Published on September 6th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
The Last of Us
It is the fast-selling game on the PS3, receiving all-round critical praise from the gaming media and other quarters.
Developed by Naughty Dog, the folks who brought us Crash Bandicoot on the Playstation and later Jak and Daxter on the Playstation 2 and Uncharted on the Playstation 3, it was an unexpected move for them to release a new IP so late into the console generation that has brought them so much success with existing franchises.
Released in June, I didn’t immediately get the game in lieu of waiting for a price drop, however, this many months later the price hasn’t gone down by much, so I decided to just bite the bullet. And what a bullet it was.
Following the visual footsteps of Uncharted, The Last of Us is third person and is marketed as a “Survival-action”, which involves both stealth and shooting mechanics.
The game is set 20 years after an apocalypse, where the world was ravaged by a fungal disease, turning everyone into zombies basically. It shows what the “post-apocalypse” looks like and how humanity has coped with the infection.
The main character is Joel, a man who escaped the initial outbreak, however with much consequence. He has survived the past twenty years as a smuggler, who shifts contraband such as rations and guns in and out of the populated zone which is controlled by the military, who came into power under martial law when the infection started.
He is given a job by the leader of the revolutionary group the “Fireflies”, who object to the military handling of the remaining population. She is wounded and wants him to take a young girl out of the city to where there is another group of Fireflies in exchange for a large weapons cache. The rest of the game involves Joel and the young girl, Ellie, making their way to the Fireflies.
The gameplay is like a lot of modern gameplay and is extremely hybridised, but whereas in other games, this interactivity only serves to exclude the player and separate the story, the streamlined and smooth transition in this work to bolster the solid plot and characterisation that is established through gameplay.
The two main forms of play are stealth and shooting. Combat segments use a cover-based system, which don’t feel too suffocating, as the game already uses hiding and the ammunition is fairly scarce, so when resorting to firepower you have to be a good shot and use a good strategy if you don’t want to end up flanked by the enemy. Guns are gained throughout the storyline and there are also melée weapons.
Stealth segments are varied, with some of the infected enemies requiring different strategies to be overcome, there is a listening mode, where Joel can sense where enemies are in close vicinity, however he can’t shoot and can only move very slowly when he does this. There are three types of infected enemy of whom you’ll use stealth for more than humans. The first is the Runner, which are newly infected people and behave as their name entails. They represent the normal idea of a zombie and can be taken out with guns, stealth or melée. Clickers, which instantly kill and cannot be taken out with melée weapons, but they can be easily passed by walking slowly as they can’t see. Finally there are bloaters which take a large amount of firepower to take down and instantly kill when close.
The crafting system is one of the best things in the game, with things like Molotovs using the same ingredients as the Medikits, this allows a fun system where you have to decide carefully how you use the stuff you find.
The gameplay is fun and can be rather tricky, certain areas left me restarting 5 or 6 times, although I think it would have been good if they had made a few of the areas impossible to traverse covertly without resorting to mixing up the enemies by throwing distraction items, as so far everything can be managed without.
The story is the main thing that holds the game together, the relationship between Joel and Ellie wasn’t maddening like in other media of this sort and it reveals an overall improvement in characterisation (especially of children) in games. The narrative is shown not only through cutscenes but also unobtrusive QTE’s and while exploring, where a character might instigate a piece of conversation and if you want to hear more you can go over and interact with them.
Joel and Ellie are some of the best written characters in gaming, nothing is overdone and the game creates tense and sometimes upsetting emotional situations, whilst not descending into absurdity, leaving the best thoughts left unsaid and working greatly to its advantage. It’s not as hard-hitting as other games this year, but by leagues more poignant.
As the game features zombies, this makes it inherently a horror title, which a lot of people might palm off, however I would say this is probably one of the most effective horror games in recent memory as it manages to make you scared of things happening, without ever actually resorting to cheap jump thrills and without feeling like it’s teetering on the edge of the moment.
Basically there are lots of moments in the game where it feels like a zombie or something might jump out but it might also not, but there are hardly any of these moments that actually happen and when they do, they are played out slowly and not thrown in your face. This is quite unique and it’s something that only lower budget horror films from the past have done albeit to lesser success as by not being a game they cannot enjoy the leisure of time games afford, nor the added apprehension of gamers having to deal with any horrors that arise.
Another noticeable plus was the music, which accompanied the cutscenes and gameplay incredibly well. Featuring subdued violin, the game had its own theme, which was starting to become obsolete in modern games.
What makes the game incredible is its fluidity, even down to collectables and trophies, nothing gets in the way of the experience and I never felt like I was worrying about anything, which even Bioshock Infinite did at times, where I was thinking about how to kill enemies in a certain way. In this respect, The Last of Us is the better game, as the narration and outside features never divert attention from the gameplay.
Everything is balanced. The characters are believable. The ending had value.
But most importantly, I can play the game the way I want to without sacrificing challenge and enjoyment.