The Last of Us has been a highly anticipated game since last year’s E3 and is made by the studio Naughty Dog which is best known for the Uncharted series, Jak and Daxter, and Crash Bandicoot. Prior to release of The Last of Us, it received over 30 perfect 10/10 scores from various reviewers. Now I’m one not to buy into the hype until I get my hands on the actual game or movie and I hope that is part of the reason why you read my reviews. Also the zombie apocalypse setting also hurt my interest in the game prior to playing it. I’m rather tired of the zombie genre and I have a feeling World War Z will be the nail in the coffin for the undead genre, for awhile at least. However, after actually playing The Last of Us, I learned it was about far more than just fighting zombies. This is one of the most emotionally strong and well acted games I have ever played as well as one of the best survival horror games I have played in a long time. Many do not consider it a survival horror but I do as survival is a big part of the game and it does a good job of building suspense and it got a few good scares out of me. Let’s take a closer look at this odyssey of a zombie game.
STORY: It’s been 20 years since a pandemic spread by spores of a cordyceps-like infection that alters humans into cannibalistic zombie like creatures spread across the world (based on Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. It’s a real thing. Look it up. I give them points for something a little more original than some zombie making virus). Humanity has been ravaged by the infection and most survivors reside in Quarantine Zones controlled by what has become a very oppressive US government. You play as Joel, a man who has had a really hard life since the outbreak began. He and his partner Tess routinely run smuggling operations out of the quarantine zone for various reasons. They end up taking a job from a resistance group known as the Fireflies. Their job to take a 14 year-old girl named Ellie to a group of Fireflies in center of Boston. As they set out, they learn things will be nowhere near as easy as they had first thought and end up on a long trail across the country dealing with infected and humans alike in the hopes of finding reason and hope for the last of humanity.
The first ten minutes of this game may go down as one of the most powerful and emotional openings to a game ever. It has brought many people to tears. The downside is that it slows down significantly after that and goes into the usual tutorial mode that you see integrated into the start of most games. This does not affect the flow of the story however. The game is very well paced and is rather long at around 15+ hours, I think. I didn’t keep track but it was a lot longer than I expected. At the heart of the story is the forming bond between Joel and Ellie and this game is an emotional roller coaster. The interaction between Joel and Ellie is interesting and watching develop is done in a very realistic and believable way. This game is a benchmark in acting and character development in video games. The most interesting conversations mainly deal with the generational gap between the two characters; Joel remembering life before the pandemic and Ellie has never lived outside a quarantine zone. Joel, Ellie, and pretty much every other character in the game truly feels like a real person. Sadly, it never really tops the emotional punch in the face that the first 10 minutes of the game is. Especially, the ending which I felt was rather anti-climatic and didn’t really care for the note it left on BUT that isn’t to say the ending is bad. It’s no let down of an ending like Mass Effect 3 but it doesn’t come close to touching those first 10 minutes. That’s all up to opinion though. The emotional drama is not just felt in the cut scenes but also in the game play as well.
GAMEPLAY: The core of The Last of Us generally acts like a third person shooter with stealth playing a big role. The game expects you to use stealth as much as possible because you will not be able to Rambo your way out of most situations like in most survival games these days. This is not an easy game and you will most likely find yourself dying in certain parts over and over again so be warned. The game gives you very limited ammo for all of your weapons. You must approach a situation and figure out the best way to get through or around it and it all depends on who or what you are dealing with. The tension that can get built from sneaking around a group of infected can be bought and sold whole sale. It leads to some very intense situations especially when dealing with the Clicker type zombies who can kill you as soon as they get a hold of you. When I say this game is scary, I don’t mean in the jump scares that you sadly see relied on in most horror movies and games these days. It builds it up to the point where you are afraid to make the wrong move. The infected are not the only enemies you’ll be dealing with. Humans are just a big a threat as zombies. The heart lands of America are filled with ruthless nomads who will do anything to survive and it’s them or you. You will often find yourself in fire fights with them but since you have very limited ammo, you better make each shot count. This game really makes it sting when you miss a shot. Dealing with humans can be just as scary as dealing with zombies.
You also have melee weapons and homemade explosives at your disposal as well as beer bottles or bricks laying around that you can use to cause a distraction or beat someone with at close range. Melee weapons range from 2x4s and lead pipes to axes and machetes. You can only use them a limited amount of times before they break but you can also upgrade them using scissors and tape you find laying around to salvage. That goes for med kits, shivs, and other stuff in your arsenal. Always be on the lookout for things you can use. You will find all kinds of ways to defend yourself other than just with guns. And sometimes it’s better to just run.
However, the biggest problem in the game comes from the friendly AI. During this game’s development, it was mentioned that this game would have unparallel AI design. In the gameplay footage shown at E3, it looked like Ellie was being controlled by another person instead of by the computer but it was indeed the game’s AI. Well, it would seem something must have happened because the AI can be just plain dumb during some stealth segments. Many times they would just wonder out where enemies could see them or the enemy AI would literally walk right up on them and would act like nothing is there. Till they saw me, that is. My guess is that their hopes to have very intelligent AI wasn’t working and they were running out of time so they just made the friendly AI immune to getting spotted by the enemy. The enemy is designed to only react to when spotting the human player. This is how most AI works in most games but here it becomes extremely obvious, especially with how the rest of the game is made to be painstakingly realistic. It takes you out of the game when you see these hick ups with the AI happen. Also occasionally Ellie would get in my way on a narrow path and block my way. She’d move but not enough so I’d have to fight to get around her. However, this only happened a couple times. The enemy AI when you’re fighting them, on the other hand, is very smart and will find ways to flank and ambush you. This is when you need to make go use of the listening mode.
There are a couple minor graphical glitches like textures or parts of the world disappearing for a second but these were very minor and rare. One big glitch I did find was if you climbed into the window that is partly open from inside the restaurant during Winter, it will cause you to fall through the world and die. So, don’t do that. The game also has fairly long load times when you are first starting up and loading a game. However, the lack of load times in game makes up for it, I guess
GRAPHICS AND SOUND: The Last of Us is easily one of the most photorealistic games I have ever played and takes full advantage of the PS3’s hardware. The environments are just spectacular to look at and a lot of effort was put in to the locations that the game takes place in. The strangely beautiful ruins of American cities and towns and the wilderness, The Last of Us is just pure eye candy in showing what life would be like after humanity falls. The motion capture is also some of the best I’ve ever seen and a big part of the emotional drive for this game especially when it comes to facial expressions. It looks like you’re watching real people on screen, not video game characters. This is not just in cut scenes, but in game as well. The characters move and act like real people as you play as them. This feels like a next gen-game in terms of graphics.
Troy Baker might possibly be one of the best voice actors currently out there and he does an amazing performance as Joel. Troy also recently played Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite but here we actually see him acting, not just voice acting. His Texas accent is just perfect. Of course, Troy is originally from Texas so it makes sense. Ashley Johnson plays Ellie does a superb job playing a teen age girl coping with the situation she is in. She’s funny sometimes and a very tragic character at times as well. As I mentioned before, the characters are what brings this game’s story to life and the acting in it is academy award worthy.
Overall, The Last of Us is a must have game if you like anything related to zombies, The Walking Dead, or anything else that is post-apocalyptic. Sadly, this is a PS3 exclusive which I did not realize till after getting picking it up. It’s been a long time since I’ve played an exclusive title for the PS3. This game is a reason to get a PS3 or at least barrow one from a friend. It is a very challenging game but don’t let that scare you. This is a very strong contender for my game of the year list. It would get a 10/10 from me if it weren’t for the less than impressive AI (Elizabeth from Bioshock is still the best AI I’ve seen) and the rather ‘meh’ ending. Never the less, this is a must play game for this year and I urge anyone to check out. Thanks for reading! My next game review may be the Deadpool game but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to actually covering it. Also be on the lookout for some SNES and other classic game over views I’ll be working on this summer.