The genres of survival horror, epic action adventure, and emotionally compelling story unite in The Last of Us. The scavenging and planning qualities of survival-horror-A-list-er Resident Evil: 4 combined with the pure amazement of well-designed action sequences such as in Naughty Dog’s previous releases, Uncharted 2 & 3, make for such an exciting ride, and when the game’s script and characters surface to well-above-average levels, such as in Mass Effect or a Quantic Dream release (like Heavy Rain), The Last of Us becomes a thoroughly arresting gaming experience. It is pretty much just a mash-up of genres and styles, but what is great about it is no one aspect gets left out – they all feel even, build upon each other, and flourish .
My rating for 2013’s The Last of Us for PS3 is…
The Last of Us starts 20 years before the main hunk of the game where Joel (the main playable character) discovers the infection (along with the rest of the world), and struggles to get himself and his daughter out of town. Amid the chaos and confusion, he is unsuccessful, and his daughter and he tragically part. The gamer is left to fill in the 20 year gap with their own ideas on his grieving process. When we return to Joel, he has become bitter, grumpy, and emotionally closed off. We learn that civilization has essentially collapsed and every man is in a fight to survive. This is where the gameplay-learning begins.
After a few routine (for gamers) encounters with human enemies on one of Joel and Tess’s usual quests to recover supplies, he discovers Ellie (the other main character) and what would be a daring new mission during which Joel’s life would forever be changed. He is to deliver her to a special organization because there is something unique about her. Only interested in getting their supplies, Joel and Tess agree to take on the mission and escort the girl across a city of infected. This is where the zombie-like enemies are introduced, and battling with them proves very different than fighting humans. The three soon find out the real meaning of Ellie’s uniqueness, and realize the more important effect of completing this mission. After Tess regrettably has to leave Joel and the girl to complete the mission on their own, the pair finds themselves having to trust the other a lot more than they ever anticipated as they journey into the unknown. This is where The Last of Us really starts.
Joel, still very bitter about his own daughter, stays very distant and in some cases impatient with Ellie. But he soon realizes that he needs her – in more and more ways as the story develops. With the these character’s development in high-attention, the gameplay is enhanced by the feelings the player has for them.
Throughout the crumbling and overgrowing city worlds the two trek on, the player gets (completely optional) opportunities to search all around for ammo, utensils, tools, materials, and trinkets. These can be used to craft various helpful things like health kits, deadly melee objects, and weapon modifications. When moving into enemy-occupied territory, the player gets the option of stealthily sneaking by or strategically taking them out – be it human enemies or infected. And there is always the choice of weapon to use – as long as it isn’t out of ammo. The mechanics of movement (climbing, running, jumping) and combat (aiming, firing, ducking) both feel great, and this in combination with the non-paused backpack usage and interfaces makes the action scenes flow flawlessly. And during all this, the player must keep constant consideration for Ellie as she runs, climbs, and hides with you. So… the game develops this wonderful rhythm of scavenging for supplies, crafting items, interacting with Ellie, hunting enemies, strategizing approach, running, being attacked, healing, protecting the girl, and pressing on to find out what happens next. And as the game progresses, Ellie participates more and more in the action as Joel feels more comfortable with her. She starts by just warning Joel of enemies approaching, then throwing bricks at enemies to distract them, then jumping on them with a knife, then eventually becomes a part of the shootouts… Her help and the cleverness of her a.i. further enhances that gameplay rhythm.
The environments in the Last of Us are brilliantly designed. When playing it, I could tell just by observing that a lot of time, energy, and scrutiny was put into detailing these worlds. That aspect could not possibly have been any better, in my opinion. The graphics, as a whole, are mighty.
The thing I respect most about this game is its writing. I would say video games don’t usually care about a good script, and when they do it’s usually just to make the gameplay feel more justified or to maybe give the player a sense of why these actions are important. But The Last of Us went a step farther and offered up a story good enough to stand alone! I’m confident it could have won awards as an original screenplay. It could have become a great indie-horror-drama such as 2010’s Monsters. All the ingredients are there. But the fact that it was turned into a game I am so happy about. This shows the other games what’s possible, and sets a new high that I hope will become a new standard.
For a gamer that enjoys story, this one doesn’t disappoint. From its beautiful incitement, to the rising action that just keeps on rising in ways we would ever expect, to the bittersweet closing, it’s an extremely gripping tale – a perfect vehicle to drive every playable moment! Once the story is *sadly* complete, another play through will never compare to the first, but that’s not really a problem. These games specialize in the excitement of that first experience of the story, and to ask more from them… well, I guess that would be the multiplayer aspect, which I didn’t even touch. Also, I realize this game could have possibly benefited from a couple player-choices that would affect the story, like in Heavy Rain. Instead, all the decisions and outcomes are static. But I think that just empowered the scriptwriter more, encouraging him/her/them to come up with a terrific, compelling story.
There are flaws in this game, as in every game. The human enemies can be a little dim-witted at times, and the npc partners are for some reason not nearly as easily seen by enemies as Joel is. Also, the story surrounding the character, Robert, seemed a bit gangbusters and out of place, and I didn’t really buy that Tess should be such a badass… But in this case, the flaws matter not in the slightest, because none of them take away from the overall impression. I must admit, a perfect score from me is nearly impossible for new-age games to obtain. But this one was really able to prove something to me. And that is, that games are capable of more heart than we realize. I am ecstatic about the level of work the developers put into this vision. My rating system states that a 5-star game is one that changes the way I see all games, and I believe this one has achieved that.
Overall, The Last of Us is a game of beauty, breath-takingly satisfying to the adrenaline as well as to the heart.