We have grown to expect excellence from Naughty Dog. Since the early days of Crash Bandicoot to the wild, Indiana Jones like, adventures of Uncharted; they have always made their games the cream of the crop. The big question is has Naughty Dog taken a misstep here going into a genre that has been done so much that the village bicycle looks like a refreshing proposition?
Unless you have been living under a rock since the dawn of man, you will know that The Last of Us is a PS3 exclusive title set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been overrun by cauliflower looking zombies. Despite the cauliflowers running around, this genre has been done to death. Naughty Dog has to bring their A game here to really separate themselves from the crowd. The game follows two characters; a twenty year veteran of the Apocalypse (called Joel) and a fairly youngish/ innocent girl (called Ellie) who hasn’t been tainted by the likes of One Direction and meth. You soon find out Ellie is immune to the cauliflower like virus, go figure, and it is Joel’s mission to take her to a safe place so they can extract the immunity and save the world. Everything about the set up to this game screams unoriginality but there is far more to this game than meets the eye. The storytelling is pretty good. Scratch that it is excellent. From start to finish I was totally engrossed by what was going on. Naughty Dog threw in simple plot twists and “holy sh*t” moments mid game that really keep me on my toes. The bond Joel and Ellie had felt organic as it fluctuated and the side characters, that appeared, gave an interesting insight into what living in a post-apocalyptic world was like.
The storytelling was taken to that next level by the phenomenal acting by the cast. You really believed these characters were real and that their messed up backstory has really influenced their character. Big praise is needed for Ashley Johnson who really brings the confident, yet, awkward Ellie to life. The cinematic directing of the cut scenes is worth noting. Each cut scene draws you further in as you watch the actors produce some of the finest performances I have seen in a game. What makes these performances even more special is the graphic fidelity. The Last of Us really shows what the PS3 can do. Not only do things run smoothly but there is a high level to detail to the environments. Naughty Dog has avoided going the stereotypical brown fudge look and made a depressing yet wonderful environment. Vegetation brings colour to the world and the lighting gives and wonder glow to such a bleak world. The character models are of a quality you would expect from Naughty Dog.
Naughty Dog really brings in some mature themes without shoving them in your face. It isn’t like the new Tomb Raider game which is obsessed with showing you it’s grown up by throwing the themes are your face and hoping one will have an effect on you (none did). The Last of Us really does things correctly. There is the father and daughter relationship between Joel and Ellie (they are not related by the way), the sexual undertones Ellie has with a side character, the desperate nature of everyone in the game and so on. The themes are not overly played but subtlety introduced and used. This is what makes The Last of Us unique and interesting. Subtlety is the key. The ending (don’t worry this is spoiler free) perfectly plays off the beginning of the game but also, at first, felt a bit anticlimactic. It may lead some to feel a bit disappointed but don’t. The real emotionally driven ending is hiding in plain sight. You don’t realise what you have done until you really think about it. Naughty Dog shows us how subtlety is the key ingredient needed in making a brilliant ending.
The core gameplay really plays off on the story and setting. Everything about the combat is difficult. Now this isn't necessarily a negative point as the reason why it is difficult is because resources play into this game. You are limited on the resources you have. You want to make every shot count because when you run out of ammo you are essentially screwed. You can sneak around enemies, which isn’t as brilliantly executed as it should be, by lobbing bricks and bottles to distract them. The enemy types are varying in nature. You find yourself fighting off gangs and the military to the fast pace/almost impossible to take down zombies. Each encounter is different. I have to say I have never hated an enemy type like I do with Clickers. They are the most annoying and deadly enemy I have ever faced. Because of this (and the limited resources), I hate combat in this game but, at the same time, I love the game for that. I should hate combat in a post-apocalyptic world. There is a fluid cover system that feels natural to use. Joel will instantly pop in and out of cover with no button prompt and a nice touch is Joel will shield Ellie when you are in cover. It may be something small but it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Crafting becomes a big thing in the game. As the game progresses you can craft your loot into IEDs, Molotov cocktails, shivs and smoke bombs (the latter being the most useless weapon known to gaming). The amount of weapons, in The Last of Us, is limiting but Naughty Dog has given us a gameplay mechanic to upgrade our weapons to make them more deadly. This is done by acquiring parts found throughout the level and using specific workbenches to make your arsenal more deadly. Other interesting additions are the levelling up mechanic and the shooting mechanic. The levelling up mechanic is a tool to help you improve Joel. This can be anything from increasing health to quicker crafting ability. It is a small feature but a worthwhile addition. The shooting mechanics adds a bit of realism to them. Joel sways as he aims. It isn’t obvious but the swaying does have an impact when you try to run and gun. It makes you uneasy about if the bullet will hit the target at a long range which really plays well with the resource management.
The main issue with the gameplay design is the enemy’s AI not seeing Ellie until they have seen you. It makes sense especially when Ellie does dart around, following you like an overly attached dog but it does ruin some of that emersion. During combat you kind of forget about Ellie which is shame because it would have made The Last of Us better if you were constantly worried about her wellbeing as you do in every other aspect of the game.
Now it is time to review the multiplayer. Normally I hate reviewing the multiplayer component of a game. I am not the biggest multiplayer fanatic as a lot of developers never get it right and a lot of games like The Last of Us get tacked on multiplayer that isn’t that exciting. That being said this multiplayer was rather good. It was a shock how much I got into it but it is rather smaller in content than other multiplayer modes. The online component is called Factions (at the start you choose one of two sides) and is made up of a Supply Raid and Survivor mode. Survivor mode has the single player at heart where death means death. It is small in the amount of players but the fact that when you die you are dead for that round really keeps you on your toes. It isn’t a new thing (been in other games) but it fits well within the single player theme.
Supply Raid is more run and gun than Survivor’s on your toes kind of gameplay. Again supply raid has small teams but it has small maps to compensate. It is more of a typical team deathmatch mode except the smaller amount of people makes it more personal. Each death contributes towards the teams death count. When the death count runs out the game is over. Being in a small team makes you not want to be “that guy” who lost the match. It is an interesting solution to the team deathmatch problem and it works too. I started to play less like Rambo on heat and more cautiously. These two features combined with the clan idea really makes The Last of Us more unique than other games. Doing things online helps your clan grow. Failing can be detrimental to your clan. It is interesting and a new take on multiplayer that is past the kill to death ratios of most online games. The multiplayer does have one semi-major flaw. It is bloody confusing to start with. I had no idea what was going on when they tried to weave some sort of time line plot to it (in a way I still don’t). If you can look past this you will end up having a phenomenal time in Factions (coming from a person who isn’t into multiplayer games)
Overall this game does a hell of a lot right and very few things wrong. On the consoles it has been the best story driven and character progressing plot I have ever played. Naughty Dog went for a more subtle way to really tell this game and it really works. It is also remarkable how the multiplayer isn’t tacked on either. If you are looking for a long, wonderful experience (the campaign alone took my 15 hours), then I thoroughly recommend this game. People say this is the swan song for the PS3 but it is more than that. The Last of Us is the best game to come out this generation. Well done Naughty Dog.
p.s. Sorry for lying coolbeans. I know I said I was done but I swear this will be my last review this month