Developer Naughty Dog, the maker of The Uncharted Trilogy on PlayStation 3, brings us their new, epic masterpiece, The Last of Us. They have truly crafted a gem that will be the new benchmark for story, visuals, and gameplay. This is the type of game that gamers clamor for. Naughty Dog should walk proud, and in my book, they are the developers of 2013’s Game of the Year.
The Last of Us takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States after the population has been decimated by a fungal disease called “Cordyceps.” This disease infects the brain, spreads to the rest of the host, kills the victim, and then ultimately reanimates the host into a zombie-like monster. These monsters have extremely advanced hearing capabilities but now lack the sense of sight. With this advancement, the infected have killed the majority of the civilian population, forcing the survivors to live in quarantined zones setup by what’s left of the U.S. military.
Your character is Joel, a devoted father, who just celebrated his birthday. In the prologue, you witness the initial outbreak of Cordyceps as well as the death of Joel’s daughter, Sarah. Twenty years after these events, the story picks up with Joel in Boston, trying to survive by trading guns and drugs with various rebels and smugglers in and out of the quarantine zone. One deal goes awry, which leads you and your partner, Tess, into a no-win agreement with the Fireflies, a militia group who believes there’s a cure for Cordyceps. The Fireflies will do anything and everything they can to find the cure. This is where the story really starts. You meet with a Firefly leader, who claims she has a girl, Ellie, who is immune to Cordyceps and may be the link to saving the human race once and for all. The catch? You need to get Ellie from Boston to Wyoming, where your brother Tommy is stationed with other Firefly soldiers. From here, they can get Ellie to a research facility for testing. Easy enough, right? Wrong…
If you’ve played Naughty Dog’s previous games, then you’ll be right at home with the control scheme in The Last of Us. It’s typical shooter fare, but with one HUGE addition: Listen Mode. Listed Mode allows you to go into a crouch/creep movement and lets you hear more closely and find out where both the infected and rebel soldiers are located. The Listen Mode is helpful because there are times when going “Rambo” just won’t cut it. You’ll need to quietly navigate your way through a semi-open landscape, conserving as much ammunition as you can. This is a post-apocalyptic version of the US, so of course supplies come few and far between, especially as the difficulty of the game ramps up.
The Last of Us has various puzzles throughout, but none are so difficult that you’ll have to furiously read through the strategy guide. How you deal with each puzzle or enemy interaction greatly influences the decisions you’ll face in the future. When faced with the infected, do you sneak around them? Or, do you sneak behind each one and shiv them in the neck? Maybe you decide to use a Molotov cocktail on one infected, in hopes of attracting the rest with the noise of the explosion. Or do you try to outgun them and take them all head on? The choice is yours, but be ready to suffer the consequences if you choose wrong!
And here’s the ultimate beauty of the game: the fact that you can play it differently each go around, and no one person will play it exactly the same as the other. You can attack the infected one way, but that same tactic may or may not work against rebels or Firefly soldiers.
Writer Neil Druckmann has done a superb job of crafting a Hollywood-esque storyline. The relationship between Joel and Ellie is relatable and believable on every level. You have a hardened, gritty survivor in Joel, but yet an innocent, naïve young girl in Ellie who never really knew the world before the Cordyceps virus. Naughty Dog’s ability to craft such an engaging relationship should be applauded. The dynamic between the two is unparalleled in a video game, and it makes the gamer twist and turn with emotion throughout the quest. The voice acting is about as good as it gets with gaming. As the game goes on, you root more and more for this duo to not only reach the Fireflies out west, but also to put an end to Cordyceps and save the day. I can definitely see The Last of Us becoming a movie at some point. The story is that good.
Naughty Dog again has set the benchmark in this area. The graphics are stunning and majestic. You’ll trek through various types of terrain, from metropolitan areas with overgrown vegetation (a la I Am Legend) to the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado. All look so lifelike— as if they put real pictures as the backdrop. Character detail is equally impressive. Joel’s hair and beard are so lifelike that could forget you’re watching animation. There are times when you won’t notice the transition from cut-scene to real time gameplay. This truly is the new standard for current-generation consoles, and The Last of Us is by far the best looking game on current-gen systems.
Like graphics, audio is pleasing and very well done. If you have a 5.1 surround sound system, you’re in for a treat. Hearing every rain drop, scream, and even the footsteps of enemies makes you feel as if you were really there. Sound further immerses you into this world, allows you to experience what your characters are experiencing, and becomes very important to your success in the game. The music adds a perfect touch as well. Each track matches the environment and situation Joel and Ellie find themselves in. It really makes you giddy thinking about what this team will offer up as we transition into the new era of home consoles with the Playstation 4 and Xbox One launching this fall.
Multiplayer is offered up as Factions, which gives you another side of the story from the game. You choose between being a Firefly or a Hunter. You have two basic game modes, which both are variations of your typical “Team Deathmatch” style modes. Your main objective: win matches against your opponents. The more you win, the more survivors that are added to your clan. One interesting piece of this is you can attach your Facebook account to the multiplayer portion. Doing so allows people from your Facebook friends’ list to become your “survivors.” This is more of a way to add personality to the game, as the friends aren’t really in the game with you. Each match you play, and ultimately win, will advance your story and add more friends to your clan/faction list.
The game also has a CounterStrike-style of weapon buying. The more kills you make, the more crafting and purchasing of higher powered weapons you can do in-game. You can really turn the tide of battle with a well-placed explosive or brand new sniper to cover a section of the map. The nice thing is that the crafting and game mechanics all work the same as the campaign, which allows you to transition seamlessly between the two. During my online time with Factions, the majority of my games were very smooth without much lag at all and it never took more than a few minutes hopping in and out of games. I found myself spending most of my downtime purchasing new weapons and customizing loadout and appearance of my characters. The multiplayer mode in The Last of Us isn’t going to be the go-to game mode like with Call of Duty or Battlefield, but when its packed with such a great single-player campaign, it’s an added luxury at no additional charge.
The single-player campaign can run the average gamer anywhere from 13-20 hours, depending on how much of an explorer you want to be as well as how quickly you engage in each interaction with rebels and the infected. Once completed, you will unlock the Game+ Mode. There’s really not much more to explore in this mode, nor is there anything added to the story. Even the difficulty doesn’t ramp up compared to the regular game difficulty. Game+ Mode is for those who would like to play the game by choosing different paths to each encounter or for those who are “Trophy Hunters”! Two specific trophies, “For Emergencies Only” and “Everything We’ve Been Through,” require you to fully upgrade all weapons and completely upgrade Joel with supplements. This just can’t be done in one play-through, as you won’t find enough supplies. You’ll also get extra trophies for beating each Game+ mode difficulty level.
With Factions, the multiplayer mode, you have 12 “days” of extra story to go through that adds even more content to the storyline. This content doesn’t play out through cut-scenes, but rather through a narrative that gives more context for another storyline for the game. Naughty Dog has also said publicly that they will support the game with downloadable content in the future. The details of that content haven’t been revealed yet, but the creators have indicated that the story of Joel and Ellie is finished in-game, and the DLC will be another story that’s separate from what you’ve played so far. This should make everyone want to hold onto the title until we see the release of the next generation consoles.
Naughty Dog has truly outdone themselves with The Last of Us. They’ve managed to craft a story that’s not only gripping in a movie-like sense, but also fun to play as a video game. The visuals are breathtaking. Even the multiplayer isn’t something to scoff at and is actually entertaining. Is it Call of Duty or Halo? No, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be enjoyed. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to some of the stale offerings gamers have had the last few years.