Release: June 14, 2013
Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: Playstation 3
I hate being lied to. Someone once told me that all video games are fun and joyful. That is definitely not the case with Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. The Last of Us is a very grim, heart wrenching game. But despite this it remains a game that very well may be 2013’s Game of the Year.
The game begins in the present. Our main character, Joel, is a hard worker just trying to maintain. But he has no idea how hard life is about to become. Mankind nearly becomes extinct due to a new strain of cordyceps fungus that affects humans. After a heart pounding introduction, time fast forwards 20 years to a world that has changed Joel in many ways. Joel is a smuggler and survival is the name of the game. Life isn’t glamorous within the militarized quarantine zone. Military execute anyone on site who seems to be infected. The fungus has ravaged the human race and Joel really doesn’t have much to live for. But he continues to eek out some kind of life. His job goes from smuggler to protector when he comes in contact with a teenager immune to the fungus somehow. His job is simple. Deliver Ellie to the Fireflies, a rebel group fighting for humanity, and collect his pay. What could go wrong?
Well the world has death around every corner. In this third person action/adventure game you will face not only the vicious remnant of civilization but the “infected” as well. The fungal infection can be spread by spores or biting. The infected individual will suffer through several stages of the disease, all of which are lethal. The game will challenge the player in that each stage requires a different approach. Infected “Runners” attack in groups where a “Clicker” can end your game as soon as it lays it’s hands on you. Often times it’s just better to avoid combat all together.
This is a very intense game. You aren’t given a lot of resources to work with. It’s not uncommon to find yourself, early in the game, carrying a shiv, a crude melee weapon, a health kit, and pistol with maybe 5 bullets. This is truly a game about survival. Using components, Joel can create weapons and health kits to survive. Components come about by searching your surroundings. It behooves the player to search every nook and cranny in the environment. Trust me. As the game progresses you will come across manuals that “level up” Joel’s item crafting such as increasing the blast radius of molotov cocktails, or improving the durability of shivs. Combat is not in the same vein to Uncharted where you rush into it for a full frontal assault. Joel will spend a lot of time taking cover and using Joel’s “listening” ability. Using the R2 button will cause Joel to crouch and listen for the activity in the area. Enemies that are making any type of noise will be highlighted and show where they are patrolling or lurking. Finding pill bottles (you read that right, pills) and consuming them will lead to upgrading Joel’s inert abilities. The upgrades will range from improved listening ability to an increase of overall health.
The Last of Us is not about the combat and action sequences. It’s about the relationship developed between Joel and Ellie. A grizzled smuggler and teenage girl aren’t supposed to mix very well but we see it happen. It all feels real and thought out. The characters just don’t end up caring about one another in the blink of an eye. They grow to trust each other and even protect one another. Their feelings are real and the player will be able to relate. How would you feel if you lived a world really not worth living in? Joel’s bitter demeanor is understandable, not cliche. The characters are wonderfully developed. The story will take the player to several destinations across the US from Boston, Jackson Wyoming, and more. The changes of scenery are welcome when the time comes. Although other survivors will weave in and out of the story, Joel and Ellie are at the center of it all. There is polished gameplay here but the A.I. can be questionable at times. Enemies would seem to hear or see me from a mile away to the point where sneaking wasn’t even an option. Human enemies can also become bullet sponges. That can be frustrating in a game where resources are scarce. At the outset the game has a slow methodical pacing that creates anxiety and tension. Sneaking and avoiding combat whenever necessary is intense. Especially with all odds against Joel. But as the game advances it is clear that combat was the designed solution to every situation. This shift in tone was a bit frustrating for the stealthy gamer that I am. But that is a minor gripe.
The Last of Us sucks. The world, that is. It’s dark, grim, and scary. But that’s the setting Naughty Dog was going for. I wasn’t “excited” to play The Last of Us but I had to see Joel and Ellie reach their destination. It is well worth it too. There were times I wanted to quit because the stress got to me. But I urge everyone who plays it to see it through to the end. The Last of Us will not disappoint and is sure to stay on your mind for a long time.