The Last of Us is an action-adventure survival horror video game developed by Naughty Dog (the same team behind the hit Uncharted series) and published by Sony Computer Entertainment exclusively for the PlayStation 3. Released just last June 2013, the video game has already reached critical acclaim, with many gaming publications giving it a perfect score.
Having finished playing it a couple of weeks ago, I totally agree. This is just one mind-blowingly amazing game. Playing it was such an intensely riveting experience. Yes, it may have been brutal and violent, but in between all that blood and gore was a powerful story and flawed characters that I cared about.
As author Karl who I lent the game to said in this awesome 8 List article on life lessons we can learn from The Last of Us said: “If you are at all interested in video games and the narrative power they possess and the fuzzy feeling of happy happy joy joy they can imbue, then you must (YOU MUST) play this.”
The Last of Us is set in a brutal post-apocalyptic United States in the year 2033, 20 years after a spore-based infection wiped out most of the population. A mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus works by warping its hosts’ brains, turning them into deadly predators capable of killing with a single bite. Anyone bitten gets infected as well. The player takes control of battle-scarred Joel, who is tasked to escort tough teenager Ellie to a mysterious resistance group called The Fireflies, who believe that she is the key to curing the infection. The player must battle against the zombie-like creatures infected by the virus as well as groups of hostile survivors, who will do anything to survive. According to GamesRadar, the game takes inspiration from such films as The Road, Children of Men, 28 Days Later and the graphic novel and TV series The Walking Dead.
Like the Uncharted series before it, the whole game feels like you’re a main character in a movie. The cut-scenes are cinematic that you just want to sit back and watch in awe. Each setting and landscape in The Last of Us is meticulously and beautifully rendered down to the last pixel. There are wild forests, crumbling towns and bustling refugee centers, designed with amazing attention to details that add to the overall atmosphere of the game.
The character designs for the infected are pretty terrifying, especially when you come face to face with them in an enclosed space and they sink their teeth into your neck or rip apart your jaws with their fungus-ridden hands. Repeatedly. Really, the Clickers and Bloaters (last two stages of the infected) were horrible. I engaged in battle with them only when necessary and avoided them whenever possible.
But what I found most disconcerting was the general silence throughout the game. There were times, when I was just exploring and scavenging for materials, when the game felt really slow. I really felt like I was in an abandoned world.
The game mostly involves exploration, gun fighting, melee combat, and a “dynamic stealth” system that allows the player to employ different strategies to deal with a situation, to which enemies will react differently. In stealth mode, you use a visual representation of sound to listen for locations of enemies. This is pretty useful for taking them out one at a time. There are also a lot of subtle interactive elements that you have to manipulate to get around the environment which can be sort of tricky (but fun) to figure out. You rely a lot on your companion to access higher areas by boosting them up and you will have to do a lot of lateral thinking to open locked doors and cross waterways (Ellie can’t swim), which felt a bit tedious at times.
Crafting is an important part of the game. You can craft weapons and medical items by combining scavenged items like rags, alcohol, bottles and scissors. It’s important to check every single drawer in every house or building because the items like shivs (knife-like weapons), molotov cocktails and nail bombs are sometimes your only way of surviving encounters.
Throughout the course of the game, you get to use a variety of firearms, ranged and melee weapons. Handguns include the 9mm pistol, revolver, a scoped revolver-like handgun called the “El Diablo”, and a sawed-off one handed shotgun called the “Shorty”. Long barelled guns include a bolt action rifle, shotgun, and assault rifle. There’s also the ranged bow, some blunt melee weapons weapons that can be scavenged from the environment (metal pipes, 2 x 4 planks, baseball bats) that degrade after repeated hits, and sharp weapons like machetes, shivs, switchblades, and hatchets. Bottles and bricks are throwable items that can be used to as a simple melee weapon or to distract or stun enemies.
The thing with guns is that ammo is so scarce and unless you’ve collected enough gears to upgrade them, reloading takes forever. Even the shivs have limited uses! Unless you increase its durability, it breaks after one use. I found myself using mostly stealth and blunt weapons in melee combat to deal with enemies one at a time and explosives to deal with groups. My favorite weapon was one of the last available in the game – the Flamethrower. This was highly effective against infected and was really useful in fighting off Clickers and Bloaters. I used it on a lot of soldiers and bandits too.
I have to say that the best thing about The Last of Us is its strong storyline and characters. You get invested in the bond between Joel and Ellie and want to engage in more random conversations to find out more about their backstories. There are also a lot of notes and little clues hidden around the world that make the game more interesting. It was really cool to spot the Uncharted board game and Jak & Daxter in the toy shop in the city! Reading the flyers, letters, military memoranda and diaries scattered about recounting the last days of survivors as they struggled to survive enhanced the whole game experience. The notes scribbled on walls weren’t just graffiti. They were well thought out and even gave a glimpse into the lives of other faceless characters, who I wanted to know more about. Three words: “They didn’t suffer.”
You have to put up with a lot of crap to get from one area to the next and kill off countless infected and humans. But like The Walking Dead (Telltale Games), once you know the twists in the game, I think that’s it. Unless you’re a masochist, a completionist going back for more collectibles with a walkthrough in hand, or you’re playing with someone who hasn’t finished it yet, I’m not sure there’s any reason to replay the game on a more difficult mode. There’s a multiplayer mode for those who want to engage in shoot-em-up combat though. However, the plot is really the main star of The Last of Us
After the initial shock of how the game ends, you’ll be left with memories of a truly epic game. This game will both destroy your faith in humanity and leave you with a sense that all is right in the world.
If that hasn’t convinced you to go out and buy this game right now, just check out the launch trailer here:
FINAL SCORE: 10/10
Game screenshots from Wikia: The Last of Us