Published on June 21st, 2013 | by Deejay Knight, Editor/Founder
The Last of Us Review
It’s rare that a game comes along and garners amazing reviews from almost every source. It’s also a rare thing for Naughty Dog to release a game that doesn’t garner such praise. Following the Uncharted series isn’t an easy proposition by any stretch of the imagination, but Naughty Dog handles the transition to a new series with stride, inviting us to step out onto a dangerous landscape in The Last of Us.
Let’s get into why that is, shall we?
Graphically, let’s not beat around the bush: We’re talking about the same team that developed the Uncharted series. Naughty Dog is among the developers that wrote the book on how to get the most out of the PS3 hardware.
Suffice it to say, the game is gorgeous. Within the various environments, filled with small, intricate details, you’ll find yourself traversing among people and the various forms of infected you’ll encounter, all of which oozes with polish.
The only problems in regards to that detail is that, when things go wrong, they seem just that much more out of place. And boy do things get crazy when that happens. More on that later.
The story is based on a very real thing called the Cordyceps fungus. It has more than a thousand variants, and each one targets a single species. When an organism is infected with Cordyceps, the fungus grows inside its host’s brain and brain stem. The infected is affected behaviorally. Instead of your standard zombie affair, The Last of Us gives us just a quick reminder of how scary nature really is.
The game begins during the start of the zombie takeover. The zombies, called The Infected, soon force the remainder of mankind into protected cities, complete with strict laws that govern the remaining citizens. Around 20 years after the attack, Joel, who gamers play as during the game’s prologue as well as the core of the story, has become a dark shell of a man – much different than whom he was during the game’s opening act.
Joel’s normal life is gone, and he has become gun runner, supplying weapons to the highest bidder. However, his life changes when he meets a 14-year-old girl, Ellie. By luck or foul, he soon becomes her keeper, and Joel is tasked to take Ellie far from the quarantined city. The duo must traverse through Infected-swarmed lands that are teeming with danger. At first, Joel is apprehensive regarding his fate. His mind changes, reluctantly, however, soon after he learns about the incredible secret that Ellie hides.
Without giving away major spoilers, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the story of this game deserves all the kudos it’s been getting. Joel and Ellie’s journey is one of many highs and lows. Through this endeavor you will learn all about their backstories through well placed (for the most part) conversations. You also get the chance to learn about many other people that have been affected by the infestation through notes, diaries and many other collectibles left throughout the game — all of which add a ton of life to the game.
So let’s just get this out of the way: Get comfortable with the fact that you will die at some point in the game. The crazily awesome thing is that the short cut-scenes involving your demise vary depending on the enemy you’re battling. While you may not enjoy the dying part, you’ll definitely have your gut wrenched by the superb quality of those scenes.
Throughout the campaign, Joel can collect parts to fashion into tools or weapons. After picking up supplies, such as sugar, a blade or a rag, Joel can enter the backpack menu and MacGyver up a shiv for those personal moments, or a medical kit when things become too personal. He can also create a Molotov cocktail for some crowd control, but it pays to be smart when crafting: it takes the same ingredients in a cocktail as it does a medkit.
Another tool in Joel’s arsenal is his finely tuned ability to “listen” for enemy movement, which allows him to see where the enemy is through walls. This move is key in most situations that require stealth. Actually, most situations do require stealth, as guns blazing rarely gets the job done if you’re facing more than one enemy.
The animations in The Last of Us are also very well done, which isn’t surprising considering the pedigree of the developer. However, there are some slight issues. For instance, when turning your flashlight on or off, the light just simply switches. There are no hands moving to flip the switch.
There is also the issue of basic zombie movie rule number one: If a door is closed and secured, and you go through it, be a bro and close it again, shall we? It’s something I noticed throughout the game and it really ground my gears.
While yes, all of the detail they’ve taken the time to implement can be offset with a few small snafus, the detail placed in this game still gives you the feeling of, “This shell of the world as we currently know it was once lived in.” That we, as humans, existed.
The gameplay of The Last of Us is where things get interesting. The vast majority of the game may seem like an escort mission at first glance, but that’s not all there is to its pacing. It’s true that Ellie follows you throughout the game, but unlike every escort mission you’ve ever played, Ellie becomes useful at certain points in the campaign.
That’s not to say she’s useful the entire time. One of the most glaring issues with “escort missions” as we know them, is that artificial intelligence isn’t always intelligent.
Every now and then, you’ll find a character you’re escorting that either isn’t following your lead, or is doing something outright ridiculous. For instance, if I’m crouched and stealthily moving through an area where there are tons of Clickers (zombies that can locate you through echolocation), NPCs probably shouldn’t be walking upright or stomping through with steel sole boots or, I don’t know, trying to learn how to whistle.
In multiple other situations, NPCs can be standing directly in front of an enemy but not seen. The second you show your face though; you’ve got a room full of Clickers trying to gnaw out your aorta.
Since bullets aren’t exactly common in this game, you’ll have to make due with lots of melee weapons to tide you over (especially if you’re not a great shot). In many cases, strangling those zombies may be the better option compared to firing upon them. For starters, firing attracts crowds, which results in all the Clickers and their larger cousins coming over to collectively gnaw at your face.
Though The Last of Us focuses more heavily on its profound single-player campaign, there does exist a multiplayer mode, called Factions. When starting Factions, players are asked to choose one of two opposing sides: the Fireflies, a group of paramilitary-types bent on finding a cure for the Cordyceps or the Hunters, hardened civilians who banded together to survive.
Both sides serve different purposes throughout the tale in which the multiplayer segment tries to tell. Yes, there is a “story” of sorts, but it isn’t nearly as deep as Joel and Ellie’s adventure.
Basically, players are put as the head of a growing clan of survivors. The game does not dish out “levels” or rank as you would expect in other online shooters. Instead, progress is measured in how many weeks you and your clan have managed to survive. After one week is passed, a numeral “1” will appear next to your user name, after two weeks, a “2,” and so on. Players are tasked with surviving for 12 weeks — you won’t be able to change sides until you have completed the story or your clan gets wiped out.
To survive, players must go out into the wilds and seek supplies while completing random mission objectives. Every game played progresses the “story” a full day. The clan size will change with the more supplies earned each match. Every match, won or lost, gives the player a chance to bring home the goods. As the clan’s size increases, the game unlocks weapons for custom load-outs, one-time use boosters and character customization options — including hats, face masks and emblems.
As the clan expands it will need more and more supplies per day in order to maintain a healthy populous, which is split among three categories: Healthy, Hungry and Sick. The way the multiplayer is set up means that earning small amounts of supplies or quitting a match will create negative consequences. With this system, players are discouraged from quitting a match, otherwise clan members begin to “die.”
In the game menu players can read various clan updates, telling you who is feeling hungry, or if Jack Jackson is roasting a squirrel over a spit, etc. The updates are cosmetic only. You won’t be able to give commands or tell Jack to stop eating rodents — it simply exists to provide an inside look to how your clan is weathering.
The multiplayer is split into two 4-on-4 game modes: Supply Raid and Survivors. Both modes are basically team deathmatch game types, and they share the same fundamental idea of collecting supplies, but some rules are different.
Either mode will task you with moving throughout the map while collecting supplies from loot boxes, indicated by a white circular target on the mini-map. Supply Raid, however, grants 20 lives to spend on each team. The team that runs out of respawns loses the match. “Survivors Only” allows one life per player, and the first team to reach four wins is declared victorious.
Collecting supplies will allow you to open your backpack and build weapons or tools that will help your team win the match, such as medical kits, a bomb or a Molotov cocktail. Not every loot box can provide the essential ingredients needed for an item, so players are encouraged to move from section to section.
Both multiplayer modes are modeled after the single-player campaign, meaning that running and gunning will only result in dying faster than need be. Instead, slow and steady wins this race, and working as a team may mean the difference between winning supplies or getting a Molotov bath.
This doesn’t mean you need to crouch-walk all over the place. In the times I have played, I have witnessed two types of multiplayer gamers specific to The Last of Us. The “slow and steady” type that rushes to an area and slowly stakes out the place for enemies, and, of course, the “Halo players,” who run out in every direction. In the latter, this team will stand no chance against one that is organized and careful.
Players can utilize the “listening” mechanic from the campaign, allowing them to “see” any upcoming ambushes by a shifty opposition.
At first, I felt at odds with the multiplayer, but over time it grew on me. I enjoyed being able to play a game that rewards careful team play, over the usual “every man for himself” mentality present in many shooters. The loot boxes also makes the gameplay feel fresh, as it encourages the team to move around the map, discouraging camping and giving the players a reason to collect — often in the form of weapons, tools or cash to purchase armor or ammo.
The multiplayer won’t end up being the talk of the town — that job is reserved for the stunning single-player campaign. But I’m glad Naughty Dog included it. The campaign is long, coming in at around 15 hours, but after the final credits roll off the screen, the multiplayer should keep people coming back with its challenging and intense gameplay, standing out far more than in Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series.
No, it won’t blow anyone’s socks off, but I strongly recommend giving it a try.
Gameplay and detail quirks aside, The Last of Us is, in my opinion, one of the best titles of this generation. I’m confident that if you own a PlayStation 3 and enjoy a good adventure game, The Last of Us needs to be in your library.
- It’s a refreshing take on the zombie genre
- Extremely compelling storytelling and characters
- Animations, details and dialogue build a fitting post-apocalyptic world
- Why can Ellie walk out openly without getting caught?
- Player AI doesn’t consider player actions
- Some advancement options aren’t clarified easily
GAMINGtruth Editor-in-Chief Cameron Woolsey contributed to this review (multiplayer).
Summary: Great game with some gameplay issues, but is definitely a must-own for PS3 owners that like zombies, Naughty Dog, or have a pulse.