Naughty Dog have gained quite a formidable reputation this generation, with three stellar titles already released for the PlayStation 3. For their fourth title, The Last of Us, the company has decided to move in a rather different direction. Instead of offering up more swashbuckling adventures with Nathan Drake, you'll enter the rather bleak world of Joel as he sets off on an adventure that's rather unenviable, for numerous reasons.
Following a rather severe pandemic, the world is left in a rather bleak state. The Last of Us takes place in the United States, where pockets of survivors have banded together in major cities to try and survive. The rest of the country is pretty much a free-for-all, with survivors able to stake a claim to anything they want - assuming they don't get infected.
Throughout the adventure, you'll follow the story of Joel as he looks to help a young girl called Ellie reach the Fireflies, a group of individuals who are looking to rebel against the rather authoritarian government that's looking to contain the virus.
This generation has been rife with games of this nature. And while in The Last of Us the enemies aren't strictly zombies, they're still infected who can stay alive for a considerable amount of time. It's more akin to 28 Days Later than Night of the Living Dead.
Despite this, no other game has managed to capture the whole scenario quite like The Last of Us. The majority of these games have lost touch with what they once were, often trying way too hard. That's not the case here at all, as The Last of Us features a very compelling story, strong characters and an atmosphere that is almost unrivalled. It shows the good and bad side of humanity while keeping the Infected around as a consistent threat, and excels by doing so.
The relationship between Joel and Ellie shouldn't be understated. It's rare that such a relationship exists within gaming, but the team at Naughty Dog succeeded in creating a partnership that acts much like a normal relationship would. Both Joel and Ellie are very grounded and their personalities are very reflective of their backgrounds.
Gameplay in The Last of Us has similarities to Naughty Dog's previous games, but you'd expect that. However, at the same time, there's something very different about how everything melds together. Yes, it's still a third-person shooter at its core, but there's a very strong emphasis on surviving.
As you play through the campaign, you'll be rummaging around looking for ammunition and supplies, because you genuinely don't get given that much to play around with. And it puts on added pressure throughout the game, as you need to make your shots count. If you're wasteful, you may regret it later on.Weaponry is pretty basic. You get a selection of handguns, and larger firearms, but they're all very traditional. As mentioned above, what's different is that you can barely hold any ammunition. It presents a sort of risk and reward, in that, you could go for headshots to try and conserve ammo, but if you miss, it's a considerable waste.
Combat is interspersed with sections that can only be described as platforming and exploration. It's during this time that you'll want to try and stock up on supplies, while getting to the next checkpoint. These sections are also used for dialogue between the characters, but there's always tension there. You never quite know when your next encounter with the Infected is going to be and there's something very eerie about walking through abandoned houses and towns.
That brings things nicely onto the stealth sections. As ammo conservation is pretty important, there are sections where stealth is very much advised. You'll often enter into these sections when you're in the Infected territory, where it's dark and dank. Atmosphere is key here and the sound makes the entire thing very tense. Once you meet the Clickers, it only heightens the experience as they can kill you rather quickly if you make a mistake.
Fighting against the Infected, as opposed to fighting against human opposition promotes rather differing play styles and emotions. Sections against the Infected are always very tense. You're always on edge because you know that the moment something happens, it happens fast and there will be a quick resolution one way or another. Entering into combat against human opposition is quite the opposite. This becomes a lot more tactical, as you will need to close the gap in order to minimise the risk for loss of ammunition. The odds are often stacked against you too, so often it might be best to try and find ways around conflict.
It's easy to see how every encounter could be different each time around, because with each play-through of the game, it's unlikely you'll find yourself in the same situation again. You will undoubtedly have different levels of supplies and perhaps a different mindset as a result.
It's good that they didn't go too over the top with the Infested, as this is a serious game and it needed to stay grounded. Clickers and Runners present an interesting challenge, as to the Stalkers. Bloaters on the other hand start to stretch things a little - it just feels like their inclusion could have been handled better as it makes the game seem a little less serious.
Likewise, the platforming sections seem to overuse certain elements, such as the fact Ellie can't swim. Having her stand on a raft was cute the first time and even the second time, but by the third and fourth time, it's starting to lose its charm.The visuals in The Last of Us draw from many of Naughty Dog's previous works and it's great to see the studio pool together like that. It means that the animations are top notch and the motion capture is clear to see in the game's numerous cutscenes. The voice acting also deserves special mention. There's so much emotion and it's worth singling out Troy Baker for his performance as Joel.
Aside from the voice acting, sound is a very big part of this experience. It compliments the atmosphere created by the haunting visuals, with the sound of a Clicker turning into something you hope to never hear.
This is a game that also has a ton of replay value. Naughty Dog has gone against the grain and made many of the trophies tough. Obtainable, but tough. While many other games choose to reward players on a regular basis, The Last of Us offers no such favour. You will be pushed to play through the game again using the New Game+ option, but there's also a multiplayer mode too.
While there are only two different match types offered (Survivor and Supply Raid), the single player experience of The Last of Us carries over rather well into the online scene. Again, you have limited ammunition and being discreet is key to success. On the subject of success, Naughty Dog has implemented a rather interesting system to measure it.
As you start off, you're asked to either play as a Firefly or a Hunter. You then enter a twelve week mission, with each round you play representing a single day in this progression.
During each round, you will collect supplies, which are used to help your clan sustain itself, but also to grow. Clan in this instance is effectively a virtual little town you've set up, not something you can band together with friends to create. If you gain more supplies than you need, your clan will grow, but if you don't get enough, clan members will start to get hungry. The larger your clan gets, the more supplies you need in order to sustain it. In other words, the better you do, the harder it gets to grow your clan further, and clan size is the metric for measuring success.
As the weeks pass, curve balls will also be thrown your way, such as an Infested horde attacking your encampment. You will be given a mission, such as downing x amount of people within 3 rounds. If you succeed, you may still lose 10 percent of your clan members, but if you fail, you may lose as much as 30-40 percent. It means that one bad round can cost your clan severely.
To extend upon the multiplayer, it would have been nice to see some additional game modes that were slightly less serious where clans aren't involved. Some modes that featured the Infested would also have been welcome.
The Last of Us shines as one of the best games from this generation. It offers an unrivalled atmosphere for this type of experience by combining strong characters, great environments and well crafted enemies. Some of the platforming can get a little bit tedious and the multiplayer feels like it could have done with a bit of expansion, but that shouldn't take away from what is ultimately, another fantastic video game from the team at Naughty Dog.
|There's a fantastic atmosphere throughout.|
|The relationship between Joel and Ellie.|
|Some of the platforming elements get used a bit too often.|
|Multiplayer feels like it could have been expanded upon a little bit more.|