Everyone knows that as we near the end of any console cycle in preparation for the next generation of consoles, great games are all but naught. Whether they are big or small, short or lengthy, massive or compelling worlds. We get them. It is a known fact that has long repeated itself console cycle after console cycle many years past. With that said, the 7th generation console cycle has undoubtedly received many ground breaking games in the past six years or so. Sony brought forth the thunder with Naughty Dog and their two-time Game Of The Year winners Uncharted and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. We have seen their creative minds blow us away time and time again, but this time, oh yes this time, Naughty Dog has truly surpassed themselves in every way possible. The Last of Us. Four tiny yet simple words strewn together to create what, to me, is quite possibly the generation defining game of 2013 thus far.
The Last of Us has to be one of the best and most well put together stories I have ever experienced in my twenty-plus years of gaming. It’s immediately a heart wrenching, tear jerking, and heart pounding story with an alarming sense of survival. The world of The Last of Us has come to a sudden stop. People are losing their minds and many are dying right before your eyes. Looting and riots fill the streets along with fear and death. Neighbors who were once friends have gone insane with some sort of sickness, as have millions around the world. Would you do what it takes to protect your family or loved ones? Would you shoot a man point-blank just to survive? CAN you survive?
Joel is our main protagonist in the epic tale, The Last of Us, that you are soon to embark on. Avoiding spoilers, the story jumps a bit into the future taking place in the year 2033 after a fungal infection destroys much of the world’s population and turning the infected into feral monsters. We find our protagonist Joel living in Boston as a black market smuggler. Living in one of many worldwide quarantine zones after the world has come to a sudden halt, he does what he needs to survive and while still retaining his humanity from the past. Taking on odds jobs here and there, his partner Tess has a plan to secure supplies for them from an “acquaintance.” Now, what should have been a simple smash and grab for supplies, leads into the events of Joel and Tess meeting our second protagonist of the game, Ellie. Joel is tasked with the job of smuggling Ellie out of the quarantine zone in exchange for supplies for survival in this harsh new world. What was meant to be a simple job has now turned into an unlikely team up for survival and a quest for answers.
If you have played Naughty Dog’s previous masterworks in the Uncharted series, you’ll feel right at home in terms of controls. You will experience this game in the third-person and feel comfortable with the mechanics of the game-play while exploring the world. Exploration is almost key in The Last of Us for two absolute core reasons. Exploring for supplies yields the benefit of upgrading Joel in different ways such as increased health or less damage taken during combat. Second, finding spare scrap parts are also useful, and at times a necessity to upgrade your arsenal of weapons. Your arsenal upgrades include things like: less recoil on a shotgun, increased accuracy on a sniper rifle, and even a larger clip for your pistols. All of these are valid reasons to go out of your way to find parts and make yourself an upgraded badass. The Last of Us also does an excellent job of making you feel desperate for supplies in your time of need. I can’t tell you how many countless times I opened a drawer or a desk throughout the game only to be disappointed by finding them empty time and time again.
When you realize that supplies are extremely limited, you start to make hard choices when it comes to crafting. Finding a bottle of alcohol is perfect for treating wounds and recovering health, but it’s also good for creating Molotov cocktails which are used in combat against your enemies. Do you heal yourself in your time of need or do you take a risk and make yourself a new weapon? It’s all up to you and it works beautifully when you have to make those tough decisions. Fire a shot of your gun and risk alerting all enemies in the area or stealthily sneak your way past enemies and silently take them out? Again, the choice is yours and it is always dynamically changing as you progress.
Combat is tense and nerve-racking. Fighting is something that should not be used as an answer to everything as it is physically dangerous. The people Joel fights are just like him, just people trying to survive in this God forsaken world plagued by mutated monsters. Stealthily killing entire areas of enemies is incredibly satisfying, so much so that when you blow your cover you feel the fear take over and almost instinctively run or fight for your life.
It’s hard not to feel a sense of disappointment when you blow it at times, but it’s such a satisfying feeling of relief when you defeat your enemies or escape with your life. Holding down R2 while crouching lets Joel listen carefully to his surroundings, giving him a glimpse of enemy locations almost in a Batman: Arkham Asylum sort of way. The Last of Us does a phenomenal job of making each and every enemy feel human, and killing one ends with a heavy grunt as they take their dying breath or a gurgle of blood as you stab them with a shiv through the neck.
That being said, not all of The Last of Us‘ enemies are humans. Since the collapse of society and the viral outbreak of the fungus known as Cordyceps, former humans are now mutated and savage beasts. The Infected are your enemies to watch out for. No matter which faction a person falls into, whether he’s with the remnants of the federal government, or rogue groups known as Hunters, or even the mysterious resistance organization known as The Fireflies, everyone has one common enemy: The Infected. While your human enemies such as the Hunters are just like you, just people surviving in this hell hole and fighting with strangers for supplies. The Infected however are mindless, violent creatures that only have one thing left on their destroyed minds; killing Joel and Ellie at any given turn.
Fighting off hordes of The Infected can be a fearful task, especially when you’re outnumbered ten to one. The lesser versions of The Infected, known as Runners, can be taken out with firearms and melee strikes alike. It’s the Clickers, humans infected for many years by the Cordyceps fungus that they can’t even see anymore that will haunt your exploration of the game and your dreams. They can only be killed with silent shiv strikes or a firearm. Silence is more often than not your best weapon against them, but if they so much as get their hands on you then it’s game over. This is where upgrading Joel comes in handy since there are upgrades to take down Clickers easier than early on in the game. In this world, they are the true threat. It’s not very likely you’ll ever get comfortable dealing with them and being mere feet away from them, crouching, hoping for dear life they don’t somehow sense your presence and rip you apart.
The relationship that grows between Ellie and Joel as they fight to protect one another is the most genuine one I’ve ever seen in a game brought to life by superb writing and excellent performances. It’s more than your typical father-daughter relationship and more so an easy ploy to tug at the heartstrings. A deep love blooms between the two of them, tinged with a sadness that sometimes makes it difficult to bear. The tough and grizzled Joel begins to open up after being so closed for over 20 years, and Ellie begins to open up instead of pushing others away. The love that is created between them is a memorable story for years to come and bring up the long asked question; What would you do to protect those you love?
I thought graphics couldn’t get any better, but man, oh man was I wrong. The Last of Us looks absolutely stellar. There were times where I stood with Joel and Ellie in some of the most peaceful areas I’ve ever seen only to suck in the experience. I didn’t want to move my left analog stick because I didn’t want that peaceful moment to leave me. The world you explore is a big mish-mash of environments ranging from serene peaceful grasslands, to dark eerie jump out of your seat moments. The realistic look of water, trees, meadows, and snow on the mountains all make this a living, breathing world. Wildlife has taken over again in what were once busy and bustling cities. Abandoned cars and empty stores fill the world from start to finish.
Forests, fields, cities and roads are overgrown, dense, and lush with nature reclaiming the Earth. Abandoned villages and metropolises alike are eerie, silent, and crumbling. Buildings are empty, shopping centers completely looted, and abandoned vehicles litter the streets for miles on end. Each environment is unique, thoughtfully crafted and created, and bursting with the smallest details including notes, letters, voice recorders and more that tell stories of survivors you may never ever meet in person. It’s all the little things that form a bigger picture in The Last of Us to give the world true meaning.
Sound is quite often overlooked in many games but it should not be something overlooked. Imagine playing your favorite game without any sound and only having dialogue. It would easily be a pretty bland game without a solid musical score wouldn’t you agree? Once again, The Last of Us delivers something else wonderful other than great game-play and stunning visuals, it’s audio track. The music this world brings is very engaging and deeply filled with emotional expression. There are times where the music track alone can give you a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking moment and succeed with ease.
The banter between Joel and Ellie, not to mention other characters you meet on your adventure, are some of the best things about The Last of Us. With that said, the great voice work provided by Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie) really bring the characters to life and give you a sense of reality. They make you feel for these characters, you care for them, and you have a genuine love for them just as much as they do for each other.
Not only is the voice work fantastic, the musical score is a profound and gorgeous masterpiece that blends emotion together with each scene flawlessly. The musical composer Gustavo Santaolalla has truly created one of the best video game scores of all time. Each time I turned on my PlayStation 3 to play The Last of Us, chills were sent down my spine every time I heard the music load up. The sections with the most dramatic sequences were some of the absolute best and the music was fitted to each individual scene without skipping a beat.
The Last of Us’ online mode is simply broken down into a mode called Factions. Once you begin multiplayer mode, you choose one of two sides and then jump into one of two sub-modes: Supply Raid and Survivors. Survivors presents players with a best-of-seven series in a four-on-four match where death is permanent. Survivors’ meticulous play is literally ripped right out of the campaign, except instead of fighting AI-controlled partners, you’ll be dealing with even smarter humans. It’s a fantastic and fun mode, one where every player on the map is overflowing with nerves afraid to make a mistake.
Supply Raid, on the other hand, is about whittling down the other team by eroding their overall life count. It’s more generic than its counterpart, but the idea of having a shared number of lives forces you to strive for better play. It makes you not want to be the reason your team loses and it makes you not want to let your team or friends down. Like Survivors mode, Supply Raid also allows you to craft items on the fly using components found on the map and feels a lot like the single-player game. By scaling back the modes and the player counts compared to the likes of Uncharted, Naughty Dog has all but removed the barrier between single player and multiplayer and has made the two modes feel grounded in the same reality.
What’s really neat about The Last of Us’ online is the meta-game that follows everything you do. When playing online, your character, who is fully customizable in both appearance and loadout, is the leader of a band of survivors. Successfully winning online matches, collecting items, and engaging in challenges called Missions helps grow your band of survivors. Of course if you fail, your band of survivors decreases in size. It’s a simple system, but it’s really addicting when you start getting into it. It creates a higher level and different way to gauge your overall success by something other than wins or losses and kill-to-death ratio from your matches. Plus, linking your Facebook account to The Last of Us’ multiplayer mode will show all your friends doing something in a sort of background meta game all on its own.
If you are one of the few people who somehow still does not own a PlayStation 3 yet, then this is the reason you SHOULD get one. The Last of Us is without a doubt one of Sony’s strongest exclusives on PlayStation 3 and of all time for that matter. Not only does it join the ranks of Uncharted, Killzone, Resistance, God of War, inFamous, LittleBigPlanet, Heavy Rain and many more, but it manages to beat them all. In short, Naughty Dog has crafted a game that impresses in virtually every way. Its unrivaled presentation sets the bar even higher than the Uncharted trilogy already did, and its writing, voice acting and layered gameplay combine to create what is very easily the game to beat for Game of the Year 2013. This game has everything from top to bottom and is the reason I love being a gamer and writing about the things I love. You will not be disappointed with this masterpiece of a game and superb story telling. This was the perfect sendoff Naughty Dog could have ever created for the PlayStation 3’s life cycle and I can only imagine what they have in store for everyone on the PlayStation 4.
Score: A fantastic and well deserved 10/10
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: June 14, 2013 (Worldwide)
Price: $59.99 (NA) €59.99 (EU)
Online: 2 – 8
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3