You should stop reading this review and play The Last of Us. That is all you need to know. Wait, you're still here? Really now? Oh, okay. Fine. Since you're not budging, we'll tell you exactly why you should be playing the latest from the creators of the spectacular Uncharted series.
The Last of Us is what happens when a rather exceptional studio tackles what seems to be the stereotypes du jour of the video game world, that is, zombies, post-apocalyptic scenarios, gruff, grey protagonists and survival horror. And Naughty Dog does so with aplomb. The Last of Us stands out, not so much for its premise and setting but for the way it's been executed. It's rather stunning, to say the least.
The feeling of post-apocalyptic desperation is spot on
Without spoiling much, the world is in the throes of a disaster and most of the populace has been transformed into zombies. The people are now shambling, mutated wrecks with the need to feed on unsuspecting victims. Amidst this chaos, the few uninfected find themselves in quarantine zones under a military regime or as bandits inhabiting seemingly deserted towns to loot unsuspecting survivors. The Last of Us has you traversing across the United States as Joel, a hardened smuggler, in order to deliver a young girl called Ellie to a group of freedom fighters.
You'll come across deserted ghost towns, fellow survivors, the odd out-of-place situation or two and tons of the Infected (what the zombies are called) to avoid or kill. While most modern day titles like to harp on any seemingly minute element of choice, The Last of Us goes about such things with relative ease, throwing you into a situation where every moment might be your last.
Early on, you're told that you can either use stealth to avoid enemies, be they monsters or human, or just end them in brutal combat. The former requires tremendous patience and a seemingly infinite number of save file reloads, while the latter depends purely on your hand to eye coordination and inventory management skills. Go pure stealth, and you end up not having to worry about supplies, since ammo and health are relatively hard to come by. Decide to go all guns blazing, and you'll soon end up spending a lot of time trying to find supplies to keep you going. There are some moments where you're forced into fire fights, but they're few and far between.
Ellie and Joel make a great duo
Nonetheless, if you choose the violent route (as most of you will), you'll be rewarded with controls that have a bit of heft to them and require you to cleverly time your punches, line up your shots and avoid getting hit. You see, unlike most games that have you playing a spry superhero-esque protagonist who reeks of agility, speed and finesse, you're in the role of a fifty-something man who doesn't hold back his punches, but is vulnerable all the same. It doesn't take more than few hits before you see the "Game Over" screen, which makes planning before a fight even more important. To do so, you can craft an array of makeshift bombs, melee weapons and health items aside from the usual range of guns.
You'll find yourself crafting a lot simply because weapons and ammo are hard to come by. You'll soon realise that it's easier to land a punch or twenty on unsuspecting foes than it is to shoot them. It helps that the controls and animations for melee combat make it quite addictive. Combat is well paced and does a good job of making you feel vulnerable; even when you come across some really high-powered weaponry, you never feel completely in control, as the game throws just enough foes at you to up the ante. It's a fine approach that makes you feel that every battle might just be your last.
What's more, you just can't switch weapons or craft items on the fly. You can equip weapons and items from your backpack before a battle, but you'd be wise to take a moment or two to check your inventory. Throw in a new mode called "Listen mode" that helps you preempt a fire fight by giving you a heads-up about the enemies ahead (think of Assassin Creed's Eagle vision), and each section becomes a welcome pattern of scoping out the lay of the land, preparing the right items and weapons, and gunning and running accordingly.
Go stealth if you don't want this to happen to you
If that's not your style, you can stealth your way across. Bottles and bricks are in ample supply in post-apocalyptic USA, and you can just throw them in the direction of unsuspecting bandits or the Infected to create a diversion while you sneak away. It works perfectly, and coupled with the game's fantastic sound engineering, you can get along just fine without having to resort to Listen mode, which tends to break immersion. If you fancy some challenge, you can switch off Listen mode completely, which is a welcome addition in a generation where spoon-feeding your audience comes easily to certain developers.
At no point do you feel like situations play out as escort missions. Much like the superlative BioShock Infinite, which had Elizabeth capable of handling herself, Ellie is adept at hiding, throwing a punch or two and knifing attackers if need be. In fact, you'll consider her as an essential companion in your journey rather than some character who you've been saddled with for the ride.
A game by Naughty Dog, fantastic production values are to be expected and The Last of Us does not disappoint. America basks in the after-effects of a disastrous epidemic and it looks stark, bleak and reassuringly photorealistic. From every inch of decaying rubble to the lush foliage amidst urban ruins, there's very little that this game gets wrong on the graphical front. You'll be hard pressed to spot imperfections. Believe us, we tried, and the closest we got were spotting a few jagged edges in need of anti-aliasing and the rare drop in frame rate during intense moments.
What's a post-apocalyptic game without corpses?
Minor flaws aside, everything from character models (even those who aren't the main characters) to weapons has been painstakingly detailed. In a year that's seen Crysis 3, Metro: Last Light and Tomb Raider, it's quite amusing that a game exclusive to more than seven-year-old hardware is a frontrunner for the best-looking game to hit this console generation.
Apart from the graphics and gameplay, there are a few departments where The Last of Us falters, albeit slightly. First up, the loading times are insane. Sure, the only time you're greeted by a loading screen is when you start the game, but it still takes quite a while. You can actually brew yourself a steaming hot cup of tea and toast before you begin. Secondly, the narrative, while brilliantly implemented, tends to be a little predictable. The first half throws every zombie survival horror trope at you, while the second half possesses a small section of gameplay that seems rather out of place. It's pieced in at the last moment to make it a slightly longer game, we think. However, these do very little to keep you from wanting to power through the game in a few sessions. Yes, before you know it, The Last of Us has its hooks in you, egging you on to see what depraved turn it takes next.
The graphics are stunning
Clocking in at around 15 hours, The Last of Us is an enjoyable romp that does not outstay its welcome. This fine blend of stealth, action and horror is a fitting way to see out a generation that's given us a number of gems. This game is definitely one of the gems and will be fondly remembered for years to come.
Published Date: Jun 14, 2013 05:40 pm | Updated Date: Jun 14, 2013 05:40 pm