The Last of Us
- Street Date:
- June 14th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Mike Flacy
- Review Date:1
- June 14th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- Naughty Dog
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
Riding high off the success of the Uncharted franchise, developer Naughty Dog definitely went in a different direction with The Last of Us. While you can see some small similarities to the world of Nathan Drake in the game, the core gameplay is radically different and the story is just as emotionally impacting as Telltale's The Walking Dead.
Almost immediately, players are put in control of Joel, a 40-something survivor living in Boston approximately 20 years after a mutant fungus tore through the United States infecting and killing the majority of the population. Survivors are left to fend for themselves in quarantine zones within major cities or live outside of these zones in the wilderness. Joel is an intelligent, caring individual that often has to portray himself as the opposite in order to survive. You will see that in his exchanges with Tess, his romantic and business partner of sorts.
Along Joel's journey, you will encounter a feisty 14-year-old girl named Ellie. Filled with teenage bravado, Ellie's attitude is one of hope and wonder. She's discovering parts of the world that she's never seen, learning about humanity's past and generally testing her own limits. While it takes a while for the two characters to start bonding, you will find that Naughty Dog has created something special between these two. Something as simple as listening to Ellie and Joel's banter as she learns how to whistle over the course of the journey is heartwarming. Even though there's fear, despair and death potentially around every corner, the growing father-daughter bond between the two brings a glimmer of light into a completely desperate situation.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Moving away from bullet-sponge characters, you really get the feeling that Joel is just a few wrong moves away from death. Even though Joel has survived for 20 years, he can't hold a gun without it swaying and stumbles immediately when pierced by an enemy's gunfire. In turn, this makes combat just as terrifying as sneaking through areas using stealth. Ammo is in extremely short supply and saving it for the infected often makes more sense than giving away your position among the military or rogue bandit factions that seem to populate every city.
One advantage that Joel has over his enemies is the ability to pinpoint their locations within the environment when the player holds down the R2 button. However, this skill lasts only as long as enemies are moving around the environment. If they stop and take up a stationary position, Joel has to disrupt the environment somehow to get a new fix on their positions. Joel can silently take out human enemies by sneaking up behind them and choking them, however the possibility of getting caught during this action is definitely a risk. Embracing realism, it typically takes Joel a few seconds to put down an enemy. In addition, enemies will alert everyone and call for reinforcements when bodies are found.
Spending time putting down the infected is equally as risky. Once Joel has made himself known in the area, the infected will swarm his position. You need to be immediately ready to shoot or melee fight your way out of the situation. You can also attempt to backtrack to a previous area and hide, but that doesn't always work. Interestingly, there are multiple stages of infected people, thus you has to alter your strategy based off the type of infected in each area. Clickers, infected that attack based solely off hearing, and Bloaters, massive infected beasts with scaly tough armor, will likely be the most difficult to battle. However, Naughty Dog has included an extensive crafting system to help create weapons and diversions for each battle.
Specifically, the player searches each area for items like duct tape, alcohol, rags, nails and other household items. These items can be assembled to create items like health kits, metal shivs, upgraded melee weapons, Molotov cocktails, nail bombs and smoke bombs. This all happens in real-time during the game, thus it's a good idea to stock up on items during lulls in the action rather than having to build items during a firefight. In addition to crafting, you can also find medicinal pills in each area that helps Joel become a better survivor. You can upgrade stats like overall health, ability to fire weapons, crafting speed and other vital skills.
There are also parts strewing about the environment that can be used to upgrade weapons at workbenches. Options include ammo expansion, increased firing rate, scopes, reduced recoil and other upgrades. The holster upgrades are particularly useful, basically allow Joel to quickly switch between two large weapons, like a rifle or shotgun, or two handguns. Otherwise, Joel has to crouch and reach into his backpack to swap out weapons. This also happens in real-time, thus it's important to find a good hiding spot before switching out anything.
If you are a story fanatic, you will find that there are notes left all around the devastated environments, typically to family members that simply didn't make it. These letters and maps can often offer clues to locations of interesting items or upcoming dangers. They often trigger a conversation between Joel and Ellie as well. It's a fun diversion that provides backstory and really adds to humanity's capacity for hope in a desperate situation.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Visually, there's very little to complain about in The Last of Us. While enemy collision with Joel can often look a bit odd when detected, the developers did a fantastic job handling character animations for all situations. Level environments are absolutely stunning as well, typically the attention to detail in creating a post- apocalyptic version of metropolitan cities and rural areas of the United States. In addition, the frame rate is absolutely rock solid when advanced visual effects like exploding spores and raging fire covers the screen. It's probably more detailed an intricate than Uncharted 3, basically using every bit of power in the PlayStation 3; an ideal sendoff for the aging console.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The voice acting within The Last of Us is truly unmatched when pitted against any game released in the last year. Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Troy Baker (Joel) are asbolutely brilliant in their roles. There are many times during the game where the action simply halts and the story is completely driven by banter between Ellie and Joel. It makes you want to spend more time looking around for supplies just to hear another exchange between the two characters. The supporting cast is also phenomenal, particularly W. Earl Brown as Bill, Annie Wersching as Tess and Nolan North as David.
Beyond voices, the music in the game is haunting to say the least. The guitar ballads lend themselves to the rustic, overgrown environment and the sweeping, frantic crescendos during battle situations only plays up the desperate urgency of the situation. The sound effects are also solid as well, everything from the shriek of an infected human to the ringing shots of gunfire. Similar to other stealth games, directional audio is key to determining the direction the enemy is located. Be sure to crank up the sound system to hear every creepy background noise. Or you can play with a quality set of headphones and leap out of your seat any time someone sneaks up behind you.
After you finish the main campaign, Naughty Dog was kind enough to include a mode called "New Game+" that will allow you to play though the campaign again with all the stats and upgrades purchased in the first playthrough. While ideal for hitting achievement goals, it's definitely fun taking completely different tactics since the character can handle enemies more effectively.
There are also two multiplayer options available called Survivors and Supply Raid. Survivors is definitely the more tense of the two modes, basically pitting you against a human controlled team of hunters. It's as if the battlefield is filled with Joels and the team that ends up dead simply makes the most mistakes when sneaking around. It's also timed, so the team that ends up with the more survivors is the winner. Supply Raid is more of a typical deathmatch mode where the team that runs out of a collective pool of lives first loses the match.
Both of these modes tie into the overall clan system called Factions. Basically, players can earn new customization options and extra perks when collecting resources and expanding the virtual group. Overall, multiplayer is definitely entertaining and can add some extra life to a game that was primarily designed around the single player campaign.
It's really tough to describe the amazing gauntlet of emotions that you will experience when playing through 15+ hour campaign in The Last of Us. After all the twists and turns in the narrative, you will truly be amazed at Naughty Dog's ability to weave this masterpiece. Honestly, I've never played anything quite like it and that's saying something with all the games under my belt in the last 15+ years. If you have any interest in story-driven adventure games, don't hesitate to pick up The Last of Us. It's the best that the PlayStation 3 has to offer, without question.
- Dolby Digital 5.1
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