The Last of Us comes to us by way of Naughty Dog, the fine folks behind Crash, Jak and Daxter and more recently, Uncharted. In The Last of Us, we see Naughty Dog go in a completely different direction. One filled with death, horror, gritty reality and uncertainty. Is Naughty Dog's take on the post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak a ride worth taking? Absolutely.
It's 20 years after a viral outbreak has brought humanity to its knees. Small pockets of government controlled areas still cling to hope behind walled-off areas or cites. Resistance groups scavenge the lands looking for supplies and do what needs to be done to survive. Anyone else is either dead or infected. It's a bleak world. One of seemingly no hope as humanity is hanging on by a thread. The Cordyceps virus has ravaged the world turning people into zombie like creatures.
You play as Joel. A man who has lived through the beginning of these terrible events. A man that now makes his living as a black-market dealer selling weapons and drugs. He is older and wiser, but also broken, and you really get a sense that he has seen and done some awful stuff that weighs on him more everyday. Joel is tasked with transporting a package to a group known as the Fireflys who are stationed across the country. The package? Well the package is a young girl named Ellie. Ellie is 14 years old. She has only seen the world as it stands now. She doesn't know what the world was like pre-outbreak and because of this, there are many interesting conversations between the two.
I'm not going into detail with the story due to spoiler but I will say this. The story is amazing. It will put you through a wide range of emotions and your jaw will drop a few times. The main thing I want to get through is the character interaction. The interactions between Joel and Ellie are some of the best interactions between characters that I have ever seen in a videogame. This relationship only grows as the game moves forward and I think its fair to say these two steal the show. There are many other characters in the game, some of which play major roles, and they are all interesting and very well acted as well.
The game is very much a survival horror game. You will traverse across many various levels and while doing so, you will scavenge for supplies to help you survive. You will then run into either gangs or infected. Each encounter feels different but equally stressful (in a good way). You can use either a more action approach or stealth approach. The more trigger happy approach will use up your resources fast and more than likely leave you dead pretty quickly. There is a high emphasis on stealth. You can stealth kill just about everything in the game and it's a great way to save and build up your resources. The great thing about the stealth is that once you are spotted, you can quickly move around and get back into stealth. The enemies will be aware of your presence but will not know where you exactly are.
There are two main types of enemies. The hunters, who are people who will do anything to survive, and the infected. Each also have various enemy types. You will run into way more hunters than infected but I see this as a good thing. Run-ins with the infected never get old and are equally scary, tense and stressful each and every time. With the infected, stealth is key as Joel cannot take much before he dies. Once you set them off, be prepared for a fight. I will say that sneaking through a dark room full of them can be one of the most stressful things I've had to do in gaming. You don't want to fight these things and any sound or wrong move will set them off.
Joel has a wide range or equipment options to help deal with enemies. There are a decent number of guns in the game along with smoke bombs, molotov cocktails, a bow and various other things. Ammo for the guns are always scarce so you will have to think out your approach to each battle more carefully. You can craft bombs and shivs to help you through but the most important item may just be the bottle or brick. These can be used to throw at enemies to stun them or used to lure them away from the scene allowing you to sneak past. Use these. The game has not shortage of them so don't be afraid to throw many of them.
The bottles and bricks also come in handy if you pair them with the "Listening" skill. Joel's listening ability is basically "detective mode" from the Arkham games. You will be able to see enemies through walls, so long as they are moving. This lets you plan out your attacks. If the enemies aren't moving, throw a bottle or brick to get them to make a sound. As soon as they do, you will see them. It's very useful and a skill I recommend upgrading right away.
Another important item is the shiv. These can be used to quickly and quietly stealth kill enemies. You can also strangle them but this takes longer and makes some noise. Shivs are extremely important when dealing with the clickers. The clicker is an enemy who sees using sound. When you hear them "click" that means they are listening to their surroundings. These guys can only be stealth killed if you have a shiv. If you don't have a shiv, and they grab you, they will instantly kill you. Shivs can also be used to open locked doors. Behind these doors usually contains ammo, supplies and collectibles. But do you want to use the shiv on a door? or save them for encounters with clickers? It's a nice balancing act that I found myself wishing I did one and not the other countless times.
The game does that balancing act well. Each item that you can craft has certain things you need in order to make it. Usually you will have two options and you will need to choose one or another in most cases. Example: should you make a health kit or a molotov cocktail? You really got to think of what you NEED before you make it. There were a few times that I could make many items because I hoarded supplies the entire game but that depends on your play style. If you play it slow and easy while always exploring for supplies, you shouldn't have too much of an issue crafting items. However you do have a limit on items you can carry. You can't sit there and have 99 rags or 50 bottles of alcohol.
The act or crafting items of switching guns is done in real time. This creates a sense of urgency. In an pinch and need to heal? Better hide and find and good spot because this leave you open for an attack.
You can also upgrade Joel and his weapons by collecting supplies and pills. The pills are used to upgrade Joel's skills such as max health, crafting speed, healing speed and the ever so useful listening skill. You will also salvage parts from the world that can be used to upgrade the reload speed, ammo capacity, range and more for your guns. I was very thorough in my playthrough and was nowhere near maxing anything out. And even though you can upgrade Joel, it never feels like you become a powerful killing machine. At all times, the game makes you feel weak and vulnerable. You are no videogame superhero. You're a normal guy.
The actual act of movement will feel similar to those who played the Uncharted series. Some might have issues with how loose the gunplay can be, but I feel that it fits perfectly in The Last of Us. It creates a sense of tension and can stress you out during skirmishes. Some may see that as a negative, but I feel that is fits the tone of the game. The melee in the game works decently enough however some enemies will grab you right through your melee animation. That can be frustrating.
Throughout your journey you will always have Ellie by your side. So yes, this is an escort mission in full game form. It's not bad though. For one, you get the awesome character iteration between the two and two, Ellie really helps you out in fights later in the game. Is she in danger when your fighting enemies? Not really however there are times she can be grabbed. If you don't save her quickly she can die resulting in game over. However, the enemy usually doesn't grab her too often. I will say that she isn't totally invisible in battles like Elizabeth in Bioshock: Infinite. She will throw bottles and distract enemies and sometimes even kill enemies for you.
My one lone problem with the games comes by way of the A.I. though. At times they will get in your way. I can't tell you how many times I tried to get through a door only for Ellie to stand there and not move. It does get pretty annoying and happens way too much. The A.I. can also break the immersion sometimes. You will be sneaking through a dark room full of infected and Ellie will run around, knocking stuff over and sometimes run right into the enemy. This doesn't alert the enemy or ruin your stealth which is kind of silly but the alternative would be a more frustrating experience. It does break the immersion a bit. Nothing major but something you will notice.
The game also come with a multiplayer mode. You have two game mode. One is 4v4 that is round based. Each round your only given 1 life and first team to 5 wins. The other is similar but gives each team more respawns but as players die, the teams ticket count dwindles. First team to deplete the other teams tickets wins.
The multiplayer does a few cool things to actually mix it up. First of all, the multiplayer has the full crafting component from the single player. You will have to scavenge the maps for ingredients to craft bombs or heath kits. Ammo is also very limited but can be bought on the fly using parts you collect by scavenging or assisting your team. The really awesome thing is the overall metagame. The better you do in matches the more people enter your clan. However, the bigger your clan gets, the better you must do each match. The overall goal is to reach 12 weeks. Each match counts as 1 day. This creates a sense of urgency knowing that if you don't do well enough each match ans collect enough resources, people in your clan will die. There is a chance you may not make it to 12 weeks. A neat feature is that it connects with your Facebook and uses your friends names in your clan.
The multiplayer also features a whole suite of loadout options. You can choose a wide range of weapons, perks and customization features. Veterans of the Uncharted multiplayer will have an easier transition into The Last of Us but there still is a bit of a learning curve. You must take it slow and easy just like the single player. You do not last long. Once you find your footing, the multiplayer is fun and engaging.
The Last of Us is a game that makes you wonder if we even need new consoles. It looks and sounds amazing. Every aspect of the presentation is top-notch. The graphics are the best we have seen this generation and the detail given on each character is stunning. The facial animations shine and stand up there as the best in the business. The environments look gorgeous and Naughty Dogs attention to the little things is truly something to behold. When you play, take in the environments. Explore everything, it's worth it.
The sound work is also brilliant. Every single voice actors nails there roles. Joel and Ellie are obvious stand-out but each actor could win an award for the work he/she did. The original score perfectly sets the dreary mood.
Before I wrap it up, I will say this. The Last of Us may not be for everyone. The difficulty can be brutal at times and the game is extremely violent. If you are someone who casually plays games for fun or someone who is easily offended by extreme gore or language, The Last of Us may not be for you. The story can also put a major toll on you emotionally. I was physically and emotionally drained at the end of my 12 hour playthrough. However, you you want a good story and don't mind the violence, or are somebody just looking for a great survival horror game, do not miss this game.
The Last of Us is an amazing game from top to bottom. It tells one of the darkest yet satisfying tales ever told in gaming. Every character is well acted and the game looks gorgeous. With a 12-15 hour campaign (depending on play style) and an addicting multiplayer feature, this is a game that will be in your PS3 for some time. If you don't have a PS3 I suggest buying one for this game. It's that good.
Pros: + Amazing Story
+ Phenomenal Characters (Esp. Joel and Ellie)
+ Great Gameplay
+ Satisfying Stealth
+ Good Crafting System
+ Addicting Multiplayer
+ Looks and Sounds Great
Cons: - A.I. Can at Times Break Immersion or Get in Your Way