I’ll start by saying right off the bat– The Last of Us is not just a master piece of this gen, but of all gaming. Sensationalist perhaps, but naughty Dog has once again shown us the talent of their studio, not to mention the skill they have at forging cinematic, emotional and above all action packed games.
I will admit– I was a little nervous at first start up. I was nervous it would be just like Uncharted. Not that Uncharted isn’t a fantastic game; I just really wanted something different. Thankfully, Naughty Dog blew all my expectations out of the water.
The Last of Us takes place in a world devastated by a deadly virus. The virus, which has infected over 60% of the human population– causes a fungal growth in the brain; causing, in the beginning, an increased aggression in the host. As the fungus in the brain spreads, the host evolves further and further away from being human. They become what is known as a “clicker”. A beast that has no sight, and can only see by using echolocation. While these enemies may just be re-skinned zombie types, the game puts enough of a twist on them to make it feel unique – it’s a lovely blend of familiarity and innovation.
After the deadly outbreak, all branches of the government have fallen, besides the military. With the major cities being turned into outposts and put under martial law; people either have to coordinate with military rule, or try to make their own way on the outside. This isn’t easy. The world is covered with the infected, and the cities not under military rule are either too infested to live in, or ruled by groups of Hunters – preying on any who come in.
The world introduced in The Last of Us is gorgeously detailed. From ruined cities overtaken with vegetation, infested sewers, to the Hunter ruled towns, you will be seeing many sites across America – sites that have been truly seeing the devastation caused by the virus.
I would categorize The Last of Us as a third person, survival horror. The game can be extremely creepy. The game play itself relies heavily on stealth and thankfully, it’s a blast. Instead of having the classic press a button to stick to the wall cover, as you crouch, your character will naturally bend to his environment. I was sceptical at first, but it becomes immediately apparent that this is the superior approach to stealth in gaming – it banishes the random awkward (and often deadly) popping your head out of cover or getting stuck in cover thanks to a button.
This is not your typical run into a room and clear out the baddies, type of game. It’s true to its story. The world as we knew it is over, you don’t have an abundance of ammo to rely on and never once in the game did I feel secure enough with my ammo supply. Each shot is reluctantly fired, and each missed shot is an immediate personal failure you couldn’t afford. Combat can be avoided in many instances of the game whilst stealth take downs are vital, utilising various unlikely objects to your advantage. Thankfully, when you do get seen or forced into a combat situation, you have melee to fall back on to save that precious ammo. The melee in The Last of Us is satisfyingly fast paced and brutal, making great use of the environment, Naughty Dog really improved on the equivalent from Uncharted 3. Near a wall? Slam him into it and go to town. Window? Throw him out. Desk? Smash his face into the corner of it. This makes the melee, which is the most satisfying part of combat, feels almost scripted it flows so effortlessly. The melee weapons you can access throughout the game have extremely limited durability – do not rely on them too readily, but know that they’re good in a jam. Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs has a lot to live up to in the combat stakes.
The game also shines in its cast of characters. The two leads are Joel, and Ellie. Joel, a man who lost everything in the first days of the virus, and Ellie, the fourteen year old girl, who Joel is tasked with delivering safely to the Fireflies, an anti-militant group with the goal of restoring the government and finding a cure for the virus at all costs. The main pushing point of the story is a little cliché, but the journey that unfolds is incredible nonetheless.
The relationship between Ellie and Joel is what really makes this game special. Never before, be it in games, movies or TV, have I seen such natural development between two characters. Joel, who starts out wanting nothing to do with Ellie and Ellie, a girl just trying to figure out her place in the world. For once, there is an utter guarantee that you will develop a deep connection with both of these characters. When bad things happen, it is devastating. As a lot of other people have stated, I can’t be the only one who made sure to be extra careful when pushing that pallet atop the water.
As usual with Naughty Dog games, they know just when to dust proceedings with a little humour. The Last of Us is a depressing world. Just when things are getting a little too serious you will see the child side of Ellie come out. This is a girl who was born after the world as we know it was destroyed – seeing her ask Joel to explain things, the mysteries of ice cream trucks, and trying to make sense of the pizza joke in her joke book, is a great way to add some lightheartedness to an otherwise ugly world. I wish I could say more, but with the risk of spoilers, I’ll do my best to hold my tongue – think Viggo Mortensen explaining Coca-Cola to his son in the Road.
One of the few flaws of the game lies within the companion AI. They do a pretty good job of matching your stealthy ways, but too often they can be found wildly running around in front of enemies trying to find somewhere to go. Thankfully, the AI doesn’t have the ability to attract the attention of enemies, but it can be fairly immersion breaking at times.
The multiplayer is an aspect of The Last of Us that I was skeptical about. With Uncharted, the multiplayer was fun but struggled to hold my attention. Thankfully, with The Last of Us, Naughty Dog have stepped up their game once again. The multiplayer (known as ‘Factions’) holds its own quite well, without needing to rely on the single player. You will take control of either a Firefly settlement or a settlement of Hunters, who fill the role of The Last of Us bandits). You start on week 1 with only five survivors in your settlement. You need to go out and scavenge materials, and resources for your persons in order to survive, and attract new people. Like the single player, the multiplayer is fast and intense. You begin with maybe 8 bullets for each of your guns, so randomly firing away benefits no one but your enemy. This leads to a lot of sneaking around, all out melee brawls, and executions.
A really neat feature Naughty Dog have added to multiplayer is the ability to link your Facebook profile with your Factions account. I was a little nervous at first, but after finding out there would be no notifications of any kind I went through with it, and I can say it was completely worth it. Linking your Facebook account gives all the survivors of your camp the names of your Facebook friends (a harmless gimmick) and keeps you up to date on what they are working on in camp (Aaron, our editor-in-chief is currently considering cannibalism and sharpening a machete… that’s err, comforting). As you gather more survivors you will need more and more resources, meaning you have to constantly improve in order to provide for your camp and keep them fed. If you continue to do badly, your people will get sick and starve, meaning your camp will dwindle and eventually, die leaving you to start over with a new camp.
The Last of Us is a gift to the world of gaming. It is the type of game that absolutely highlights what an art form video games have become. In its attention to detail, the craft of story telling, emotional maturity and animation, the title is a veritable work of art. This is Naughty Dog’s Mona Lisa. St. Peter’s basillica, eat your heart out.
I for one can not wait to see what Naughty Dog has in store for us next generation – The Last of Us is as close to perfection as I’ve seen in a long, long time.