The Last of Us – Review
The Last of Us is an action-adventure survival horror video game developed by Naughty Dog. It was released on PS3 in 2013 and then again as The Last of Us Remastered in 2014 for the PS4.
The Last of Us is set in a world that has been overrun with an infection which stems from a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus. The main story picks you 20 years after the outbreak, where you play as Joel, a hardened survivor who must escort a young girl Ellie across a post-apocalyptic United States.
Characters & Story
One of the strongest features of this game are the characters and their emotional development throughout the story, in particular the two main characters Joel and Ellie. Joel is old enough to have lived in the world pre-outbreak which provides the player and Ellie with an idea of how much the world has changed. Ellie is a young girl who has grown up entirely in a post-outbreak world. She is introduced early on in the game when she finds herself paired with Joel out necessity. Watching Ellie learn about the world and grow as a person throughout her travels is one of the strongest features of this game.
The relationship between Joel and Ellie is definitely the central focus of the game. Although they are both understandably wary of strangers (which is probably the reason they are both still alive), watching their initial mistrust grown into an almost father daughter bond is one of the most well-portrayed pieces of character or relationship development I have seen in a video game. Their bond isn’t just shown and developed only through cut-scenes like many other games, but also through their interactions while exploring each area and even during combat. Naughty Dog really bring a unique mix of storytelling and gameplay to The Last of Us, something they have touched on in the Uncharted series, but never to this level of success.
By the end of the game, I felt more invested in Joel and Ellie’s story than I’ve ever been while playing any other video game (or any other form of media for that matter). Both the characters and the story of their journey always feels real. Although the game is set in a post-apocalyptic world very different from our own, Joel and Ellie are characterized and bought to life so effectively that you instantly begin to feel connected to them. This game is truly a testament to Naughty Dog and their ability to tell an engaging and compelling story.
My favourite mechanics in The Last of Us have to be the crafting system and the scavenging for ammo and supplies. the constant lack of equipment really fits into the feel of the world. It helps to immerse you in the game when you escape from combat into an abandoned house, and have to quickly search through draws and cupboards to find something to defend yourself with.
The harder difficulties nail this feeling even better, ammo is very scarce and you hardly ever find enough to make you feel comfortable, you will be running out very often throughout the game.
The lack of a functional pause menu is another feature I think really worked well. Everything that has a mechanical effect in the game is done through Joel kneeling down and taking off his backpack. Crafting items and switching between weapons both render you effectively defenseless, which adds to the tension even more when you are fighting for your life in the middle of combat.
The environments you encounter in The Last of Us are wonderfully crafted and at times breathtaking. The post-apocalyptic setting has been explored in many past games, but few ever reach the levels of this game. There is a huge amount of variety in the areas you come across, Joel and Ellie’s journey across America will lead you through vast abandoned cities, lush forests and snowy tundras.
The amount of detail in each area is astounding, and the game gives you plenty of opportunities to explore your surroundings. The scavenging and crafting gameplay elements push you to explore every room and every new area. And the world begins to feel so much more alive because of it, you will find notes and visual clues that tell the stories of other survivors. Some of them are horrifying, some of them are heartbreaking, but all of them help to bring you into the world.
The idea of an infection outbreak which results in the deterioration of society is also by no means an original idea. But again Naughty Dog show that they are capable of taking a played out premise and finding new ways to present it.
This is illustrated perfectly in their portrayal and use of the infected in The Last of Us. The infection which cause the outbreak is a mutation of a real world fungus called Cordyceps, look up pictures of insects that have been infected after playing this game if you want to see the similarities between them and the infected humans in the game. Seeing these images make the game seem that much more terrifyingly real.
One of the best decisions regarding the game from a high-level viewpoint was to avoid making this a zombie game, it is first a foremost a survival game which focuses on the human condition. Although the infection undoubtedly caused the situation you find yourself in, the majority of combat is spent fighting against other humans who are also doing everything they can to survive.
Seeing the lengths which humans will go to in order to survive is a big theme in this game, and primarily fighting enemies who are able to communicate and co-ordinate with each other makes the gameplay much more interesting than a regular zombie game. The sequences involving the infected are spaced far enough apart that you never get comfortable dealing with them. This also meant that every time you run into a cloud of spores or hear the sounds of a clicker you know you are in for a tough fight.
Everything about the combat in The Last of Us is tense and brutal, the violent nature of this world is set up very early in the game, and nothing in the combat system feels out of place.
The Last of Us purposefully takes a very different approach to combat than the Uncharted series where it was almost expected for you to charge headlong into a group of enemies since you could easily outgun them. Here that isn’t the case, every enemy represents a very real threat, and trying to take on more than two other survivors out in the open is almost always a death sentence.
This game encourages you to slow down the combat and pick enemies off, it strikes a good balance between a stealth and an action game. As the game progresses you do find new weapons and learn new abilities, but the combination of rare ammo and harder encounters mean that you never feel overpowered.
The score for The Last of Us was composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, the overall tone of the soundtrack fits the mood of the game perfectly. The music really emphasized the haunting nature of the world, and was used to great effect in several very memorable and emotional scenes.
The voice acting throughout the game is absolutely top class. Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie) really embody their characters. The way they are able to convey all of their emotions through a mixture of their voices and their motion-captured performances makes Joel and Ellie feel alive. Naughty Dog clearly put a lot of work into the finer details and movements of these characters, and it pays off big time. You always feel like you are looking at real people while playing the game.
The rest of the audio throughout the game is also extremely well done, in particular the sounds of one of the infected types called the clicker. The clickers are humans who’s infection has spread to their face and covered their eyes, so they rely on their hearing and use their clicking sound as a sort of echo location. The clicking sounds they make are so fear inducing, and still bring back memories of crouching in the corner of a room as a clicker stumbles past, hoping that it doesn’t sense you.
The multiplayer modes have never been a huge selling point for many people in Naughty Dog games, they are definitely made first and foremost for their single player campaigns. However, I personally put many hours into the ‘Factions’ mode of The Last of Us, and thoroughly enjoyed my time playing it.
In Factions, players lead a clan of survivors through 12 weeks, either as Fireflies or Hunters. Each match you play counts as one day, and gives you the opportunity to gather supplies to fuel your clan’s growth.
The first thing you will notice when you jump in is that this is not a normal online shooter. It really captures the same feeling from the single player, scavenging for supplies while trying to make the most out of your very limited ammo.
Survivor is my favourite mode of the multiplayer, it is a standard 4v4 deathmatch where each player has one life per round without any respawns. Due to the clan mechanics of the whole multiplayer system, as well as the knowledge that if you die you stay dead for the round, these matches quickly become astonishingly tense.
Every single element of this game is masterfully crafted, and it all blends together to create a truly once in a generation experience. Everything from the environments, combat, gameplay mechanics and audio all work together perfectly and fit into the world and the story Naughty Dog are telling.
The Last of Us is an absolute masterpiece in every sense of the word, it is Naughty Dog's finest work to date and undoubtedly one of my top games of all time.