I had actually avoided most information about The Last of Us. Part of me was worried it was going to be “just another survival horror/zombie apocalypse game”, and another part was hoping that it would be worth avoiding so I’d get a fantastic surprise. Well, The Last of Us so far exceeded any expectations – it is an incredible game.
For those who don’t know, The Last of Us takes place years after a bizarre fungal infection has wiped out a huge portion of society. Those who are infected lose control over themselves, becoming similar to “runner” style zombies. The longer the duration of infection, the worse it gets, with infected eventually becoming “clickers”, losing all sight but developing echo-location. Finally, infected become a fungus growing in the dark, emitting infectious spores.
The story centres around Joel and Ellie. Joel is a hardened survivor, brusque and quiet, and deeply wounded. Ellie was born after the outbreak of infection and can’t imagine what the world was like before. Their relationship grows throughout the game in a believable and truly organic way. As they travel across the US of A, we grow to understand each of them, and are exposed to some incredible visuals.
The story-telling is gripping right from the start. You feel for Joel so intensely from the opening chapter, and the connection is never broken. Much like Joel, I had mixed feelings about Ellie at first, but over the course of the game she grew as a character and became truly lovable. Their bond is the driving force behind the game, and leads to powerful emotional moments during gameplay – I became fully invested in them, leading me to take part in the survival and killing, not for pwnage’s sake, but because of that relationship. However, due to the nature of the story-telling, The Last of Us is a very linear game – no open world elements, and no options to go back to previous sections.
The gameplay follows two main mechanisms: stealth, and covered shooting. You gain access to new weapons as the game progresses, although I generally stuck with the stealth approach. I prefer to sneak up on my enemies and kill them, or even distract them and avoid fighting all together. However, that said, there are some areas where mass murder is the best option, and for those that excel at shooting (apparently, I don’t) the game handles the mechanic beautifully. Speaking of impressive mechanics, as a game that released at the end of the PS3 life-cycle, it makes perfect use of the controls. Without making it gimmicky, The Last of Us has you shake the controller when the batteries in your flashlight occasionally run low. It’s subtle and adds an extra aspect of realism to the game. Speaking of realism, while you might find maps in certain areas, you never get a mini-map or HOD.
For the most part, you play as Joel. He gains crafting skills, so you can make your own shivs, first aid kits and IEDs. Also, using pills (vitamins on steroids?) he can upgrade his health and abilities. All these elements are done with extreme realism – it takes time to apply a first aid kit, or to craft one. There is no health regeneration, and supplies for crafting can be scarce in certain areas – you will need to be careful with your resources.
There are two main types of enemies in the game: infected and humans. Of the infected, there are the runners, clickers and bloaters. All of which post unique challenges and need to be addressed differently. Oh, and clickers are just terrifying. Prepare for them to kill you, a lot. However, once you get the hang of it (or have the supplies), they become a bit easier to kill. Truly, the most insidious enemies are the humans. They’re armed and dangerous, and as the story progresses you grow to despise what remains of humanity.
This becomes a play on the title of the game: The Last of Us. What of humanity actually remains when survival has been the only goal for so many years? What moral or societal standards can survive? It’s not about the last of the humans, but the last of ‘Us’.
The design of the game is flawless. The developers so far outdid themselves. Not only is the world precise and impressive, the characters are as well. From subtle “unconscious” movements to facial expressions, every detail is seamless and spot-on. And I’m not just talking about Joel and Ellie – every character, good or bad, is lovingly created and designed with incredible attention to detail. Even the numerous enemies are unique; they may fall into the “faceless bad guy” aspect of the game in the sense that you will kill a whole bunch of them, but they are well designed and even voiced so that it doesn’t feel like you’re killing the same five guys over and over. The music also plays a particular role in adding to the atmosphere of the game, right from the moment you turn it on until the credits roll.
I was transfixed by the game, truly loved playing it. It is definitely my game of the year, if not my game of the PS3. That said, there were some very, VERY minor things that irritated me. Caution, minor spoilers present, so only click to read if you are okay with that.
1) Ellie is immune to the infection, and the whole purpose of the game is to get her to a research facility/hospital to see if she is the cure. This premise seems a bit trite in a game that is anything but clichéd.
2) For the most part, the AI is spot on. However, Bill (a character you meet after leaving Boston) can be very frustrating to have as “help”. He seems to only really adopt the “shoot everything” approach and is not proficient at sneaking past clickers. He lead me to my death on a few occasions.
3) While most of the controls and QTEs were seamless and beautifully done, there were occasional moments where ladders wouldn’t place unless you stood in the exact right location, or certain interactions were also less than forgiving if you weren’t placed correctly – no matter what I did I could not interact with the giraffe at the end, for example.
That said, these were such minor problems that they really could barely even be called such. The game is so impressive, it almost seems like nit-picking to even mention them – like I’m looking for something bad to say about a game that is, truly, fantastic.