GAME NAME: The Last of Us
DEVELOPER(S): Naughty Dog
GENRE(S): Action-Adventure Survival Horror
RELEASE DATE(S): 14 June 2013
Welcome to America, post-apocalypse America to be precise, an infected world inhabited by people who have, themselves, been infected by a deadly disease that turns them utterly deranged. You think you have seen it all before; you have seen nothing quite like this. The world is as vast as it is empty, and struggling. But there is some life, and where there is life there is always hope. That doesn’t mean there always should be though.
From the get-go, The Last of Us draws gamers in. The prologue is set up to do its absolute best to get you to care about Joel, the main character in the game. In what is one of the finest game introductions you will probably experience, you realise what it means to have to survive. And that’s before the so called apocalypse has even begun.
Fast-track 20 years later, and the world is a remarkably different place, but some things don’t change as Joel is still trying to survive. In fact, just getting by is what matters most. In this world however, a means of survival isn’t always easy and is almost always illegal, but everyone must do what they can. Even while contained within quarantine zones, there are means and ways to get out and get what you need; ration cards only go so far in a month and more is required.
By chance, Joel and his friend Tess encounter a fallen Firefly (an anti-government group constantly searching for a cure) Marlene, who, coincidentally, has just acquired all the guns and ammo that used to belong to Joel and Tess. Marlene agrees to give them their weapons back in exchange for a favour. They must smuggle out a 14-year-old girl to an awaiting group of Fireflies. This sets us out on what is, quite possibly, the greatest adventure gaming has ever seen.
I am not afraid to say that so early on in the review, because I firmly believe it to be true, but I also don’t want to say anything more about the story; spoilers remember. But be assured that from start to finish, you will be captivated and enticed into experiencing so many emotions; sadness, happiness, frustration, terror, different forms of intensity, fear and many more all awakened by The Last of Us.
The Last of Us just does everything so well. If you enjoy a story driven game filled with enduring characters, even more memorable moments and a generally well constructed character progression then this is the game for you. The story keeps you guessing; the moments and events in the game keep you wanting more; and the characters are brought to life so well that you simply cannot help but care about what happens to Joel and Ellie.
The Last of Us doesn’t only do the story and character gig well however, the gameplay is also pretty astounding in itself. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, as you might expect, ammo is an obvious commodity and needs to be treated as such. Yes, you do end up getting an impressive little armoury by game’s end, but you very rarely have enough ammo to back it up. If one gun is full, another is most certainly empty, and if you do get to a point where you have saved some ammo, you will be thrown into a position where you probably won’t be able to hold onto it for long.
These sorts of scenarios is what makes the need for scrounging around so desirable. In all of the dilapidated buildings, which range from old hotels to coffee shops, you will find many items that will aid you in your journey. Sometimes, you will find extra ammo or, very rarely, a new gun. At other times, you will find manuals which teach you to craft weapons as well as the pieces needed to construct said weapons. Joel can also learn to craft various tools with which to help him. These include nail bombs, Molotov Cocktails, medical kits, shivs, smoke bombs and also the ability to put an ‘edge’ on a melee weapon.
Melee weapons you ask? Joel can find and make use of many an item lying around, should he get tired of punching everyone in the face that is. Again, these weapons range from bricks and bottles to lead pipes and baseball bats, but they are to be used sparingly as they eventually break from overuse. The options regarding the combat are what make the game so well balanced. Whether you take the stealth route or the ‘not so stealthy route’ you will be rewarded. Either way however, and in spite of what your instincts may tell you, the game isn’t meant to be a straight out shooter, and there certainly are more pros to going the stealth path where possible.
The enemies are also varied. There are your normal humans, called hunters who are also trying to survive and will take you out for whatever reason; they’ll find a reason. There is the military who want you taken out because you’re outside of the quarantine zone. And then there are the infected. The infected are those who lost their humanity, thanks to the disease, and are the cause of the apocalypse.
Furthermore, and with regards to the infected, there are multiple variations you’re going to have to deal with. You have runners, those that will attack you as soon as they see you. There are also bloaters; bloaters have been infected for so long that they are more disease than human and so can throw out little infected bombs at you. Lastly, you have clickers which are probably the trickiest of the lot. Clickers have no sight and only detect based on sound; if they get hold of you then it’s pretty much the end of Joel. What this all boils down to is that you need to be strategic when dealing with them, failure to do so will almost certainly result in your demise. However, while being quiet is all well and good, moving around too slowly will probably lead you to being spotted by runners. And that’s where tactics and patience come in, two things you will need to get through many of the areas presented to you, and it only adds to the already tense setting.
The Last of Us is not perfect however, while the game emphasizes exploration and variation on how to take on your foes, it also brings about the game’s biggest issue, and that is with the AI. While you mostly control Joel, Ellie aids you when needed and follows you around so that she doesn’t get left behind. More than once, when a clicker or human enemy was nearby, she would make a noise or walk straight into the enemy’s sight with the enemy AI failing to react at all. This is a little disappointing, especially from a game that does so well in every other aspect. Fortunately, it was not game breaking and didn’t happen so often that it couldn’t be overlooked.
The Last of Us does have a multiplayer suite (which sadly couldn’t be contained within this review as an online pass was not included within the press copy), but what you should know is that it contains two different options. One is a team based versus mode where you need to take out the opponents. The other is far more interesting as it has you banding with other online players and trying to survive for a number of weeks in the same post-apocalypse world.
To be honest, The Last of Us works just perfectly without the multiplayer. Furthermore, when you consider all the factors involved, the single player campaign is quite possibly the best current-generation game to be created. It has everything you could possibly want and then some. It really is a moving experience to play through a game such as The Last of Us. In terms of storytelling, it is undoubtedly one of the greats; its characters will endure within your heart and mind. And its gameplay, which is no slouch either, will keep you coming back for more. And to top it off, the graphical and musical presentation of The Last of Us is an amazing achievement throughout.
When I finished The Last of Us, I was emotionally exhausted; I felt as though I had been on this journey with Joel and Ellie throughout. I don’t recall ever feeling so invested in a video game, and that says just about everything. The Last of Us is a game everyone should play. It’s a game that shows we don’t even need next-gen just yet. Naughty Dog’s swan song to current-gen gaming has provided every gamer with something to look forward to. It may not be perfect, but it comes closer than anything else, and I feel privileged to have been given the chance to play it.