The Last of Us Review
Zombie-apocalypse games have recently become the new World War 2 shooters; it seems like every studio is making them now with varying levels of success. Uncharted developers Naughty Dog have now thrown their hat in the ring with The Last of Us and started receiving perfect scores across the board before the game even came out, an impressive feat given the number of similar titles in the market. This lead some to unleash the classic “paid-review” accusation and others to have their expectations heightened to levels that would be impossible to meet. It makes us happy to report that nearly every perfect score out there is mostly justified; The Last of Us is not only one of the best zombie-filled tales to be told, but will probably go down as one of the greatest interactive experiences of this console generation.
The Last of Us takes place in a future where a new strain of fungal infection that infests the brain has turned the majority of humanity into psychotic killing machines. The game takes place 20 years after the outbreak, when most of the survivors have either made new lives within military-controlled quarantine zones, joined a paramilitary group seeking a cure for the infection called the Fireflies, or have banded together in their own make-shift communities in the wilderness or the ruins of cities. The player assumes the role of Joel, an honest family man-turned smuggler who sneaks vital supplies into the Boston Quarantine Zone along with his partner, Tess. After Tess is ambushed and has a shipment of weapons stolen by a rival group, Joel and Tess attack the other smugglers only to learn that their goods have already been sold to the Fireflies. The two soon meet up with one of the Fireflies who makes a deal with them; smuggle a young girl named Ellie to another Firefly camp outside of the QZ and they can have their weapons back along with additional payment.
The Last of Us should be placed right up alongside Telltale’s The Walking Dead for fans of zombie stories, and comparisons between the two games are inevitable given the dynamic between Joel and Ellie being somewhat similar to that of Lee and Clementine. However, there are some differences that should be considered before someone tries to accuse The Last of Us of ripping off The Walking Dead. First of all, Joel is a much darker character than Lee; Lee is certainly a broken man, but his solitude is mostly through his own doing and his reaction to it is left up to the player to decide. Joel, on the other hand, has his events thrust upon him in a much more direct way that would turn even the brightest optimist into a harder individual. Similar comparisons can be made towards Ellie and Clementine; the latter is much younger and therefore much of Lee’s responsibility is protecting her innocence in a world determined to take it away. Ellie meanwhile has spent her entire life living in the aftermath of the apocalypse and has already lost a great deal to the cruel world around her. The relationships between the two sets of characters are therefore incomparable beyond the idea of a paternal figure protecting a young child.
At first glance, The Last of Us’ gameplay is fairly redundant. It’s very similar to Uncharted’s cover based system and it could be argued that it is even sloppier due to the omission of a button that forces Joel to take cover. Instead, crouching near cover will cause Joel to automatically use it, but its easy to have a small part of your body sticking out. This small error can mean instant death on harder difficulties since being shot causes Joel to stumble out of cover, allowing other nearby enemies to get in easy shots. Joel’s melee skills are also similar to Nathan Drakes’ in that it relies heavily on button-mashing with occasional counters, but thankfully Joel has the ability to use nearby objects as contextual kills. Punch a guy enough near a wall, and Joel will grab the poor sap and slam his head into it. There’s nothing new here and it left me with a “been there, done that” feeling early on in the game.
This lasts until you leave the quarantine zone and first encounter the infected. Zombies generally come in two types: slow shamblers and all-out sprinters. The infected of this game are of the latter variety and they often zig and zag while running at you, thus making the direct approach less appealing. This forces you to use stealth gameplay mechanics to sneak around them or to take them out silently. This task is made slightly easier thanks to Joel’s unexplained ability to use what appears to be echolocation to see enemies through walls and other obstructions, but even this tool does not take away some of the tense moments that the infected can create. There are three types of infected: runners are your run-of-the-mill zombie. If they see you, they give chase and bring all of their friends along, but thankfully this is the weakest type that you’ll face. The next tier are clickers, which are humans that have had their sight taken away by the fungal growths sprouting from their brain. These nasties rely solely on sound to find prey, allowing patient players to sneak past them more easily as long as they move slowly, Clickers are far more dangerous than runners once they’re alerted to your presence, as you’re unable to fight them up close without a melee weapon of some kind. While clickers and runners are fairly easy to handle when they’re alone, a room filled with both types can present many different pathways to success. Furthermore, the stealth skills that you learn from these enemies can be carried over to human opponents and thus make those encounters all the more enjoyable.
In between encounters with humans and the infected, Joel and Ellie are forced to navigate the ruins and wilderness of the United States, creating some interesting puzzles that must be solved before progressing. While there aren’t any puzzles quite as in-depth as those found in the ancient temples that Nathan Drake explored in the Uncharted games, their simple existence of these segments are a nice break from the combat and allow the game to never grow stale. Just as you get used to fighting one type of enemy, you’ll suddenly find yourself moving ladders, activating bridges, and scavenging supplies from abandoned buildings. Before you can get comfortable doing this, you’re back in combat. The pacing of The Last of Us is impressive and keeps the nearly 15 hour long experience from losing speed. Combine this with a new game+ mode and lots of collectibles and you have a game with more than enough content to justify the price of admission.
The Last of Us is easily one of the most impressive games of this console generation in terms of visuals. Many games can create interesting environments when viewed from faraway or otherwise keep things indoors to focus on smaller graphical flourishes, but the developers at Naughty Dog have set the bar for games that combine the two. Exploring the ruins of Pittsburgh is just as engaging as the wildnerness of the Rocky Mountains, and the submerged basement of a hotel filled with infected can be just as impressive as it is terrifying. There are also little additions that can prove to be distracting, but in a good way. During one particular gunfight within Pittsburgh, a sniper rifle shot caused a flock of birds to take off nearby. These birds weren’t part of the playable environment, but were instead another touch that the developers added to the surroundings just to make it more immersive. The Last of Us also boasts some of best character models seen in a video game; they’re realistic enough to sometimes make you feel like you’re watching a movie rather than playing a game, but they never fall into the uncanny valley. The only flaw that I can find in the graphics are that some shadows created by the wilderness can look a little pixelated, but it’s such a small complain amongst a torrent of positives that I found it impossible to dwell on it. With the next console generation right around the corner, I would not be surprised if The Last of Us ends up as the most visually impressive console game this current gen.
The one thing that can always break a game that’s meant to be an interactive movie is poor voice acting, but thankfully The Last of Us doesn’t have a bad example within its entire cast. Everyone from Troy Baker’s portrayal of Joel to the most insignificant raider is performed well. No lines ever seem forced by their actors, thus lending to the near cinematic quality of the presentation. The music uses a variety of songs to fit the current situation, but they all share a western quality that not only fits Joel’s character but also further accentuates that feeling of lawlessness that applies to even the Quarantine Zone in the beginning of the game. There’s little else to say about the sound quality other than there really are no flaws.
It would have been easy for Naughty Dog to simply create Uncharted with zombies, especially since it would have likely been a decent quality game. Instead, the developers have crafted what is undoubtedly going to be considered one of the Playstation 3’s best titles. The Last of Us is one of those rare games that tells a linear story through linear environments but still makes me want to start all over again thanks to excellent pacing that never got stale and a plot filled with interesting personalities that I grew to care about. If you own a Playstation 3, you owe it to yourself to play the Last of Us. If you don’t, you might want to consider getting one. It’s simply one of those games that shouldn’t be missed.
Written by Guest Reviewer: JGGiant