Sitting on some nondescript debris you look upward at the decrepit remains of a skyscraper, speckled with greens and browns, where nature has begun to reclaim its domain; sighing gently, sadly, you feel as if you are all that remains. This is The Last of Us the newest, and possibly most ambitious, game from California-based producer Naughty Dog.
The Last of Us is a Survival-Horror Action-Adventure game for the PS3 that takes place in a post-apocalyptic America. You play as Joel, a grizzly man with a painful past. Joel is tasked with looking after a young girl named Ellie, who accompanies you as you fight, stealth, craft and climb your way through the remnants of cities and the wilderness toward your goal.
The Last of Us is not a carefree, light-hearted affair; it is a poignant, sometimes dark, always sorrowful social commentary. The story in this game is certainly one of its highest points. Even as you play the game, Joel and Ellie have conversations; Ellie’s childish naivety contrasting Joel’s ever-dwindling humanity. You can tell very early on that this is a world without hope, a world where your every last moment is dedicated to survival. This bleak overtone is almost crushing, but made all the more harrowing by interspersed moments of absolute beauty or tranquillity.
You find yourself getting quickly attached to the characters; helped more by the incredible writing and voice-acting. Unlike the usual games where you are bogged down with an AI companion, whom you keep alive so as to avoid a game over, you find yourself actively wanting to protect Ellie; you want to shield her from the horrors of the world and let her grow, like the last flower in the desert.
An incredible story alone would not be enough to have critics revere this game as a masterpiece. The gameplay has been finely crafted to allow you absolute control over your character. Without this control the notable challenge presented by The Last of Us would just be entirely frustrating. This is not a particularly easy game, and highly rewards planning and caution.
One of the primary touted features is the ability to approach any given scenario from multiple avenues. You can get by with gunplay, strong-arming you way through each encounter, but you’d best be a damn good shot because ammo is very scarce. The best option is usually stealth, although whether you avoid enemies or take them down is entirely up to you.
The AI is truly impressive, whether it’s the companions or the enemies. If you are approaching an enemy who has a friend facing him, you may find that your companions have already snuck around behind the other, leaping out for a stealth take-down at the precise moment that you do. Not once is there a moment when you find the AI is a hindrance to you. The game would, of course, be too easy if this was the only example of exemplary AI, but the enemies are just as wise; they are primed and prepped to take advantage of any situation. You’re likely to find yourself flanked, hunted and gang-piled methodically if you don’t maintain control of the situation. Naughty Dog have referred to this system as “balance of power”; you are not only fighting your enemies, you are maintaining dominance of the entire encounter.
Your strategy will have to change drastically once you encounter the fungus-infected pseudo-zombies, as they do not react intelligent. If you give away your position prepare to face an aggressive rush-down. If possible, it’s best to avoid any infected you encounter, if you can’t you’d best have a shiv or metal pipe to hand; guns won’t do any good here.
At any point, Joel can kneel down and go through his backpack to craft various items to give him an advantage. This is not quite as simple as it sounds, as resources are very scarce and the small pool of them means that many of the important items are crafted from the same components; you’ll find yourself having to decide between a Molotov and a med kit on more than one occasion. All of this is in real-time, and so you had best find somewhere quiet to craft because enemies will take advantage of the distraction.
The Last of Us is a very beautiful game. Naughty Dog has truly pushed the PlayStation 3 to its absolute limit with this one. The scenery is breath-taking and the lighting is precise and realistic. There are all sorts of filters for motion and such that make the game look more like a movie than CG coding.
Despite the incredible backdrop of the game, the character animations are where the visuals truly stand out. If you are crouching besides a building Joel will extend a hand to lay on the wall, should you try to occupy the same spot as Ellie, she will crouch and Joel will raise his hand higher to be over her head. Every movement you make is entirely cohesive and aware of the environment around you. You would be forgiven for mistaking this game for a next-gen title.
The Last of Us is not a game full of sweeping grand melodies, or emotional cacophonies. The audio in The Last of Us is very subtle. With almost no BGM you are lulled and serenaded by the ambient sounds of the environment, and the conversations between the characters. It is just another thing about this game that crafts the entire experience.
The voice-acting is some of the best ever, and the characters are given depth in their tones. Tensions during encounters is built with the calls of the enemies; constantly trying to goad you into making a mistake, or poking your head out of cover at the wrong time. Areas with the infected are near silent but for a few grunts and groans; the hairs stick up on the back of your neck when you suddenly hear the high-pitched clicking of the fully infected, or a sudden scream from the freshly infected. Having no BGM was a risky choice, yet it paid off to have the focus always on the characters and their emotions.
Even as incredible as the single-player is in The Last of Us, the multiplayer brings a satisfying meta-game, and makes sure to not lose the oppressive tensions of the main story.
You choose to join one of two factions who fight for dominance over territories and supplies in the city. The faction you choose is locked in until you finish the meta-story, or other criteria is met. Everything you do is toward the goal of building your faction up. Even in a typical team-death match you’ll be rewarded for hanging back and collecting supplies.
Unlike your typical shooters, you are not powerful in The Last of Us multiplayer. Ammo is as scarce as in the primary game, and one or two bullets will easily finish you off. As a result, you are again encouraged to use stealth to your advantage, avoiding combat all-together if you choose.
Although not at all the focus, the multiplayer only serves to add even more to do to this lengthy title, whilst taking nothing away.
You may have noticed a distinct lack of criticisms in this review, and this is simply because there are none. At a massive stretch, the first loading screen upon playing for the first time is rather lengthy. With so many plus-points and so little to pick fault on, The Last of Us may very well be the defining game of the PlayStation 3, and if you own one you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not picking this up.
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