tip of the iceberg of what you will encounter; many other enemies await you as you progress through the game. One thing to take note of during stealth sequences, your partner is not detectable while you are evading or sneaking. What this means is that when you control Joel the only way to get spotted is if you are seen. Once that happens everyone in your party is susceptible to attack. While this creates some hilarious moments of Ellie walking right in plain sight of enemies it is a welcome mechanic, this could have created some unwarranted alert phases if it was not implemented the way it was.
Visually the game uses every ounce of the PS3’s hardware. The game is absolutely gorgeous, from dilapidated cities overgrown by nature to the wild and untamed wilderness Naughty Dog has crafted a stunning world. Sound design is also top notch, with the infected giving off eerie and deafening groans and Clickers giving off one of the most terrifying sounds I have heard in recent years. The Last of Us also sports an incredible soundtrack comparable to that of Red Dead Redemption. It is not intrusive, yet only audible during cut scenes or certain situations in game allowing appropriate set up for the story.
Finally, the game includes a rather interesting multiplayer. When you first queue up the multiplayer you will be given the choice to choose one of two factions (Hunters or Fireflies), once you decide on one you must complete their storyline or have your faction die out. Composed of two modes of 4 vs 4, Supply Raid (a variation of team deathmatch where you have 20 respawns per team) and Survivors (no respawns, the winner is determined after 4 wins or best of 7). What makes the multiplayer so different from other games is its inclusion of single-player elements. Crafting items in game is necessary to your teams victory, however unlike single-player you are able to craft ammo if you have the proper number of parts. It does cost quite a bit though so you are never able to gain an unfair advantage. Thankfully, parts and resources are scattered strategically throughout the map creating different hot spots of contention. The real catch however in multiplayer is your resource collection. For each enemy you kill, spot, or assist in downing you collect resources. These resources must be picked up and are necessary to building up your faction. If you fail to meet your quota, you risk killing off your community. This gives you a greater incentive to work together with your team and adds a whole new sense of tension to each match you play. What I once thought was a tacked on feature to an incredible single-player has me hooked, I am interested to see how many weeks I can get my faction to survive through without completely wiping them out.
The Last of Us was an emotional roller coaster of a game for me, filled with moments of laughter to moments of absolute sorrow. It is filled to the brim with content to collect, so one play-through will not be enough. This game was everything I was hoping for in a survival game, as it was demanding but it was not punishing. It had plenty of tense moments and one area in particular scared the living daylights out of me, few games manage to do that to me. The characters were extremely relatable and that is simply due to the incredible writing on Naughty Dog’s part. While the story almost seems to fall into trope territory, it is the execution that carries it through and keeps the game feeling unlike anything you have played before. I could go on and on about this game and I really wish I could dive into some of the intricacies of some of the sections in this game, but that would be giving away too much. What I touched on is probably the first 30 min of what took me 16 hours to complete, the length of this game just felt right. It was not too long and it certainly was not too short, every moment you were invested in the story. If you own a PlayStation 3, you owe it to yourself to pick up this game. Naughty Dog has crafted their finest work and it truly deserves the highest of accolades.