Home > Gaming Wednesdays > The Last of Us – Review

The Last of Us – Review

I just finished playing The Last Of Us so I suppose I’d better write a quick review. This may be a little hastily put together because I originally had something else planned for today, but that’s been thrown out of the window into an incinerator because I just have to talk about this game.

If you don’t know, The Last Of Us is a PS3 exclusive title developed by highly-respected developers Naughty Dog, responsible for Jak & Daxter and Uncharted. It’s basically a zombie apocalypse game with a twist. You see, these zombies are created because of a cordyceps fungus. This is a real fungus that likes to burrow itself into ants’ brains. When it gets there, it will take over the ants’ thought processes before bursting through their heads at an appropriate time and releasing spores everywhere, repeating the process with more ants who happen to pass by. In the game, the fungus has mutated a strain that can do the same thing to humans, turning them into living zombies. Again, this is a real fungus, so have fun sleeping tonight thinking about that.

Told you!

Anyway, the game places us in the shoes of Joel, a grizzled man who lived at the time of the initial outbreak, twenty years before the main events of the game. Now he’s a cynical aging man living in a military quarantine zone, and he works as a smuggler. A rebel group known as the Fireflies contacts him because they have something they need him to smuggle – a 14-year-old girl named Ellie. And so Joel and Ellie venture across what’s left of the United States to reach where Ellie needs to be.

So, it’s become a bit of a cliché in gaming circles to say that The Last Of Us is an artful, immersive and emotional masterpiece that represents a mature direction for gaming, so it’s with great sadness that I have to resort to clichés and say that The Last Of Us is an artful, immersive and emotional masterpiece that represents a mature direction for gaming.

Almost as much of a cliche as comparing it to Citizen Kane…

Initially I started out playing the same way I play every other game, running around, messing about with physics objects and generally being silly. I would get ecstatic any time I could spin an office chair around, or could kick boxes down a flight of stairs. I would frequently walk around in a crouched position because Joel’s crab-walk amused me so much. I would make fun of dialogue and actions. It’s just something I do, and to be honest, I do it even more if I really like a game. But this attitude didn’t stick with The Last Of Us because I got too absorbed.

This game is special. It’s a game that manages to blend story and gameplay in a way that isn’t seen very often. It’s a game that grabs the player and demands their emotional investment. It’s a game that does its best to potentially be the best game of this generation, and on the whole it succeeds.

This was truly a survival game. Joel did not feel invincible, and stealth was usually the best option. Encounters with Clickers (advanced stage Infected who navigate using sound because the fungal infection has spread over their eyes) while in confined spaces were nail-biting and I often found myself holding my breath while sneaking around them. Attempting to avoid militia members was even more tense because they were more unpredictable, and the game felt genuinely difficult in a way that’s rare to see in modern AAA gaming.

And with that difficulty, there are moments where it’s easy to feel frustrated, but merely taking a step back and evaluating your options often brings about a solution. There are never really any moments where it feels the game is actively being unfair, and beating tough sections feels rewarding instead of simply relieving.

But there’s another aspect to what makes the game great. The storyline, the characterisation and the setting are all handled exceptionally well and all blend into a cohesive whole.

The world felt vibrant. While it was as linear as its spiritual cousin Uncharted, the areas themselves were generally more open, and it was possible to get lost and confused at times. Lots of little touches helped bring the world to life too. Survival horror games often come with notes and diaries to give a flavour for what happened to the world, but The Last Of Us takes this one step further, usually surrounding the notes with little details to emphasise the contents.

A particularly memorable moment was the discovery of a former colony of people living in sewer pipes. Notes pieced together a story of what happened to them, while the remnants of their mini-society remained, bodies included. It told its own story, and did so in a perfectly subtle way.

Also there are Jak & Daxter easter eggs

Of course, central to this was Joel and Ellie’s relationship. It was a naturally forming one, and the player was constantly a part of that relationship. They both grew with each other, and they had great chemistry. More importantly, they both felt like real people as opposed to simply CGI avatars, and that helped draw me in.

The plot, on the whole, is fairly standard zombie apocalypse stuff, but it does manage to establish a strong emotional centre. Every survivor you meet has their own story to tell. Every location is filled with remnants of society’s breakdown. There are themes of selfishness and the importance of partnership and cooperation in times of adversity. What’s more, we barely see many of the Infected throughout the course of the game, further proving that the game isn’t about them; they merely provide the backdrop.

But when they do appear… D:

The final portion of the game in particular is an emotional rollercoaster. I’m not going to spoil anything, but the journey does bring Joel and Ellie closer together, and their moments of bonding as they head towards the end of their journey were touching in a way I see often in great movies but rarely ever in games. And the ultimate conclusion is a heart-wrenching ride and one portion of gameplay had me actively hesitating because I didn’t want to make a choice the game was forcing me to make. Which sounds like a criticism, but it was a moment that enhanced the story for me, as if it was Joel himself struggling to make that choice himself.

Naughty Dog have excelled themselves with The Last Of Us. It’s a game that puts a focus on story and characterisation but not once does it sacrifice great gameplay in order to achieve this. As we head towards the eighth generation once and for all at the end of this year, it’s great to see this generation end on such a high note.

To anyone else who’s played the game, what did you think? Do you disagree with my opinion? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @TheCheapFerret!

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  1. November 20, 2013 at 11:30 pm

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