Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Action Adventure, Survival Horror
A lot of graphic violence and swearing.
A few sexually crude jokes, but nothing explicit otherwise.
Dark, engaging emotional delivery might be hard on more sensitive audiences.
Proficient delivery? Check. Bestseller? Check. Overwhelming positive consumer response? Check.
The Last of Us hit shelves two June’s past now, and continues to stand among the kings of its console generation. Some find the title overrated, but they are the minority, drowning in a veritable sea of The Last of Us‘s awards and positive acclaim. Now with a Playstation 4 remastered edition entering the fray, there’s even more people jumping on the bandwagon to see what all the fuss is about.
Oh yeah, you can bet there will be spoilers ahead, too.
Conceptually, the story is nothing particularly unique. Yet, for many, it’s the most dominant appeal of the game. You have a grim, apocalyptic world ravaged by a new zombie plague, and the survivors trying to live life in spite of the chaos. But the angle is visceral and different. The zombies are born by neither an undead magic, nor a virus. Instead a special breed of cordyceps fungus is the perpetrator, spilling its spores throughout the world and hijacking the minds and bodies of its victims. This leads to odd and disturbing enemy designs, as many of them have completely fallen prey to the fungus, and there bodies have mutated on different levels in response.
The fungus is real, by the way. If you want to read about it, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordyceps
In a sprawling upheaval of horror and madness, the game opens with the initial outbreak, and our protagonist Joel enduring his first tastes of the tragedy that would then claim his whole world. Soon after, the scope expands and we move forward twenty years, where the cordyceps have come in full-swing. Now they are mostly old news, simply a part of the terrain. Venturing into infected territory, while clearly dangerous because of their violent tendencies, is treated as nothing more than a walk through aggressive wilderness. And in this world, Joel has found himself involved with various groups, each with an agenda to gain power through underground politics.
Enter Ellie, an unsuspecting savior in the form of a young girl. Ellie cannot get infected, and it’s Joel’s job to escort her to the Firefly headquarters, a base for one of the strongest organizations in the known world, where their scientists can reverse-engineer her blood into a cure. And fundamentally, that’s all there is to it. The rest of the story is their journey. Some people drift in and out of their lives, brutal tragedies rise and fall, but they keep moving forward through the infected and human enemies alike. Truly, this game captures a spirit of survival. Not just on an epic scale, but in the little words and phrases that Joel and Ellie share. The tragedy of adventure. The gives and takes of their relationship. The quick aversion of their eyes in uncomfortable situations. A narrative wonderfully executed from all angles.
Admittedly, there are some lulls in the gameplay. These periods of inaction are mostly used as accessories to introduce new tricks, weapons, or make a window for character dialogue and development. They also serve to give the player a chance to simply look. The amount of details packed into the environment are brain-melting, and can provide great enjoyment if you fancy stuff like that. If not, these periods could be a bit of a turn-off. Outside of these moments, the gameplay is dynamic and engaging. You discover your weapons, all of which are balanced and useful (increasingly so as the difficulty increases and you’re forced to be more creative), and you’re given opportunities to upgrade them throughout the game for more optimal use. Some items can only be upgraded or created through real-time play, such as Jerry-rigging scissors to a pipe, or taking the gunpowder and shrapnel you’ve gathered and making a guerrilla-style bomb out of it. Should you ever run out of these things, you’ll need to make them again on the fly, usually while navigating enemies and gunfire. Or, should you desire something with a little more finesse, many situations in the game can be handled by cloak-and-dagger warfare, which is often navigated and accomplished through Joel’s heightened (practically echo-location) hearing ability. You can upgrade your character as well, in a satisfying number of ways. The scarceness of ammunition and supplies adds further strategic elements to the survival factor, especially on higher difficulties.
Aside from the occasional lulls in gameplay, there’s only one other major design fault. Your AI partners break the illusion of the game. If you’re sneaking around some enemies and a friendly AI rushes out of cover and crosses the enemies line of sight, they’re practically non-existent. Your AI’s only fight when you fight, and they’re only caught when you’re caught.
After running through the campaign, some might fear that the multiplayer aspect was neglected. It just doesn’t seem like that kind of game. Well, turns out the multiplayer is actually surprisingly good, too. There are multiple game types, most of which require team-oriented gameplay, vast amounts of strategy, and provide hours of further enjoyment upon completing the main story.
Graphics. Beautiful in every sense of the word. Between the insanely detailed environment and the motion-capture character designs, The Last of Us is not one to suffer in any graphical capacity. The superb voice acting cast and their well-written dialogue helps makes the realistic characters that much more convincing as well. They did have Troy Baker doing the voice of Joel, after all.
As for the music? Arguably perfect. Each piece is composed and designed to capture the remote strangeness of this beautiful, apocalyptic world. Just listen to that main theme.
– Exciting gameplay
– Strong story that doesn’t neglect the little things
– Great soundtrack
– Superb voice acting
– Beautiful graphics and world
– Pacing can be a little rough
– AI’s sometimes break the illusion
– Might be a little too limiting on exploration
– There’s supposed to be a movie in the works, produced by Sam Raimi. Purely speculation at this point, but videogames don’t have a good history of movie adaptations, with very few exceptions.
– Jump on that bandwagon. Even if you’re one of the few who end up disliking The Last of Us, you owe it to yourself to take the chance. Over a year later and it’s momentum has barely staggered at all. On top of everything said so far, it’s got a solid and fulfilling playtime sitting right around 15-18 hours. All that’s left to do is pick it up.