Naughty Dog has delivered what could possibly be the best PS3 title ever. Period.
With the most gut-wrenching opening in videogame history, The Last of Us delivers an emotionally charged story with immersive gameplay, smooth controls, and a hell of a lot of blood.
The setting is twenty years after a contagious fungus outbreak starts to turn everyone infected into terrifying, violent, mutants – shells of their former selves. Survival is the name of the game, and you must transport a young girl across the country safely. But the infected aren’t the only ones you have to worry about.
One of the over-arching themes to The Last of Us is what human beings are capable of doing to each other when forced into survival mode. It’s one of the many differences from Naughty Dog’s epic Uncharted trilogy. Where the Uncharted series focused on how far greed can push someone, The Last of Us deals with how dire circumstances can change a man and his morals.
The Last of Us also focuses on the relationship between Joel, the protagonist, and Ellie, the young girl you must keep safe. It’s one of the best relationships to watch develop on screen (video game, movie, or otherwise). You gain respect for the amount of fight in Ellie and a real understanding of the hell Joel has been through to survive. And Naughty Dog has presented a very realistic depiction of what hell might be like.
The game is stunning in it’s grimy, post-apocalyptic setting. The graphics are excellent, textures bring everything to life, and the subdued colour palette adds a layer of realism that keeps you engaged.
Level design is clever and functional. The placement of objects for cover drives the emphasis on stealth gameplay. Each chapter is well thought out and delivers an excellent setting for story development and combat. And combat is where The Last of Us grips onto your thumbs and won’t let go.
There’s no other game that gives you the type of brutal, face-to-face combat you’ll experience here. With the emphasis on stealth, there’s an emphasis on melee combat. And it’s fun.
Sneaking up on an enemy with a shiv in his neck, smacking an infected with a pipe iron, or just using your fists in simple hand-to-hand combat are all equally as satisfying. Combine that with some good old fashioned gun play, some stealth weapon options, like a bow and arrow, and the option of crafting a molotov cocktail or nail bomb, and you won’t want to stop.
The ability to craft new weapons, first aid kits, smoke bombs, molotov cocktails and melee modifications in real time without pausing game, keeps you alert and immersed. It’s a great feature and Naughty dog nailed it.
Along with crafting options, you spend the game searching for tools to upgrade your weapons. Adding more power to your shotgun, more ammo capacity for your revolver or greater range for your bow and arrow gives you needed improvements. Infected enemies called Runners (newly infected) will come at you fast, one bite from a Clicker (an older infected) is death, and Bloaters (REALLY old infected) take a LOT of ammo. You need to think about how to approach each situation when there are multiple types of enemies present.
The good news: Joel’s sense of hearing. It’s one of game’s best features. Holding R2 puts Joel into listening mode. He goes ultra stealth and can “hear” through walls, enabling the player to see where different enemies are before committing to a strategy.
So how does the game play as a whole?
The focus on the single player campaign pays off with an excellent story that ebbs and flows with utter beauty. It’s worth at least more than one play through alone, and with the addition of multiplayer, you’ll enjoy many hours more.
The overall presentation is phenomenal and manages to capture the detail of lush environments without an overly dark or bright use of colour. It’s the textures that bring the whole thing to life.
The gameplay is outstanding. The combat is so fun, you’ll find yourself looking forward to each battle. And the looting for tools and materials to craft weapons and first aid kits provides a fantastic balance of RPG and straight combat. And the listening mode adds a layer of strategy accentuated by each environment.
What else is there to say? The Last of Us is an experience. It’s storytelling at its finest, gameplay at its most riveting, and an optical pleasure that pleases in every sense of the word. Naughty Dog has set the bar with this title. Play it, and I think you’ll agree!