The Last of Us may well be the pinnacle of this generation’s games. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on, and in so many ways. It transcends everything that previous Naughty Dog games have been and is maybe, in some respects, what they’ve tried to be. The story that the Last of Us tells isn’t necessarily a new story, especially in movies, but it is a new perspective. Never before in this sort of tale does the viewer, or in this case player, become so intimately intertwined with the two main protagonists.
In the Last of Us the world has gone to shit. The remaining survivors are just that. Survivors. Now living in a world devoid of the societal norms where it is once again survival of the fittest in its purest form. The law of the land appears to be decreed by those with the biggest guns and in between these pockets of life is the hollow shell of civilization infested with the infected. A fungal plague has broken out destroying the society we know leaving only those hard enough to survive. This is where we start our journey with the main character Joel. The story, is perhaps, the most powerful I have ever experienced in a video game. The character work going on throughout the game is high level movie-like stuff. The characters have depth and the voice talent is spell-binding. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson do oscar worthy performances in their roles of Joel and Ellie respectively. I relished every cut-scene not just because of the beautiful lighting and textures but because it added exposition to the story. The pacing is excellent and if someone hasn’t spoiled it, there are some really special surprises.
From a pure mechanics aspect, the game is probably the best that Naughty Dog has released on the PlayStation 3. The gunplay feels pretty standard for a third person shooter and not unlike those of previous Naughty Dog games but it is different. There’s a greater sense of realism and more feedback. The aiming reticle will contract and expand to give a sense of accuracy/spread and weapons flying on a trajectory feature a telestrated arc with a highlighted spot to indicate its impact point. Movement is smooth with wonderful smooth animations. Navigating the terrain is intuitive and for the most part extremely easy. I only really found ladders to be a bit of a headache and I actually feel bad mentioning it because it was such a minor complaint. The new cover system is perfect for the style of play, and as a survival game, where Joel is pitted against multiple enemies and often severely outnumbered, stealth is an important aspect. Sneaking, and more importantly killing sneakily (is that even a word?) is the order of the day. Unlike a lot of cover system Joel is not stuck to any surface and can move freely in a crouched position up to and around objects in a way that I would like more games to emulate.
The Last of Us gives players enough weapons to provide variety and flexibility in the way players will approach scenarios but with the limited amounts of ammunition, melee combat turned out to be my bread and butter. Creeping around and behind cover to take out my enemies quietly was how I got down and dirty most of the time when it came to enemy engagements. Joel has the ability to choke out unsuspecting targets but their coughs and gasps in the throes of death will alert enemies within ear shot. If, however, you have a shiv to stick in their neck… Problem solved. When I had to engage from distance, guns came more into play but I often opted for the bow and arrow to maintain my hidden position.
There are a variety of guns at Joel’s disposal. The hunting rifle makes short work of enemies at distance while the 9mm automatic and revolver are more suited to medium range engagements. Guns are limited, however, by ammunition which has to be scavenged and that makes every shot precious. I felt a great deal of stress when I fired my weapons as I felt like I had to make every shot count. Every miss was usually followed by a few curse words from irritation at my failure to hit the target and while ammunition cannot be crafted there are many things that can be.
As a survival game, resources are important. Resources are essential to be able to craft items which can be utilized in a variety of situations. Joel has the ability to craft a variety of very useful items. Med-kits, molotov cocktails, shivs and bombs can be crafted from the crafting menu which when pulled up does not pause the action in the game, thus it becomes vital to find a safe place when opting to use it. All of the craft-able items in Last of Us are created using the base resources that are collected throughout the levels in the game. Blades, cloth, alcohol, explosives, sugar and binding/tape are the six resources that all of the items are made from. For example, blades and explosives will make a spike bomb but blades and binding will also make a shiv which can be used to take out an enemy quietly or open a locked door. Likewise, alcohol and rags can be used to make a med-kit or a molotov cocktail so decisions of what to craft can be vital to Joel and Ellie’s survival.
The multiplayer is well done. Matchmaking is extremely easy. The ability to party up with friends is also still available. Players will choose a faction at the start, either Hunters or Fireflys, and then try to build a clan of survivors. Although the survivors are mere dots on part of the multiplayer hub, players can link to their Facebook accounts to give them names of their friends. Games become scavenger missions where parts, the multiplayer currency, is converted into rations and supplies at the end of the match for your clan’s survivors. There are two game modes, Survivors and Supply Run. Supply Run is team deathmatch. The team to run out of respawn tickets first loses, while Survivors is essentially the same but there are no respawn tickets so when you’re dead, you’re dead for the round. The gameplay from the single player is adapted to multiplayer really well. Joel’s listening ability, to hear enemy sounds through walls and track them, has been wonderfully converted into the multiplayer game and is extremely well balanced as it can be exhausted so that it can’t be abused and spammed. Like other popular shooters, players have preset loadouts they can opt into or build their own. As they progress, more player abilities or feats are unlocked and the number of loadout points are expanded expanded. To further balance the game, each ability and weapon carried into battle costs ability points so players will have to think carefully when creating a custom loadout so that their abilities compliment their play styles.
Without any exaggeration whatsoever, the Last of Us is perhaps my favorite game on the PlayStation 3. It is, without a doubt, one of the must own exclusives that has to be in your PS3 library. The journey it will take you on is such a memorable one and all of the emotions that come along with it is what makes it such a powerful experience. It might possibly be my favorite game ever, and that’s saying quite a lot.