Developer: Naughty Dog | Year: 2014 | List Price: $49.99 | Buy from Amazon
If there’s a game from the last five years that will be remembered forever as a landmark in videogame storytelling, it’s probably The Last of Us by Naughty Dog. I went into the game with the highest of expectations, having heard the almost unanimous praise the game has gotten from the press, and was not disappointed in the slightest. Honestly, if you haven’t played this game yet, stop reading this review and go play it right now on PS3 or PS4. You need some more convincing? Alright, read on, and don’t worry about any major story spoilers, but I will be discussing gameplay elements, so if you’re worried about that, you should probably just go play the game now. Just do it anyway. Seriously. Note: I haven’t played any multiplayer yet, so I can’t comment on that mode at all. I’ve heard it’s pretty good.
Still here? Alright then. The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic shooter that stars zombies as your main enemy. You’re Joel, an aged survivor of the fungal Cordyceps epidemic that decimated the human population who is tasked with the care of Ellie, a spunky fourteen-year-old orphan girl. Together, you’ll shoot all kinds of fungus zombies everywhere from Boston to Utah. It isn’t immediately obvious from this premise what makes The Last of Us so special, but the very thing that makes the Last of Us special is how it manages to make such a memorable experience out of the now tired zombie stealth shooter template. Because although the game starts out pretty much like any other third-person shooter, the story really starts to ramp up past the halfway point. In an almost Bioshock-esque sort of way, the player’s understanding of the situation and the protagonist is subject to change over the course of the narrative.
The Last of Us is set in a United States ravaged by a fungal pandemic that has wiped out huge numbers of people. The post-apocalyptic fallout isn’t something you haven’t seen before, but it’s done extremely well in The Last of Us. You can see the violence and carnage resulting from fighting clans of survivors, but you can also see the signs of humanity moving on. People live in ramshackle slums in quarantine zones set up by the remnants of the federal government. There are little slivers of happiness strewn about the mess, such as comic books and toys. It’s all really unsettling, especially when you consider all these things used to belong to people who are now most likely dead.
The setting will change often throughout the winding plot, which is absolutely superb. THe funny thing about The Last of Us is that if you only play the first half of the game, you’d never know what is so special about it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still good, but everything that turns The Last of Us’ great setup into the special experience that the game is happens in the final few hours. That said, the story never loses focus (one of the few complaints the game gets is that it’s too linear) and as a result every cutscene feels important. There are numerous memorable moments in The Last of Us; I challenge you to get through the game without your eyes sweating at least a little.
But as good as the plot is, it’s really the people and their interactions that stand out in The Last of Us. Everyone has a sort of desperation that brings out their demons and there is no flawless character. Joel is violent and vengeful, while Ellie is angsty and impulsive. Over the course of the 15+ hour story, you really come to know the pair of protagonists and when I was finally done, I was saddened most by the fact that it was over and I’d never see the two of them again. (As much as everyone would like one, The Last of Us certainly doesn’t need a sequel.) The Last of Us’ story is an experience unlike any other and you should play it for that reason alone, but the gameplay is great in its own right as well.
The Last of Us may be mechanically like a lot of other stealth shooters, but a couple really smart ideas keep it from feeling derivative. For example, there’s a pretty robust crafting system that never gets frustrating, but which always requires a decision regarding use of materials. It really does make you feel like you’re in the apocalypse and have to scrounge and manage your limited resources. Also, it’s really cool how you can collect pills and parts to permanently give Joel upgraded stats and weapons. And unlike many shooters nowadays, you don’t regenerate health normally. However you can craft health kits to heal yourself. An awesome thing about this is that the game could potentially autosave with you at low health and you could have a really hard time continuing on from there. But the more and more you die, the more health you restart the level with. This works as a kind of easy mode that activates if you die a lot, because once you have tried the encounter three times with next to no health, you will undoubtedly win the level once you get all your health back. Easily the most important aspect of The Last of Us’ gameplay is that you can tackle situations in a number of different ways. Most encounters don’t even require you to kill everyone, or anyone at all if you’re stealthy enough. This kind of freedom sets The Last of Us apart from Naughty Dog’s similar, but altogether more conservative, Uncharted games.
Though they are few, The Last of Us is not without its imperfections. A commonly-cited one is the immersion-breaking fact that your AI followers cannot blow your cover. Instead, their frequent comments and incessant wandering is ignored by enemies if you yourself are in cover. They also cannot be killed by gunfire. This may be unrealistic, but I was personally thankful, as unless some better solution was devised, the entire game might’ve felt like one huge annoying escort mission. The stealth in the game is inconsistent as well: sometimes enemies will ignore Joel when he is clearly in their sightline, and other times they will spontaneously develop psychic powers and hunt him down, even when he is sitting perfectly still. Finally, there are slight issues with the camera, especially in tight areas. Sometimes you won’t be allowed to aim around a corner, while other times you are. It’s not game-breaking, just a little weird.
It’s difficult to explain to someone what’s so important or special about The Last of Us without ruining the story for them, so I’d like to end this review the same way I started it and implore you, the reader, to do whatever you can to obtain this game and play it. You can even get it bundled at no extra cost with the PS4 if you don’t have one yet! And if you already have a PS3, just get the regular game. The remastered version is precisely that, as far as I know, and you won’t lose out too much by playing the regular edition of the game.
Design: 10/10 The Last of Us is a haunting, masterful piece of art that will be used as the benchmark for videogame storytelling for years to come. The story is focused, and though it’s slow to start, it quickens in pace and cashes in on the interesting setup in a way that is brilliantly thought-provoking. The characters are so well-written that it’s made easy for the player to dislike them and yet defend their every move.
Visuals: 10/10 There are numerous stunning vistas to be beheld in The Last of Us. As the story progresses, there are even some environments that are built simply as a backdrop for dialogue, which is daring and wonderful and shows just how much work Naughty Dog is willing to put in to make The Last of Us a visual masterpiece. The game almost never stuttered under its 60 fps, making for a smooth ride throughout.
Sound: 10/10 The Spanish guitar-laden soundtrack underscores the games themes of hardship and loss, all while being pleasing to the ear. Voice acting is on-point, featuring standout performances from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson as Joel and Ellie respectively. There’s even a cameo from Uncharted’s Nolan North that you may not even notice!
Gameplay: 9/10 The beauty of The Last of Us’ gameplay is in that it gives the player the freedom to solve problems in their own way. There’s a cool crafting system that adds versatility to the player’s arsenal. The variety of environments and enemy types keeps the player on their toes, but just as the story ramps up in intrigue, the shooting does eventually feel a little tired.
Value: 10/10 Though it retails for around $50, you’ll most likely get the game for less or nothing at all, since it comes with many new PS4s and is frequently on sale. Even at retail price, however, the bundle is still a great deal, since it includes the originally separate Left Behind DLC (impressions on that coming soon), as well as extra map packs and an added difficulty mode.
Total: 49/50 (A+)
List Price: $49.99 | Buy from Amazon
Have you played The Last of Us? What did you think? (When) did you cry? Tell us in the comments!
I just beat Bloodborne so hopefully you’ll see a review on that real soon. Until then, check out the rest of our videogame-related reviews and articles right here!