Two bullets left in your revolver. Five clickers circling. No supplies left to craft a new health pack and you’re dangerously injured. You could try to sneak around, but you can hear a few runners off the side waiting for you to try. Your only hope is the shotgun ammo across the room. Listening for any last surprises you begin your slow progression through the room. ***crack*** …. Oh god. There were plates on the ground. Clickers heard it, they hear everything, they’re moving in quickly. You leap over cover pull put your revolver, exhale and pull the trigger……
Situations like the one above are common place in the world of The Last of US. Naughty Dog crafts such a beautiful and yet terrifying game that you both want to see more, but genuinely fear for the life of its inhabitants if you do. To say that The Last of Us is a good game is an understatement. The Last of US is easily one of the best games of this console generation.
It’s the opening sequence of The Last of Us that sets the tone, and may be the most visceral and tense scenes in any medium. (***Small spoilers from first fifteen minutes of the game***) Our tale begins just as the pandemic begins in the United States. Where most pandemic stories are told from a larger overview, The Last of Us focuses on one man; Joel, our protagonist. I don’t want to spoil very much of it, but the consequences of the opening effect all of his life from that point forward. (***Spoilers over***) The story flies forward 20 years, and society has all but broken down completely. Those who haven’t been infected by the fungal virus (which turns those it infects into Zombie-esc creatures called runners, clickers or bloaters) either live in isolation foraging for supplies or inside of military controlled quarantine zones. These zones were set up early in the outbreak as safe havens for people, but nearly all except Boston have fallen.
Boston is where we catch up with Joel once again. Joel is now a smuggler, bringing goods in and out of the quarantine zone that the military does not allow. His occupation is what brings he and Ellie together. Joel is tasked with smuggling Ellie out of the city, for reasons that I will not spoil, and this is where the true journey begins. Joel and Ellie cross the desolated United States, fighting both human and infected, creating one of the best tales in games to date.
Joel, voiced by the amazing Troy Baker, is a broken man. The pandemic was not kind to him, and he is no hero. Joel will do whatever is needed to survive and ensure those he cares for survive as well. Troy Baker once again excels in role of a broken man, and brings such depth to Joel that you feel exactly why he makes his choices (even though you may not agree with them). Joel may be the protagonist, but he is not the heart of this tale.
His companion Ellie, voiced amazingly by Ashley Johnson, brings such a unique perspective to this new world. Her comments on things as silly as old movie posters, to needing the game of football explained to her really show how much has changed since our time. Very few games make you care about your companion’s safety, and the Last of Us not only does that, but ensures that you will do next to anything to ensure her safety. This isn’t just a 12 hour companion quest either, Ellie proves fit to stand on her own in combat, and rarely requires help. Ellie and Joel’s relationship build throughout the game, as they begin by basically hating one another, to deeply caring for the other in a father-daughter way.
In their cross country journey, Joel and Ellie go through hell together. They must fight off the infected, human savages and the military just to survive, and this is not even mentioning the environment. While they do find allies along the way, the team at Naughty Dog seemed to want to drive home the fact that this world has lost nearly all semblance of order. It comes down to the survival of the fittest now. I don’t want to spoil much in my reviews so I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible: During Joel and Ellie’s journey throughout the US, there were many moments when I felt real fear, not just that this level may take extra time, but that Ellie or Joel could die at nearly any moment. The game is not as dark as other post-apocalypse tales like The Road, and has quite a few moments of just pure beauty. There was one scene in particular toward the end of the game where I honestly did not want to advance any further. I felt if I moved forward I would ripping this beautiful moment away from Ellie, and that she truly deserved to see the beauty that is still in the world.
Naughty Dog is a master at ripping at your heart strings. There was a moment about mid-way through the game at a Ranch where I legitimately cried. I have honestly never cried because of a game before, but this just struck such a chord with me that I had to press pause for about a minute to regain my composure. The amazing team at Naughty Dog proves why they are one of the best storytellers in the world today.
In The Last of Us, a central theme is survival, and this translates into the gameplay as well as the story. You will almost never have an abundance of ammo for your weapons, or supplies to craft things like medkits. The controls function quite similar to Naughty Dog’s other PS3 exclusive Uncharted, but adds in all new layers to the combat. You are not supposed to be an action hero, you die from only a few gunshots, and you have very limited ammo. You must scrounge for every bullet or arrow you fire. Often times I would chose to punch an enemy (which takes quite a while to kill with) just to conserve the little ammo I had. The enemies you will fight throughout the game are hunters, who are those human living out in the wild or in tribes, the military, highly trained and often have automatic weapons (You will lose in a frontal attack against them), and the infected, which include runners (basic infected) clickers (infected who can one shot kill you) and another that I won’t spoil for you.
There were times I got frustrated at the game because I couldn’t defeat an enemy or group of them, but then it dawned on me: More often than not, I don’t have to fight these enemies. Joel and Ellie are not heroes and they don’t have to fight every enemy. You are supposed to sneak around the enemies and use stealth to kill them, or just go straight past them. The game isn’t about Joel and Ellie saving the world, it’s about survival. This theme also translates into the item crafting system. You do not regenerate health, and have to build most medkits yourself out of parts like rags and alcohol. You can also craft items like Molotov cocktails, nail bombs and shivs from knives, binding and explosives that you find. Many of these items also use the same base parts, so it was often a struggle to pick if I should make a new health pack or a Molotov.
Naughty Dog also gives you a “Listen” system, which allows players to see the enemies through walls, and I found it quite needed when I was up against nearly any enemies. It’s that extra 5 seconds of warning that can be the difference between life and death. It can be disabled in the start menu, but I recommend you keep it on for a while. You can upgrade both weapons and Joel himself to have faster stronger abilities, like faster reloads, and more health respectively. While I had a few issues with the enemy AI getting lines of sight I didn’t think were valid, I was overall impressed with The Last of Us’ combat.
Spread throughout the levels are collectibles that give you better insight into how other people reacted to the pandemic. One of my personal favorites was a few notes from a boat captain, and reading them proved progressively heartbreaking as I advanced through the level. The other people who inhabit the world show just how different people have decided to survive the apocalypse. From two brothers trying to get through a city, to the leader of a band of Rebels, each character in The Last of Us serves a purpose. All of the NPCs are expertly voiced, but Nolan North delivers one of, if not the, best performances of his career. I didn’t even realize he was the character voice until I read it in the credits.
Visually, the Last of Us is a stand out. It’s cutscenes are beautifully rendered, and allow the emotions the actors are trying to convey to come out incredibly well. The in-game portions fare just as well, being damn near close cutscene quality. Animations for the infected were also done tremendously well. Sound design was very good as well, with each weapon and enemy type sounding unique. The score of the Last of Us is very atmospheric, and creates just the tone the game needs. While it’s nothing I can see myself listening to outside of the game, it does very well using low horns, piano, guitar and violin to create an amazing atmosphere for the tale.
In a somewhat surprising move, the game also features a very good multiplayer. While Naughty Dog has created good multiplayer in the past, The Last of Us excels even further. The team takes the survival themes of the game and makes multiplayer about ammo conservation, item creation and surviving just like the singleplayer. When you boot up the multiplayer portion, you start by choosing a side (either Fireflies or Hunters), and form a clan. This clan’s is populated by NPC whose survival is based off your performance in the matches. When you kill an opponent he drops supplies, which you can pick up to feed your clan. If you don’t collect enough during a match then your clan will start to get hungry or sick. The goal of this system is to survive for 12 weeks (Or 84 matches), and still have a clan. You will obviously die in matches but that doesn’t kill your clan. Each of the two gametypes focus on killing the opposing team in either straight up team death match format, or Execution style from Gears of War (Think multiple rounds, one life per round). It’s a multiplayer that I wasn’t expecting to like, but have fallen in love with.
Joel and Ellie’s journey across the country is a story that you must experience. Naughty Dog has crafted an incredible narrative, which rivals or surpasses almost any in gaming today. There were many beautiful little moments, that showed there is hope in the world, but enough darkness for you to realize it’s hard to achieve. The Last of Us is a calm game, punctuated by moments of visceral violence. Combat works incredibly well and never feels unfair, which is amazing in a game with such low supplies and ammo. I had heard good things going into The Last of Us, but Naughty Dog surpassed all of my expectations. The Last of Us may well be the best PS3 game ever. The Last of Us’ is not a happy story, but it is one you have to play.
Final Score: 5 out of 5
Editor’s Choice Award Winner
Full Disclosure: I completed this game in about 12 hours on a copy purchased from Gamestop. I played roughly eight matches of multiplayer, and those took roughly two hours.