If there’s anything to be said about this current generation of consoles, it’s that there was never a short supply of post-apocalyptic games which painted a picture of a destroyed world with no hope. These types of games come bounding onto our consoles with a very familiar feel to each of them. However, this isn’t the case with Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. Now whilst it may look like the genero-wasteland survivor game many developers have promised us but have time and again failed to deliver the experience we desire, Naughty Dog has served up what they set out to do in a fantastic and spectacular fashion and I do not say that lightly. It’s highly unusual to state from the beginning how good a game is but The Last of Us might just be the finest game of this generation and everyone with a PlayStation 3 or at least access to one, owes it to themselves to play this game.
The Last of Us has a more than familiar backdrop not disimilar from many apocalyptic games, books or films but that’s not important. What really stands out here is just how tremendously high the quality of the narrative is. You play as Joel, a survivor of the Cordyceps pandemic that struck the world twenty years before the events of the game. A survivor is exactly what Joel is. He’s not an ex-solider which advanced combat training, he’s not a weapons expert or another one of your typical videogame hero types. In fact, it would be misguided to even describe Joel as a hero. Joel is a product of this world, he’s a survivor and there are many more like him as players will find out as the story develops. Joel is recruited by Marlene, a leader of a militia group known as the Fireflies to escort a young girl named Ellie to the rest of the Fireflies in the Western United States which is far easier said than done.
The latter of our two main characters Ellie, is also a product of this world though she was born into it. At the young age of 14, Ellie’s seen in her short time on this Earth what no person should ever have to see at all. However, despite having grown up in this destroyed world, she’s still a teenager so throughout this journey she’ll joke, she’ll gripe and she’ll crack wise. And that’s the best thing about Ellie, she’s an unbelievably human character.
Joel and Ellie are played by Troy Baker (Booker DeWitt, Bioshock Infinite) and Ashley Johnson (Amber Ahmed, The Killing) and both bring the characters to life in a way that few games or even films can do. The voice acting behind The Last of Us is of an extraordinarily high quality with the main cast and it’s equally as good with supporting cast. Naughty Dog is a developer known for its work with motion capture and acute detail to facial animation as it demonstrated with the Uncharted series. This method of game design makes a comeback in The Last of Us with the actors actually acting out scenes in addition to mere voice acting. Naughty Dog has always prided itself with manually animating the faces of its characters and once again, this game is no different as the smallest of facial movements will be seen on characters. Even the nameless enemies you’ll encounter on your way such as Hunters or stage one Infected will show intense desperation when you strangle them from behind as an example. All of this just adds to the atmosphere The Last of Us is to trying to get across.
The story behind The Last of Us itself isn’t unique but it was never meant to be. What makes this game are the conversations between characters and the way these people interact with each other in a world where society has collapsed both physically and socially. You’ll be walking through an area and Ellie will start humming music or Joel will be explaining what an ice-cream truck was back before the pandemic. These seemingly insignificant and non-important bouts of chit-chat make The Last of Us feel real and less like a video game.
The atmosphere of the game itself if you haven’t already noticed is a stark contrast to games we usually see from Naughty Dog. Known for their usual larger than life adventure stories with so many different things happening on the screen at once, the survival horror genre of The Last of Us is a grand departure from this studio’s back catalogue of games. By all accounts, this game could have failed with the developer jumping into unfamiliar territory but Naughty Dog has surprised even its oldest fans with what it can do.
The Last of Us is an emotional story that makes you feel horrible and depressed far more than it makes you feel pleasant. This isn’t a world where good things happen anymore. You have to do terrible deeds to ensure your survival and you have to look out for number one because no-one else will. The Last of Us will make you feel grossly uncomfortable at times but that’s why you’re along for the ride. This game is a harrowing tale about hope in a hopeless world where death comes in so many forms it’s hard to find something worth living for.
The Last of Us has some absolutely terrifying scenes to play through and most of these scares are delivered by one of the games two enemy groups; the Infected. The Infected are victims of the Cordyceps fungus which has ravaged the United States and has killed off a good sixty percent of the population. There are four kinds of Infected for players to dodge, avoid and kill. Without a doubt the most gruesome and fear invoking is the dreaded Clicker who is a Cordyceps victim with a few years of infection behind them. The fungus has grown from their skulls which has rendered them blind as it had broken through the cranium and the eyes but in return these monstrous creatures are to see through sound and have bat-like hearing. Players are encouraged to tackle Infected one-by-one if possible as when a Clicker gets a hold of you, it’s game over so caution is advised. What really allows the horror to excel in The Last of Us is that it doesn’t rely on cheap scares like other survival horror games on the market. Being in a room with six Clickers who can swarm you can kill you in one bite is far more terrifying than one popping out from behind a door in a pre-scripted event.
However, the Infected are predictable. They’re easily distracted if you know how to handle them correctly and if you’re successful you may be able to take out a bunch with a well placed molotov. In The Last of Us it’s the second enemy group you want to be really careful of. Humans provide some of the more tense combat in The Last of Us as they’re able to do what you do. Humans will come equipped with weapons such as bats, pipes, guns and knives and are essentially the other end of the spectrum to Joel. Like our two protagonists, humans are survivors. They’re alive in this world because they’ve killed to live into the next day. Your human enemies are cunning, they’ll hide behind cover when Joel has the upper hand but they also have a tendency to come after you when you’ve run out of ammo or have to stop to take a med-kit.
Combat in The Last of Us is desperate. It’s not about how many enemies you can take down with endless amounts of ammo, it’s about surviving just long enough to make it to the end of an encounter and then you have to worry about what comes next. Supplies don’t come easy in the game so it’s up to you to make sure Joel and Ellie survive. Fighting off a group of enemies with a gun alone will work fine but you don’t know when you’ll next come across some ammunition. Instead you may want to take out one or two enemies with a gun and handle the rest with a baseball bat. As you move around the world you’ll come across supplies you can you to craft items. You can craft objects such as med-kits with bandages and rubbing alcohol or you could use the same ingredients to make a molotov cocktail. However, all of this crafting is done in realtime so you will want to find a safe place to do it if you’re in an encounter.
As you accumulate supplies you’ll also come across parts which will allow you up upgrade weapons. Such upgrades include increasing your pistol’s rate of fire and making a second holster for your rifle or shotgun.
Accompanying great acting, frightening enemies and intense combat is the trademark high level of visual quality Naughty Dog delivers with every new game instead The Last of Us is of such a hugh caliber you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a PC game instead of a PlayStation 3 exclusive. The tiniest details in this world just add more and more to make it feel like you’ve entered a real place instead of looking at your TV. From light shining through Joel’s hair to the smallest scratch on Ellie’s face, The Last of Us will have you gaping in awe at the screen like no other game on the platform. This game is gorgeous to say the least.
The Last of Us also sports a multiplayer mode which many including myself, didn’t see coming. The multiplayer, whilst the game could have easily have done without it, is a pleasant addition to the game. Well, not so pleasant given the themes of this title. The Last of Us’ multiplayer is a lot less like Uncharted’s open combat and has instead opted for an approach more akin to the human combat in the single-player. Players will be sneaking around a map instead of charging around guns blazing. To cover more ground you’ll be able to spring but you’ll make yourself visible to the enemies listen mode which is also in the single-player. Listen mode allows players to see through walls and glimpse the sounds their enemy makes though it multiplayer its use is limited.
When booting up multiplayer you’ll have to pick one of two factions, the Hunters or the Fireflies. When you have you faction selected you’ll have a group survivors to accomodate for although you’ll never actually see them. Like the single-player’s, supplies are sparse so you’ll have to find them. Although there are items lying around the map you can you to craft with, the most useful loot is from the bodies of your enemies. You can then get the items you get and turn them into parts and parts buy you guns, ammo, armour and perks. While The Last of Us’s multiplayer has only two modes, there’s still fun to be had. As a gamer who isn’t typically a big fan of competitive online play to begin with, I was able to get an enjoyable afternoon out of the game’s multiplayer and I’d still go back to play it.
The Last of Us’s multiplayer isn’t groundbreaking but there’s nothing wrong with it. An argument could be made for it not needing to be there in the first place but it’s really a matter of apples and oranges if you’re having that debate.
As good as it is and like all games, The Last of Us isn’t perfect. There are a few AI hiccups here and there but the whole package is just so neatly polished it’s hard to really knock Naughty Dog down a notch when you actually play the game. A couple of times I saw friendly AI run past a Clicker without it noticing but oddly it didn’t break the tension so these few problems really didn’t bother me in my playthrough of about 14 hours. Like another game, The Last of Us has the same “video-game” problems like the odd disappearing body to occasional headshot resistant enemy but The Last of Us takes what other games do and does it far better than anything else so unless you’re expressly looking to nitpick, these issues won’t bother you in the slightest.
I’m just going to have to come right out and say it: The Last of Us is without a doubt the PlayStation 3’s best game. In seven years of brilliant games for this console I have never come across a game that has made me experience feelings like I did in The Last of Us.
The Last of Us packs a punch with astonishing characters you care so much about. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into too much detail but it was late one night and I got to a certain point that kept me up a further hour or two because I just had to find out what happened next. I was a melting pot of emotions with this game. I would often feel immense sadness for the people living in this horrible yet fascinating and real world Naughty Dog has created. At other times I would experience terror at the hands of the Infected, I would feel invasive tension when fighting humans just like me. However, there are moments in The Last of Us where the terror subsides for a while and Ellie and Joel will be driving in a car together and they’ll be displaying human emotions I thought died along with many people thanks to the Cordyceps pandemic. Ellie cracking a joke with Joel shaking off his gruff attitude just long enough to laugh along with her made me feel so attached to these characters it was like I was there with them.
The truth is, there is so much I love about The Last of Us that a review cannot fully justify what I have to say. If I had endless amounts of time and my reader had endless amounts of patience I could tell you every little piece about The Last of Us that just makes it so special. The singular “problem” I had with the game didn’t even bother me although I was aware it could potentially bother others but with the package Naughty Dog has given us it doesn’t matter at all.
By the time the credits roll, The Last of Us will have moved you and you will seldom be able to deny the impact this game has. Naughty Dog has truly proven it’s the master of this craft we call game development that so many try their hand at.
I said it at the beginning of this review and I’ll say it again: if you own a PlayStation 3, you owe it yourself to play this game. It’s what the PlayStation 3 was made for. With the PlayStation 4 arriving later this year, The Last of us is the PlayStation 3’s swan song and it’s a great way to end the generation.
- Expertly crafted characters.
- The finest of performances.
- Compelling and testing gameplay.
- Terrifying Infected victims of the Cordyceps.
- Beautiful graphics.
- An all round solid game.
George Sinclair is an editor for Analog Addiction, the home of the latest news, reviews and previews. You can find George on Twitter and his blog on IGN. Be sure to follow the OFFICIAL Analog Addiction Twitter as well!