Every once in a while, a game comes along that garners a tremendous amount of hype. This can culminate from gameplay, graphics, story line, developer, or features of the title. When all of these things are factored in at once, that title is elevated to an elite level. The Last of Us is Naughty Dog’s venture into a different genre of gaming than it hasn’t been accustomed to. Survival horror titles generate a lot of criticism in today’s age, as they seemingly lack a certain aspect that fans expect in a title. The Last of Us is almost a game spawned from ideas of hardcore survival horror fans that takes into effect a slow pace, limited ammo, item looting and crafting, and discreetness. All of these things, while attempting to create an immense experience and engrossing story, help to create the most complete and compelling survival horror game in recent memory.
The story for The Last of Us is a serious, dark toned movie script. The plot and setting perfectly fits the bill for a survival horror title. It involves Joel and Ellie attempting to reach a destination in a post-apocalyptic America that has had its population consumed by a virus. The initial few minutes of the game actually puts you in the shoes of Joel’s daughter, as Joel and Ellie are not related. This prologue showcases all hell breaking loose as they try to escape their town. Fast forward twenty years and the structures of the land have been looted and reclaimed by nature. All that are left in the world are organized groups of survivors, bandits, and infected people. The infection can mutate and become a form of armor around the face or body. Doing this renders sight useless as these infected, known as Clickers, have a heightened audible sensory and can become extremely aggressive.
The story, itself, is extremely character driven. The focus is on Joel and Ellie, but encounter people along the way that have stories to tell and help complete the emotion of this world. The character cut scenes are some of the best ever seen in a video game. Meanwhile, the voice acting is the best to be found in any game, period. The dialogue is extremely well written as Joel’s dark and pessimistic personality is portrayed perfectly, and Ellie’s vulgar and optimistic personality is equally as stunning. There’s nothing cheesy involved with the story as it becomes very easy to feel like you’re part of this world with these characters. Besides some issues involving Ellie’s age and the time lapse of the apocalypse not necessarily matching up, this is the best story ever written for a video game that’s more than fit for Hollywood.
As for the characters you encounter, most will join you along the way. There will be a few times that the player will be solo, but in most cases he will be with at least one person, if not up to three or four. Unfortunately, because of this, the issue that’s created is what separates this title from being a masterpiece as compared to incredible. With all that’s going on in the world and the tension that’s created from situation, the immersion effect is supposed to be huge. However, the A.I. issues do hinder the experience. When Joel is crouched behind something discreetly and Ellie or someone else cuts directly in front of the enemy to the point of contact, it really brings the feeling back to earth. Couple this with seeing enemies running around in circles and being stuck behind invisible walls, it can ruin a perfectly good moment. The enemy A.I. won’t necessarily follow you to another area even though it chases you to a door. Also, with being discreet, there’s no option to close doors. You would think enemy A.I. would pick up on this. However, not to say your teammate A.I. isn’t helpful, it generally is. It will shoot enemies and help take them down, not to mention draw attention away from Joel. Sometimes, the A.I. will need a bail out, but it’s not nearly as abundant as it is in the Resident Evil series. Luckily, the enemies are only looking for Joel, and do not necessarily respond to the A.I. miscues, so that helps even the playing field.
In terms of gameplay, guns are available and can be upgraded with scavenged parts. Melee weapons can be crafted to be more dangerous, but are degradable. Bottles and bricks can be used as distractions or weapons. Joel is also armed with a flashlight for dark areas. A cool thing involving the Sixaxis is when the light starts going out, you will need to shake the controller. Scavenging houses and buildings play a huge role in surviving as bombs and medical kits can be crafted from the gathered supplies. The crafting, healing, and even weapon swaps are all done in real-time, making Joel prone to attack at any time. If lacking a melee weapon, Joel brings his fists of fury to beat down people, choke them out, smash their head, or hold the enemy at gunpoint and use them as a shield (bandits at least). Even with the scavenging effect on the game, the overall progression is linear. The areas are not an open world, but there are a lot of options within specified areas to branch out. The game itself, on the first play through, will run players anywhere from 15-25 hours on the default difficulty.
To know his surroundings, Joel is able to listen to the surrounding area. This can be upgraded, along with crafting and healing speed amongst other things. Silhouettes of everything living, up to a certain distance, will show up. The brighter the silhouette, the more anxious and aware the enemy is. Clickers will be more aware when the head of the silhouette vibrates rapidly. Creeping around them and being quiet is the key to surviving them, while staying in the shadows and behind cover help with the bandits and normal infected. Clickers also cannot be defeated with fists as melee weapons or guns are required. When sneaking behind an enemy, a quick time event should be triggered to choke out or stab. However, sometimes the quick time event was never prompted. Lastly, there are some areas that can be snuck by and others that require eliminating all enemies. There’s no way to distinguish which are which, though.
With the lack of a map or any HUD at all, it honestly can be considered that the idea from Naughty Dog, for the player, is how they would handle each situation in real life (hypothetically). The lack of knowing if they can sneak by enemies or eliminate them is all on the fly. Also, being thrown into a dark environment where they don’t know their surroundings, and then get attacked and try to flee with the panic ending in certain death is another thought to the possible premise. The reason that this comes to mind is the amount of trial and error that’s involved in the game. The game can be extremely overwhelming at times, and is overall difficult. There will be times that you’ll be like, “There’s no way,” but after multiple attempts, the result is gratifying as you get to continue on with the story.
Those familiar with the Uncharted series will recognize how The Last of Us controls, but it’s much tighter and precise. Combat doesn’t feel like an animation as meleeing feels instantaneous and fluid. As mentioned earlier, all action is in real-time including combat. Joel can get attacked while punching an enemy. Shooting in Uncharted felt a bit strange, but feels much more realistic in this game. Moving around still feels a bit loose at times. Much like the issue brought up with quick time events, it can be a pain at times to initiate an action to reach an item, especially if running from something.
Graphically, The Last of Us is the most beautiful game of this generation. It can also be argued that it looks better than some next generation launch titles. It runs at a good frame rate and is extremely colorful as grass and buildings really pop out. The lighting might be the best available this generation, as well. The way the sun light pops through the vegetation and buildings, it really helps set the mood for the area. If Joel jumps into water, his clothes will get wet. While there is a difference in the player models in the cut scenes as compared to the actual game, the models still look fantastic. The texture detail on the ground and buildings is excellent as well. Load times entering the game are long, but this is the only time this is a problem. In-game loading occurred once during the entire story that wasn’t a transition from cut scenes. There is also random clipping and pop-up at times. A day-to-night transition would have been nice to have, but it might deter from the story (not to say some portions of it aren’t played at night, they are). Even with these slight flaws, The Last of Us is the best looking game of this generation.
As originally mentioned, the voice acting and dialog are so good, they leave a lasting mark. Some survival horror games depend on music to help set the atmosphere, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. That aspect has clearly helped define the genre, but The Last of Us has taken a different approach. While the game features music at times, especially during battle, it’s still subtle. It’s just enough to raise tension, but this is dynamic as the music changes with the enemies in the vicinity. While navigating around town, it’s dead silent, and that makes things very disturbing and uneasy. Yes, birds may chirp in the background, but when you hear something fall, or a loud growl, it keeps you on edge creating a different experience. The guitar melody that’s in the game is great and fits the part, but the silent treatment is something great.
Going above and beyond, Naughty Dog has brought along multiplayer with the idea of creating something completely different. Some might moan that it’s only one structure, but the way it’s set up is incredible. Choosing between Survivors or Fireflies, each have their own agenda. The goal is to collect (hypothetically) enough survivors over the course of twelve weeks, with each match counting as a day. There are other side missions along the way that unlock perks. The gameplay interaction is much like single player. Scavenging parts to upgrade weapons and looting enemies unlock new items and help you stay alive. The pace is a bit higher than the single player, but it’s still a slower pace that helps give time for strategy. There are four classes available, but the option for four custom loadouts is available. The four classes are Assault, Sniper, Support, and Stealth. The maps are big, and being discreet is factored in. The listening option is in multiplayer to help identify players, but there’s a time limit on doing this. The online games have suffered some lockups, but are lag free. There are no infected involved online, and this would have been a nice touch to include. There’s also a Survivor mode that features no re-spawns. This is definitely a different online experience thanks in part to the way the single player is designed, but it still boils down to an online third person shooter.
The story is so immersive that most players will want to play again. Besides Trophies, there is a single player PLUS mode, along with a survivor difficulty available to play through again. Collecting Firefly pennants and other things unlock in-game content. Of course, the multiplayer will offer plenty for players to do if they want a change of pace from playing the single player.
The Last of Us is one of those games that you do not want to end. The culmination of all things desired in a survival horror game, mixed with the elements that made Uncharted so popular, clearly makes it a contender for the game of this generation. The story goes untouched by competition in all other aspects, even though kudos goes to Bioshock Infinite with creating excellent characters and dialog. If the technical issue issues with the A.I. could be addressed via a patch, The Last of Us would truly be a masterpiece.
+ Best graphics this generation
+ Best story for a video game ever written
+ Takes the survival horror genre in a new direction
– A.I. issues hinder what could be a masterpiece
– Initial load times are long
– Minimal multiplayer options