The Last of Us is one of the very best games I’ve ever played.
My first play through was back in January 2014. My wife’s father was sick in Texas and she flew out to go see him. For the first three nights of her visit I would come home from work and fire up the PS3 and go to work. I sat in the pitch black, up way too late, and became completely immersed in the world that Naughty Dog (of Uncharted fame) created. I will never again have a gaming experience like it.
This is a fully realized post apocalyptic America and it is unlike any other game before or after it (so far). Not only is it a thrilling tale of a hardened survivor charged with protecting a teenage girl, but it is also an emotional tale as well. Having now played through the game again on the PS4, the “Remastered” edition, I didn’t get the same feel as that first play through (as expected) but I still found myself immersed even though I knew everything that was about to happen next.
Us begins with the lead playable character Joel and his partner Tess as they are tasked with smuggling a teenage girl Ellie out of Boston. There is something special about Ellie that the player will come to know as the tale moves forward. In the game’s opening chapter, we experience along with Joel the loss of his own thirteen year old daughter, so for him, the thought of protecting another teenage girl creates an uneasy partnership. As the story progresses, their relationship becomes more tight knit, and Joel will grow to do anything (anything) to ensure her protection and survival. As a side kick, Ellie absolutely steals the show here, pretty much right from the beginning. She is a fighter, she’s witty, and she’s also in the midst of losing her innocence throughout the adventure. She remains still one of my all-time favorite videogame characters. The fact that she’s only playable for 5% of the game is damn impressive.
Without delving into too many spoilers, the plot of this game is an emotional one. I’ve repeated myself now. That’s because it is true. There are so many moments both scripted and unscripted that hit me at a gut emotional level unlike any other title on any entertainment medium. There are unscripted gameplay moments that had me feeling a sense of euphoria unlike anything else.
For example, there is one part about midway through where I’m fighting against human hunters. I’m down to one bullet for my revolver, no more med kits, and one more hit and I’d have to go back to the checkpoint and do this all over again. Out of pure instinct, I raised up and fired my revolver towards my enemy without really aiming. Perfect headshot. Given the complete lack of ammo in most of the game, every shot must count, and I made damn sure that one did!
While the main plot line is the show stopper, if one takes the time to explore the world, there are hidden journal entries spread throughout which also tell the story of what happened at the genesis of the viral outbreak which destroyed the world. There is one such moment of discovery that, on my first play through, caused my jaw to hit the floor and cry out “no way!”. And, this was a scene which at least one of my friends who also played the game missed. It is this level of discovery that is absent in most other linear style games.
Speaking of linearity, that this game is linear is the game’s greatest strength. The developers did a great job of creating massive world which gives the illusion that its part open world, but you have a clear path A to Z everywhere you go. Once players reach the ending scene, there is another moment of sheer shock and awe, that I had to pause for a moment and just stare at the screen.
“Do they really expect me to do this?” I thought.
Yes, you must do what you think the developers are making you do to advance to the ending cinematic. It is gut wrenching, morally ambiguous, and has caused a lot of talk and controversy. It might even raise questions in your mind about your own morals that maybe you didn’t know where there. Bravo. If this had been a game that had a “good” or “bad” or “in between” ending the whole entire theme of the game would have been lost. And, while the game ends open ended, this game does not need a sequel. It’s just too perfect of an ending. Let it be up to us as the players to determine certain things. I’m sure this was the original intent. Though, I’m sure there will be one as this game made too much $, and I’m sure I’ll pay up and play it 🙂
As far as the game itself, the game’s controls are about as perfect as one could ask. They are complicated, but anybody who has ever played an Uncharted game, or really, any other 3rd person action game should feel right at home. The characters on screen respond to near perfection to their commands, so there’s really not any moments where the control scheme is going to get you killed. Resources are also at a premium. You can only carry a couple dozen rounds of ammo for most guns at a time and less than ten rounds for the bigger guns. The meat of this game is the intense brutality of the melee system. There is an outstanding variety in melee weapons and when all else fails it’s still kick ass to go with just Joel’s capable fists.
There are three types of “Infected” (they are never, ever referred to as zombies) that you will encounter on your journey. There are the runners, your standard undead enemy that will run at your with reckless abandon if they see you. You have the menacing “Clickers” which are in abundance in this game. Clickers are nasty little bastards that have been infected for such a long time that they can no longer see. However, if they get within arm’s reach of Joel, it is an insta-kill. Sneaking past or using a shiv to their necks is really the only way to go. Lastly, you have the “Bloaters” which are evil little punks which have bacteria so thick it acts as armor and they no longer resemble being human at one point. They also throw poisonous spores at the player which drains Joel’s health. There aren’t too many of these guys around, but they definitely make their presence felt. While this might not seem like great variety, it makes sense in the game, as we are only 20 years into the outbreak. It also carries a sense of realism, no matter how small, though certainly the Bloaters are fantastical in design and what they can do.
One group of enemies that I really didn’t expect to fight so much are the human factions that remain. You have the military, hunters, and cannibals to deal with. Of all the enemies in this game, it is the humans which are the most terrifying. Because the human antagonists are not mindless infected. They are conscious human beings who still commit atrocities against their fellow man. All in the name of survival. Joel is not immune to this.
Finally, the game is gorgeous. I mention the graphics last because this game doesn’t need to have beautiful visuals to be as great a game as it is. To have a game as nice to look at as this one is merely a bonus item. I haven’t gone back to the PS3 version to compare, but from what I remember, there is a noticeable difference in both visuals and frame rate on the PS4, but I still remember being impressed with the PS3 version in this regard. The cutscenes are all beautiful, well acting, and well “shot”. This game is a looker.
Having said all this it is by no means a perfect game. For it being a survival horror style game there aren’t that many scares. There are moments where you are stuck in a flooded tunnel filled to the brim with all three types of Infected, but it’s more thrilling to get past them than it is scary. The scary parts, I suppose, are more from the human side of things and seeing what we as people are capable of doing when the world falls. That’s great work even as a flaw, in my view, as it breaks convention. There is also one moment very late in the game that is just so damn difficult that I was about to just quit playing for the night. I got the sense that Naughty Dog put in the programming of the game if you die “X” times here we will just give it to you. Ha. Right when I said one more time that enemy that had given me fits walks right up to me essentially and lets me kill him. This type of thing just breaks the cinematic flow they were going for and achieved.
Overall, this game gets an A+. It’s not perfect, but it’s very few shortcomings are overwhelmed by the game’s numerous achievements that anything other than a perfect score would be doing an injustice. Play this game.