The Last of Us is a rare enigma. When the game was first announced there were preset expectations of greatness from the game considering the pedigree of it’s developer, Naughty Dog, and their immense success with the Uncharted franchise for the PlayStation 3. It’s fair to say The Last of Us had a good deal of hype and pressure to live of to being a good game, but obviously being good isn’t good enough for Naughty Dog as they’ve exceeded the expectations and have created one of the most immersive and best told gaming experiences of this console generation and possibly all time.
The Last of Us tells the story of protagonists Joel and Ellie as they struggle with the new world order of Survivors, Hunters, the remains of the Military, Rebels known as the Fireflies, and a world full of former humans now infected with an airborne fungal virus turning them into almost Zombie-like creatures. It’s really a simple concept; however, being the masterful storytellers they are Naughty Dog has crafted one of the most appealing post apocalypse Action-Adventure / Thrillers among any medium. But the strength of the actual story is only one part that demonstrates the brilliance of The Last of Us. It’s also the stories you discovers left in notes by other people throughout the country as they tried to survive the outbreak of the Infection, getting a glimpse into their lives and struggle and wondering where they are now.
Upon entering the world of The Last of Us, you immediately realize just how grim yet beautiful the world really is. Nature has reclaimed the cities leaving broken building and forest as you journey across the country. Shadows and lighting are handled beyond the vast majority of games to date. The contrast between the two when entering a dark building sets the tone perfectly for anyone possible encounters. Character models are also handled with the upmost care. Common enemies are among some of the best character models in any game thus far, while Joel and Elle exceed the vast majority. But all is not beautiful within the world of The Last of Us. Unfortunately low quality textures on some foliage and ground textures mar the otherwise stunning game. Blood also has some issues. Blood splatters look life-like as do dripping blood; however, when enemies die in a pool of blood it looks like a red puddle of water runs from under them rather than having a slight thickness to the flow of the blood. But these are all minor annoyances as are all the “problems” with the game.
The performances from Joel and Elle are the driving force of The Last of Us. The dynamic evolution of the relationship between these two characters has never been so appealing and involving in a video game to me. Naughty Dog makes it easy to want to care for Joel and Elle and see them through to the end. Elle isn’t a kid in the normal sense. She’s an intelligence and cunning young girl who knows the dangers of the world she’s grown up in, and will do whatever she can to survive. Joel on the other hand has once upon a time lived a normal life, but he’s the prime example of what happens when chaos and disorder befalls a civilization. He’ll steal, kill, and do whatever he can to make sure he survives. It’s brilliant to watch as these two characters spend so much time together they both adopt similar traits from one another. It’s just unheard of in video games.
The Voice actors did an amazing job portraying Joel and Elle, but even more surprising is the amount of dedication and time spent making characters who life span are all but 5 seconds have lines of dialog and various voices that are all believable in the moment. Naughty Dog really went all out with the talent in this game.
For those who have played the Uncharted trilogy you’ll be able to easily pick up and know the controls for The Last of Us. However, there’s still a learning curve to get over before enjoy the game. Joel doesn’t handle guns nearly as well as Drake and you have to overcome the sway of shooting, and aiming. Also unlike Uncharted where cover is highly encouraged, in The Last of Us cover is a complete necessity or else you will die countless times. Moving on from its sister game (in this case brother game) The Last of Us opens up with a bit more diversity. But there’s more than just shooting, you also have hand to hand combat and melee weapons to use such as glass bottles, bricks, wooden 2x4, baseball bats, pipes, machetes, and hatchets. There’s also a crafting system accessed by pressing the “Select” button. The crafting system allows you to create items to further assist you in combat, because your weapons durability and bullets will run out fast if you’re not careful. With the crafting system you can make items like shiv’s (homemade knife), Molotov cocktails, bladed melee weapons for instant kills and more durability, health packs, and bombs (smoke bombs or shrapnel bombs). The game goes a bit further by adding very simple RPG-like elements to improve your guns, item slots, and characters. You have 2 skill tress for customizing your weapons and customizing Joel. Collecting pills and specific flowers will grant you skill points to spend on upgrading Joel’s abilities such as providing more health, healing faster, crafting faster, improve listening mode, reducing weapons sway and more. These abilities can be upgraded at anytime by pressing select. Improving your skills will prove vital in the latter parts of the games where more enemies swarm you. And finally you can upgrade guns with gears you find hidden around the areas. Upgrading guns varies per weapon, but generally involves increasing magazine size, improving reload speeds, improving fire rate, damage, range, and scope.
Initially The Last of Us doesn’t have the type of controls or precision you’d expect from a game with guns, and at times it can be difficult or angering when you waste bullets shooting only to miss due to the poor controls or sway. However, this is an intentional design and when you build your weapons up and customize Joel to better suit your needs the game plays among the best of them. It’s not going to be to everyone’s liking to have to play like that, but the best thing to do is if you plan on playing the games as a shooter then you need to focus on building up guns and Joel’s sway ability. As long as you customize to your play style then you’ll be fine, just don’t give up early due to controls.
Speaking of controls they aren’t customizable in The Last of Us, which is something I hate in most games (especially shooters). However, the controls are setup well, and the only grip I have is holding R2 to run instead of pressing L3. Everything else is pretty much standard affair.
Naughty Dog kept the online portion of the game hidden for the entire development cycle of The Last of Us leaving gamers to believe it was either a throwaway experience, contained spoilers, or completely revolutionary. Well it’s neither of those. Factions is the name of the multiplayer and it’s good fun, but it has bare bone options. As soon as you start multiplayer you’re forced to join one of two factions. The Hunters who scavenge the lands for any supplies and live by the mantra “Survival of the Fittest”, or the Fireflies who are working to find a cure by any means necessary. After choosing your side you’re thrown into the world of the multiplayer and without any options or a guide it can be a challenge game to get into. There are only two game modes to play Supply Raid and Survivors. Supply raid gives you and your team a collective 20 respawns and once you run out of them the game enters sudden death mode and when all players are killed the round ends. Survivor mode has no respawns and once you’re dead you’re dead until the end of that round. Players play the best of 7 rounds in Survivor mode. Like the single player you can modify your character to fit your needs, but unlike the single player there are so many options to choose from and most skills and weapons cost a single point and more as they upgrade and you only start with 8 points to use. It’s a simple concept, but with no tutorial you can easily get lost in the multiplayer when you see higher level players healing others, and dropping shrapnel grenades and you’re trying to figure it out, only to find you’re not a high enough level. There are only seven maps, but each map has a great layout, and surprising openness to them, and surprisingly dynamic like Uncharted 3’s multiplayer maps.
For the most part The Last of Us is standard multiplayer with a heavy emphasis on Uncharted 3’s multiplayer. But what sets it apart are the gameplay mechanics adopted form the single player. Scavenging supplies, crafting, listen mode, and abilities make The Last of Us multiplayer truly unique. If there were more gameplay modes and the inclusion of Infected dynamically entering the maps then The Last of Us multiplayer would have truly been over the top and one of the great multiplayers of this console generation. Thankfully multiplayer can still be modified after it’s released with the inclusion of DLC, but for now multiplayer is only solid.
You know a game is amazing when you have to look for annoyances, because there’s nothing truly wrong with the game and here are the following annoyances. The game has several sections that are dark, and for stealth purposes you don’t want to use your flashlight, however, enemy A.I. can still see in the dark, and it’s annoying when you think you’re crawling around like a ninja, only to be spotted and find yourself swarmed. The AI is great for the most part. There are immersion breaking moments (glitches?) where the AI runs out in front of enemies yet the enemies don’t react at all. There’s also the classic case of the AI getting in front of you causing you to get stuck for a few seconds as the AI tries to maneuver out of your way. As gamers I’m sure we’re all thankful that the AI can’t be blamed for getting us caught; however, it would be nice if that problem didn’t exist in a potential sequel (just keep them 3 steps behind us). Another example of this is when you’re hiding, but Joel and Ellie strike of a conversation that a bandit right next to you should be able to hear. Some of the hunters will have guns that have ammo, but when you kill them you can’t collect any ammo from them most of the time. It would also be nice if you could store items or borrow items from your AI partner.
The Last of Us shows Naughty Dog is one of the most conscious developers in the industry. Normally developers have a specific goal in mind, but Naughty Dog has crafted the world of the Last of Us so well that it feels as alive and as immersive as any Open World game to date. That’s an accomplishment for a, technically speaking, linear game. The open areas you scavenge through are rip with minute details and it’s these little things that make this game feel almost alive. From Ellie reacting to the environment and Joel telling her how things use to be, to listening to the conversations held by bandits, and even hearing Ellie shout out helpful commands to Joel makes all of these little touches make the game so much more meaningful.
It’s amazing how much focus Naughty Dog put into making nature take over again. Watching the wildlife roam around freely goes to show just how much thought they put into this game. By now I’m sure most of you know the Infected have obtained a mutated version of the Cordycep fungus. Each specific fungus only infects a specific kind of insect thus far, so true to life the Cordyceps in the last of us will only effect humans, which is why you see rabbits, swans, rats, crabs, and more animals running around freely. It just goes to show how thought out The Last of Us is. However, on the flip side it also shows how unsettling The Last of Us is. With genetic mutation and gene splicing being conducted on foods such as fruits and vegetables, it’s not to hard to believe that an actual man-made human effecting Cordycep could be developed and used is germ warfare; however, based on the actual fungus in real life we won’t become Zombie-like creatures, but instead lose all sense of self and painfully wait as the fungus begins to sprout from the inside out. But it doesn’t end there. Every action and every moment in the game is used to build up to another great moment whether it’s the next section or hours later into the game. Joel’s gets his watch as a present, and in comparison Ellie comments on the watch. A deer leads to a great encounter, and the encounter ends with the image of a dear. Everything in this game is so meticulously carried out that you’d think this game has been in development for years more than it has.
There are few games that make you “feel”, and The Last of Us does this better than any game to date. You care about Joel and Ellie the entire game, even when they make decisions that upset you. Naughty Dog has done such an amazing job crafting these characters that you almost feel as if you’re right beside them during the entire journey rather than feeling like you’re progressing this character through their story.
The game not only masters Joel and Elle story, but first person and environmental storytelling as you find notes and journals and see homes and buildings in scavenged and destroyed states after potentially years of struggling. Finding their journals, and consciously reliving the events they went through adds to the struggle, despair, and at times hope these people had during the origin of the outbreak, makes the hours of searching and scavenging spent through the game that more satisfying.
The Last of Us is simply an amazing game, and Naughty Dog's best work to date which is a huge accomplishment in itself. The Last of Us is a game that should be experienced by all PlayStation gamers, and gets my recommendation as the best exclusive for the PlayStation 3 if not the best game on the console or any other for that matter. The Last of Us is truly a masterpiece, and hopefully this world will be further explored through sequels on the PlayStation 4. Naughty Dog has cemented themselves as one of the best developers in the industry and The Last of Us has become the showcase for this generation of consoles.