- Platform: PS3
- Developer: Naughty Dog
- Publisher: Sony Computer Ent
- Release Date: June 14th, 2013
- Price: $59.99
- Official: The Last of Us
“Two against the world”
When asked the question “How was The Last of Us?” from someone who hadn’t yet played the game, the answer came quickly. “It was an experience” I replied. That is exactly what this game is; a harrowing, stressful, unbelievable experience. One that cannot be found within any other game. This is true intensity, true emotion, and something truly special within the games industry. Naughty Dog has continued their reign of excellence, and they have done so by going in the opposite direction than they were headed. When I think of the PlayStation, I think of Naughty Dog. From Crash Bandicoot, to Jak and Daxter and now Uncharted; each era of the Sony platform has been defined with the excellence emanating forth from the masters at Naughty Dog studios. While the Uncharted series followed the incredible and exciting journey of Nathan Drake and his band of lovable thieves, The Last of Us goes the opposite way, with an unbearably dark and subtle story of two survivors who find themselves relying on each other more and more as the story unfolds. From one nightmare to the next, through loss and hopelessness, the two hearts at the center of The Last of Us come together to give life to one of the most horrible, beautiful, and astonishing portrayals of human life gamers have ever seen.
— Gameplay —
Unfortunately for The Last of Us, I find it impossible to speak about this game without bringing up its older brother, Uncharted. With such a critically acclaimed series of games coming before, it is hard to ignore the daunting shadow that Nathan Drake casts. Being a new Naughty Dog project on the PlayStation platform, the two games share many similarities, but are also quite different. Where the two truly begin to align is in terms of the feel and gunplay however. If you didn’t care for Uncharted’s core mechanics, then you may not like a significant portion of The Last of Us. Its true that the gunplay found here is nearly identical to that of Uncharted. From crouching behind cover, the feel of the guns, the sensitivity of the aiming, and the means in which you lob explosives; it will all be right at home for any fans of Naughty Dog’s previous trilogy. But while the core mechanics are borrowed from Drake, Joel and Ellie bring with them some new means of survival. After the games terrific opening sequence the player finds themselves in a world that has been ravaged by a new form of disease made up of a cordycep fungus capable of taking over and transforming mankind. With the world of man on the brink of extinction and supplies running low, refugee’s have to make due with what they can find, from cans of old food to broken scissors, anything can mean the difference between life and death. This system of desperate survival permeates every aspect of The Last of Us, from its unrelenting story, to the shootouts that pepper the experience. While you search the numerous environments you find yourself in you will come across key resources. With some tape and a blade from some scissors you’ve got yourself a shiv. A rag, some alcohol, and a bottle and you now hold a useful molotov. A can, some nails and some gunpowder and you have a makeshift explosive device that will send shrapnel in all directions. The crafting system found within the game adds some much needed depth and excitement that was otherwise missing in Uncharted. Another element to the puzzle is the entirely new, and terrifying, sections of pure stealth. While shootouts with other human enemies may feel too familiar to Uncharted veterans, the infected found in this apocalyptic world are entirely new and unsettling. Naughty Dog have done a remarkable job creating a new and terrifying creature to haunt gamers dreams. Looking both realistic and nightmarish, the various types of infected that haunt these sewers and abandoned buildings are absolutely chilling. It is in these dark moments, where you find yourself surrounded by a dozen crazed and sickening creatures, that stealth is of the utmost importance. Using cover and making sure to throw bottles or bricks as distractions, Joel can sneak past the infected undetected. You can also take down a creature or two silently, or if you hate stealth, try to blast your way out. The many encounters you will find yourself in will most likely be handled entirely differently by a friend. With the constant fear of low resources, being hunted by both the living and the dead, and the sense that it is only going to get worse, The Last of Us finds a way to make every inch feel like a mile, and every hill a mountain to overcome.
— Content —
The single player campaign here took me a solid fifteen hours to complete. This includes many times where I simply admired my surroundings as well as time spent foraging for collectibles. But either way, that is a nice chunk of time in a world where most single player titles last between 7-10 hours in length. While the Last of Us is a far more intimate story, it is undoubtedly a much bigger game than any of the Uncharted titles ever were. The amount of environments you will find yourself traversing is impressive, as is the amount of characters that come in and out of Joel and Ellie’s lives. As I mentioned, The Last of Us is an entirely new beast in terms of tone for the videogame industry, not just Naughty Dog. This story takes the best, and thus harshest, parts of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and infuses them with Irrational Games Bioshock Infinite. The team pulls it off exceptionally well. Where Bioshock faltered with making me truly feel as if the two characters were really connecting in any meaningful way, The Last of Us gives us the most honest, believable, and heartbreaking relationship ever seen in a videogame.
From their first meeting, Joel and Ellie, voiced by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson respectively, deliver unparalleled performances that breathe these characters to life like no other. These are characters that have layers, that can be both comical and terrifying, that you will see at their most disgusting as well as their most vulnerable. There is no better studio out there than Naughty Dog when it comes to capturing and delivering both the beauty and the darkness of the human spirit and they do so brilliantly here. It is difficult to properly grade the story that The Last of Us delivers, not because I fear spoiling the adventure for you, but because the actual story that is told here truly IS the characters. When brought to its bare essentials The Last of Us is about two travelers making their way across the country, but yet, it is about so much more than that. If you don’t find yourself being emotionally moved throughout this game, then you may have to take a deep look inside. There has only ever been one other title that has delivered on such promise, and that was my 2012 Game of the Year, Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Besides a long and intense single player journey, The Last of Us also delivers another solid attempt at multiplayer for the folks at Naughty Dog. This is another area that will be very familiar to folks who have dabbled in the online portions of both Uncharted 2 and 3. When players choose to take their adventure online they will find themselves having to choose between two factions: hunters or fireflies. By choosing a side to fight for, you will constantly do battle with the opposition in two games of team deathmatch, each slightly altered by the amount of respawns available. Multiplayer is both fun and exciting, but not anything revolutionary. One exciting addition however is that the team managed to bring the single player’s system of crafting into the online space. During bouts you will be scouring the environment for ingredients to make bombs and melee weapons. With ammo at a premium, this system, much like the single player addition, will save your hide hundreds of times over. On top of these battles is also placed a meta game that allows you to consistently build up your camp with new refugees (taken from your Facebook friends list) and deal with events that can hinder or help your group. Online also features the usual suite of loadouts, perks, and customization you expect.
— Presentation —
It should come as no surprise that The Last of Us is one of the most visually impressive titles to hit a home console yet. Naughty Dog proved themselves to be masters of the PlayStation hardware with the Uncharted series and they continue to impress with this latest release. Character models are insanely detailed with Joel and Ellie looking downright real. Environments range from college campuses, cities, farmland, sewers, and even include the changing of the seasons. The amount of assets on display here is unbelievable and each area is painstakingly delivered with minute details that most developers would easily ignore. With such an enormous game, I do have to say it appears to have hurt the polish level some. There are more frequent blurry textures and visual bugs then I have seen in previous titles from the developer. Also the background environments appear to suffer more aliasing issues than I recall seeing in Drakes adventures as well. These complaints however are trivial in the grand scheme of things. You will simply not find a better looking game on consoles this generation and I am absolutely ecstatic to see what the extremely talented folks at Naughty Dog can deliver on the PlayStation 4 hardware when it releases. On the audio side of things composer Gustavo Santaolalla delivers tunes that walk alongside the somber and subtle story being presented. Each track features glimmers of hope that are ultimately swallowed up by deep melodies of despair. As previously mentioned the voice acting is again top notch for this one. Not only do Baker and Johnson deliver incredible performances, but each and every member of the supporting cast also bring their A-game. There is even a solid Nolan North cameo that you may not notice.
— Conclusion —
The Last of Us is a special kind of game that only comes around once in a generations life cycle. It is the culmination of years of hard work and finesse. It is sprouted from the minds of developers that have hope that the industry is mature enough to finally experience a story such as this. It is built on the belief that gamers are capable of feeling and that they yearn for something more than simple online battles with friends. The Last of Us may occasionally stumble, it may use a clever mechanic one too many times, the AI may leave you scratching your head, and the stealth portions may frustrate; but overall, the beating heart of this game cannot be ignored. The journey that Joel and Ellie go on together deserves to be told. The infected deserve to be confronted. And The Last of Us deserves to be experienced. –Chuck
- + Virtual characters made real
- + Incredible presentation
- + Packs an emotional punch
- + Infected are genuinely frightening
- – AI can be quirky
- – Over reliance on ladders and pallets