Developer Naughty Dog Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date June 14, 2013 (PS3)
There was this strange moment during my playthrough of The Last of Us. A moment that I could only explain as acceptance. I was surrounded by enemies known as Clickers, inching my way past them in the wide open, knowing they couldn’t see me, but that one tiny sound would alert the pack of blind enemies to me… and I was in the center of all of them, ripe for the picking. In that moment, I accepted I may die. And while that may not seem unusual in a game, it’s the pure trepidation in a moment like this that The Last of Us is so exceptional at producing. The clicking noises making my palms sweat, knowing that one attack from a single one of these mutated monstrosities would be an instant death, caused my heart to race. And as I slowly passed the final enemy, reaching the cover of total darkness and quiet, I could still hear them seeking me on the other side of the wall. The seconds that followed cemented the anxiety I felt – I was suddenly attacked by an enemy that could see, causing a ruckus audible enough for the Clickers to hear, and before I could think out an escape plan, I was overrun. It was over. And I felt it.
Naughty Dog has a penchant for atmosphere and gameplay, as well as cinematic presentation, but nothing can prepare you for the immersion offered in The Last of Us. From the opening moments placing you in the shoes of protagonist Joel’s daughter as she watches the world’s sanity collapse in front of her eyes, to the apprehension felt opening every door and entering every room, The Last of Us never ceases to retain its grip on both your heart and your nerves. This is no Uncharted – this is a chilling tale, full of grief, desolation, and horror, and you feel it every second of the journey.
Twenty years after a parasitic fungus wipes out the vast majority of the human population, we catch up with Joel as he and his partner accept a mission to smuggle a young girl out of Boston for The Fireflies, insurgents rebelling against the regime ruling over the quarantine zones of the city. While the game’s story and journey are powerful, it’s the connection between the characters that drive the deep feelings of compassion, fear, and even occasional joy. Joel, having lost his daughter in the initial outbreak, soon builds a bond with Ellie, the astute and foul-mouthed girl he’s trying so desperately to smuggle out of the city. The banter between the two, and the simple ways in which they interact with one another, connects a string between the game and the heart of the person holding the controller. The acting on display is not only of cinema-quality, but it’s heartfelt in a way one wouldn’t expect such a terrifying game to achieve.
And terrifying it is. The Last of Us is anxiety-inducing and ridden with gruesome, dreadful horror lurking around every corner. But this is no jump-scare kind of game. Instead, it aims for the emotions, pitting you against rooms full of enemies and letting you decide how to approach the situation, knowing that one wrong move could be your last. While you are given plenty of useful firearms, guns are quickly shown to be last resort options – stealth is the aim here, and it’s what breeds the moisture between your hands and the controller. Using cover to navigate around a room, tossing bricks and bottles to distract savage enemies, and then silently disposing of them in the shadows, is undeniably gratifying. The feeling of suspense that comes with knowing you’re outnumbered is exactly what the game wants out of you, so when the stealth approach fails, making the aforementioned “last resort” option all you have left, things can get deeply frightening. Luckily, the gunplay is tight and responsive, and the limited ammo, lengthy reload times, and realistic weapon sway of a man full of fear, all add to the game’s authenticity. Granted, hand-to-hand combat, especially against the uninfected enemies, is equally satisfying. Nothing says brutal like punching someone directly in the throat, or crushing their entire face against a wall with your knee. The Last of Us never fails to remind you of what it means to be gory.
Sadly, the game sometimes annoyingly breaks continuity, and therefore immersion, with its partner A.I. While you are required to remain silent to avoid enemy attention as you move about, your partners are able to run loudly to your position without it causing so much as a peep from your foes. The game breaking its own rules temporarily snaps you back to the truth: this is still just a videogame. The game’s enemy A.I. is exceptional, however, always making the aforementioned stealth all the more unnerving. Uninfected enemies will flank you and work together as a team to push you out of hiding, while the infected will charge you relentlessly. Luckily, you come prepared, as Joel has a useful skill that allows him to pinpoint the location of enemies through walls by use of listening. If they’re moving, you’ll see their outline through the wall so long as you’re holding the button down, allowing you to make more informed and strategic decisions.
Thankfully, that’s not Joel’s only option to help him survive he and Ellie’s lengthy journey, as scrounging the environment for useful tools and scraps ties into a simple, effective crafting system. Within this system, you can create everything from molotovs to health kits, or even make temporary improvements to melee weapon you have equipped. Since these weapons break after a few uses, upgrading them to allow more damage per hit is a major boon. However, crafting leaves you vulnerable, so doing so while in the presence of enemies can be a risky, potentially horrific situation. If you like guns, you can use designated areas throughout the game to upgrade them too, increasing your clip size, reducing reload times, or even adding a scope to your hunting rifle for long-range encounters.
Aesthetically, The Last of Us is one of a kind. While gameplay is linear, the game’s world is realistically prodigious and gorgeous, easily taking the award for best current-generation graphics. The tiniest details in the environments are particularized beautifully, and character movement and facial animation sport an indefectible attention to detail. Never has a current-generation console seen such exemplary character models; Joel and Ellie are believable not only because of their relationship, but also because of the small smirks, the undeniable look of fear, and the way their eyes speak the sentiments that their brains aren’t ready to say aloud. The graphics simply act as the final corner that, along with with the superb story-telling and stunning acting, creates a triangle of perfection so rarely attainable in a videogame.
And while Naughty Dog could have easily rested assured that the singleplayer campaign was enough to get the game on plenty of Game of the Year polls, they chose to add a competent, enjoyable multiplayer component to The Last of Us. Players choose one of two factions, Fireflies or Hunters, before being given the option to play one of two modes: Survivors and Supply Raid. The former pits two teams together in a team deathmatch with no respawns, offering victory to the first team to reach 4/7 wins. The latter offers a more enjoyable experience by adding supply scavenging to the objective and enforcing a finite number of respawns (think Gears of War). The multiplayer is functionally identical to the campaign, placing a strong emphasis on stealth and methodical gameplay. It’s ultimately unremarkable in the sense that it doesn’t have the long-term appeal of more populated online games, but it offers a diversion worth exploring, and it shows that unique multiplayer experiences have a place in gaming.
The Last of Us is the whole package. Aside from some minor continuity problems, there’s little fault to be found with the game as a whole. It’s deeply unsettling and dark, evokes emotion unlike any game before it, and is easily one of the most engrossing, chilling experiences available in the gaming world. Naughty Dog has outdone themselves once again with the PS3′s perfect swan song.
+ Gorgeous, lush visuals.
+ Remarkable story.
+ Strong gameplay.
+ Unparalleled acting.
- Minor continuity issues.
On the fence? Get off it. This game deserves to be played by fans of almost any genre. From aesthetics that look borderline next-gen, to a tale equally as touching as it is unsettling, The Last of Us delivers on every front. The gameplay is incredible and the game’s production values rival those found in cinema – this is the game your PS3 has been waiting for. Don’t miss it.