20 years ago a parasitic fungal infection spread throughout America, decimating the human race, turning millions into infected monsters. The once great nation is only a shell of its former self. Cities have been turned into wastelands devoid of life, while the Infected roam freely in suburban neighborhoods. Influenced heavily by The Walking Dead and The Road, Joel and Ellie travel across the country to escape the authoritarian law of the quarantine zone and hook up with a resistance movement on the outside.
A technical marvel The Last of Us features top-notch animation and lighting that will have you in awe from start to finish. The superb voice acting for not just Joel and Ellie, but the supporting cast as well helps tie the world together. Brought together through unusual circumstances, Joel promises the leader of a resistance group that he would safely bring Ellie to a hidden base on the other side of the country. Remembering his old life, and what he has lost, the Infected have hardened Joel; making him colder in certain situations. Ellie on the other hand has only known the inside of the quarantine zone and is very inquisitive about the outside world.
The flowing dialogue between Joel and Ellie throughout the emotional narrative comprises some of the best moments in the game. The heart felt dialogue feels vastly “real”, unlike the campy one-liners and winks to the camera from the Uncharted series. Similar to the plot in the The Walking Dead, the zombies or in this case the Infected aren’t your only adversaries throughout the game. Competing factions, who are prominently featured in the multiplayer, play an integral role in the overall narrative. Survival is the key to remain on the human side of the equation. The humans are methodical, planning out their attacks, flanking when you least expect it, but won’t take unnecessary risks to put themselves in harms way. The Infected on the other hand attack without any thought process, driven by the very basic of instincts – adding a new dimension to word frightening.
As the fungus grows, it strips away any resemblance of humanity away from the host. Melee and firearms can easily take care of the basic fast-moving Runners, but the next evolution – Clickers – will be the cause of many restless and nightmare induced nights. Losing their sight, the Clickers track down prey through the use of sound – obviously firearms aren’t the optimal choice here, but run out of shivs and they will instantly end your life.
The combat in The Last of Us feels intimate and at times uncomfortable to watch. Silent kills aren’t a brief animation of a neck being snapped, but a human against another human struggling for survival. The savagery of sticking a homemade shiv deep within a man’s neck, only to watch them bleed out on the ground really hits home. The loose style of the cover system allows for characters to easily move in and out of cover without sticking to any one object. Listening to his surroundings, Joel’s superhuman ability allows him to see outlines of enemies when they make noise. The ability comes in handy when trying to stealthily make your way across rooms littered with enemy patrols.
Outside of accessing the main menu to adjust anything in the options menu or save the game, everything happens in real-time. Crafting or reading the notes and letters from those no longer living doesn’t pause the game; leaving you vulnerable. Even the non-action oriented sections have an ever-looming tense feeling, as you never know if something is lurking behind you. The crafting system itself is relatively straight forward, combining different items found to create healing kits, shivs or various throwing devices such as smoke bombs or Molotov Cocktails. The way the system is setup; you may have to make the difficult decision of crafting one thing over another. Components are shared across multiple items and it pays to scour every inch of the beautifully crafted environments for various items and the most precious commodity of all; bullets.
Finding pills throughout the ordeal allows Joel to upgrade himself, but you must remain mindful that there aren’t enough pills in a single playthough to fully upgrade him. The welcomed New Game + (you should play through the game more than once) allows you to begin the game anew with a semi-upgraded Joel, which will be your only chance to fully upgrade him. Just like the pills, parts can be collected and used to upgrade all of your weapons. In the same vein as the pills, there simply aren’t enough parts to max out every weapon.
The multiplayer offering in The Last of Us, aptly named Factions – features only two game modes to choose from: Supply Raid and Survivors. Survivors features four-on-four matches, where a single wrong move can mean death. Think of it like Counter-Strike, with players only have a single life in each game. Supply Raid on the other hand handles team gameplay differently with a shared pool of lives, feeling like a standard Team Deathmatch match, but with an emphasis on stealth and crafting. Not only is your character completely customizable, from load out to appearance, you represent the head of a group of survivors, sort of like Rick from The Walking Dead. Gathering supplies and completing challenges will keep your group alive, while providing a rather robust unlock system at the same time.
Naughty Dog has set the bar once again with unprecedented presentation and storytelling that surpasses the Uncharted series. The Last of Us showcases just how far action games have advanced with satisfying gameplay mechanics wrapped around a definitive narrative that will be discussed for years to come.
Note: The Last of Us review was written based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game provided to us for review.