The Last of Us is Naughty Dog’s latest game for the PlayStation 3 that deviates from the adventurous style of Uncharted, and puts you into a post-apocalyptic setting where survival is key. The Uncharted trilogy has definitely made Naughty Dog stand out as a top-tier developer this generation, so does The Last of Us provide to be their proper sendoff letter to the PS3?
The story in The Last of Us is a difficult one to discuss here, as almost anything said will spoil what awaits. However, I will keep this as spoiler-free as possible. Joel is a hardened survivor who has witnessed much in his time dealing with the plague that is putting an end to humanity. In a time where resources are scarce and safety seems to be a term unheard of, Joel does whatever he can to stay alive. Early on, Joel is partnered with Tess, who like Joel, does whatever it takes to survive. They have a friendship in which they work together to take on smuggling jobs so that they can obtain the essentials to survive another day. Upon taking one of their jobs, they run into the task of having to escort Ellie, a 14 year-old girl who’s importance is not explained from the get-go. Along the journey, you will meet a cast of characters that all have their own struggles, as well as get attached to them. You will witness that not only is the plague that’s turned people into infected the enemy, but survivors as well. It’s survival of fittest as they struggle on who can be trusted and who can’t.
Naughty Dog is known for their astonishing storytelling and The Last of Us continues that trend. Characters are fleshed out immensely and their voice actors steal the show. It literally takes seconds to get enticed in the brilliantly scripted story and once you do, there’s no turning back. When you finish the story (which took me exactly 12 hours to complete), you’ll feel that you’ve went on as much of a journey as Joel and Ellie have in the game…which is something very few games have ever achieved.
When Naughty Dog announced the game back at the 2011 VGAs, many people wondered if the game was going to essentially be an Uncharted with a post-apocalyptic setting. Over the course of time, we’ve seen and heard that it would be nothing like Uncharted. I can easily say that The Last of Us is a unique experience from start to end. Instead of your hollywood-style action set pieces, you’ll be placed in a setting that’s all about survival, and that every little resource you have can either lead to your survival or your death. If you think this is a game you can just “run-n’-gun” your way through, you’re going to be in for a surprise. Naughty Dog aimed to bring a true feeling of survival in a desolate setting that appears to have no hope. You won’t be unloading 400 rounds of ammo in a single action scene…and that’s a good thing because it’s fair to say a ton of games in the market already do that.
You will control Joel in a move-strafe method with the control stick, while naturally controlling the camera with the right analog stick. There is no “jump” button but you will jump or scour up walls if you’re near them by pressing the X button. Melee is handled primarily with the square button, while triangle may counter or grab the enemy. The melee is extremely raw and visceral by the way. Every time you get into melee combat with an enemy, it’s not over-the-top or hollywood-ish. Each punch, attack and reaction is incredibly realistic and nails the sense of struggle perfectly. When handling guns, it is much more like Resident Evil or Dead Space, where you must aim first and then you can fire. There’s no aimlessly firing from the hip. Also, when aiming down the sights, Joel will not keep a steady hand and you’ll see the reticle swaying back and forth a bit. It’s not excessive, but it makes the shooting combat more challenging and rewarding. Realistically, if you’re in the situations Joel is put through, there’s no way you’d be able to keep a completely steady hand when fighting away these terrifying creatures. It reminded me much of Resident Evil 4, whenever Leon would aim, you’d see his laser pointer on the guns shake a bit…which is realistic. A huge portion of dealing with scenarios in the game revolves around stealth. However, Joel can enter Listen Mode, which amplifies the audio of enemies in the environments and highlights them. You’ll simply hold down R2 and Joel will be able to move very slowly (or stay still) while having an idea of where the people and/or creatures are.
One of the coolest elements in The Last of Us is the crafting system. Since you’ll be scouring the environments for any resources you can find, you’ll need to create some items to ensure your survival. Simply pressing the Select button will have Joel go through his backpack, seeing what items and resources he’s collected. When you go into the crafting menu, you’ll be able to see all the resource materials you’ve gathered. These range from alcohol, tape, blades, rags, etc. So should you be low on medical kits, you can choose that item and the game will automatically highlight which resource items are needed to create one. Thankfully, the crafting system is one of the simplest I’ve come across in any game and makes crafting a cinch. However, choosing which items you craft is the important step. Some resources are used for a few different crafting items. If you create a medical kit, it uses one of the main ingredients to creating molotov cocktails. Do you create something to benefit your condition or something to give you a greater chance of clearing out infected enemies? Do you create a shiv to stab an enemy in the neck, attach a shiv to a melee object or create a bomb that shreds through anything near it? It’s these type of crafting decisions that make all the difference. Then, there are points where you’ll reach a workbench. At these points, you can upgrade Joel’s gear with the tools you’ve found. You’ll be able to upgrade the reload speed, clip size and fire rate of your weapons, and even add an extra holster for a pistol and long gun so that you don’t have to access your backpack when swapping those weapons. You will not be able to upgrade everything on your first playthrough, but that’s fine, as there is a New Game + mode to tackle when you complete the game once. Also, you will find supplement pills throughout the campaign. When collecting enough of these, Joel will be able to enhance some of his abilities, such as increasing your health, crafting speed, Listen Mode distance, etc. There are a ton of choices to make when it comes to upgrading both Joel and the weapons/gear you’ll carry.
When it comes to AI in The Last of Us, it really is unrivaled. Enemies all react dynamically based on their attributes and no enemy ever follows the same line or path. For example, enemies known as “Clickers” can’t see anything but they hear even the slightest bit of noise. So if they hear you, they’ll be sprinting toward that direction. However, if you manage to stay quiet enough where they can’t hear you, they may stop looking for you but they certainly will not return to the area they originally were. Scenarios such as this (which are quite often) help convey a sense of tension that I haven’t felt with a game since Resident Evil 4. A big element of the game is sound, so should you throw a brick or bottle at a location, enemies will check it out and look around the particular area until they’ve found something. There are a variety of infected types you’ll take on and they vary based on how long infection has spread on a poor soul’s body. Infected aren’t the only enemies you’ll have to worry about though. There are hunters out there that will kill anyone for food, clothes and resources. Non-infected hunters will work together to flank you should they spot you…and they’re a force to be reckoned with. Should a group spot you, they’ll be packing heat and wielding lead pipes and 2x4s, aggressively coming after you. The enemy AI isn’t the only impressive element in the game though. Since a massive portion of the game is having Ellie alongside Joel, one must wonder how they’ve handled partner AI. Thankfully, Ellie is one of the most advanced AI’s I’ve witnessed in a game to date. She may be a young 14 year old, but she’s grown up in this mess of times and has become a product of her environment. For example, if an enemy grabs Joel from behind, Ellie may quickly run to you and stab the enemy from behind so that Joel can break free to finish the enemy off. She’ll also shout out to Joel if an enemy is trying to sneak up on him by saying, “Joel, behind you!”
Nowadays, developers feel a pressure that multiplayer has to be implemented into their games to increase longevity. Sure, it can provide for some fun times but lets be honest, many games have throwaway multiplayer tacked on just to have the feature checked off on a list. However, Naughty Dog doesn’t just “tack” features on in their games and we’ve seen that with Uncharted 2’s multiplayer. When that released in 2009, the multiplayer won over the hearts of many gamers (myself included with over 120 hours in that mode alone) and proved how to make a multiplayer mode that flawlessly transitions the gameplay mechanics from the single-player to online. With The Last of Us, many wondered how the multiplayer would be. Well, The Last of Us implements the entire campaign’s gameplay mechanics into the multiplayer the same way Uncharted 2 & 3 did for their campaign to multiplayer transition. Much like the campaign, you can’t run to the middle of the action, guns blazing and thinking you can win. It just doesn’t work like that at all. When you start up the multiplayer (known as Factions), you’ll be presented with two faction types: Hunters and Fireflies. Upon choosing this, you’ll be locked into your faction until one of the following happens: complete the 12 week survival cycle or if your clan dies. Now let me explain this a bit more, because here is where the setup of the multiplayer differs immensely from your typical “gain XP for literally everything you do”. There’s no XP or “level ranks” to be found in this game. Instead, you’ll will earn supplies the better you play. The more kills you get, the more supplies you can nab off your opponent. At the end of a match, if you met the minimum quota or more, you’ll have more “survivors” join your cause. The more survivors that join, the more supplies you’re going to need to sustain them. Upon getting survivors, you’ll see three statuses: Healthy, Hungry and Sick. Healthy means you’re earning more than enough supplies to keep your survivors alive. Hungry means you’re doing ok, but not good enough to cater to everyone. Sick means you’re doing a poor job in matches and not acquiring enough resources. Beyond this point, your survivors can die and if all of them do, your online run is done. You have 12 weeks to try and survive, as well as keep your survivors healthy and kicking. Every match counts as a single day, and each week presents a new story element to the multiplayer that you can check in the Clan Messages. Next to your PSN ID (or Facebook name since you can connect with that), there’ll be a number. This number signifies the amount of weeks you’ve survived. It’s an incredibly refreshing setup and style that replicates the aesthetics of the campaign and its setting.
There are two multiplayer modes you can play: Supply Raid and Survivors. Supply Raid is basically a team deathmatch of 4v4, where each team will have up to 20 respawning lives that all players on a team share. There’s constantly a respawn timer cycling as you play so you won’t always respawn in 3-5 seconds, as it can be upwards to 20 seconds the most. Survivors is still the 4v4 team deathmatch style but takes place in rounds. At the start of round, each player gets a single life. If they die, they’re out of the round. The team that wins four rounds total wins the entire match. Interestingly, the team that’s losing towards the end of a match will be given a slight advantage by seeing a proximity of where the opposing team is hiding by a massive red flash on the radar. Like Uncharted’s multiplayer, you’ll be able to customize your loadouts and emblems. You’ll be given 9 points to allocate to your loadout, which if chosen carefully, can have you going out there with two weapons and four perks. Naturally, it’s all about finding the weapons and perks that work best for you. As you progress through the multiplayer, you will earn new perks and weapons for you to test out. In the hours I’ve spent with the multiplayer, it was lag-free and incredibly addictive. There’s no question that many will extend countless hours just playing online.
Naughty Dog’s engine has really blown away gamers worldwide, with visual detail that almost no other developer has been able to achieve on consoles this generation. With The Last of Us, they’ve not only surpassed their visual benchmark, they’ve crafted what is very well the most visually stunning game ever designed this generation. The rich level of detail on the character models has completely exceeded those one would come to expect. Facial animations are so realistic, it’s scary. Whether you’re fighting enemies, exploring the environment, or unfortunately dying, the facial animations are precisely what you would expect them to be. Environments are also insanely detailed, with every single little texture being given as much attention as those of the more pivotal elements. It may be a post-apocalyptic setting, but Naughty Dog has crafted their environments in such a superb style that makes you feel like you’re right there with Joel and Ellie. All the characters’ animations are very realistic and animate precisely the way they would in real-life. For example, when in cover, if you go up to exactly where Ellie is, Joel will still hug the wall over Ellie with his arm extended a slight bit but next to her as close as possible, with no clipping of the models or collision boxes to prevent this. If Joel walks under a stream of water, he’ll put his hand up to cover his face from getting wet. Even when Joel takes a hit to the face from a lead pipe, you’ll see blood dripping from his face and onto his clothes. Little details like this go a long way to further flesh out the game’s aesthetics and environment. Naughty Dog was dedicated to providing their best visual representation and they’ve done so with flying colors. This is by far, the best looking console game…ever.
Where do I even begin to praise the stellar audio in this game? Well, lets look at the stars of the show: Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie). TLoU has the most believable voice acting in a game to date. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson bring their characters to life in such a way that you grow immensely attached to them and feel for their causes. They definitely have a chemistry that works flawlessly and are almost always conversing with each other, whether in a cutscene or during gameplay. Infected enemies like “Clickers” have the creepiest audio effect when they’re spotted in the area and provide a sense of fear I haven’t felt since El Salvador (chainsaw guy) from Resident Evil 4. Guns and weapons all have an incredibly impacting sound to them. Whether you’re firing off a pistol, revolver, shotgun, or rifle, each gun sounds like they pack a punch and are distinctive from one another. Melee combat sounds brutal and painful, as it should. If I hit someone with a lead pipe or get hit by one, you should be reacting based on the audio and The Last of Us nails that. The soundtrack composed by Gustavo Santaolalla provides a very fresh and unique style to the game that grows on you the more you hear it in-game. Recurring themes help convey the sense of despair and hope that the characters are clearly showing. Music isn’t always playing in the background either, whether exploring or in combat. It plays only at moments it truly needs to and while that’s something that would normally bother me (since I’m an audiophile), the voice acting and superb audio effects carry the game on its own perfectly. Do yourselves a favor…play with the audio all the way up.
Overall Score: 20/20 = 10 out of 10
The Last of Us is one of those games that will go down in history as one of the biggest achievements in gaming history. Naughty Dog is known for pushing the boundaries within their games and The Last of Us is no different. With one of the most engaging stories ever told, rich atmosphere, phenomenal visual and audio presentation and flawless gameplay, The Last of Us is easily the best game of 2013 so far and is an experience that should not be missed by any means. It’s the perfect sendoff letter for Naughty Dog to leave the PS3 with so that they can focus on the upcoming PS4.
+ Best visuals in a console game to date
+ Powerful audio
+ Incredibly believable voice acting
+ Outstanding story
+ Flawless gameplay
+ Fresh, addictive multiplayer
– The journey comes to an end…
Copy purchased by author for review purposes.