June 05, 2013
If there’s a developer out there that’s really shone with its storytelling this generation, then it’s Uncharted developer, Naughty Dog. Its cinematic action sequences in Uncharted coupled with strong narrative meant that the Uncharted franchise will be one that will truly be remembered this generation.
What we have with The Last Of Us is a different change of pace and tone. Gone are the huge Michael Bay-style set-pieces and Indiana Jones-esque shenanigans, and in comes tension, depravity and survival of the fittest. The Last Of Us is brutal, it’s violent, it’s dark, it’s more mature, and it even pulls on your heartstrings throughout… Uncharted? Uncharted who?
The Last Of Us tells the story of tragic figure Joel, and his young 14-year old potty-mouthed wandering buddy, Ellie, as they trek across post-apocalyptic America trying to avoid the travesties that have fallen upon the world. That’s about all we’re going to say about the plot per se, because it’s best experienced not really knowing all too much about it.
If we’re being completely honest, it’s not the greatest overall plot. In fact, it’s full of zombie survival clichés from start to finish, but it’s the journey of the game’s two characters that is so bloody compelling and so heart-breaking and touching at times.
The chemistry and relationship that exists between Joel and Ellie is what makes The Last Of Us such a memorable experience. Ellie as a sidekick is actually a joy as well, making amusing comments, assisting in firefights and helping you get through a lot of the game’s many puzzles – she’s actually one of my favourite, genuinely useful sidekicks, second only to BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth.
The nods to Fumito Ueda’s ICO run throughout The Last Of Us and it’s a touching experience, but watching and experiencing the tragic journey the duo make, and seeing how they change and grow as people, and how their relationship changes, that’s the core of The Last Of Us’ story.
On the one hand you have a character who watched the outbreak happen and on the other hand, one whose only experience of the world is this terrifying post-apocalyptic cesspit they both find themselves in. They’re just brilliantly written characters in a fabulously envisioned world.
Post-apocalyptic America is a truly impressive vision and instead of opting to have you scurrying around in the dark to elicit scares, you’ll spend most of your time in some light and truly vivid environments. It’s one of the most atmospheric, hand-crafted game worlds we’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
When you do get into the dark though, you’ll be trying your hardest to seek the light at the other end of the tunnel to get out as the game tends to be truly terrifying. That desire you’ll get to survive through is what makes the game so special.
That desire comes about not as a result of luck but as a result of great game design. The pacing is spot on throughout and it peaks and troughs in exactly the right places. After all, without the troughs the peaks aren’t as peaky… or something to that effect. How you define The Last Of Us in terms of genres though depends on you as a player.
If you like to shoot stuff, you could call it an action-adventure title. If you like to explore, you could call it an exploration title. If you like to be scared shitless, you could call it horror. If you like survival titles, then thanks to the scavenging and lack of supplies, you could call it a survival title. It does all of those in abundance, so it’s a hard game to pigeonhole into a specific genre.
What I will say is that if you don’t like exploration or scavenging, then you’re probably not going to get on with The Last Of Us, as that's effectively the key to survival. Bullets and supplies for crafting are naturally in short supply, so you’ll have to go out of your way to find them.
Searching the world for crafting materials to make bombs, Molotov cocktails, shivs, upgrading melee weapons and first aid kits – yes, health doesn’t regenerate in this game! – is a very integral part to survival, as is finding parts to upgrade weapons, pills to upgrade Joel and training manuals to upgrade Joel’s skills. Without doing that, you could be in for a rough time. Even after spending many hours scavenging we found ourselves very short on ammo and crafting materials for the vast majority of the game. Every bullet does count, truly.
That’s what adds to the beauty of the game though, and because of that and the aggressively brutal enemy AI, every gunfight is a gunfight you have to win. A gunfight you truly want to win. It’s tense and it’ll make your palms sweat right from the start to the end, and for that, Naughty Dog must be credited.
We’re going to come out and say this so there’s no illusions: The Last Of Us is hard, it’s brutal, it’s unforgiving at times and in the space of an 18 hour run through on normal, we died 50 times. Yes, 50 times… I’m not sure I died 50 times in all the games I played last year. The game is better off because of it though, and is a much more satisfying and rewarding experience.
More often than you’d think, actually avoiding an all-out firefight with a bunch of survivors or infected is a more viable option and you’ll constantly ask yourself whether the use of all that ammo and supplies needed to take them out will be worth it. If you do decide it’s worth it, sneaking around and taking out as many as you can, setting traps and causing diversions is the key to success. It’s also the key to some satisfying moments as well.
That said, those tactics may only work on human survivors, the infected are a whole different kettle of fish! Runners and Stalkers are fast moving pesky blighters, who are savage and relentless, while Clickers and Bloaters – both are which are blind – can either be harmless if you stay quiet enough, or your worst nightmare if you happen to disturb them. The latter are effectively The Last Of Us’ version of Left 4 Dead’s ‘Witches’ – and yes, just as terrifying. That clicking noise the Clickers make will possibly haunt you forever.
To spend too long talking about the multiplayer would be an injustice to what an epic single-player experience The Last Of Us is. Yes, there is multiplayer there and despite what’s been said about it, it’s not really that unique or innovative.
You basically have two modes: team deathmatch with a pool of lives (known as Supply Raid) and team deathmatch sudden death (Survivors). Sure, there are some game appropriate mechanics in there, like crafting bombs and such with materials you gather from points around the map, and using salvage to upgrade your character for that game in particular, but it’s standard fare for the most part.
It does have a few cool little “stories” associated with whichever side you choose and you get all the usual customisation gubbins, so if you’re that invested in the game, this could keep you busy for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, the multiplayer is fun and you should get a few hours of enjoyment out of it – we did – but if you do go back to The Last Of Us after you’ve finished the story, chances are it’ll be to redo the campaign on a more difficult setting, possibly with Joel and Ellie wearing different outfits and with one of the three screen render types switched on, something you unlock after completing the game once.
Oh, and the trophies? Well, they’re pretty poor and really do scream laziness – there’s eight for completing the game on various different difficulties and modes like New Game Plus – which is bizarre considering that The Last Of Us screams anything but that. You can effectively complete the game and only unlock one trophy, which is almost a travesty. Sure, you may unlock 2 or 3, but still, considering you could be playing it anywhere between 14-18 hours, 1 trophy is terrible in terms of balance. Then there’s the fact that there’s only 24… what’s up with that!? Bad list, bad Naughty Dog.
The Last Of Us is effectively the polar opposite to Uncharted in terms of themes and tone, and yet it still delivers in spades, proving that Naughty Dog is not just a one-trick pony when it comes to telling compelling stories. It’s as much a character driven story and the story of human interaction, than a story about a post-apocalyptic world.
The Last of Us is brutal and more mature than anything we’ve ever seen from Naughty Dog, and yet, it’s up there with some of the very best stuff the studio has created. A game revolving around trust issues, moral ambiguity and survival of the fittest in a fantastically created husk of a world with some finely crafted characters; what more could you ask for?
A stellar performance from the voice cast – notably Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker – and a fantastic score.
I never thought I’d see that day where a developer could balance the nitty-gritty and dark cesspits of a post-apocalyptic world with vibrant colours and beautiful sights. It’s refreshing!
Despite the lack of a truly effective cover system, The Last Of Us is a pleasure to play. You’ll be sneaking through shadows, vaulting over waist high walls and sticking shivs into anyone who’ll take them in no time.
14-18 hours of edge of your seat survival madness, in a brilliant world and with a compelling cast of characters, you couldn’t ask for anymore, really. And if you want more, there’s multiplayer.
They’re abysmal, there’s nothing more to say on the matter.
Naughty Dog has gone out of this generation with a bang. A pus-filled, brutal, moral tainting and blood soaked bang. The Last Of Us is one of the year’s most mature and character driven experiences, and one of the finest experiences this generation. It’s survival of the fittest out there, and Naughty Dog has survived by creating such a heartfelt, heart warming, heart string pulling, heart stabbing experience that is both massively rewarding and hugely satisfying.