The Last of Us is a shining example of both the ingenuity and technical aptitude of the developers at Naughty Dog, a studio that rests comfortably in its position among the top tier developers of the industry. It presents the story of two unlikely allies tossed into the midst of a derelict society in a post-apocalyptic world. The intertwined journey of these two characters through this hostile, fragmented, and yet strangely beautiful world, provides a canvas for what human nature truly is and highlights the fleeting mortality of our lives. The stunning success of The Last of Us is not just in its engaging gameplay or satisfying story, but how both aspects are knit together to provide a unified end product. Although both facets would easily stand strong on their own, Naughty Dog proves its brilliance by entwining story and gameplay to provide an experience which is truly one of the best entertainment pieces of the year.
The story follows the characters Joel, a rugged and reluctant former-father who clings onto his dreams of the past and the world he used to know, and Ellie, a young girl who is eager to discover the broken world that’s all she’s ever known. The relationship between the two is what stands out in The Last of Us. Although Joel is reluctant at first, he assumes the role of a father figure as Ellie becomes a sort of surrogate daughter to him. They explore the country together, and their experiences are what tie them to each other, and they form an unusual bond as they attempt to survive. The game has various other characters, all of which display an extraordinary amount of humanity, in part thanks to the exceptional voice acting and animation. Each of them are comprised of their own faults and strengths and goals, and it makes the player really feel attached to the characters in a way that hasn’t happened all too frequently in the past with other games. The story itself is quite unexpected and feels original, despite taking or sharing obvious cues from other pieces such as “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, “The Stand” by Stephen King, and potentially “I am Legend” by Richard Matheson. It advances the game from beyond just a “zombie” survival to a look into the desperation and core of humanity in times of suffering. It really sets the bar for storytelling in videogames and advances the genre as a whole with the depth and emotion.
Graphically, this game is without a doubt one of the best, if not the best on the console. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world, and while one would assume that the scenery would be dull and muted, Naughty Dog manages to make the environments lush and vibrant, and the colors stand out. The idea that nature is taking over the ruins of man is intensely portrayed through the style, and the textures hold up, despite the aging console. Animations are fluid and well done thanks to the motion tracking and emotions on the faces of the characters are stunningly realistic, and there’s just no better feeling than seeing the gush of fluid as you crack one of the infected open . One thing that could be improved however is the attention to detail; textures are sometimes reused and pop-in is not infrequent. Overall, if you take into account that the console is now approaching its 8th birthday, the game is a technical work of art in correspondence to the hardware it runs on. And if graphical superiority is a must for you, then The Last of Us: Remastered Edition for the PS4 is about to hit the shelves in June with a higher resolution, level of graphics, and frame-rate.
The Last of Us also manages to pull through with surprisingly good sound quality. The token “chirping” of the Infected and the crack of a gunshot are sounds which are clear and distinct, and really shape the gameplay as well. The soundtrack is brilliant, and the shifting tones of the violin, drums, and the strum of a guitar highlight urgency and peace within the characters and really set the nature of the story as they play on. Voice acting is done magnificently, with industry veteran Troy Baker as Joel, and Ashley Johnson playing Ellie. Both actors go above and beyond and the emotion is really felt in the moments when you see their relationship develop. Additionally, the yells and shouts between them in combat moments help to truly solidify the concept of a gritty, makeshift battlefield, in a ruined city.
Gameplay in The Last of Us, is surprising straightforward, and yet is able to yield many diverse playstyles. It functions as a standard third-person-shooter, more akin to Gears of War over Uncharted, however has many elements unique to its own concept. Players are able to craft items such as health kits, smoke bombs, Molotov’s, and nail bombs using materials found in the environment. The interesting part is that all crafting is done in real-time. This leads to a unique sense of urgency as you rush to finish making that singular explosive which will save your life before an enemy rounds a corner, or struggle to apply that health pack before you bleed out. While it may not be as in depth as Minecraft’s, or DayZ’s, it works well for the game and allows just the right amount of urgency without being frustrating. The game also features some puzzles, but these are very basic and unfortunately, don’t add much to the game at all. There are only so many times you can push Ellie around on a plank before it gets stagnant and this is a flaw, albeit a minor one, that the game suffers from. The game also features a stealth system, so players can choose whether they want to go in gung-ho, or pick off enemies one by one. This gets especially interesting with the combination of supplies, and allows for respectable diversity and additional play-through. The interesting part is the parallel between the enemies in the game, the Infected and other humans. While the Infected are much stronger and will one hit you if they manage to grab onto you, they have a primal sort of predictability and can be misled and baited with sounds. The fact that they can’t see at all is a very interesting idea and makes them unique rather than being generic mindless zombies (not that they aren’t). Enemy survivors have a human element to them; for a second you can almost imagine yourself in their shoes (before they come swinging nail-studded baseball bats at you that is) and they are generally unpredictable and tougher to deal with. Armed military factions of sorts also provide diversity within enemies as well as the large, lumbering, Bloaters. Overall, the brilliant sound and graphical design come together with the storyline to knit together and expand upon the standard third-person experience, making the gameplay equivalent in quality to the story to form a complete, cohesive, end product.
The Last of Us also features an online component called “Factions”, which focuses on two different groups fighting for resources and supplies in three different modes. You pick one of either the “Hunters” or the “Fireflies” and grow your “clan” by winning multiplayer matches and collecting parts. This mini-game sort of encompasses the multiplayer mode, but is largely somewhat useless other than assigning objectives, and doesn’t add much to the table. The actual 4 v 4 matches themselves, however, are ridiculously fun, especially with friends. There are three different modes: Supply Raid, Survivors, and Interrogation. They are as their names sound; Supply Raid has you going to various supply deposits while looking out for the enemy team and trying to kill each other. Survivors is basically search and destroy, with 4 rounds to spawn in. Interrogate is similar, but has each opponent you take down need to be interrogated, which earns points. This mode requires more coordination, but is a blast with the right people. The same crafting system is also present, which means players must be careful when creating supplies. The interesting part about TLOU’s multiplayer is that, unlike other games, health-regen is off, ammo is very limited, and the game plays slower and more methodical than other TPS’. This may put some off, as other shooters like CoD and BF which are more-so twitch shooters which rely on reflexes rather than strategy, but The Last of Us knows where it stands and recognizes the crowd it caters to. Multiplayer overall works without a hitch, lag is almost non-existent and the community is great (and growing). There is more than enough content to keep you busy for a long time after you finish the single-player story.
The Last of Us is a stunning success from Naughty Dog, surprisingly so, given how late into the PS3’s cycle it is. It brings an unconventional storyline with relatable and believable characters, and intertwines it with near-flawless gameplay in a believable and beautiful post-apocalyptic scenario. It gets so much right that it would be pointless to draw attention to its minor flaws, and it is truly a complete package. It is a masterpiece, no doubt, and easily one of the best ways to send off the PS3.