When The Last of Us first debuted to much fanfare and anticipation in December of 2011 at the Spike Video Game Awards, a lot of people wondered if this brand new IP could possibly live up to the lofty expectations. Has Naughty Dog once again outdone themselves or should this developer just stick to Uncharted?
After being a big fan of Naughty Dog for a long time, I was really excited to see what they could do with a brand new IP for the first time since 2007. Throw away every safety net you thought you had and welcome to a dangerous world where your every movement makes you a target. The setting isn’t the focus here though, it’s the story, the characters, and the relationship between all of those things. The post-apocalyptic landscape ties everything together as you make your way through the world trying everything possible to stay alive.
The main star of the game is Joel. His life revolves around doing anything necessary to survive in this broken-down world that lies before him. He’s someone who has a very tough exterior due to all the traumatic events he’s been through and yet, you start to understand that he does care a great deal about the people around him as you start to understand as the story goes along.
The world is a crazy place in 2033, you get a brief introduction on the world Joel knew before it became a crumbling wasteland but, there isn’t much I can say about it at the risk of spoiling anything. Joel lived a normal life back then but, now in 2033, he does whatever he needs to to survive. He steals and murders whatever and whoever he needs to to live another day. The strange thing about The Last of Us is that you never feel like you’re doing a bad thing, as dark as the action may be. It’s either kill or be killed. The cold and often times calculated tactics that Joel must use to survive are commonplace to combat the ruthless enemies that want nothing more than to put Joel in the ground for good.
While Joel may be the main character for all intents and purposes, it’s the companion character that really takes center stage and creates the atmosphere in The Last of Us. Early on in the game, players are tasked with transporting a young girl named Ellie across the US. Though at first they are very skeptical of one another, they learn to trust in each other to get through the circumstances that they’re in.
Ellie in particular is a really fascinating character to watch learn and grow in the game. She was born after the world was already in ruin and thus has never seen a lot of the outside world that she has to go through and explore with Joel. One of the great parts in The Last of Us is seeing Ellie connect with new things that she encounters in the environment. She’ll comment on different buildings or wildlife that she’d only ever heard about prior to her journey. She’s a fiery young girl who’s not afraid to speak her mind and is definitely one of the more memorable characters I’ve ever encountered in a game.
The voice acting in The Last of Us really helps with the whole experience, the graphical quality doesn’t hurt either. The scenery is incredibly detailed with lush vegetation and destroyed roads and buildings. Remnants of a normal life are left behind in the abandoned towns and areas. The game really allows you to explore a lot of different spaces while not letting you get lost in the process. Exploring is half the fun and players can really learn a lot about the entire situation through letters and notes left behind. It’s the little things.
The combat in The Last of Us is a very calculated feat, one wrong move and you could be fighting off a hoard of people you can’t possibly beat on your own. Luckily, there’s stealth-killing to take some of that difficulty away. Press R2 and Joel will listen carefully to his surroundings and any enemy nearby will glow white, including enemies on the other side of walls. It’s always intensely real to watch an enemy squirm as Joel strangles them to death or gasp for air as he stabs them in the neck. It all has a very real feeling and it’s much more disturbing than you’d expect in a video game.
Enemies themselves are very different in The Last of Us. Regular human enemies just trying to survive are much easier to take out and much more predictable than The Infected that you encounter. The Infected have been infected by a fungus that largely initiated the collapse of the world as it was once known. It’s a fight for survival against these zombie like creatures. There are Runners which can be taken out by any means and there are the Clickers that require either stealth or a firearm to be taken out. It’s never an easy situation with The Infected around and you’ll learn to hate them.
There are crafting options in the game that allow you to create different items in real time. Certain items create certain things and sometimes, you’ll have to choose between creating say, a health pack or a molotov cocktail. It’s definitely a good idea to look around and find as many items as you can because you’ll be kicking yourself later if you need something that you can’t create. There’s choice and consequence to everything. Your weapons and Joel himself can be upgraded but, you have to find the necessary things to do so and you have to choose what should be upgraded based on how you play because there won’t be enough to max out everything.
There are two online modes existing under the Factions menu. Players choose one of two sides and then jump into one of the two modes: Supply Raid and Survivors. Survivors is a best-of-seven series in a four-on-four match where death is permanent. Supply Raid is about taking down the other team’s overall life count. Both allow you to craft items on the fly using components found on the map. In the end, The Last of Us is a better single-player game but, it was nice to have online included for those that want it.
The Last of Us is truly a generation-defining game and one that will go down in history as maybe the greatest PS3 game of all time. PlayStation has had a long list of great exclusives and this one may just top the list. The story of Joel and Ellie is one for the ages and this game should not be missed.
*A copy of this game was provided by Sony Computer Entertainment Canada for review purposes*