The Last of Us Review
In an age of repetitive shooters, racing games and endless, identical sports titles, The Last of Us is a beacon of innovative, story-driven design which deserves a standing ovation.
Springing from the minds of Naughty Dog – the team behind the Uncharted games – TLOU is a story-driven, emotive tale built on a foundation of solid gameplay, likeable characters and an aesthetic that will frequently lead you simply to stand and stare at the beauty of devastation.
Stepping into the shoes of embittered survivor Joel, the game begins right in the middle of the apocalypse.
A fungus – ‘Cordyceps’ – has mutated, and discovered that humans make for good fertiliser. Beforelong the world is overrun by hordes of infected humans – lost to the fungus, driven to maul the living like zombies in all but name.
It doesn’t take long for everything to go to hell, as society collapses in on itself and the human race is left scrabbling for survival in a world lost to nature.
After such a bombastic opening, you’d imagine that the game would lose a measure of pace, but with the viewpoint shifting to 20 years later, the 14-hour journey ahead keeps things interesting without breaking a sweat.
Joel, by now a bitter old man, makes a living as a smuggler, sneaking into the quarantined city of Boston and back out into the wasteland of Earth. It’s not much of a life, admittedly, but with the human race simply living day to day, it’ll do.
That is, until Joel is charged with delivering a little girl called Ellie to a resistance movement – a little girl who’s very special indeed.
TLOU is Joel and Ellie’s story, detailing their trek across the blasted, overgrown wilderness of America, and how the two come to trust each other in a world gone to the dogs.
While it would be easy to make such a tale a big, world-spanning adventure, Naughty Dog is to be commended for focusing on the human interaction at the core of any good story – and with deep characters like Joel and Ellie leading the way, TLOU will keep gamers pinned to the screen for hours.
Gameplay-wise, the intuitive controls, tight shooting and excellent cover mechanics make TLOU a joy to play. Added to this is the survival horror staple of limited resources, with the added twist that the gear Joel and Ellie pick up can be used for multiple different items. Get used to scanning wrecked houses for unopened drawers – supplies are life in the wasteland.
You constantly find yourself asking ‘do I need a molotov, or a health pack?’, or ‘shiv or lead pipe with scissors strapped to it?’
Make the wrong decision and you’ll quickly regret it, as a swarm of infected hove over the horizon.
As for the foes faced by the intrepid pair, there’s an argument for other humans presenting more of a threat than the infected themselves.
Other survivors are almost always out for blood, and will hunt you down using a clever, adaptive AI to box you in and blow you to shreds.
This leaves the gamer with the choice of stealth or combat – and when you have but four bullets to your name, stealth is usually the way to go.
Thankfully, the stealth mechanic is well implemented, and taking out your enemies with a variety of blades, bows, guns and tricks becomes second nature very quickly.
In fact, when facing the infected, stealth can be key. Of the flavours of infected, the ‘runners’ and ‘stalkers’ work in packs, while the ‘clickers’ – blinded by fungal growths – work on noise and echolocation.
They also kill you in one bite, and are bloody terrifying.
Graphics and sound
The locations the pair visit are pretty varied. There’s ruined cities, vast plains, snowy mountains and close, tense corridors. All are a delight to explore and scavenge, especially when you discover scraps of paper or dropped notebooks which offer insight as to quite how the world got so bad, so fast.
Graphically the game is simply fantastic. Everything looks beautiful, from ruined shopping malls to windswept towns, and the animation and facial mapping is top-notch.
Similarly, the score and sound effects are fantastic, and Naughty Dog have also embraced the use of silence during some particularly tense moments.
You don’t need music when a horde of Clickers is looking for you…
It’s this combination of great characters, solid gameplay, engaging story and tense exploration that makes TLOU such a triumph.
Therefore, the little things that don’t quite meet this mark do shine through.
With stealth being such a big part of the action, your AI companion’s heavy footfalls and habit of running around spoil the tension – especially when they run straight past the enemy, yet go unseen.
Enemies drop guns which mysteriously have no bullets, and will sometimes see you through walls, which can be very irritating indeed – especially when your AI companions don’t help you stealthily take out your targets.
Sure, they can defend themselves in a firefight, but it would be really useful to be able to ask crazed survivor Bill to knife that Clicker while I get this one…
But, in the grand scale of things, these little issues mean little when compared to TLOU’s greatness.
The game’s multiplayer doesn’t quite fit with the title, however, seeming tacked on and not entirely necessary. While a solid addition in its own right, it doesn’t really offer anything worthwhile, other than a few hours of run-n-gun brutality.