The Last Of Us is a PS3 exclusive game, by Naughty Dog. It’s a very mature game, and is not one for the kids. I’ll do my best to keep spoilers (beyond the basic premise) to a minimum.
The Last Of Us is set in a post-apocalyptic world, 20 years after a fungal infection (based on a real disease) has wiped out most of civilisation. The player-character is Joel, a rough survivor in his late forties or early fifties who gets lumbered with smuggling Ellie, a fourteen year old girl, to a distant destination.
Obviously there’s more to the plot than that, but the story has a number of twists and turns and I’m not going to ruin it. Joel’s a little older and grimmer than the usual protagonist, and the choice of a fourteen year old girl as a companion is a very unusual one for videogames. The age difference works very well, because Joel’s feeling his age a bit, and Ellie’s at that bloody awkward age where she’s clearly neither a child nor an adult.
Making a game that could be described (overly simplistically) as an escort quest would piss people off, if it hadn’t been done so well. Ellie’s not tedious as a character, and neither is she a burden the player is lumbered with. Whilst Joel’s clearly the leader, she’s not a passive follower.
On the broader question of the world the game takes place in, it is extremely well-realised. Each environment is unique, and there’s a great deal of detail (posters in a child’s bedroom, graffiti on the walls and so forth). Whilst there are a lot of cars and basically intact buildings around nature has reclaimed them to a greater or lesser extent, and it has a rather haunting beauty.
My playthrough clocked in at just over 15 hours.
During the game players will face both human enemies and the infected (of which there is some variety). Players can adopt a Rambo approach of going in all guns blazing, a ninja approach of maximum stealth or, as I did, a mixture of the two.
On the whole, I enjoyed the gameplay a lot, but I do have a few gripes. I love the menu for healing or making new stuff taking place without pausing the game, adding to the tension. Upgrading weapons (done at workbenches) is simple and a nice addition.
There’s also something very counter-intuitive and disconcerting (in a good way) about fighting certain infected, who are blind. You can wander around with your torch on without alerting them, but if you make a sound then you’re in deep trouble.
The weapons (including devices that can be made) are well-balanced and I used just about all of them on a regular basis. I really enjoyed the Molotov Cocktails. The rationing of ammunition is done extremely well. It always feels like there’s never enough, which feeds into the desperate struggle to survive theme of the game.
Hand to hand combat is basic, but visceral and a combination of grimly satisfying and unpleasant. It feels more serious than just tapping a button to move some pixels, it feels closer to beating the shit out of someone else than might be expected. That’s a lot darker than any other game that springs to mind, but the knowledge that these people would do exactly the same to you provides legitimate justification for the action. It’s very much kill, or be killed.
In addition, I really like the greater importance of sound in this game. Joel can ‘hear’ by pressing the R2 button which reveals where nearby enemies are (even through walls). I was afraid this would break the realism, which the game works hard to establish, but that sort of hearing can’t be replicated any other way, and the range is small enough for it to work well without giving Joel and unfair advantage. The creepy echo-location clicks that the clickers make will probably stick in your memory for a while, and when you run out of shivs, and bullets, and anything else, and you just have to sneak past them it’s a very intense feeling.
However, there were a few points I disliked. I’m not a fan of one hit kill enemies. I have to say that my dislike for this mechanic waned a bit as I played the game and I got used to certain enemies having this power, but it still feels a little cheap.
The guns sway a bit too much. This can be improved through popping pills (which can also improve Joel’s abilities in other ways) but given he’s established as a grizzled veteran the level of movement is excessive.
The graphics are fantastic, both in-game and during cutscenes. Lighting effects (which play a big role in the game due to the frequent use of the torch in dark places), burning effects, varying weather conditions, flora and fauna, all look great.
The cutscenes are especially good, and the character models for Joel and Ellie are outstanding.
Often, natural and artificial environments mingle as plant life reclaims neighbourhoods and streets, growing over cars and through the roads. There are some underwater sections, thankfully not overdone, and the underwater effects look good.
Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker as Ellie and Joel deserve enormous credit for their fantastic performances. The game is very grim at times, and very intense, and the two voice actors put in stellar performances, as well as having great chemistry together. The writing team also deserve a lot of praise for the quality of their work regarding the dialogue.
The other voice actors also do a great job, and a number of secondary but important characters have strong performances which really help to underpin the main storyline.
Sound effects, from firing guns to the flames of Molotov Cocktails and the sound of accidentally creeping over broken crockery, are top notch.
I also realised why the music didn’t make much impression on me when I wrote the First Impressions post. It’s used relatively rarely, because sound is more important for gameplay than is often the case, and it’s minimalist. The tunes are ones you can imagine a man playing by himself, which mirrors the loneliness and loss that the world of The Last Of Us is characterised by.
Bugs and other issues
Saving manually (not really necessary, to be honest, as the game autosaves very often) takes a little while.
Game hints (which I believe can be disabled) seemed to pop up a little too soon. For example, I’d be methodically scouring an area for supplies and a hint would appear to tell me how to get to the next area.
For the UK version, there are some language options. I was slightly disappointed that German wasn’t one of them, and a little surprised that Polish and Russian were the two alternatives to English. This doesn’t detract at all from the game, of course, but it would’ve been a nice extra for me to replay it in German.
This is a phenomenal game. It’s enthralling and emotive, the gameplay is intense and dramatic and I became seriously emotionally invested in the fate of Joel and Ellie. Any problems with the game are extremely minor in comparison to the excellence of the story and the excitement of the gameplay.
I don’t give ratings to games, but if I did I’d be sorely tempted to give it 10/10.