The Last Of Us
Set in a post apocalyptic future where a fungal spore-based infection decimated most of humankind, The Last of Us is a tale of loss, survival and perseverance. The protagonist, Joel lost his daughter during the initial outbreak 20 years earlier, so when he is asked to smuggle a teenage girl out of a policed quarantine zone and deliver her to some rebels he is less than thrilled. Although Joel reluctantly agrees to the job things quickly turn sour, which leaves him and the girl, named Ellie facing a long journey where they have to depend on each other for survival.
The infected creatures that you face in The Last of Us might seem like typical zombies, but don’t expect the slow, shuffling corpses that you see in shows like The Walking Dead. Instead you will be facing “Runners” that hunt in packs using their speed and sheer ferocity to overwhelm you and “Clickers” that hunt you with echolocation. Clickers are practically blind though, which is your only advantage as you usually have very little bullets and they are not that effective against these monstrosities in any case. Of course, as is the norm in any good post apocalyptic tale you will also encounter plenty of human bandits who will think nothing of killing you just so that they can loot your corpse.
While it is by no means a huge variety of foes, they all act differently and have to be dealt with differently which makes each encounter very tense. Runners can usually be dispatched with any firearms or melee weapon, provided they don’t corner and overwhelm you, but Clickers have to be handled a bit more carefully. As they are blind, you can use stealth to stay out of their way and throw objects such as bricks and bottles to distract them while you creep to safety. Your human foes are the most intelligent, and surprisingly enough numerous so you will rarely walk away from a bandit encounter without losing some health. Humans know how to make good use of cover, flank you and work together to flush you out before riddling you with bullet holes. While this makes the battles quite challenging, it also makes each victory that much more satisfying. By holding down a button you can also instruct Joel to keep an ear open for enemies, which drains the color from the world and outlines any enemies that are making a noise. This is an incredibly useful ability, but you can still be caught off guard by blundering into a completely silent enemy like the creepy Stalkers. There are sadly no “boss” encounters although the tough as nails “Bloaters” with their spore launching attacks will give you lots of grief. Ellie is by your side during most battles, but she has the sense to stay out of the way or even distract enemies to help you out. Many a great game has been ruined by disastrous AI companions that you have to constantly babysit so I think Naughty Dog did a good job with her character.
When you are not desperately fighting for survival you get to explore the incredible gameworld that is packed with detail. In the aftermath of the infection nature has slowly started to reclaim the world so you will see towns and cities overrun with wild growth and the wreckage of a lost era. Subway tunnels have turned into rivers and buildings are slowly being torn apart by creeping vines and decay. While you are generally advancing through these locations on a linear path, the game does a great job in making you feel like each area is more open than what it really is. You’ll want to explore every nook and cranny to collect the crafting materials needed to make your own bandages, bombs, shivs and Molotov cocktails. The puzzles in the game also feel natural and fits in with the environments so there are no silly hunts for unusual objects or special keys if your way is blocked. Ellie cannot swim so you’ll have to use floating pallet to maneuver her across deeper pools of water or boost her up to higher ledges to lower down ladders for Joel. None of the puzzles will really leave you scratching your head, but there is usually same banter between Joel and Ellie during these quieter moments which keeps things interesting.
Speaking of conversations, the dialogue and voice acting in The Last of Us is simply amazing. Troy Baker as Joel and Ashley Johnson as Ellie both do a great job with their characters and effortlessly create an emotional bond with players. Joel is a very interesting character as he is not your typical action hero who selflessly does everything for everyone else with no thought for his own wellbeing. The man has been through hell and back so he does not shy away from violence if it is necessary. If you have ever been frustrated with action heroes who spares everyone’s lives no matter what they did to him you will like Joel. He might try to keep Ellie at a distance because of how he lost his daughter, but once they begin to bond his protective instincts really kicks in. All I can say is that there are some truly heart wrenching scenes, especially if you have children of your own. I don’t think the emotional impact would have been as good if the two actors didn’t do such a fantastic job with the voice-overs. The music by Gustavo Santaolalla is also really good and it is great that he shied away from the typical horror type soundtrack one would expect.
The Last of Us is a PS3 exclusive so the only way to play it is with a controller, which depending on how much PC games you play, does feel a bit awkward at times, especially when it comes to precision shooting. The cover based shooting mechanics work great though, and switching between your long range, short range and melee weapons are easy enough. What makes the combat, especially the melee attacks even more brutal is the excellent animations. Enemies recoil in pain when struck and the way that you can choke, slam or stab enemies to death is as satisfying as it is wince-worthy. Along the way you will be able to upgrade your weapons at special work benches using collectibles from the gameworld as well as improve Joel’s skills in areas such as health, crafting and health.
The Last of Us is an absolutely incredible game that should be experienced by everyone that owns a PS3. While there are some things about it that can be criticized individually, as a whole it is an unforgettable experience filled with awesome scenes and outstanding characters. It took me about 16 hours to complete the game and I was hooked from start to finish. It is not a game where you can just rush into a room and take down hordes of enemies (unless if you play it on the easiest mode perhaps) but one where even an “ordinary” enemy can kill you if you are caught off guard or become complacent. The action scenes force you to keep on your toes, while the more mellow sections are punctuated by great dialogue and incredible visuals. Naughty Dog has done some incredible work in the past, but with The Last of Us they really outdid themselves, which is saying a lot.
*Review originally published in 2013.