Once in awhile, a video game comes along to transcend the medium beyond what you thought possible. It elevates the bar so high that other games that were once thought to be great are now a bit inadequate in comparison. Does The Last of Us elevate video games into the stratosphere of storytelling, graphics, and gameplay?
It is a simple as that. Yes, The Last of Us is that good and then some. So, if you're looking for a quick verdict, look no farther. Go get it and cherish every bleak and human moment of this masterpiece. If you want to learn a bit more about what makes it so, feel free to read on.
The apocalypse, and its aftermath, have intrigued filmmakers and authors for a very long time. It allows for the intriguing regression of human beings back to instinct rather than luxury. There are many end of the world tropes, but The Last of Us puts its own spin on proceedings. The "zombies" that have overrun the earth are victims of a fungal infection that overtakes the brain, turning them effectively into unrecognizable creatures bent on eating anything still breathing. The people infected after awhile become Clickers, which have huge eruptions of fungus out of their eyes and foreheads and move about using sonar. After playing The Last of Us, that clicking will haunt your dreams.
Humans have been relegated to walled communities policed by the oppressive military and a number of rogue independent factions. You play as Joel, a grizzled old man who in the years since the outbreak has become a smuggler with his friend Tess. When out on a mission to take revenge on an arms dealer that conspired to murder Tess, they run into the leader of one rebellious faction called "The Fireflies". It is then that we're introduced to Ellie, who might well be the most important girl in the world. I won't say more, and you might think you know what happens next, but you'll still be surprised at how The Last of Us unfolds.
That being said, the story for The Last of Us is an amalgamation that pulls influence from 28 Days Later and the Walking Dead. But, most noticeably, I think it culls its tone and texture from a novel. The Road by Cormac Mccarthy is the Pulitzer prize winning opus on the post-apocalypse. It is a stark and minimalist story of a man and a child traveling to the coast. More often than not, while playing The Last of Us, I could sense the influence of this novel in the design, gameplay, and story.
Quite simply, The Last of Us has the best graphics of any console game this generation. It is staggering how much fidelity Naughty Dog was able to squeeze out of the PS3 and we finally get a chance to see what the console can really do. I was blown away by how The Last of Us looks so close to the next generation games that have been announced. You are basically getting next-gen looks right now without the need to buy another console.
The level designs alternate from claustrophobic sewers to gorgeous deciduous forests and broken cityscapes and suburbs. The sheer amount of detail that went into giving each of the locations its own personality is staggering. Like peering into the best artwork, it only gets more interesting the closer you look.
Much of the game revolves around sneaking, and strategic take downs with all out battles reserved for scripted moments and the desperate scrabble out of a tight situation. You can go into every situation guns blazing, but you'll meet a very quick end. In fact, if you ever get into a tight spot in The Last of Us, you can run away, avoid the fight, and continue on with the story.
The combat in The Last of Us is some of the most visceral and frightening I've experienced in a video game. You feel every punch from Joel and every shot fired might be your last. The title does a fantastic job of balancing the action. You always have just enough supplies to make it through in a scrape, but you'll need to desperately use everything at your disposal. You have to think strategically and use Joel's sense of hearing, which lets you see enemies making noise, to help plan your attack. After each fight in The Last of Us, you feel broken, exhausted, and out of breath as you collect supplies and fashion useful items and upgrades.
One of the most surpassing and wonderful pieces of The Last of Us are Joel's companions. Ellie may look like someone to escort, but she can handle handle herself and help you out in a fight much more than any other video game companion. Each one has their own sense of agency. They make decisions, take out enemies, and actually help you out in a pinch. It is a hell of a feat on Naughty Dog's part to make Ellie such an active part in every aspect of the game.
Balancing out the scenes of intense action are quiet walks through various settings to give you a bit of a chance to catch your breath and get to know Joel and Ellie a bit more. With a game so focused on sound, it is nice to have these quiet moments. But they are not without their own tension. Even though everything seems peaceful in the suburbs, the threat of Clickers is always close by.
There was really only one problem I found in The Last of Us. Occasionally, Ellie would be in plain view of an enemy and they wouldn't raise an alarm or even notice her. It can disturb the gaming trance and pull you out, but when you give it some thought, you realize that it is a necessary evil. The Last of Us would be practically impossible if all of Joel's companions could be noticed. The stealth part of the gameplay would crumble. Naughty Dog's choice to make Joel the only one able to be spotted was a wise one in service of the gameplay.
In addition to the absolutely stellar single player campaign, a very engaging multiplayer option is included that takes full advantage of The Last of Us and its setting. It capitalizes on the survival aspects of the game and has you working together to stay alive. It is just as tense and brutal as the main story mode and will definitely provide a few more hours of enjoyment.
The Last of Us isn't for everyone. If you have a weak stomach or heart, you won't be able to take the brutal and bleak nature of the story and gameplay. If you're a Call of Duty fanboy looking for twitchy shooting, then you'll have to pass. But, if you want one of the most incredible stories told by perfectly melding gameplay, atmosphere, and cinematics, then The Last of Us may be the greatest game you've ever played.
It is very rare that a video game comes along to validate the purchase of an entire system. The Last of Us is one of those games. The Last of Us is so good, that it validates the purchase of the PS3 even if it is the only game you will ever play on it. It is a glimpse into the future of gaming. It is a title that will grab you by the throat and show you how wonderful a storytelling medium a video game can truly be. It pulls no punches. It fully embraces everything a video game has to offer and deftly weaves it into the most tense and engaging story you'll ever find.
Like the best films and novels, once you experience The Last of Us, you'll never be the same again.
This review is based on the retail version of The Last of Us for PS3.