Review by Ironblade16
"You can't deny the view."
Naughty Dog has been cultivating stellar franchises for years now. They started with Crash Bandicoot, continued with Jak & Daxter, and just recently closed out the Uncharted franchise this generation. A rule they've held by is "one franchise per console generation" and it's stuck with them since Crash. So, yes, it did come as a surprise to me when the storied developer announced a new IP for the seventh generation, the Last of Us.
The same people who brought us Uncharted are making a survival horror game? I was certainly interested. As I counted down the months to its release, I began to get excited. And this continued all the way until its launch day. There was a lot resting on it; could it live up to the standards set by Naughty Dog's previous games? Well, I've played it, and I'm here to tell you that the Dogs have done it again.
The Last of Us is a bonafide masterpiece.
The production values in this game are insane. I applaud the art team. They've created a realistic post-apocalyptic world. It really feels like you're traveling through this vile wasteland with the characters. From the crumbling buildings to the spore-laden underground...it all feels authentic. It works wonders for the immersion, and it also helps to have a huge heaping of graphical fidelity. The character's faces are something that needs to be discussed. Through the use of mo-capping, they've created some real life-like performances. It's fantastic, and draws you further into the story. If you've played the Uncharted franchise, then you know that ND has a certain specialty for in your face beautiful graphics. This trend continues with the Last of Us. The graphics are as good, if not better than Naughty Dog's previous offerings.
I applaud the art team, but you can't forget Gustavo Santaolalla and his amazing soundtrack. It's a stellar musical accompaniment for an already gorgeous game. This just elevates the game even higher. The score perfectly follows the highs and the lows of the story, and also manages to convey the ugly and the beautiful parts of the post-apocalyptic United States.
As much as I praise the soundtrack, you can't forget about the voice acting. Troy Baker (he's becoming Nolan North now, eh? He's in everything these days) & Ashley Johnson are pitch perfect in their roles as Joel & Ellie. Baker brings a deep Southern world-weary feel to the character of Joel, while Johnson gives Ellie a natural energy. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, especially Nolan North who shows up late in the game in a surprise role that I didn't even catch until the end credits. That man has range. As good as the voice acting is, it wouldn't be as good if not for the stellar facial mo-capping that really makes everything seem so damn real. A combination of those two things...well, it's breathtaking.
This is a story-driven game by design, so if the narrative fails, it would bring the whole game crashing down around it. Luckily, we are served one of the best tales this generation. It's THAT good. I guess it all really starts with the characters. Joel and Ellie feel so real, and their interplay is one of the most delighting things this game has to offer. The development of their complex relationship and the layers upon layers that unfold are really what the game excels at. The plot itself is a bit predictable, but only because I've seen so many apocalyptic movies and really have a grasp on the genre...but it doesn't matter. The virus and outbreak are merely a backdrop for the development of Joel and Ellie. If you want to know more about the world, there are hundreds of artifacts, notes, etc. scattered across the game world to give you further insight. The writing is fantastic, the characters are great, and it has a brutal, stunning conclusion.
And how about that opening, eh?
Joel and Ellie are survivors, and thus, they are forced to scavenge and conserve as much as possible. In any area of the game, you can find all sorts of materials that you can then use to craft a wide array of items (shivs, Molotovs, etc) for use in and out of combat. Resource management is key, especially with ammunition. You want to conserve as much as possible, because you don't find it often, especially on the Hard and Survivor difficulties.
There are a wide variety of weapons in the game, which can all be upgraded with parts you may find around the world. You may also find pills or "supplements" as they are called, which can be used to offer various statistical boosts to Joel, such as an increase in maximum health or decreasing weapon sway. Speaking of weapon sway, it's kind of cool that they made it realistic like that. Joel isn't the best shot, and this is reflected in the aiming. See? Little details like that get me everytime.
The combat is a mix of stealth and gunplay. There are multiple ways to approach a scenario in this game. You can choose to go all out and shoot your way through (which is ill-advised, due to lack of ammo) or stealthily take out your enemies. Personally, I did a mix of both, and this worked well for me. The enemy types are varied as well. You could be dealing with other survivors, who use team based tactics to get at you...or the Infected. The simpler ones, the Runners, are fairly easy to deal with. The more advanced types, such as the blind and rabid Clickers, are a whole 'nother ballgame, however. You have to use strategy and patience to survive in this wild world, and the tense and visceral combat reflects that.
The Last of Us has four separate difficulty modes - Easy, Normal, Hard, & Survivor. I personally suggest playing on Hard for your first playthrough, because Normal and Easy are pushovers. I clocked in at almost 18 hours on my first playthrough on Hard, which is quite lengthy for a single player campaign these days. Once finished, you can then play through New Game Plus, which allows you to carry over your upgrades and skills into a new game...or you can play multiplayer.
I haven't spent much time with the MP aspects of the Last of Us, but it seems to be interesting. Upon first entering multiplayer mode, you are tasked with choosing between two factions - Fireflies or Hunters. Once you do this, you can play matches in the two game modes. There seems to be a bit of a meta game on the side, as you play through matches, you earn supplies which helps keep your group (Hunters/Fireflies) alive and afloat through a 12 week journey. It's an interesting narrative applied to the multiplayer. It's not this huge robust CoD experience, but it seems adequate enough.
Is it the best game ever? I don't think so. Is it the best game this generation? Probably not, but it's definitely one of the best this generation and the best PlayStation 3 exclusive by far. It's a perfect send-off for the PS3 and the seventh generation of consoles in general. I can't imagine what Naughty Dog is cooking up at their studios right now, but if the Last of Us is any indication of their direction, consider me stoked.
In the words of Ellie, "You can't deny the view." This game isn't flawless; no game is perfect, but it's such an invigorating, cinematic experience...that it deserves the highest honors. The Last of Us...is a ten out of ten.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 06/21/13
Game Release: The Last of Us (US, 06/14/13)
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