Developed by Sony subsidiary, Naughty Dog and released for the Playstation 3, The Last of Us is an intense, visceral, potentially controversial and absolutely gripping interactive experience about survival.
Playing The Last of Us goes something like this:
- Wait for really long load time while serene music accompanies beautiful particle effects on the screen. (Note: After this wait the game never needs to “load” again while playing).
- Marvel at the gorgeous and utterly immersive in-game visuals.
- Smile-- there’s something successfully film-like about the game and its real, relatable and captivating cast.
- Uncontrollably tense up-- you’re 10 minutes in and spellbound by a caliber of storytelling and presentation that transcends both the controller and television before you.
- Hold your breath-- this is easily the most detailed and arguably unforgettable offering of interactive storytelling the world has ever seen.
- Exhale-- hours upon hours (upon unexpected hours) later the “game” has come to its conclusion. You’ve just experienced the most maturely handled, painstakingly crafted, terrifying and intense experience available across any entertainment platform. The acting, gameplay, visuals, plot developments, environments, music-- all of it seamlessly molds into the most morally grey and emotionally exhausting experience you’ve ever given yourself to.
This is a spoiler-free review so I won’t be elaborating on many plot details, however, to give a bit of exposition, know that The Last of Us is largely about the journeys of an older man named Joel and a fourteen-year-old girl named Ellie, as the two attempt to meet up with a resistance group known as the Fireflies. The setting is that of a post-apocalyptic United States, wherein military-governments control the borders in and around what’s left of humanity’s major cities after a parasitic outbreak. Throughout the course of the game’s incredibly lengthy single-player campaign players will explore dilapidated versions of once-populated cities, suburban neighborhoods and even mountainous countrysides.
On the technical side of things, I feel that The Last of Us represents the pinnacle of what’s capable when a game development studio builds a PS3 title from the ground up, around the technology, this late in a console cycle. The game is beautiful, runs smoothly, handles like a dream and is home to some of the best sound-design I've ever encountered in a game. In short: it's an audio/video masterpiece. Visually, the only minor gripe I have is to point out that while still beautiful and often breathtaking, compared to the crisp, high resolution assets used to detail the inside of decaying homes, offices, shelters, hideouts and so on, the texture detail in the game’s outdoor environments can sometimes appear a bit blurry. Know, however, that this is at the expense of scope, as never before in this style of video game, with this caliber of presentation have I walked across vistas so grand and awe-inspiring. Approaching torn and decayed versions of otherwise familiar suburban neighborhoods, complete with cloud-filled skies, beautiful sunsets and mountainous horizons, to then discover that you can in fact (optionally and at your own risk) mull and scavenge your way through many of the game’s housing structures, is a heart-pounding experience that never gets old.
For every action in The Last of Us there is a clever and (usually) unpredictable reaction. Characters converse throughout their journey wherein they discuss people, relationships, the environments, what the world used to be like, why humanity ended up where it is and what it is that keeps people carving their way into the future. The dialogue/writing in The Last of Us is mature, believable and brought to life by some of the best voice-over, motion-capture and animation work imaginable. Every set-piece, encounter and line of dialogue feels like a natural extension of the world, never forced or tacked on for the sake of “entertainment”.
Gameplay in The Last of Us is largely that of third-person stealth and exploration wherein sequences of raw and gruesome action erupt when “shit hits the fan”. Throughout the game’s journey players have to search for weapons and resources within diverse and sprawling environments that can be fully-explored before proceeding further. Some resources like blades, tape, chemicals, nuts and bolts can be used to modify and fully-craft weapons; whereas other resources, like pills, can be used to permanently increase Joel’s health or his ability to hear (and therefore see) an enemy’s location through walls and floors.
The Last of Us isn’t a game you can “run and gun” your way through; if you attempt this, you will be destroyed by the cunning and brutal enemy AI. Instead, The Last of Us is about sneaking, hiding, waiting patiently and then pouncing when the moment is right. Know, however, that those looking for an action-game fix won’t be disappointed. Situations in The Last of Us often go sour because of the imperfect nature of survival. One moment you’ve got your eye on an enemy, stalking him as you’re crouched behind an object and waiting to strike, when next thing you know, his buddy, who you didn’t see approaching from the hallway behind you, is taking a wooden 2x4 to the back of your head and suddenly chaos is erupting. You can--and probably will--“die” in The Last of Us; but don't worry, because when you do, you’ll be backed up by the game’s frequent and fair autosaves/checkpoints.
Once you’ve completed The Last of Us you’ve got the option of playing on harder difficulties, going through the game’s New Game Plus mode or tackling Factions, the game’s multiplayer offering. In factions you play as either the Fireflies or the Hunters, both of whom are fighting for their beliefs and survival within the game’s dire and hostile world. With a story-esq backdrop to fuel the action, Factions tasks the player with acquiring resources within squad-based, Team Deathmatch-type combat modes. After participating in these skirmishes players earn points that unlock gear, abilities, load-out options and other goodies.
Factions’ gameplay, for the most part, plays out very much like the single-player campaign. You’ll loot for resources, craft weapons mid-battle, down (and execute) members of the opposing Faction and try to build a healthy clan over the course of Weeks and Missions Objectives. Another way to describe Factions is say it’s a slow, deliberate and tactical third-person multiplayer offering, wherein you choose to either A: allocate resources you acquire through looting designated boxes, healing teammates, downing enemies and other methods to aid in the battle at hand, or B: feed and heal your “clan” at the end of a round. Your “clan” isn’t comprised of actual people, but instead is a numerical representation of your choices and achievements in a battle. It’s a really fun and fairly deep system that rewards players no matter how they like playing. There’s a Counterstrike-like system in place for buying weapons and armor mid-battle, but like Battlefield, medics and support classes are also rewarded for doing their part. All said, the multiplayer in The Last of Us is great fun, despite not being the main attraction of the experience.
In the end The Last of Us is a daring, bold and boundless piece of entertainment that sets new bars for interactive, cinematic storytelling. It's an unforgettable experience I endlessly recommend to any and all who can handle the brutal honesty of the world it portrays. If you’re a fan of great characters, great storytelling, compelling settings or nail-biting action and suspense, The Last of Us will deliver you an experience like no other.
A love child born of 80's horror films, the 90's arcade scene, and today's underground pop culture; Matt resides in sunny/smoggy L.A., where he's been since graduating from Columbia College Chicago, with a degree in film, audio, and creative writing. When he's not producing content for Thirty & Nerdy, Matt enjoys traveling and adventuring with his fiancé, Gina.