The Last Of Us is a new story driven, action/survival horror game from the Sony Computer Entertainment first party developer Naughty Dog. Naughty Dog have been praised for their games on every Sony platform most recently the Indiana Jones-esque pulp action adventure series Uncharted, This series gains unfathomable critical praise for its stunning visuals, well written stories and characters, great third person shooting as well as some challenging puzzles and climbing/parkour sections. Now for The Last of Us which is Naughty Dog’s swan song for the PlayStation 3 and a damn perfect swan song this is, a game which demonstrates the full graphical capability of the aging hardware while also delivering one of the most well written and acted, yes acted stories in gaming history. Now that you know that I already love the game lets get down to the nitty gritty and I’ll explain why this game is one of my favourites.
For The Last of Us this is its category where it truly shines and this is what Naughty Dog excelled at in Uncharted but has perfected with The Last of Us. The Last of Us’s story is almost a perfect video game analogue for the Cormack McCarthy book The Road. The Road is a post apocalyptic story which is known for its rather depressing and miserable overall story and world but two great and well written characters whom have to endure its harshness, both these stories also feature that their focus is more on the relations and trials of the characters rather than the world. Which is perfectly relevant to this story as almost nothing is explained about how either of these apocalyptic events occurred only that they happened and the characters now have to have to deal with it.
The two characters in this story are Joel, a man who has been twisted by the great loss of his former world, much more than any man should ever endure who is now a smuggler for hire, having done brutal things to his fellow man in order to survive. Joel is now a complete shell of his former self whose only reason to live on are his own will and determination. The other lead character is a young girl named Ellie who has never seen the pre-apocalyptic world and is instead a product of it. Ellie is an extremely strong, yet she has also been damaged all her life by her world and is distrusting of almost everyone and has an extremely strained relationship with everyone she has ever known, as all either died or left.
The one part of the presentation of this game which has me completely amazed is the detail of the motion capture on the body and face of the characters. This game presents some of the greatest performances in gaming history, as Joel and Ellie are brought completely to life by their actor and actress. Troy Baker (Bioshock Infinite,Batman Arkham Origins, a lot of anime) expertly voices and acts as the 40+ year old survivor Joel and Ashley Johnson, a relatively unknown actress, also does amazingly in one of her first video game roles. Know for the other part of the aesthetic the world itself, the last of us uses incredible levels of texture quality with a extremely well realized post apocalyptic United States. This game expertly uses lighting to created a new United States which feels like an empty shell of its former self which perfectly resonates what Joel’s personality is entirely about. Naughty Dog also perfectly demonstrates the structure of their world by showing that it is being slowly encroached and taken over by plants, which cover all the buildings in cities and brought the world to its knees, this also perfectly mirrors the infection which brought the people of the world to ruin. This virus is also expertly blended with fact and fiction as the virus is a plant-based infection from the Southern Americas called Cordyceps, which is a fungus that takes over the mind of insect hosts and in this universe the fungus has mutated and is now able to control humans. This incredible combination of stunning visuals, great world design and expert world and story building make The Last of Us’s presentation peerless. One thing before I end this section, Gustavo Santaolalla’s score perfectly reflects the feel of the game with expert precision, choosing to go with quiet and emotions single guitar plucking to emphasize the simplicity of the objective survival rather than a grandiose orchestral epic. There is only one minor gripe I have with the presentation, 30 FPS, which I understand on the ageing hardware and isn’t really noticeable so I’ll cut Naughty Dog some slack
Now for the game play which, unlike many games which have impressive presentation skills, doesn’t slouch at all when it comes to the game play department **ehemm** Bioshock Infinite which has lackluster shooting and mechanics compared to its predecessor. The Last of Us perfectly uses its game play to reinforce the narrative which is at the core of the game, such as one shooting mechanic is that Joel whom you play as is not a very good shot, which in a realistic game about real people it makes sense that you wouldn’t be piping the ace at 900 yards with your revolver. This not only adds to the realism but also reinforces the survival horror game play which is at the core of the look and feel of the game. Another aspect which also successfully reinforces this aspect is that you have to be able to sneak and hide when you are outnumbered, which makes you feel like you’re moments from death if you make the wrong choice (because you usually are).
This reinforces the overall narrative thread of the game which is that the world is a constant threat that you can never escape. Even with the infected roaming the ruins of the old world there is something much more terrifying, your fellow man, the reason for this is that these people are intelligent, work together and will stop at nothing to brutally kill you for your shoes. However there are a few minor gripes I have, such as the enemies not reacting to your companions and treating them as invisible until you are spotted even two feet in front of them, which when happens can break immersion completely and lead me to laugh out loud a good few times. Another gripe is that there are a few too many checkpoints which can kill the tension in some parts of the game if you know there are no consequences for you dying. Now for the more subtle parts of the game play such as having to scavenge ammo and other assorted supplies which are spread out in order for you to be able to always get through by the skin of your teeth, which keeps tension at a fever pitch. This mechanic also gives the player some aspect of choice which allows them to decide whether to increase damage output by crafting some Molotov cocktails, or play it safe by crafting some very important Med kits. This feature also allows the player to get cocky and comfortable so you run out of resources and can be chopped back down to size which further shows how unforgiving this world is. Now for the melee combat which is fast, brutal and lethal, which expertly demonstrates the morality and style of the world which your characters now live in. Such as when you strangle a fellow survivor, it’s incredibly dirty as the man is trying to struggle free as you are slowly choking the life out of a person in just a few seconds which makes you feel both a bad ass as a few times I did find myself saying **shh sh sh sh sleeeeep** to my own delight, but also makes you feel like a murderer and a survivor rather than Rambo. In Conclusion, the game play perfectly reflects both the style and narrative of the game while also providing a tense and action packed survival action horror experience, even if there are a few things which can kill the tension of the game play
Now for the final category, replayability, The Last of Us doesn’t really give you reason to want to replay its campaign, besides experiencing the story again, however you can play on new game+ and be able to play through the campaign with your fully upgraded Joel which can help you gain some more of the PSN trophies for the game. There are also a few collectibles such as the comics which Ellie is rather fond of, to the activatable conversations between Joel, Ellie and a multitude of side characters which you can do to flesh out the main characters as well as gain a platinum trophy. One thing that is worth at least trying is the “Survivor” difficulty which is unlocked after completing the game. This mode greatly increases damage which is done to Joel (almost all weapons are one or two hit shot kills) as well as reduces the amount of resources in the environment significantly, which means you will not be able to waste your resources and turns The Last of Us into a true survival horror experience. When you get your trophies for The Last of Us, you gain a currency which allows you to unlock aesthetic skins for Joel and Ellie, which can also add some flavor, but are not worth much and can also break immersion as the skins in the cut scenes can be different from the in-game scenes. Even though this section isn’t very long, there is some underlying replayability for The Last of Us’s single player which did tempt me to play through the campaign three times to completion.
And after all this content, The Last of Us still has its multi-player, now Naughty Dog is known for some throwaway multiplayer such as in Uncharted 3 which had a extremely basic and dull multiplayer feature set, however they have managed to surprise me with a multiplayer which not only creates a balanced and fun multiplayer arena but also features all the tension and world building which is present in the single player. This is done by having all of the features from the single player carry over to the multi player such as both of the factions you play as are major parts of the main story line, so you feel like your battles are located in the same world which prevents you from feeling detached. There is also a full unlock system with aesthetic and weapon upgrades which are all sold based on a rather creative currency, your group which constantly grows as you win games, however if you fail to do well your survivors will slowly die off and you will have to restart the unlock tree all over again, this system makes you feel like your actions have weight and also gives an element of tension to every multiplayer match. Conclusion Even though The Last of Us has some minor game play issues and a lack of single-player replayability, an excellent single player narrative, great gritty and realistic game play and surprisingly well-executed multiplayer carries Naughty Dog’s Magnum Opus and swan song to greatness and is a perfect send off for the PS3, the system which forged their unparalleled reputation.