This month is my “Month of Uncharted” and I’ve mostly been playing through Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection; a series of remasters of the original Uncharted trilogy released on PS3 but now remade into 1080p and 60fps on PS4. Whilst not part of the series, or in fact having anything whatsoever to do with Uncharted, The Last of Us is another game by the same studio (Naughty Dog) which builds on the things they learnt whilst creating the games of Nathan Drake and Co. Created using a modified version of the Uncharted 2 engine, The Last of Us: Remastered was an experiment to see what remastering a game onto the PS4 was like, and likely paved the way for the Uncharted collection. Released in 2013, it was only a year later and after receiving over two hundred awards that The Last of Us was ported over to the fledgling PS4, which at the time was suffering a drought of new content. When it originally came out on PS3 I wasn't in the mood for another third-person-shooter, or another "zombie game" and so passed it up vowing to pick it up later in a price drop. Eventually I got around to owning the game but that's where the PS3 version and me end our brief relationship, as shortly afterwards the remastered version was announced and so I traded it away without even loading up the disc! It was months that I picked it up again for full price on PS4, and this time immediately set about playing it. While I don't regret the roundabout way I eventually came to play The Last of Us, part of me now realises what an absolutely spectacular game I missed out on years ago.
The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic survival-horror action-adventure game, which is quite different to how I expected it to be; if you combined The Road, Twelve Monkeys and 28 Days Later you'd end up with something not too dissimilar to what you'll find here. Also, notice that strictly speaking none of those references have "zombies" in them. In this video game, the human race has been ravaged by a mutated strain of cordyceps fungus, a parasitic infection that eats away at your brain and soft tissue until it kills you and turns you into a crop of spore spreading mushrooms! Those affected by the fungus display aggressive violent behaviour and the spores can also be spread through bodily fluids like saliva. Playing as Joel, an unhinged survivor of the apocalypse, you're tasked with escorting a young girl called Ellie through the overrun former civilization of mankind in order to find the "Fireflies", a terrorist cell looking to synthesize a cure. Along the way you'll encounter your fair share of cordyceps-afflicted monstrosities, but the majority of the time it's the human element that is the true source of horror and I felt like of all the influences it was The Road which was the most influential upon the world and narrative. This game does a fantastic job of actually making you feel as if you're trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, and I spent a good portion of the game simply exploring the environment and scraping together whatever resources I could get to help Ellie and Joel stay alive. There is a fair amount of shooting/fighting in The Last of Us if you want there to be, but the game often presents you with sandbox environments allowing you to choose sneaking as a viable alternative if you're not into gunplay. This is felt strongest in the survival-horror sections of the game, as you crawl about in the dark, desperate not to make any noise and draw the ire of the "clickers" (heavily mutated final-stage hosts of the cordyceps).
When it was originally released on PS3, this game pushed the aging hardware to its limits, and while it looked spectacular it didn't always maintain a steady framerate or completely do the vision of the design team justice. In its remastered state, The Last of Us on PS4 looks great, with high detail models (taken from the cutscenes) and richly textured complex environments all running at a silky smooth 1080p unlocked-60fps, finally delivering the experience as intended. Although, it’s worth pointing out that unlike the Uncharted collection, The Last of Us: Remastered doesn’t always hold a solid 60fps and often dips down under load. For this reason there is an included option to lock the game at 30fps like the original version on PS3 - personally though I never noticed the odd framerate drop and left it at unlocked-60fps. While it's not as breathtaking as true current-gen titles, like the upcoming Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, it still looks and sounds fantastic. On the subject of sound design, the game's music is brilliantly atmospheric and moody, fitting the scenes and feel of the game perfectly, whilst the voice acting is absolutely fantastic – especially Troy Baker as Joel.
Really though, all these things I've mentioned so far are the icing on the fungal cordyceps cake, and the reason this game received over two hundred awards is almost completely down to its story and characters. While I've been swept away by stories in video games before, The Last of Us is probably the best written and realised use of this medium yet, rivalling books or films in terms of complex characterisation and storytelling without removing 'player agency' from the equation. The two leads of Joel and Ellie are so rounded and enriched by deep exposition that you really get a feel for how they'll react and experience events in the plot. The game has also been praised for its treatment of homosexuality, especially in the additional content included with this remastered release, and it really feels like an adult video game not just a "dude-bro" adult-rated but essentially juvenile tale. By the end of the meandering narrative, which takes our protagonists right across apocalypse-ravaged America, you will have had your heart-strings tugged on, yanked on, and severed before reaching what is one of the most *perfect* conclusions to a narrative I've ever seen. In fact, the story in this video game is so good that they immediately optioned a movie adaptation. Don't wait for the film version though, the reason that The Last of Us works so well is because of the strengths of this medium; a video game. To remove the player agency from this experience will be to diminish the connection that you, the player, have with the protagonists and really this is something that must be experienced not watched. One of the best games on the PS3, now one of the best on the PS4, and one of the best video games full stop.