Review by horror_spooky

"Survival horror evolved"

Naughty Dog typically puts out four games per Sony console. Everyone expected them to do Uncharted 4 and build off the success of what has been their most successful franchise to date. However, they went a completely unexpected route, abandoning the high-action, summer blockbuster feel of the Uncharted series in favor of the grim, dark, downright terrifying combination of stealth and survival-horror we see in The Last of Us. I don't know if it needed yet another person singing its praises, but just let me say I love The Last of Us, and I think it is a game that everyone needs to play.

The Last of Us, like I said, feels like the perfect marriage between stealth and survival-horror, two genres that have been left at the wayside this entire generation. Former juggernauts of both genres, Metal Gear Solid for stealth and Resident Evil for survival-horror, have traded their once hardcore loyalty to their fanbase in favor of taking more action-oriented approaches in an effort to appeal to the new "Call of Duty crowd" of gamers to varying results. The Last of Us shows that survival-horror and stealth can both be extremely relevant in the right hands. The Last of Us is the natural evolution of those genres, and where they should've been taken a long time ago.

Even though I have awarded this game 10/10, and it definitely deserves it, I don't see a 10/10 score as meaning the game is completely "perfect". No game is perfect, and that is a feat that will never be achieved. Some of imperfections in The Last of Us come mainly with the stealth elements. The early stealth sections especially are just trial and error rather than relying on creative thinking. AI controlled partners will awkwardly walk in front of enemies during these early stealth sections as well, though they will garner no reaction from the enemies. This cripples immersion, but thankfully this issue completely disappears just a few hours into the game and seems to only be a problem when there are three characters at once instead of just Joel and Ellie.

The Last of Us doesn't pull any punches. It is a tough game on any difficulty setting, but it is tough in a fair way and never feels cheap. Combat is intense and often terrifying, not to mention horrifically violent. Fighting other humans is heart-pounding and scary, with bullets whizzing by and bouncing off the walls, letting you know that you were just a few inches away from being killed.

To defend themselves, Joel and Ellie have access to a variety of different weapons. There are plenty of melee weapons besides their fists, such as shivs that can be used to silently kill enemies or pick the locks of shut doors. Guns are gained steadily throughout the adventure, ranging from pistols to shotguns to flamethrowers, plus my favorite weapon in the game and the most rewarding to master, the bow and arrow. Bombs and Molotov cocktails are also available to use to get through the challenging combat sections in the game.

Set in a post apocalyptic version of the United States, these items aren't exactly in large supply. Scouring the environment for supplies to craft these items is an integral part of the experience. Workbenches are used to upgrade weapons, but Joel is able to dig into his backpack and throw together a makeshift bomb at any point in the game, assuming he has the necessary parts and the know-how to create such weapons. The game doesn't pause when Joel is sifting through his inventory either, which makes even the crafting and looting a lot of fun.

I found myself enjoying the quiet looting sections even more than the combat-heavy parts of the game. I spent hours just searching through houses, opening up all the cupboards and drawers hoping to find useful supplies so I could better Joel's weapons or throw together a medical kit when I was in need of one. Joel's stats can also be improved in the game by finding training manuals that grant him extra skills or by finding pills that can be used to purchase upgrades such as greater maximum health or reduced weapon sway.

The Last of Us can basically be separated out into three distinct gameplay niches. There's the quiet looting segments, the action-heavy firefights, and the quiet, horror-focused stealth areas. I've already covered the looting, so now let me go into detail with the other experiences you'll face when playing The Last of Us.

Most of the action areas focus on battles with human enemies. The AI in the game is incredibly smart, often sneaking up on Joel or flanking him while another enemy serves as a distraction. These firefights are a drain on resources most of the time, so the optional ones can and should be avoided as much as possible, but the combat is so spot on that sometimes you'll find yourself purposefully getting into altercations just to experience the realistic intensity of it all.

Encounters with human enemies sometimes can be stealth sections as well, though the stealth parts of the game are mostly reserved for dealing with the Infected. To bypass enemies, players can throw bottles or bricks to create noise and attract them to that location. These elements work very well, especially later on when the stealth sections are not trial and error but rather rely on the skill of the player.

There are three different types of the Infected encountered in The Last of Us. Most games tend to just throw as many different enemy types at the player that they can possibly think of, but The Last of Us proves that quality is far better than quantity. The three different Infected type enemies all bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the table, but one thing they share in common is that they are all a major threat and they are all positively terrifying when they're encountered.

First of all, there's the Runners. This type of Infected look much more human in nature than the other ones encountered in the game. They haven't been plagued with the fungus-like illness that has destroyed the world in The Last of Us for very long, but they still have nasty growths and look like zombies. They are visually based, and when they see Joel, they will sprint at him at full speed, swinging their arms wildly to deal damage. Joel is able to fight them off if he is grabbed by mashing buttons, which can sometimes lead to impressive and dynamic environmental kills.

Probably the scariest version of the Infected are the Clickers that populate the stealth sections of the game. The reason there's always so many Clickers at the stealth sections is because they can result in one-hit kills unless players spend a lot of upgrade pills to improve Joel's abilities with the shiv. The Clickers are completely blind thanks to their heads being split open and looking like two slimy orange petals flowering out of the top of someone's skull. They make spooky clicking noises, hence their name, and locate their prey with sound.

Dealing with Clickers requires players to very slowly move throughout the environment and make as little noise as possible. If they grab a hold of Joel, they will immediately bite into the side of his neck, resulting in an immediate kill. Finally, there's the Bloaters, obese, final-stage Infected that have armor plating thanks to the improved fungal plates that have formed on their body. They are the most dangerous enemy type, as if they get too close to Joel, they will rip his head open and it results in an automatic death. They are also able to throw spore bombs that will constantly drain Joel's health while he's in the spores. The best way to deal with these behemoths is with fire and bombs, but both of those are hard to come by in the world of The Last of Us, which makes inventory management a key part of gameplay, a staple of the survival-horror genre.

Perhaps the main draw of The Last of Us for those that aren't into survival-horror gameplay is the game's story, which is probably the greatest story told in gaming to date. The reason the story is so good is not just because of one singular thing. It is a combination of the stellar writing, the expert voice acting, and the brilliant characterization. I've seen people say, "Oh, just watch the cut-scenes on YouTube and don't bother with the game", but that is the dumbest suggestion possibly ever. To truly appreciate emotionally powerful story in The Last of Us, one has to experience the game. All of it. You simply won't be as attached to the characters just watching a video on YouTube.

As I've already stated, The Last of Us takes place in post-apocalyptic United States. It's been 20 years since the outbreak occurred, and now the world as we knew it is dead. Quarantine Zones governed by the remnants of the military are dotted throughout the country. Survivors form groups to survive and face the horrors of the world together.

Our hero is Joel, a man pushing 50 that has been through hell and back in this dangerous new reality. He is tasked with escorting a teenage girl named Ellie across the country because she is immune to the fungal plague that caused the downfall of society as knew it, and she can possibly be the source of a cure. The Last of Us features many dark twists, realistic character development, and constantly breaks genre conventions for the sake of telling one of the most original and engrossing zombie stories ever told.

Ellie and Joel, the two main characters, are two of the most unique and most interesting characters in any video game ever. Ellie is especially intriguing, though Joel is the one everyone will be talking about for years down the road. The Last of Us is telling two different stories with these two different characters. It is telling the story of Ellie growing up in a world where death is as common as the cold and maturing into an adult, and it is telling the story of Joel dealing with his dark past and maybe one day overcoming those terrors that haunt him every day.

The rest of the cast is just as great. Tess is a semi-psychotic but battle-hardened survivor that works as a smuggler with Joel. Then there's Bill, an erratic paranoid fellow that has set up his own personal town filled with explosive traps to protect himself from outsiders, both those that are Infected and the more dangerous human variety out there. Plenty of other characters come and go throughout the adventure. The Last of Us is Joel's odyssey, but just like the tales of Odysseus, everyone encountered is just as important, and they are all integral to making this journey what it is by the time the credits roll.

Another reason the story told in The Last of Us is so effective is because of the graphics. Based on what I've seen from next-generation hardware so far, The Last of Us could easily pass as a PlayStation 4 game. The graphics are positively jaw-dropping, with beautifully detailed and varied environments and weather effects. Graphically, The Last of Us is the most beautiful game I've ever played. Facial animation in the game is also unparalleled, bringing forth the most realistic facial animation and character animation in general in any video game yet created. Simply put, The Last of Us is gorgeous.

In fact, the game is so graphically impressive that even the slightest visual hiccups are magnified and much more obvious than they would be otherwise. Texture loading issues are very noticeable, plus there is a lot of pop-up at specific parts of the game that is really noticeable and breaks the otherwise flawless atmosphere and sense of immersion Naughty Dog has expertly crafted.

A few other technical issues come into play as well. I experienced a few glitches during my time with the game, such as a "blue screen of death" popping up during a cut-scene, though it went away within a few seconds. I also experienced a glitch where Joel couldn't climb a ladder I needed him to climb to continue the game, and instead he spazzed out and slid backwards, which corrected himself and then let me climb the ladder. One time during an early part of the game, I jumped off the roof of a car, and then Joel was stuck in the falling animation, his arms moving up and down to make it look like he was flapping his wings or something, and then he just suddenly died. I would've been more irritated if it wasn't so hilarious looking.

But these are just minor issues in a game that is about as perfect as a game these days can get from a technical and visual standpoint. People will point to these things and try to bring the game down, but they really shouldn't. Earlier I mentioned the "YouTube" argument as a way people are going to criticize, but another reason that The Last of Us isn't a game you can just watch on YouTube is because it provides fantastic gameplay and it is highly replayable.

The Last of Us boasts numerous difficulty settings as well as the much-appreciated New Game Plus setting to encourage multiple playthroughs. I see myself going through the adventure two or three more times before being fully satisfied. Hell, I can actually see myself getting 100% completion with this game, and I only do that very rarely, with games that I am actually so impressed with that I just find it super hard to put them down. That being said, the first couple of hours or so are rough to get through because they are pretty boring, especially for subsequent playthroughs.

The Last of Us doesn't have the most creative trophies, but it does have a lot of collectibles and Easter Eggs to discover, plus unlockable content including new outfits for Joel and Ellie, some of which are nods to Naughty Dog's previous games like Uncharted and Jak & Daxter.

Another way The Last of Us has replayability is through the multiplayer component. The multiplayer in the game is actually really impressive and an absolute blast. I find it just as fun and hard to put down as the single player. It feels like a much more challenging, better, and much more rewarding version of the online multiplayer that is seen in the Uncharted games.

I usually don't like it when multiplayer modes in games just recycle areas from the single player campaigns, but in The Last of Us, these maps still feel fresh and well-designed. It's fun revisiting these areas in a multiplayer capacity.

Players start the multiplayer off by choosing whether they want to play as the Hunters or the Fireflies. They then have to see if they can go 12 weeks in-game, which amounts to about 84 matches, and keep at least one person alive in their clan. If they go through the 12 weeks and are successful, then they can start over as the other team. I thought this was a very smart move and makes the multiplayer have a more solid sense of progression besides the typical RPG stuff that is used in online shooter multiplayer nowadays.

Like in Uncharted, players can customize their online character with different accessories and outfits that are unlocked by progressing in the multiplayer. Taunts can also be unlocked as well as emblems that can be fully edited. The Last of Us truly does feature an impressive amount of customization options, which is always appreciated.

Though I was a bit disappointed in the lack of offline functionality for the multiplayer, I do have to say that The Last of Us does a better job than most games at keeping the online multiplayer fresh, and I can't see the online community of The Last of Us dying out any time soon, even after the launch of PS4 this fall.

It does this by having amusing Facebook integration, which is sort of a sneak preview of what PS4 is going to do by incorporating Facebook and other social networking sites in with your PSN experience on PS4. In The Last of Us, you have the option of integrating your Facebook friends list so that "real" people that you know in real life can "join" your clan in The Last of Us. I realize this doesn't make any sense unless I elaborate, so let me do that real quick.

Earlier I said the goal of the multiplayer is to go through 12 weeks in-game and have at least one person in your clan. Your clan is built up by doing well in matches. You have to take care of your clan by continuing to do well in matches, and the larger your clan gets, the better you have to play. Supplies are earned by picking them up off the dead bodies of your enemies, which adds an interesting challenge to the typical multiplayer dynamic. You have a set amount of supplies you have to collect each match in order to keep everyone in your clan healthy and fed. So, if you choose to have your Facebook linked, then instead of made-up in-game characters, it uses the profile pictures and the real names of your actual Facebook friends, and even announces that they're doing this such as gardening or learning to paint or providing defense for your clan. The best part about it? The Last of Us never posts on your wall and it never bothers any of those people on your Facebook, so linking your Facebook to the game has absolutely zero negative consequences to the overall multiplayer experience, and in fact makes it better and much more enjoyable.

Yet another way The Last of Us keeps multiplayer fresh is through challenges that pop up every so often throughout the in-game weeks. Players are given a large list of challenges to choose from, so the challenges can be relevant to the way you actually want to play the game instead of forcing players to play how they don't want to play. Other games make challenges that would force players, for example, that would rather be sniping to use shotguns if they want to reap the rewards of the challenges, but The Last of Us allows you to choose, and this is the much better way to go about this. Being successful in the challenges results in more rewards for your clan and is sometimes necessary to keep people in your clan alive.

The Last of Us is a game that everyone needs to play. I don't care if you don't have a PlayStation 3; go out and buy one for this game. This experience is unparalleled and it simply isn't available on anything else. The Last of Us is survival-horror evolved, one of the absolute best games of this console generation, and the PS3's most valuable exclusive. Naughty Dog has cemented their legacy as masters of the craft with this frightening and thought-provoking adventure that takes gameplay to the next level and serves as the perfect swan song for the seventh generation.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 07/08/13

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

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