Review by Mythgar

"Survive and Endure"

Here we are, the arrival of one of the most anticipated PS3 titles in recent memory. With the creators of the wildly popular Uncharted series at the helm, the game was guaranteed to be a success, but is it as great as everyone says? Ultimately, yes and no.

Story - 9
The Last of Us takes place in the USA some 20 odd years after the outbreak of an infection, caused by the Cordyceps mushroom, occurs. The infection has devastated the world, with 60% of the world's population being either dead or infected. To try and mitigate the losses, there are quarantine zones set up throughout the US where citizens can live “safely” provided that they abide the strict rules, and do not leave the zone. Some have defied these rules, and demand some form of structure return, along with greater attempts to cure the infection, these people are known as the Fireflies. This is a much harsher world than the one we live in, any resistance is immediately cut down, and there is no room for disagreement.

You play through the game as Joel, a man likely in his late 40's, who knew the world before this crisis, and who has lost everything and suffered tremendously due to it. Joel is a rather harsh and hardened man, who clearly has adopted the mindset of “every man for himself”, and tries his hardest not to become attached to anyone else. Even though Joel can definitely come across as cold, I sympathized with him, and eventually grew fond of him. The other major player here, is Ellie, and she is an outstanding character. Her primary role is definitely to lighten the mood, and keep Joel's mind off of the terrible situations they get themselves into. She is absolutely adorkable, and that is really the best way to describe her. She loves comics, she is tough as nails, she is very curious, she has a foul mouth, and she's seen some horrific things, but by the halfway point you will want to do everything you can to protect this girl.

The game suffers from some zombie-game cliches. Every time a new character is introduced, you will likely be guessing as to how long they will be there, and how they will make their exit. Usually, the end result is predictable, although there are some surprises to be had. There also was a part in the game about halfway through that felt out of place to me.

The story follows Joel and Ellie as they make their way across the remains of the US, that has now become overgrown with plants and greens, fending off bandits and infected along their way. It is roughly a 15-hour long emotional journey, and by the end you will be dying for more, especially given that the ending leaves a little something to be desired. Overall, this is not just another “zombie game” and it definitely has a story worth hearing, with two amazing characters worth knowing.

Gameplay - 7.5
The Last of Us is a Naughty Dog product, and it shows in the combat. The gunplay feels very similar to the Uncharted series, but that is where the similarities end. The Last of Us is, first and foremost, a stealth game. In most encounters, you want to remain undetected for as long as possible, silently taking down your foes through the use of various devices. This is particularly true when you are facing off against the infected, but still a good idea against your standard humans.

There are two very different types of encounters in this game. Those against humans, and those against the infected. Humans are smarter, more strategic, and generally play it a bit safer by hiding behind cover. Humans will often try and circle around behind you, and will frequently communicate with their cohorts. Infected, on the other hand, are stupid, nearly blind, and extremely suicidal. Generally the infected are the more dangerous foes, and you will likely never feel comfortable when you are facing them, primarily because of the deadly “Clickers.” Clickers are completely blind, and relatively slow, but if they reach you they will one-shot you. That's right, if you get caught in their animation, you are dead. This not only makes these encounters extremely intimidating, it also makes stealth a necessity on the harder difficulties. Thankfully, there is also the inclusion of Joel's “listening mode” which allows him to basically focus on the sounds enemies are making and pinpoint their locations, even through walls, up to a certain distance. You cannot, however, use this mode on the hardest difficulty.

There is no doubt that TLoU is at its best when you shiv a guy from behind, then quickly pull out your bow, and silently pop his buddy in the head. Unfortunately, the game does its best to mess that up for you.

This game has quite a few bugs, and if you enjoy the sense of immersion and tension that comes with these types of games, these bugs may be a problem for you. The AI of your teammates is quite bad, and on top of that, your buddies are completely invisible to enemies. This is a good thing, because Ellie will often sprint out of cover at random times, for no reason. It is also a bad thing, however, because there is really nothing more immersion-breaking than when you're quietly hiding behind a piece of cover as an enemy is drawing closer and closer, hoping he doesn't come around your corner, and there's Ellie, patting herself on the back for being so good at hiding, while standing right in front of the guard.

I also noticed that whether guards see their dead comrades or not is almost random. I think that if a guard hears you in the act of killing another guard, then when they come to investigate they will notice the body. However, if you kill a guard, and then make noise after the fact, when the guard comes to investigate he will not notice the body. I could be mistaken, but this is what I gleaned. Again this is partially a good thing, because there is no way to move corpses, but it's a bad thing because for a game that seems to pride itself on realism, it feels a bit off-putting when a guard is standing 5 feet from his dead friend, and walks away as if nothing is going on.

The rest of the gameplay involves exploring the beautiful world that Naughty Dog has created, and scavenging for resources to craft various weapons/bombs. The game does a good job of limiting the amount of stuff you'll find, so that you will not only feel more inclined to explore every nook and cranny, but also so that you will think twice before wasting your precious bullets on a few enemies. Bullets seem to be in the shortest supply, because while I easily enough found materials to create various items, bullets were scarce, and generally only rewarded after a long-fought encounter.

The game also boasts some puzzles, although these are extremely shallow and seem to add nothing to the game. Ellie cannot swim, so you often have to find ways to get her across deeper waters, but there always seems to be a conveniently placed pallet somewhere nearby that can be used. Ladders, planks and dumpsters are among some other interactibles that need to be used to reach new areas. Overall the “puzzles” seemed unnecessary and only proved to slow down the pace of a game that already has a pretty slow pace.

Audio - 8.5
The voice acting in this game is superb. Troy Baker delivers another fantastic performance as Joel, and Ashley Johnson as Ellie. The other characters that you meet are also well done. The music does a good job of setting up some ambience, but there aren't any particularly memorable tunes.

Graphics - 9
The production value on this game is high. The character models look amazing, and the world that Naughty Dog has built is stunning. Despite the ruined cities and encampments, this world has an uncanny beauty to it, and you may find yourself walking, rather than running, through segments just so you can stare at it a bit longer.

Overall - 8.5/10
Though I would definitely not say this is the best game of the generation, and I would still give MGS4 the edge in terms of the best PS3 exclusive, The Last of Us IS Naughty Dog's best game, and a breathtaking experience. If you are a fan of story-driven journeys, and also enjoy stealth-based gameplay, then I would definitely recommend that you pick up this one. It is a great game, and a deeply engrossing tale of life and love in a post-apocalyptic world.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 06/20/13

Game Release: The Last of Us (US, 06/14/13)

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