I’ll start the review with the obvious: you don’t need to read it. Nobody had a doubt in their mind that The Last of Us was going to be good. Naughty Dog has systematically been able to satisfy most gamers with every title they have produced since the original Crash Bandicoot. Now, adding zombies, stealth, and some of the best voice actors the gaming industry has to offer, it was a no-brainer that this game was reaching above a 9 for every critic.
I repeat: you don’t need to read this review. Simply buy or rent the game. Everyone knows by now that it’s good.
So you ask: Lou, why even write a review? It’s been months since The Last of Us came into our lives and it is time to take a step back from the hype and determine whether it’s truly the masterpiece that 9 of 10 gaming sources claim that it is.
While the hordes of jaded gamers flock to the message boards, typing their fingers off about how zombies have run their course, Naughty Dog snaps back with The Last of Us. Though the “zombies” are more or less hollow-fungus-shell-things, it is without a doubt occupying the zombie genre.
With one of the most powerful beginnings in video game history since the original Bioshock, The Last of Usstarts with the protagonist, Joel (Troy Baker), as he experiences the first signs of the apocolypse. Flashing forward a decade or two, Joel inhabits a world full of the fungi-infected “clickers” and people who regard spare ammo as more important than human lives. Tasked to help the resistance group, Joel is given the epic fetch-quest of bringing a little girl, Ellie (Ashley Johnson), from point A to point B in order to save humanity.
Okay, okay. The story isn’t “new”—these are the tropes used in a variety of zombie films (e.g. I Am Legend). However, this is one of the few games that has been able to immerse me so much in just the story alone. While I enjoyed the stories of Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed, I play more for the gameplay. Much like a book you can’t put down, I was up playing The Last of Us for hours on end just to find out what happened next.
The one minor downside to the story itself is that it is predictable. In a world where zombie stories are a dime a dozen, it is a little upsetting that most everyone playing could see the outcomes a mile away. This doesn’t hinder the story—all parts were done so well that they didn’t need the crutch of a plot twist. With that said, even though it will take you to new emotional heights in the medium, nothing in the story will blow your mind.
The presentation for The Last of Us is simply beautiful. Really capitalizing off of the dark and grungy aspects one would expect in a post-apocalyptic zombie game, Naughty Dog gives the best environment I have seen on the PS3 to date. Every inch of grass, fungus, and wreckage seems intentionally placed. Side dialogues by roaming NPCs are witty and depressing. It is clear that we are nearing the end of the system’s life cycle—the mastery of the hardware is undeniable.
Along with that, the game has taken “motion-capture” to new heights. First really pushed by L.A. Noire, The Last of Us utilizes the technology better than I’ve ever seen. There are points when friends and family would walk in thinking that I was watching a movie and not catch on for 15 minutes! This isn’t the first, it happens with my dad and the Madden series all the time. Regardless, the motion-capture and face animations help this game truly bring out the emotion behind the story. Without it, The Last of Us would undeniably be a lesser game.
Along with graphical fidelity, the audio aspects of the game are some of the best to date. Boasting several of the finest voice actors in the industry (a game with Troy Baker AND Nolan North?), the voice acting is going to be high quality. The music and sounds match the ambiance of the game’s environment, often brooding and dark.
This game is nearly a direct attack on those claiming Video Games are not mediums for art. With such a beautiful and cinematic presentation and spectacular voice acting, Naughty Dog may be trying to rival other CGI studios like Pixar or Dreamworks. Accordingly, while it isn’t the first, it is one of the few games ever reviewed by the New York Times.
If you want to imagine playing The Last of Us, simply think Uncharted with more sneaking and less shooting. Seriously, that’s all it is. There are some more nuances added, you can craft Molotov cocktails and lock-picks, engage in some of the best physical combat yet, see thourhg Batman’s Bat-vision from the Arkham games, and solve some environment puzzles–but things feel essentially the same.
That all may sound like a negative, but trust me—it isn’t.
I got lost in the gameplay. Though the easy modes allow you to run through the game with hardly any trouble, the hard modes dole out ammo like bread in the Soviet Union. Often you have to resort to your nearest brick as an impromptu weapon, or just sneak around entire groups of enemies altogether. The tagalong companion, Ellie, will throw you a few bones now-and-then by firing a couple of shots or finding some spare ammo—nothing that will massively sway the tides of battle.
Playing through the game multiple times, it is clear that the game is meant to be played in hard. Though I loved my original playthrough in normal mode, firing my gun in ever battle, and getting to take the story at a leisurely pace, you only get the true experience on the hardest difficulty. The Arkham-like sound sensor no longer lets you spot nearby clickers and everything gets a ton harder to kill with significantly fewer weapons at your disposal. If there are more than two enemies, using a gun is essentially a suicide mission. I had to resort to sneaking and taking cover to either take down the groups one-by-one, or avoid them entirely. You are forced to save every bullet, savor every headshot, and sneak your way around every aspect of a level to pass it.
Only then did I truly see the horror of the environment and fully appreciate the situation Naughty Dog was trying to paint.
On top of the single player adventure, The Last of Us boasts a competitive multiplayer mode. Though it won’t topple Call of Duty, it did manage to keep me interested shooting down a few raiders for a week. It is a worthwhile addition to an already amazing game.
The Verdict: 10 out of 10
While the game has its few flaws (being unable to break its Uncharted ties or create a cutting edge story), it is clear that The Last of Us is a new hallmark in gaming. It takes the medium to new heights in the way it presents environments and the story, while interweaving addictive and often hair-raising gameplay. It is an absolute must own for the PS3 and will stay on most people’s top 10 lists for years to come.