Review by DrAkabane
"A truly memorable and captivating story that will last a lifetime"
It seems like every year a new twist on zombies, infections, or viral outbreaks hit the movie, television, or video game industries. I'm sure most people reading this have had their fill by now. So what sets The Last of Us apart? What makes the game such an incredibly thrilling and emotional ride? Read on to find out, of course.
The Last of Us doesn't add to or revolutionize the idea of an infection or zombie-like pandemic tale. The basic premise of the game's story has been done before in games and movies. Just not this well. "I knew you had heart" is a quote taken directly from the game that I think personifies the story in The Last of Us. While the concept is not completely original, the story makes up for it with its delivery, emotion, and a lot of heart.
The story starts present day in Texas with essentially a short prologue and then jumps 20 years into the future. In 2013, all hell breaks loose as the world is ravaged by an outbreak of the cordyceps fungi, which has mutated to the point where it can infect humans and turn them into vicious zombie-like killers. So now you find the story migrating to Boston, year 2033. It is immediately evident to the player, that the world as you know it is no longer the same, just by taking in the environment. The game's primary protagonist, Joel(who you'll be controlling for the majority of the adventure), is in a quarantine zone with his partner, Tess. Soon after, they find themselves in charge with a mission: to escort a 14 year old girl named Ellie, who is immune to the infection, to a group called the Fireflies so a vaccine can be created to save mankind. See? You've heard a lot of these same concepts before in other formats.
The strength in the game's story resides in the interactions and relationships between the characters. You will meet several throughout your journey, all with varying motivations and roles. Each is voiced extremely well, and a great deal of emotion is brought to each character. Especially the protagonists of the story, Joel and Ellie. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson do an incredible job performing their characters. They are completely and totally believable in every aspect. They, along with top notch facial animations, makes it feel like you are watching real actors on the big screen. Their characters are deep, interesting, and emotionally complex. They truly pour their hearts and souls into these roles and you can tell while playing the game. Especially so for Ashley Johnson. I want to single her out, because she deserves it. She deserves awards for her portrayal as Ellie. It was some of the best voice acting I have ever experienced in a video game.
The story is easily the strength of The Last of Us. Through your adventure, you will experience every known emotion in the spectrum. I felt the happiness, sadness, pain, and other raw emotions with these characters like I was right there beside them. The story is deep and provides plenty of moral ambiguities that had me pondering the decisions that unfold in the game and whether or not I would do the same things. Sometimes in life there are no right or wrong answers that stand out, and The Last of Us explores this. I didn't feel like it forced the typical cliches down my throat that would make the adventure feel like I've seen/played this before and knew what would happen next. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire game, not knowing what they would throw at me. The story is incredibly well paced, and I never felt there was ever too long of a lull in the action to cause me to lose interest.
The Last of Us takes itself very seriously, and does so in a good way. This is a post-apocalyptic setting. There is a worldwide pandemic. The atmosphere of the game appropriately fits as bleak or depressing most of the time. There is very little forced comedic relief in this game. You won't find the "kill a bad guy and belt out some cheesy one-liner" here. Ellie is the only character that occasionally brightens the mood, but it always feels natural and unforced. There were certain parts in the story that left itself open to conform to the status quo, but these were thankfully avoided, and was steadfast in its effort to remain true to its identity.
The direction of the story has laser focus. It always stays on course and is building toward its conclusion. As I advanced deeper into the game, I was grew more and more attached to the characters, and increasingly more interested in seeing how the end-game would play out. The game had me feeling like I was accomplishing something while being a part of this journey, especially toward the latter hours of the story.
The gameplay of The Last of Us hits the mark on so many levels. For combat, it avoids your typical "duck and cover" system that so many third person titles use these days. Unlike those titles, The Last of Us uses a freer, more liberal system that you are more in control of. It might take a short while for the player to get acclimated to, if you are used to your typical third person title. This is yet another game that uses an auto-save system. Fortunately, it is not too restrictive and usually saves pretty frequently, preventing the player from having to annoyingly complete big chunks of areas over and over with no checkpoint, should player find them difficult.
There is a healthy mix of stealth combat, frantic action, sneaking your way through areas, and everything in between. One of the things I most enjoyed about the game, is that each area provides its own challenge. There are a variety of enemies you encounter along the way, from various infected zombie-like creatures, to vigilantes/rebels and military. The human combatants are pretty stand standard fare, but taking on the infected creatures are where the combat is most diverse. There are a variety of different kinds of infected you will encounter in your adventure. Some are blind and rely on sound to detect you, which requires stealth to defeat them. Some are extremely aggressive, causing you to always be on your toes and have a gun at the ready, and some are more powerful, almost mini-boss-like that require every tool of your arsenal. Each fight requires its own specific strategy. This is not a game you will just run through guns-a-blazing. Ammo is very limited, so you are forced to tackle each area by thinking it through, and planning ahead for future encounters. For stealthy situations, by pressing the R2 trigger, you will activate something called "Listen Mode" which allows you to detect enemies through walls up and your surroundings up to a certain distance to plan your strategies.
The AI of the enemies you will encounter is excellent. Some of the best I have ever come across in gaming. The infected have their own set tendencies and patterns, but it really shines when you face human foes. They will flank you, retreat behind cover when at a disadvantage, and will not just poke their heads up from behind cover like morons, allowing you to aim up your headshots for as long as you desire. You will need to be on your toes at all times.
You will acquire a wide variety of weapons and items to aid you in combat. The guns and support weapons are found gradually while playing the game. Along the way, you will come across various pistols, a shotgun, hunting rifle, flamethrower, bow and arrow, and eventually an assault rifle. You will also be able to craft and find support weapons like shivs(used in stealth combat), nail bombs, smoke bombs, and molotov cocktails. Lastly, melee combat is a big part of The Last of Us and because of it, you are able to find a wide variety melee weapons. Things like wooden boards, baseball bats, machetes, and axes. You also have the option to use your fists and punch your way out of a jam. However, this leaves you vulnerable to counterattacks. Still, it's nice to have and gives you a wide range of options to use when taking on enemies, and makes sure the player is never short or strategic options for combat. Melee combat is pretty cool, providing nice animations that look and feel like they make a real impact. Each weapon can be upgraded by finding items(more on this shortly) called Parts and expending them to upgrade specific categories of each gun at workbenches you find during your adventure.
The Last of Us will greatly reward players that choose to spend time exploring and collecting materials scattered throughout the areas during your travels. Which brings me to another huge element of the game: crafting. Crafting allows players to create items on the fly to help you in combat. All support weapons/items listed earlier can be created when you find the right materials. You will also find upgrades for these items along the way to make them stronger and more effective. Furthermore, you can create health packs for when your health bar is dwindling. All crafting is done in real-time. It brings an extra sense of realism to the game and helps create tension and urgency for all situations.
Another type of item you will find in the environment is called Skill Pills. These give you skill points to spend on a handful of select skills to make the character more geared to your style of play. These skills include upgrading your maximum health, upgrading your Listen Mode distance, your shiv usage, healing speed,crafting speed, and lessening your weapon sway.
Additionally, there are story-based items and collectibles you will find along your travels to satisfy completionists. The story-based items are things like journals, notes, and audio cassettes that provide back story. They are not lame cookie-cutter findings, and actually give interesting information to the player and help set the mood of the game.
An aspect I loved about The Last of Us is the diversity in the gameplay. Aside from great combat, there is minor puzzle solving, chase sequences, action sequences, shootouts, and a lot more. The puzzle solving is nothing that will mesmerize. You will need to figure out how to make your way through tricky terrain along with the help of your allies. Often, what you need to interact with is marked by a triangle logo(indicating the triangle button on the controller), but the solutions still aren't too obvious to where they feel pointless. I felt they provided just enough of a challenge to satisfy and never disrupt the flow or pacing of the game. You'll also have interactive action sequences, where you will need to repeatedly tap buttons to influence a moment of action in the game. These do not feel repetitive, however. These sequences are well-placed and for some reason I always felt like I was having a direct impact on the game rather than just lamely tapping a button. Moreover, none of the gameplay in The Last of Us ever felt repetitive or stale. Everything felt like it had a place and a purpose, and always served the right amounts to not water down the overall experience. You won't encounter any annoying mini-games or gimmicks that derail the pacing, like a lot of third person action-adventure games throw at you these days.
Lastly, I would like to add that there are no boss fights. To me, this is a major breath of fresh air. In a game like this I feel it would have taken away from the immersion Naughty Dog tried to create for this title. The game makes its bones on allowing the player to feel part of the adventure, and diverging from this to throw in bosses for fan fare, would have been a detriment to the game, in my opinion. The Last of Us never jumps out of its element and I really respect that.
The game is absolutely gorgeous. The environments, enemies, weapons, and most importantly character designs and animations are all top notch. I could not have asked for a prettier game. I was constantly in awe during scenes that featured facial close-ups of the characters. The emotions were so well expressed on the faces of all the characters. For a game that is so story and emotionally driven, I felt this was vital. Jumping and climbing looked very realistic, and even during action sequences, the motions were fluid and lifelike. When you splatter the head of an infected into a nearby wall, never has gore looked more satisfying. This is easily one of the most visually impressive games I have ever played.
The Last of Us comes up strong again in the audio department. The music in the game fits the environments and atmosphere of the game perfectly. It blends in seamlessly and never jumps out to the forefront to take center stage. Somber tracks that depict the hopeless nature of the world that is before them really stuck around with me well after my completion of the game.
Once again, Naughty Dog creates a game with sensational voice acting. Troy Baker, who plays Joel, is always excellent and has been a voice acting staple for years now. However, Ashley Johnson is the talent that really stands out. She does an unbelievable job voicing Ellie, the game's other main protagonist. Her voice work sounds so natural and it's in big part because of her work that Ellie became one of my favorite video game characters in recent memory. She is charming, funny, and entertaining. Even the side characters are well performed, so don't worry about Naughty Dog slacking off outside of the game's two main stars. I have always been a gamer that doesn't need voice acting to enjoy a great game, but when I play a game like this, I question my stance on that. The performances from the actors really take the experience to the next level.
The sound effects are absolutely fantastic. Definitely among the best I have ever experienced. There is a real emphasis put on distance and sound variations. Meaning, depending on what type of environment you are in and how far away you are to enemies or allies, the sound will adapt accordingly. You'll hear echoes, lower and muffled voices and sounds. The whole nine. Even traversing through environments like small puddles make small splashing sounds. In combat, the sound effects enemies make when being shot or sliced made me feel like I was actually doing damage to them. Just the sound of smashing an enemy with an iron pipe made me giddy and eager to do it again. I can't think of a single complaint in this department.
Having only played through The Last of Us on its normal difficulty setting, this is what I will base my thoughts on for the purpose of this review. I found the difficulty to be just right. The game does provide challenges, as previously stated, with limited ammunition. If you are not a gamer who likes to explore, except to find the game a lot more challenging. You will probably find yourself in a tough situation without the proper materials to craft items of need. As long as you stay diligent, the gameplay should provide a nice enough challenge to satisfy, without getting irritating or frustrating.
There is plenty to come back for here. First of all, the game is so much fun, and the environments are big enough to explore that you might want to play it again in its own right. You can try different strategies, level up different skills, and upgrade different weapons. The Last of Us does offer a new game plus option. You can only play on the same or lower difficulty you started on your original playthrough, which I found to be a little bit of a letdown. Weapon and skill upgrades do carry over for you.
The Last of Us is a meat and potatoes game, with the meat being an expensive cut of filet mignon and the potatoes baked to a golden brown and perfectly seasoned. It trims all the fat, and leaves you with an incredibly fulfilling adventure that is full of feeling, charm, and heart. The game doesn't revolutionize the genre, it just perfects an already existing idea. Not too often does a video game grip me like this did, and had me so emotionally invested in the story and characters. This game is truly phenomenal, and is one that every gamer needs to experience at least once.
Final Score: 9.7/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/21/13, Updated 06/28/13
Game Release: The Last of Us (US, 06/14/13)
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