The Last of Us Review: A Violent Tale of Survival and Heart
The Last of Us is Naughty Dog’s first PS3 exclusive that doesn’t star Nathan Drake, but that’s just fine, because this game is hands down one of the best titles in their catalog, and possibly the best game to grace the PS3 during this soon-to-be dated generation of video games.
At its core The Last of Us is a game about survival, in particular, surviving a post-pandemic United States that has been overran with an infection that turns humans into zombies, and left the survivors to contend for themselves in a world without laws that is full of rabid flesh eating infected, as well as seedy non-infected survivors. This may sound like a video game formula that you’ve played multiple times over, but it’s not at all. The Last of Us shouldn’t be dismissed as just another zombie game, because it is more about surviving the dark nature inherent in all humans, and the bonds that form between companions in a desperate situation, rather than blasting through hordes of the undead like the hero in a George A. Romero movie.
What makes The Last of Us so special is its interesting lineup of characters, namely the two protagonists – Joel and Ellie. Joel is a no-nonsense survivor who has been able to stay alive since the pandemic outbreak due to the fact that he’s all but lost his moral boundaries. He’s lost more people close to him than he can remember, and its caused him to become a calloused survivor who would rather kill first and ask questions later. This lifestyle led him to become a successful black market dealer (smuggling guns, food, and other commodities under the nose of the military) living in one of the last quarantine zones in the U.S., which ultimately leads him to meet Ellie – gaming’s latest unforgettable character.
Ellie is a 14-year-old girl who winds up in Joel’s care due to unforeseen circumstances. She’s abnormally courageous for her age and the world that she lives in. Her surroundings have turned her into a foul-mouthed teen who is also one helluva survivor and companion to have in a world without structure. At her core she’s still a scared teenager doing what she must to ensure that she lives longer than the next human, which is why she’s such an intriguing character to watch and love.
Ellie is one of those rare video game personalities that will resonate with any gamer, because her disposition is so likable and memorable. At times she can come off as a frightened teenager, while other situations make her seem like Mad Max’s daughter. She’s one tough cookie, and her tumultuous relationship with Joel is what sets this game apart from others like it.
The bulk of The Last of Us features Joel and Ellie’s journey across the ravaged United States as they make their way to a Firefly (rogue faction of survivors) camp, where they hope to find a cure for the pandemic that wiped out a majority of humanity at the start of the game. Along the way the two face death defying encounters everywhere they go, and meet a variety of survivors who either help the duo, or try to kill them.
Each new encounter showcases the heart of The Last of Us, which is its ability to make you feel some sort of emotion for each one of the digital characters present in the game. Outside of the infected and generic human enemy types, every single NPC in this game has a purpose, a life of their own, and an impact on Joel and Ellie’s harrowing adventure across the country.
The main reason that all of the featured characters convey so much feeling is due to the excellent motion capture process used to create their facial animations. The level of detail in their movements and dialogue help to sell them as real characters experiencing a gamut of emotions that any living person would feel if they were faced with the grim reality of Joel and Ellie’s situation. The level of detail in the mo-cap process is akin to the work done in L.A. Noire. Quite frankly, The Last of Us does an even better job than Noire, and if it weren’t a PS3 game, it could easily be marketed as a next-gen title.
The Last of Us’ main success lies in its story and characters, but it does feature some stressful survival-horror gameplay that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Every new section of the game features some sort of puzzle (keep an eye out of the recurring pallet in water trick ;)), faction to avoid or confront, and pockets of infected to kill, which all need to be accomplished while scavenging for limited supplies.
No single pickup can be overlooked as each one is precious and key to aiding Joel and Ellie in their quest. Bullets are scarce, and health packets need to be constructed out of items that can be scavenged. This forces every encounter to be carefully thought out and planned for, because you never know what types of supplies you’ll have on hand. Sometimes it may make sense to stealthily traverse a level, while other situations may be better approached with brutal violence.
On a side note the violence in this title has to be some of the most brutal ever brought to life in a video game. Naughty Dog has managed to make some of the most graphic video game violence in existence, yet it never felt like they did it just to have over-the-top kill animations. The gruesome deaths and injuries all fit within a world where there is no law and the human race has been left to fend for itself without a government, so Naughty Dog’s choice to depict graphic violence only helps to sell the state of the world that Joel and Ellie live in.
There are a few issues with The Last of Us, but for the most part the excellent journey and characters help to lessen their blow. For starters, the weapon wheel is a mess, and feels unnecessarily complicated. This may have been done on purpose to heighten the stress level, but it would have been nice if it didn’t take 10-15 seconds to change from one gun type to the next.
The other major issue with this game is its initial load time. It could take anywhere from 2-minutes to 2.5-minutes to start playing this game after selecting continue on the main menu, which is a lifetime in console gaming. Again, this probably happens because the game features almost zero load time while playing, so it’s easily overlooked once you start playing and don’t have to wait in between the action.
The Last of Us will undoubtedly be among the top 3 candidates for game of the year this December, and Naughty Dog deserves that level of recognition. The game they managed to create is one of the best looking and most memorable of this waning generation. The ending will leave you shocked, and possibly bewildered, but it’s the perfect one for this game, and sums up the journey of Joel and Ellie’s relationship and quest in the best way possible. These are now two of the most intriguing video game characters of all-time, and their tale won’t soon be forgotten by the legion of gamers who will play The Last of Us, or plan to play it.
The controls may feel slightly odd and cumbersome, and it takes way too long to boot into, but overall this game is perfect. In fact, it’s probably one of the best post-pandemic entertainment experiences out of all the mediums combined. Don’t miss out on this stellar video game, because it’s your first look at what the next-generation of gaming can offer nearly 5 months before it begins.
[schema type=”review” name=”The Last of Us | Review Summary” description=”The Awesome: Great story, Great characters, Amazing Graphics, Lifelike mo-cap, Brutally violent | The Not so Awesome: Cumbersome weapon wheel, Long load time when starting/continuing a game” rev_name=”The Last of Us” rev_body=”The Last of Us will undoubtedly be among the top 3 candidates for game of the year this December, and Naughty Dog deserves that level of recognition. The game they managed to create is one of the best looking and most memorable of this waning generation. The ending will leave you shocked, and possibly bewildered, but it’s the perfect one for this game, and sums up the journey of Joel and Ellie’s relationship and quest in the best way possible.” author=”Matt Heywood” pubdate=”2013-07-01″ user_review=”10″ min_review=”0″ max_review=”10″ ]
* The Author of this review paid for their own copy of The Last of Us, which is a PS3 exclusive title
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