Review: The Last Of Us
Naughty Dog, one of PlayStation's most decorated developers, has delivered their new IP, The Last Of Us. Is it worth all of the hype, or is it just another zombie apocalypse game that makes little impact?
- Worth The Time?Yes, it's among Naughty Dog's best work.
- Things LovedThe story is compelling, the characters are fantastic, the game takes many things we're familiar with in a zombie apocalypse and presents them in a fresh and outstanding way, the gameplay is awesome, it's one of the few games these days to really do scarcity and resource management correctly, the enemy AI is fantastic, the graphics are incredible especially during cutscenes, the sound is amazing, the multiplayer is very entertaining.
- Things HatedThe friendly AI can be quite dumb sometimes, only two multiplayer modes.
- RecommendationThe Last Of Us is a game that every PS3 owner should try to play. It's easily one of the best games on the console, and it's Naughty Dog's finest work overall.
- Name: The Last Of Us
- Genre: Action Adventure, Survival Horror
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online (2-8 players)
- Platforms: PS3
- Developer: Naughty Dog
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R550-699
- Reviewed On: PS3
The Last Of Us is one of the year’s most anticipated games, and since the embargo on reviews lifted last week, it’s been showered with praise at every corner. I’ve stuck true to form and have tried to avoid all of the praise so I could go into the game with a clean slate and experience it for myself. With the multiplayer included, since the mode wasn’t available for other reviewers before the game’s official release date. So having played through everything this game has to offer, it’s time to give my usual overly long analysis and get to the heart of what this game is all about. To make the longest of stories short, it’s awesome, you should not hesitate to go and get it. But if you want the actual in-depth reasons, or perhaps if you enjoy reading my reviews (I can dream, can’t I?) then kindly proceed.
I really want to tell you about this story, and why I consider it to be great. But I can’t bring myself to spoil anything. For instance the opening twenty minutes of this game is incredible, and I feel it would ruin the introduction if I detail how events play out. What I will say, is that the game focuses on Joel, a ruthless and cold man who has been changed after the loss of his daughter, and from having to do anything it takes to survive. He makes do as a smuggler, trading with survivors outside of the city of Boston. Due to certain unfortunate events, Joel and his partner Tess strike up a deal with the Fireflies, a group of insurgents who rebel against the authorities that govern the quarantine zones, in order to get some of their valuable stash back. The deal is simple. In exchange for their gear, Joel and Tess need to smuggle a young teenage girl, Ellie, out to a small group of Fireflies hiding deep within the city. It’s not long before things inevitably go south, and it’s up to Joel to get Ellie to her destination safely.
I’m going to explain a key element of a good narrative here using a simple quote from Shakespeare, of all people. Brevity is the soul of wit, he says. Simplicity is key. Get Ellie to the Fireflies, and survive. That is essentially the core of the story, and The Last Of Us never loses sight of that. Entirely to its merit. You’ll always know the objective, what the characters are after, what the ultimate goal is, and why. There’s nothing more that needs to be said there, and that allows the game to focus entirely on the journey, and the characters it follows. This game is Joel’s story, and it’s Ellie’s story. The characters in this game are so well defined, so intriguing, that each and every cutscene is a welcome sight to learn more. Much like The Walking Dead, The Last Of Us’ strength is that it’s not really about the zombies or fungal infection. It’s not really about some complicated government conspiracy. It’s not about being too smart for its own good. It really is about two characters and their journey in a world that has long lost its humanity. It’s about how these characters grow, what defines them, and what they’ll do to survive.
Where The Last Of Us differentiates itself, in what turns out to be one of its strongest story elements, is that Ellie was born after the outbreak of the fungal infection. Whereas Joel is aged and has lived in both worlds, Ellie knows only the world post-apocalypse. This makes for an awesome dynamic between Joel and Ellie, as his cold nature and impatience meets her childlike wonder and curiousity towards a world condemned to the history books. But make no mistake, Ellie is not a helpless or innocent kid, as she’s experienced the horrors of the new world. Nevertheless, throughout the game Joel becomes somewhat of a mentor and father figure to her. Their dialogue is fantastically written, their interactions golden, and their character growth wonderfully paced. There are also plenty of little optional story moments you can find through exploration, that add a little bit more to these characters. The Last Of Us doesn’t do a whole lot new with its story, but Naughty Dog has taken a premise and elements you’d think we’d be sick to our stomachs of, and presented it all in a fresh, compelling and outstanding way.
More often that not, I completely forgot about the infected. I rarely found myself classifying this as a zombie game. Beneath all of that, The Last Of Us is all about heart. It’s not often that I see games where the developers’ passion is so tangible that I can feel it at every corner when playing. Naughty Dog is simply gifted. If they ever lacked in story before with the Uncharted series, they’ve more than made up for it in The Last Of Us. It’s stellar. It’s emotional without trying too hard, you can relate to its characters, it makes sense, and above all it’s gripping. The only point to make clear is that it has a slow start. After the riveting introduction, it takes about two hours to get into it and to glide through all of the semi tutorials. But it’s never slow in a way that it becomes a chore to play, and the characters will always pull you through. After all, if I had to actually criticise it for being slow, then I’d pretty much have to criticise most of my favourite games, movies and TV series. Being slow isn’t a problem. Having no pay off or reasons to justify the slowness is. And The Last Of Us certainly has plenty of pay off.
I could write this entire review just talking about the story and what Naughty Dog has done right. Let me just cut it here by saying that even the ending of this game is good, and completely satisfying. But let’s move onto the gameplay. As a massive fan of survival horror myself, it was always my worry that The Last Of Us would fail to live up to the challenge of scarcity and effective resource management, and simply litter the floor with ammunition and resources. But I was genuinely surprised here. Somehow, the game finds the right balance, and I played it on Normal. I would absolutely love to fire up a new game plus or play it on a harder difficulty level to experience it all again. Let me tell you something about myself. I’m a conservative player. I keep a tight hold of my resources, use them sparingly and tactically, and rely on my fists and brain where I can help it. Even doing that, and stocking up a decent amount of resources and ammo, it took one intense fight to run me almost completely dry. I used nearly everything in my arsenal. And that’s when I knew that The Last Of Us had gotten it so right.
Let me clarify something. Please, if you value a challenge and want to experience real intensity, go to the options menu and disable Listen Mode. This is an ability that lets you hold down the R2 trigger, slow down the game and see enemies through walls. I used it for the first two hours of the game, but once I turned it off everything became so much better. I respect the fact that the game made it optional. I would have hated it if it was forced or if it couldn’t be turned off. Casuals or those who don’t want a challenge can use it freely, but the hardcore crowd and those that do can remove it. With it, I found things too easy. It’s hard to feel afraid and tense when you know exactly where enemies are and how many are in the room. There were moments in this game where, without Listen Mode, I dashed out of gunfire only to run into a small room with three enemies, and had to backtrack frantically. There were other moments I had thought I’d gotten everyone, only for a bullet to whiz past my head when I was out in the open and exposed. And there were golden moments where I remained in cover for minutes, while an eerie, tense silence drifted over the area as I tried to locate enemies and make my first move.
That’s what you’ll be missing if you use Listen Mode. Without it, a single fight could take ten minutes or more, depending on how you approach them. I treasured fights. You’ll encounter human opponents far more than infected, and each one is a great experience. In your arsenal you’ll have guns with limited ammo, and resources which are used for the game’s crafting system. In real time, you can take out your backpack at any time and craft from a selection of items if you have the available resources. Things like medpacks, shivs, molotov cocktails, smoke bombs or shrapnel mines are all extremely valuable in a fight. But resources are quite limited, and you’ll have to make your crafting decisions based on necessity or tactics. If resources or ammunition is low, you’ll always be able to rely on stealth, brute melee force or distractions, whether by throwing a bottle or brick. Your options are aplenty. Sneaking up behind enemies or stunning them let’s you knock them out with a sleeper hold, violently kill them in open combat, silently off them if you have a shiv, or use them as human shields.
The gameplay is of course unique to you and your approach, as in whether you want to use guns, distractions, stealth, brute force or explosives, or all of them. You can go full stealth with sneaking, shivs, smoke bombs and a bow, or you can give in to your inner maniac and take to bopping your foes with baseball bats, your fists and fire axes, gunning others down and using bodies as shields. But above all, the game is about adapting. Once an enemy was trying to sneak around my cover, and I was low on health so I couldn’t exactly take him out while under fire from enemies in front of me. As he neared, I picked up a nearby brick, threw it at him, lunged out and charged him against a wall, brutally introducing his face to it and slipping into the cover he had gotten me close to. The game is filled with moments like these. Like I said though. It’s about how you play the game. So I can’t exactly tell you how tactical or varied this game is, only how awesome it can be. It’s really up to you, and how you play this game, what difficultly setting you select and whether or not you choose to use Listen Mode.
I’d like to hand out quite a bit of praise to the enemies in this game. The Last Of Us has some of the best AI I’ve experienced. In the absence of Listen Mode, enemies can do a wide range of things to make encounters feel varied, whether they choose to remain silent in cover not giving away their position, or to charge at you with shotguns or melee weapons, or to flank you, flush you out of cover or ambush you straight up. Rarely in games these days do I feel like enemies are actual threats rather than bodies to dispose of. Even the infected spice things up nicely. While the early stage infected are merely grunts that run at you and need to be dealt with, the real fun comes in with the Clickers. These are completely blind infected that are distinguished by their eerie clicking noises, and they flock to sound like moths to a flame. If you aren’t dead silent, or if you fire a gun or make any mistake, they’ll charge at you with frightening speed and instantly kill you if they grab onto you. If you haven’t bought the necessary upgrade to defend against that, that is. Clickers are essentially able to make you crap your pants, and they can be terrifying when they surprise you or come at you in numbers.
Quite often I’ve noticed infected fleeing after I fire at them, or making attempts to deceive me. One particular moment I treasure was when I was fighting off a group of infected, and I had not noticed that the Clicker in the group had actually run off, found a way behind me through a door I had not covered, and killed me. It scared the hell out of me. In general, AI is a difficult and unpredictable thing to get right in games, particularly since every player will have a different experience on different difficulties, but I feel safe to say that The Last Of Us has some of the best I’ve seen. Enemies actually demonstrate behaviours and exploit your mistakes, and try their best to get you off guard. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of your friends. Thankfully, they can actually kill enemies and aren’t useless, but a few times they stood irritatingly around or blocked me. Luckily, Naughty Dog understands there is no fool proof system, and so allies can’t break your cover, get spotted to ruin your stealth or be killed cheaply. At the most they can be grabbed onto and you’ll have a time limit to save them, although this doesn’t happen often. I think the little bit of immersion lost is worth sacrificing to completely avoid frustration.
The last aspect of gameplay I could possibly talk about would be the upgrade system. I like the way the game approaches it. You’ll upgrade your weapons using parts, and they’re extremely limited. Whether you’re increasing fire rates, reload speeds, clip capacity and so on, each weapon has its own unique set of enhancements. You’re also able to craft an additional sidearm and primary firearm pouch, which enables you to have two of each in your inventory. The inventory system is actually quite clever. All items will go into your rucksack, and you won’t be forced to drop guns if you want to pick up another one. Rather, if your pistol runs dry for instance, you’ll have to open your rucksack and hold X to swap it out for a revolver. The same can be said for swapping out, say, a hunting rifle with a shotgun or bow. It’s simple, but it’s very effective, and it’s a creative way of providing an inventory system that doesn’t limit players but still adds choice and further options and dilemmas to the great gameplay.
The Last Of Us does everything it can to be good value for money. The single player experience will take you well over twelve hours to get through, and even then you’ll probably want to start a new game plus or try out a harder difficulty level. Failing that, there is a pretty great multiplayer component waiting for you. After playing it a fair bit, I can’t quite call it revolutionary or life affirming, but it’s no doubt a high quality offering that, at least to me, doesn’t play like Uncharted with less ammunition, which is a concern I heard from a few people, and it certainly does enough to differentiate itself. It’s definitely a mode you should at least try out. You’ll start out by picking your faction, either the Hunters or the Fireflies. You’re able to change your faction if your clan dies, or if you survive long enough to win. The multiplayer supports up to eight players, where the norm is four against four in fairly large maps.
It’s a bit of a tough one to explain. There are two game modes, namely Supply Raid and Survivors, both of which require you to eliminate your enemies, except in the latter there are no respawns. Two modes is a bit limited, but it’s the system and gameplay that makes it all worth it. There’s a system in place where you’ll manage a number of characters over a period of 12 weeks, each match being one day. If you do well in multiplayer, you’ll grow your group and be better able to support them. However, doing badly will cause you to lose members or even result in some falling sick. You’ll need a certain number of supplies to maintain your group, and these are acquired in online matches, whether found, picked off dead bodies or rewarded at the end. You’ll also need to monitor your group’s status, and develop their skills to empower you as survivors. What this system essentially means is that loss has real consequences, basically weakening your overall strength, while victory takes you further and gives you access to better equipment. There’s a surprising amount of customisation, as you can unlock clothes, emblems, weapons and perks, of which there are many. Now, let’s get to the meat of it.
Where the multiplayer shines is with the gameplay. Scavenging for items and crafting still plays an important part of the game, as do tactics. Listen mode is available for all players, but it’s very balanced, as it’s usage is extremely limited and you can’t see enemies who are stationary. There’s a very methodical and slow pace to the multiplayer. In other shooters, I often try to play stealthily and pace my game very slowly, but of course that can always be broken by some twat with a machine gun, full body armour and a shotgun for dessert. But because you can easily be killed in this game, and maps are quite large, cover and stealth are very valuable. I once went about four minutes without even seeing an enemy, slowly making my way through cover and hiding spots, only to finally stumble across an unknowing enemy, who I beat to death. It felt really great. Four against four allows for freedom in your play, and I suffered no cheap deaths or ever felt useless, despite my low rank and limited equipment.
With any new multiplayer offering, it’s very difficult to say whether it will catch on or if it’s an instant hit. After all, it depends solely on whether players take to it and get invested in it. In its favour though, I can say that finding a game was extremely easy and quick, and I didn’t really have any trouble online. What I can say for certain is that the multiplayer is high quality and very entertaining. And more significantly, even if it wasn’t anything to rave about, I wouldn’t be too harsh on the game because it’s really not like time spent on the multiplayer hurt the single player in any way. And that makes me happy, because I can effectively consider the multiplayer as a great extra, rather than being tacked on or unnecessary. It’s certainly interesting, and you should give it a shot once you’re done with the single player.
Graphically, The Last Of Us is stunning, and is Naughty Dog at its best. It’s certainly getting as much out of this generation as it can, holding nothing back. The game’s cutscenes especially look absolutely phenomenal, thanks to enhanced motion capturing and higher detail. Everything about this game is pleasing to the eye, and it’s stunning for a post apocalyptic world. It hasn’t let that limit its artistic direction in any way, and I don’t want to spoil the story direction, but there’s plenty of beauty to witness in this game. I have to also give the highest amount of praise to the voice acting, dialogue and sound, which is the best Naughty Dog has done. If you have any experience with their Uncharted titles, well, you’ll know exactly what kind of quality to expect here. It’s among the best you’ll find on the PS3.
The Last Of Us is simply brilliant. With it, Naughty Dog has delivered their finest work yet, and in the end the most credit I can give to the game is that I got everything I wanted from it, and was completely satisfied when I finished it. Truthfully, and as direct as I can be, I wanted nothing more from this game. There was nothing it lacked, and not many ways it could have been better. That’s the best thing I can say about it and, make no mistake, that’s about the highest praise I can give to it. The Last Of Us is easily one of the best games on the PlayStation 3, and you should not miss out on it if you can help it.