Developers: Naughty Dog
Producers: Sony Computer Entertainment
Plot: In a world ravaged by an apocalypse, world-weary Joel is forced to escort a young girl across America, in order to find a cure that could save everyone.
As The Last of Us opens up, I had my doubts. I’ve had some fears for some time now and the arrival of the Tomb Raider reboot, and now this game, kind of confirmed them. It’s great that game developers are trying to make video games more cinematic, but there is a sense that games are becoming less like games and more like playable movies. Sure, we get some great stories (and the story in ‘Last of Us’ is phenomenal), but I was scared that when it got down to the game part, I would be left unsatisfied. Thankfully, The Last Of Us is just a bit of a slow-starter and when the game gets go, it becomes one of the greatest gaming experiences in a long time.
Let’s start by reviewing the story elements. As you probably have heard by now, the cinematic side of the game is near flawless. When I say slow-starting, it is hardly a pain to sit through. The game just takes a good hour to introduce its leading characters and set up the universe you will be playing through. It helps, because by the end Joel is one of the best developed action heroes in the gaming industry, standing tall against Naughty Dog’s other creation, Nathan Drake from the ‘Uncharted’ series. His relationship with Ellie is very well done. At first, the silent man protecting a little girl from the apocalypse sounds too much like ‘The Walking Dead Game’, but it is a very different relationship. Joel is too scared to lower his barriers to Ellie, so their companionship becomes an interesting character piece. Another close call was the fact that this game is zombies… again! I rolled my eyes, sick of the zombie genre by now. However, with ‘The Last of Us’, there is a sense that the use of this over-saturated genre is merely a narrative trick to quickly lay out the rules of this apocalypse. We all know the drill with zombies (or the Infected, if you’re a zombie purist), so we can quickly jump over the exposition and get on with the story. Besides, this game is all about humans and how they cope with the end of the world, rather than the Undead. They are mainly used to change up the pace of the game and inject some fear into it.
Now for the game elements. When it comes down to it, it is pretty good. Bearing in mind that this game is pretty much one big escort mission, the scourge of games everywhere, it is not frustrating in the slightest. It helps that Ellie’s AI is superb. Even when she is weaponless, she doesn’t get in the way or get herself killed. When enemies appear, she hangs back and lets you get the killing done. When she is in danger, it is probably the game on purpose, or more likely your own fault for abandoning her in the middle of a fire-fight. The game relies on stealth a lot too. Levels may seem daunting when around eight men with assault rifles appear hunting you, but the seasoned gamers will keep to the shadows and pick them off one by one, before anyone realises they are in danger. That can be a euphoric and a satisfying piece of gaming. To encourage this, the combat is a little clumsy. Punching your opponent works best when done quickly. Each punch feels powerful and fulfilling, yet it is all too easy for your enemy to counter and overcome you. Zombies, in particular, will make short work of you. Stealth and wits are the way forward here.
The game also always feels fresh. You go from fighting humans, to sneaking around a sewer with zombies and then the odd brainteaser. The game never gets stale, which is fairly surprising seeing as it is fairly lengthy. The most memorable, and probably best, scenes in the game are the scary ones. The boss fight against David is a gripping, creepy experience. The Bloaters, the game’s biggest zombie, might look ridiculous at first, but once it has gruesomely killed you for the first time, you will never look at it in the same way again. While ‘The Last of Us’ isn’t really original when it comes to the gameplay, it never ceases to be fun.
The ending is fantastic. It helps that ‘The Last of Us’ know how to build a villain, to the point where it seems like the people we are fighting just have a slightly different way of looking at things. At several points in the game, you are hinted that Joel is the villain of the piece. Most of the bandits that you fight are simply hunting down the two people that slaughtered all of their friends. The final few beats of the game are masterfully directed and the very last shot is simple and elegant. As much as I think that lengthy stories are killing games, it is hard to be too upset when they are done as well as Last of Us.
Final verdict: I tried to dislike this game, but it kept winning me over with a beautiful character piece and gripping gameplay. Shame it’s just for PS3.