While Naughty Dog might be more well known for the Uncharted series when this generation is said and done, the buzz that surrounded The Last of Us before release was monumental.
Having journeyed across the fungus-infected zombie plagued United States of America, Anthony and Mitch are tackling The Last of Us in a dual review. Or will it be more of a duel review?
The Last of Us’s story is one you have seen before: a trek across post-apocalyptic America for reasons that you will likely guess about an hour into the game. But that’s okay: the execution is what’s important here and Naughty Dog nails it. Joel and Ellie’s adventure across America is filled with tragedy, hardship and all manner of creepy things trying to end them. Each victory is small but hard-fought, making them all the more sweeter. It’s not a ground-breaking story in any medium, but the execution is nearly flawless and raises the bar for video games.
The opening of the game is one of the best I’ve ever seen and it immediately grabs you and pulls you into this world and these characters. By the end, I was invested enough in the story that the thought of saying goodbye to these characters was too much to bear. Special mention should made of Ellie: she is funny, spirited and strong, taking no guff from anyone, including Joel.
The story in The Last of Us is fairly predictable, and you’ll be able to see the story beats coming a mile away. Where the game strength lies is the stellar voice work behind the characters of Joel and Ellie and how their relationship grows and strengthens (and is tested) during their year-long quest. There’s one moment that stands out in my mind after playing The Last of Us, and it’s quite the payoff in terms of character development.
Once you start playing, you get a little surprise: this isn’t simply Uncharted with zombies. It’s actually a survival-horror game where stealth benefits you far more than gunplay. Enemies will hear you coming unless you crouch, which only raises the tension even further. One enemy, the Clicker, has super-sensitive hearing, so crouching alone won’t be enough to conceal your presence. You’ll have to move ever-so-slowly past them in order to stay alive. Plus, unless you have upgraded your shiv, all the Clicker needs to do is grab hold of you for instant game over.
The Clickers and other Infected aren’t the only threats to Joel and Ellie’s trek across America: you also have the unsavory humans to deal with. You can use the aforementioned stealth to take them out, which I did most of the time. In fact, ammo and supplies are so limited in this game that if you can avoid an encounter altogether, do so. You may emerge victorious, but with one bullet left, no health packs and too few supplies to craft more, leaving the odds of winning your next battle even lower.
The Last of Us relies on some pretty tired mechanics and there are a lot of repeated puzzles during the game’s campaign. Moving ladders or finding a pallet to get Ellie across a body of water because she can’t swim are mainstays that you’ll tire of quickly.
The stealth is fairly wonky too, and while I appreciate the concession Naughty made by having your allies essentially invisible to enemy detection, your friends still run around and leap over obstacles with a reckless abandon that looks super weird when you’re trying to sneak through encounters. Often times, my proximity to an enemy would make one of my AI partners think I was in danger so they would leap into the fray, ruining my sneaky plans.
The multiplayer is pretty close to to the campaign in terms of how it plays and how you have to play to succeed. Namely, you need to crouch, use stealth, make each shot count and work together as a team. Running off and playing the lone wolf (my usual style) is only going to get you killed and usually in a brutal fashion. There are two modes in the game, one a basic team deathmatch with a limited pool of respawns for the team and the other is a best 4 out of 7 survival mode, where if you die, you sit out until the round is over. It adds to the already tense atmosphere and is my favorite mode to play.
Before the match starts, you can customize your avatar with hats, masks and other clothing items. You can also select your loadouts, which include weapons and perks, such as allowing you to use health packs faster or revive teammates quicker. As you make your way through the map, you will come across boxes with give you materials to craft items, such as molotov cocktails, bombs and health kits. Also, much like Counterstrike, you earn money as you play, which you can use to buy a powerful weapon like a shotgun, more ammo or upgrade your weapons. These can be purchased mid-round, but perusing a menu leaves you vulnerable, so be wary. Overall, the multiplayer in The Last of Us is different enough to warrant a look and it might surprise you by how addictive it can become.
Considering I even forgot that The Last of Us had a mutliplayer mode, I’m pleasantly surprised with how competent it is. As Anthony stated, taking a slower pace is your best option during the matches.
Having your prowess during multiplayer rounds add to your encampment was a smart move, as the better you do the stronger your survivor camp gets and you get access to better gear. It’s a nice meta layer to the multiplayer that incentivizes you to play well. The shakiness in the aiming is also removed in the multiplayer, in case you were wondering.
The Last of Us is grim, unflinching and heartbreaking. The atmosphere is oppressive and the characters are flawed in a way that seems real. There is a moment about 3/4 of the way through the game, when you realize how far Joel and Ellie’s relationship has evolved, that almost made me gasp. It’s a subtle callback to something earlier in the game, but it can be easily missed.
The fact that Naughty Dog doesn’t call attention to it, that they trust the player to understand the significance of this moment, suggests that the medium is really starting to make strides in storytelling that are long overdue. Most importantly, the moment is earned. Just like every item, every kill and every victory. Nothing comes easy in The Last of Us. It’s an emotionally draining game that left me exhausted after each violent encounter, but also exhilarated. It’s a fantastic game and one that creeps into my thoughts days after finishing it.
Maybe I’m a crazy robot person with no feelings, because even though I appreciate the work put into the voice acting and character development, The Last of Us failed to elicit any feels from me with the exception of the one moment I mentioned above, but even then it wasn’t extreme as some of the reactions I’ve seen.
Most of the time I was just frustrated with the repeated puzzles or having my stealth attempts ruined by janky mechanics and my AI partners. Sure, the story might be alright, but I like the game part of my games to be good, too.