Let’s face it. Everyone who owned a PS3 has been basically frothing at the bit about playing The Last of Us since they started airing trailers for it at E3 two years ago. I certainly was, and knowing it was a game produced by Naughty Dog I was pretty confident in their track record. Closer to this past E3 and the games upcoming release the game was already starting receive nods like “potential game of the year”. They released a demo for it, and I have to admit, it kind of quelled me a bit. I was afraid I was just going to have a post-apocalyptic version of Uncharted.
To give an incredibly short synopsis of the story I’d say it goes like this: Joel comes home from work and puts his daughter to bed, infection breaks out and causes a widespread panic. Joel and his family try to get away from the infection to safety, cut 20 years into the future to find an older tired Joel getting by in a world that has fallen apart since the outbreak. In a bad deal, Joel is tasked with smuggling a young girl out of Boston in exchange for guns stolen from them.
Unfortunately, this is really the best way for me to gloss it because if there is anything Naughty Dog has shown me over the past 10 years is that they really know how to tell a story. It would be an injustice for you as a player to have me spoil any of the major events for the story for you here, so that’s just a basic gist of the motivations.
As I said about the demo, I was worried that this was gonna be a different setting for Uncharted but that actually isn’t the case. Yes there are some similarities to the appearance and the controls to a standard 3rd person shooter. But I think a more accurate term would be to refer to it as a “Zombie game with Stealth elements.” The infected are never actually referred to as zombies, but really after about 10 minutes of them they give all the zombie calling cards minus appearance. But unlike the standard zombie game, you can’t just run in blasting away. There is a massive scavenging aspect to the game that forces you to look in every nook and cranny for extra bullets, or for some kind of melee weapon. You can always count on missing your shots or your weapon breaking, so it is key to sneak around enemies to choke them out or shiv them.
It’s not just infected though, as there is a pretty significant number of human enemies to deal with as well so you will find yourself in that kinda cookie cutter 3rd person cover based combat from time to time, but with so few shots you won’t stay there for long. It makes fights pretty tense because the conservation aspect is key, but is kinda marred by the fact that the game basically auto-saves every few steps, so when you die you basically just re-do the section you died in. Dying is a momentary annoyance that doesn’t really set you back all that much.
Normally I would say a game with this kind of play style, I figured like its Uncharted counterpart this game would be over in like 8 hours. Nope, the game tells a pretty meaty story and you will be in the haul for a good 20 hours or so. Naughty Dog does that wonderful Mo-Cap acting for the cinematics in their cutscenes, and this really is one of their strengths because it really makes the acting a cut above the line reading method. I could spend all day watching behind the scenes side by side footage of the actors. It just really helps in bringing those characters to life.
I’ve yet to play an absolutely perfect game, and Last of Us is no exception. There are a handful of minute flaws that can draw you out of the experience. For example, the accompanied AI players just don’t give a fuck about whats going on. You might be crouched and sneaking up on a kill, and they will just run right out into the battlefield impatiently, but on the inverse, if you are hiding the enemy AI’s apparently can’t see this happen. There are a number of locations where the lighting is just completely dismal, making moving around or finding your destination a bit of a headache, but there are only a small number of these areas. And there are also a small number of physics glitches where Joel does the “Do I want to get on this ladder” shuffle for like 3 minutes. Or moments where Ellie is suppose to float on something, only to watch it sink to the bottom for like a minute before shooting back up and continuing the proper animation.
But these really are nitpicks to the overall product. The Last of Us completely delivered on the hype for me, and it probably will for you too. Even if you don’t like certain aspects of the gameplay, zombie related types of games, or even using the dualshock controller (if you are weird) it’s easy to overlook the issues because nobody in gaming seems to tell a story like Naughty Dog can. The Last of Us is a shining example of how immersive and involving a video game experience can be. If there is ever an argument to which whether or not “games are art?” then this the disc you smash over the nay-saying asshole’s head. While I hate to use this phrase, I have no better way to summarize this: The Last of Us was totally fucking awesome.